How an actuary’s eye for data analytics led Insure The Box to ThoughtSpot

One morning in June 2010, insurance industry veteran Mike Brockman watched as the first-of-its kind insurance provider he had conceived two years previously opened for business. Designed to appeal primarily to careful young drivers – and their concerned parents – every policy sold by Insure The Box comes with a telematics device the company installs in the driver’s car. The premium drivers pay at renewal is determined by the metrics the device records on their use of the vehicle.

Launched at 10am on price comparison website, within five minutes the first policy had been sold, Brockman recalls.

At that point I knew this was going to work.

He had started his own company because no one else in the industry had believed it could work. Insure The Box was not the first company to offer this form of usage-based insurance, as the industry calls it, but it was the first to bet its entire business on the model. Leading US motor insurance provider Progressive had introduced its telematics-based Snapshot policies in 2008, while in the UK, Norwich Union (now Aviva) had launched a pay-as-you-drive scheme in 2005.

At the time, Brockman was running an actuarial consultancy that advised major insurance companies around the world. His specialism was pricing and analytics in personal and motor insurance, and he found himself intrigued as he watched these early experiments – but decided they were not going about it the right way.

I really felt that this technology would change the face of motor insurance.

I thought the only way this was going to work was to use the technology and build an insurance company from scratch, selling direct, such that every element of the infrastructure embedded the technology. In that way you could extract maximum asset value from what everyone saw as a cost.

Getting data analytics to the business

Nine years after that first inspiration, Insure the Box has sold more than 850,000 polices and written £850 million ($1.1bn) of business. Its black boxes log information from customers every five seconds and have collected 3.5 billion miles of driving data, along with all the claims attached to them. This is “big data on the biggest scale,” says Brockman, who is exactly the type of person to understand its value.

I’m an actuary by profession. Therefore I have an analytical mind. If you don’t understand your business data, how on earth can you run your business?

The challenge Brockman has faced, along with many other business leaders, is that data analytics skills are a precious commodity. Insure The Box has invested in many business intelligence and analytics products – it has an IBM Netezza data warehouse, it uses Tableau data visualization software and SQL database tools. But none of this has eliminated the fundamental barrier between the analytics specialists and the people at the frontline of the business.

It’s great having all of this excellent technical kit and specialist people whose day job is analyzing data. They’re of a certain mindset and they tend not to be the people that run the business.

The people that know the business best are normally the older generation. They look at information strategically, but they don’t have the time and knowledge to learn new software. Therefore they’re totally dependent on asking for management reports from technical people that don’t necessarily know what the numbers mean, and they don’t always know the questions they need to ask.

This divide left Brockman feeling dissatisfied, because the people who needed the data weren’t able to interrogate it effectively.

It’s a philosophy of mine that everyone should understand the business dynamics of their particular business area.

How Insure The Box uses ThoughtSpot

The answer to this conundrum turned out to be ThoughtSpot, whose search-based analytics tools let users pose natural-language questions and see the answers presented in a visually intuitive setting. Brockman explains:

The first time I saw ThoughtSpot I thought it was quite simplistic, but in its simplicity it was very powerful. I could put this tool into the hands of senior people that didn’t have to learn tools like Tableau, and they could search for KPIs and slide them from side to side in a very easy way.

With ThoughtSpot, all the technologists have to do is set up data marts to expose the KPIs (key performance indicators) each business area needs available. Then, instead of having three specialists running analytics on demand for the 400 other people in the business – creating a massive bottleneck that deterred people asking in the first place – there are now around 100 people across the group who can analyze KPIs for themselves using ThoughtSpot. It puts the data in the hands of the people who are best placed to make use of it, says Brockman.

What you tend to find with most BI reports, they’re at a much higher level. ThoughtSpot will allow the business to slice and dice and get down the level of data they need.

The techno guy in the analytics department might be great with data. But does he really understand the business and can he interpret it like the people on the shop floor?

Data transparency and what’s next for drivers

Customer service agents routinely use the ThoughtSpot tool to help answer customer enquiries about the premium they’re paying. Such questions often come up because customers get incentives for driving at safer times, or in a more responsible way. With ThoughtSpot, agents can drill down to very fine detail in up-to-date data, Brockman explains.

Every now and then you’ll get a customer that thinks they’re being unfairly treated because they think they’ve driven their car perfectly reasonably where we think there’s room for improvement. We can home in on particular circumstances very quickly and either validate or non-validate their argument.

They’ve got the evidence there to back it up. The whole customer relations team becomes more transparent. They can answer queries right there. ThoughtSpot gives them easy access to this information very quickly and within the domain of their business area.

Insure The Box is currently looking at taking this transparency even further, by embedding ThoughtSpot in a portal where customers will be able to slice and dice their own personal data. This will further advance the company’s main goal, one that Brockman feels very strongly:

My business is all about encouraging people, especially young people, to drive more responsibly. We empower our own customers to recognize they can improve their own driving behaviour.

Furthering that goal, the next generation of telematics “is even more exciting,” he adds. Sensors will look out on the road in front, detecting bad habits such as excessive lane swapping or driving too close to the car in front. On-board voice assistants will give guidance as you drive. But Brockman, perhaps surprisingly, draws the line at autonomous vehicles:

You wouldn’t get me in a self-drive car and I’m an expert in this technology. On a mass scale I don’t think it’ll ever happen.

Image credit – via Insure The Box


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