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Leading transformation: a day in the life of a future CUO

06.12.23 AdvantageGo

AdvantageGo recently hosted a live evening event to premiere a short film commissioned to imagine a day in the life of a future chief underwriting officer (CUO).

Digital transformation is in full swing in the London market, but still nobody quite knows what the working day of a chief underwriter, five, ten, or twenty years from now will look like.

Unafraid of a challenge, and enthusiastic for some story-telling fun, AdvantageGo commissioned journalist Mark Geoghegan – of The Voice of Insurance podcast fame – to write a movie short to imagine exactly this.

The result is a fascinating glimpse into what digital transformation – and artificial intelligence (AI) in particular – can do for the CUOs of the future, some of whom will already be working in the market today.

There was one immediate surprise for the evening event’s attendees, as it was revealed that Simon, the AI in the film, was actually played by real AI, rather than a human actor.

After the film screening, a panel discussion then posed some of the big questions and potential themes posed by the video – not least the velocity of underwriting afforded by a much higher degree of automation, and what that meant for the CUO’s precious time.

“The CUO is at the front and centre of transformation, whether that’s digital transformation or operational transformation,” said James Slaughter, Apollo’s group chief underwriting officer.

He said he thought the video captured “a sensible mid-term future”, but emphasised that the route to this digital transformation is less about the tools – even the AI – and more about the culture.

“My interpretation is that the CUO is being freed up from some traditional tasks and focused on leadership, building a business, building a culture and enabling underwriters to get the best from themselves,” he said.

Firstly, this means a more important role for the CUO, he suggested, and secondly, it will empower underwriting teams to react more effectively to information and insights, to drive better decision-making.

“That is the heart of where I think the technology will drive the industry forward, because the industry is going through change at the moment,” Slaughter said.

“We as underwriters are freed up to solve problems, create products, and deliver great service to customers more directly. We have to create underwriting tools, underwriting structure, and underwriting culture that enables people at the frontline to do that. As a CUO, I need the technological capabilities to do that,” he added.

Leadership, as a concept, is underplayed by the industry, Slaughter suggested. In the film, the future CUO noted the challenge of getting stakeholders’ ‘buy in’ for digital transformation, implying the centrality of the CUO in leading that process.

“That’s a fundamental leadership skill,” he said. “Digital transformation is a prime example of underwriting coming to the fore. It used to be the CTO that drove transformation, but I don’t believe that’s the way to successful transformation in our industry.”

If the practitioners are following rather than leading the change, the process is likely to be more tortuous and fraught with risks of failure, suggested Ian Summers, global business leader, AdvantageGo.

“Many of us have been engaged in changing this market, and to hear that the practitioner is the one making the change happen and driving that change is really important for the future,” Summers said.

AI has become a buzzword, but many types of AI have been in use for years, fulfilling lower level tasks, suggested AdvantageGo’s Inder Dev Singh, technical architect, AdvantageGo.

“What has changed recently, is the introduction of generative AI, which is not only focused on learning from the data and looking at patterns, but generating further questions and suggestions for decisions,” Singh said.

All of this means the future CUO will need to brush up on a different skillset than her forebears today, Slaughter admitted. The focus on leadership will include leading AI elements of the team, like Simon, as much as it will the human team members.

“This isn’t a skill that will come naturally to us in our industry, such as how you ask the right questions to this increasingly sentient technology,” he said. “I’m still not sure, yet, which questions I need to be asking.”

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