Let’s have some fun, get out our time machine and take a trip into the future to see what customer experience could look like for a busy, tired insurance policyholder in need of help. The future of conversational AI is coming to the financial services sector quickly. What could that look like?

Imagine this: Kate gets home from a long, late day at work. It’s coming up to midnight, but she still has a couple of life admin tasks to sort out before she can get some rest.

She picks up her cell phone, opens a browser, holds the device up to her face and starts talking to a customer service rep from her insurance provider. But this isn’t a person she’s speaking to: it’s a digital human.

The digital human (we’ll call him Owen) recognises Kate through biometrics and instantly knows it’s her. “Hi Kate,” he says. “Can I help you today?”

“Yes, please,” replies Kate. “I inherited a few things from my grandparents’ estate this week. Can I add them to my policy?”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Owen replies, shaking his head slightly. “And sure, I’ll be able to help.”

In a minute or so, Kate adds a few expensive pieces of jewelry to her policy, sets down her phone and heads to bed.

A few hours later, she wakes up with a start and picks up her phone again. Holding it up to her face, Owen once again appears on the screen.

“Hi Kate. Need something else?” Owen asks with a reassuring tone.

“Yeah,” Kate replies sleepily. “I forgot to ask for a quote for insuring a new car.”

“Oh, is that from your grandparents’ estate as well,” Owen asks, “or are you looking to buy that soon?”

“It’s something we’ve been looking at buying this week and have been meaning to call about it.”

“OK, that’s fine,” Owen says. “It’s pretty late. If it’s not urgent, do you want me to set a reminder and we can talk about it tomorrow? Say, 2pm?”

“Great,” Kate says with a sigh of sleepy relief. “Speak to you then.”

Now imagine what Kate would have to go through in real life. Would she be able to talk to someone when she needs to about her policy, or would she have had to find her own answers scrolling through a website? Would she get a personalised experience, a smile, a conversation through something like a chatbot, and would it react appropriately to her tone of voice and body language. Would she be forced to serve her own needs with an online form, and if so, would she have any kind of emotional connection with her insurer?

No. Kate would find her frustrations confounded by poor customer experience and impersonal service.

Digital humans can do much better. They can help countless customers at the same time around the clock, providing a conversational and empathetic service that treats people like individuals. They offer a consistent, engaging customer experience in a sector notable by only intermittent communication with policyholders.

And, perhaps most importantly, they can do these things today.

Why the personal touch matters in insurance

Emotional connection is becoming more important for creating greater customer experience, because it’s a rarity in the digital world of doing business.

Gartner predicts that by next year, only 15% of the interactions customers will have with business will be with a human. The other 85% will be with autonomous digital means—chatbots, self-service web pages and online forms, etc.

Today’s policyholders will decreasingly speak to a human throughout their time with an insurer, let alone meet one face to face. Communication between the two parties have become transactional rather than personal.

All this means that customer experience has been swiftly sacrificed at the altar of digital scale and reduced cost to serve. And that’s despite overwhelming research that shows great CX impacts revenues significantly.

So, understandably, companies in the insurance sector are searching to have both great CX through the personal, human touch and the benefits of digital delivery. It’s one of the reasons why digital humans, and AI in general, is being tipped so strongly in the insurance world.

Artificial intelligence the number-one priority

In EY’s latest report – InsurTech emerging at pace – AI stands out as the most favourable insurance technology for bringing about positive change.

Overall, 39% of surveyed insurance companies say they expect AI to have the most significant impact on the insurance industry, in particular as it’s used to improve customer engagement, risk and claims management.

It’s a higher percentage than those who chose blockchain (20%) and connected devices like the Internet of Things and telematics (10%) to be the most impactful technologies.

AI even stands out above big data and analytics (25%), which shows how highly it’s being tipped as a catalyst for transformation. After all, what is insurance if not a greater use of analysing data to understand and price risk?

However, what makes conversational AI stand out so highly is how it works hand-in-hand with data and analytics.

An example from outside the insurance sector is UneeQ’s work with UBS in Switzerland, in which UBS Regional Chief Investment Officer Daniel Kalt was made into a lifelike digital human to provide wealth management advice to potentially hundreds of clients at once.

Dani, the digital human, can analyse UBS’s latest forecasts in a heartbeat to present a data-driven outlook on the US economy, company profits and the main drivers in global markets.

As Financial Times journalist Ralph Atkins noted after speaking with the digital Daniel: “I can confirm that a familiar face makes more interesting what might otherwise have been a dull presentation of facts and charts.”

CX and big data haven’t always played well together. When data can be presented seamlessly, through conversation and visuals, and without customers having to wait, customer experience doesn’t have to take a back seat.

CX and AI: A marriage of convenience

Kate and Owen’s hypothetical conversation gives a glimpse of what’s to come.

CX and digital customer delivery don’t have to be mutually exclusive, despite how clumsily they have fallen into becoming that way.

If you’ve ever had to find your own information on a clunky website, set up your own account, fill in a form or spend your precious time servicing your own needs (and eventually paying for the privilege of doing so), you’ll know how disengaging it is being a customer in 2019… which is an amazing, unfortunate thing to say.

Digital humans are designed to help. They aren’t the only insurtech making the age-old insurance industry more fit for modern purpose; they aren’t the only way to improve CX, nor to create scalable customer support at reduced cost to serve.

But they are the only solution offering all of these things—the benefits of human support, delivered digitally. A marriage of convenience and, frankly, absolute necessity.