Episode 86: Modernizing the Insurance Sector

Unlocking Digital Innovation Through Data Strategies

Tune in to the Power of Data Podcast as Dr Henna Karna, Managing Director, Global Insurance & Risk Management Solution at Google Cloud joins James Harrison, Head of UKI Insurance at Dun & Bradstreet where they discuss the modernization of insurance, the importance of having a joint digital and data strategy and how Google Cloud is accelerating the insurance sector with data. 

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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 86: Modernising the Insurance Sector

Guest: Dr. Henna Karna, Managing Director, Global Insurance & Risk Management Solution at Google Cloud
  Interviewer: James Harrison, UKI Head of Insurance at Dun & Bradstreet

James 00:00
Hello, and welcome to The Power of Data podcast. My name is James Harrison and I'm the UKI Head an insurance for Dun and Bradstreet. Today, I am delighted to be joined by Dr. Henna Karna, Managing Director, Global Insurance & Risk Management Solution at Google Cloud. Welcome, Hannah.

Henna 00:13
Thanks for having me here, James, it's really quite nice to be here with the colleagues on the Dun and Bradstreet side, because there's a long long overdue relationship I've had with the company, whether it's in the insurance, service management industry, or otherwise. So, it's a really nice opportunity to talk to all of you.

James 00:27
Thank you Hannah.

Henna 00:27
Of course.

James 00:29
Henna, you've had an impressive 25-year journey in the insurance industry focusing on innovation, digital and data transformation. I'd love it if we could start by giving our listeners a little introduction into your career journey in the industry and data. And now, of course, at your role at Google Cloud.

Henna 00:45
From a career standpoint, it's been a very nonlinear journey, I would say something, you know, I couldn't have planned it particularly that way. But the Lego pieces kind of fit the way that they did, you know, started as an actuary decided that mathematics was not as robust in the actuarial spaces in the 90s. So, in my mind, at that time, actuarial science was very historical, until today, in some areas, perhaps continues to be that way. But it is the prerequisite for a lot of the data science activities we do today. So, you know, if you think about the evolution of the industry and evolution of my career, it's sort of in some way in sync, one area being the leverage ability and the usage of data analytics, the other area being actually customer, human interaction, customer centricity that I wouldn't have predicted, we probably could have thought that data analytics will become more and more powerful as time goes on. But I didn't really connect that to the idea of behavioral sciences, deep neural nets, and how you know, things like genetic algorithms, or AI, that was a manifestation of that capability in the insurance space, it definitely didn't predict, and it was just sheer chance that I really liked cryptography. And I really liked the idea of understanding human behavior a little bit more in a predictive fashion using, using mathematics or areas of mathematics. And so, my journey has been kind of all over the place with in and out of the insurance industry, I keep boomeranging back. But here I am at Google with a lot of passion and drive to help the Google capabilities that are our technology, and what we're good at taking some of that and really servicing the insurance and reinsurance in sort of the risk management space. So that my role here is nothing short of a privilege to start to work with organizations across the globe in ways to help them reach their mission and reach their vision in terms of the risk management and predictive analytics spaces. And, you know, we get to lean into the proven and tried and tested capabilities of Google and Google Cloud and ensuring that we get the technology, the data analytics, the billions of users knowledge in terms of how usage is valuable. All of that stuff from the Google side.

James 02:41
It's really interesting, as you mentioned there about, you know, having an actuarial science background, having an insurance background, and now obviously, you're working with Google. And as I'm sure you're aware, there's been a lot of fanfare, as well as expectation from industry commentators. Over the past few years that GAFA businesses, i.e., Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple will start to make an entry into the sector. So, your appointment and your role to help lead Google Cloud strategy and insurance is truly exciting. Please tell our listeners on where you see Google Cloud support in the industry. How do you think Google Cloud is going to accelerate the insurance sectors data evolution? And what do you think we can expect the next 18 months?

Henna 03:18
Ah, it's a great question, you know, there's a real sort of commitment that we have that we we as Google Cloud, or the Google family are very thoughtful about partnering with and servicing the industry and not entering the industry. In order to do that. In order to partner and service the industry. We want to be core to our DNA, which is data analytics, AI and ML, you know, everything around that lens of natural language processing, whatever it might be in terms of modernization, that being the core of our functionality and our capabilities. What we understand really well, if you think about the industry that really need the rising tide lifts all ships when it comes to data analytics. I think one of them is insurance industry, for sure. Right? We we know the insurance industry is a data analytics industry always has been actually this is nothing new to the industry in any way, we use data and analytics across our value chain all the time. But we have ways to do better with it, because the technology has changed so dramatically. So, when you think about Google, I think it was something as simple as the underwriting workflow on honest terms. If you think about anything in insurance line of businesses, the underwriter has a great point of connection with consumer with the customer, the broker, the agent, in some cases, the distribution channels, they are looking very thoughtfully across the relationship with the client. The pricing and reserving actuaries and the risk management team and the claims departments are then following suit based on what decisions are made with when it comes to binding a particular policy. And that actually leaves us to be a little bit more reactive as an industry when it comes to understanding the risk portfolio and even understand the end customer and the the Goal of the way that we partner with the insurance industry where Google Cloud partners with the insurance industry, the intention being data analytics, AI ML, that goal should be to start to shift that I wouldn't say power, it's actually really getting the buy in from the rest of the insurance organization, to what should be bound. What's the right portfolio risk view that the underwriter is aiming toward. And it's not just the underwriting angle, it's actually the pricing angle and the reserving and the risk angle, those combinations, which are done a little bit in latency are going to be done much more thoughtfully right at the point of, of decision making. So, what have we done in that we've made the customer at the center, we've started to create a much more thoughtful 360 view of the customer, all technology games, by the way, these are, these are discussions that we have in the industry all the time. But if you're going to get the customer at the center, that means we know a lot about them in a way that is relevant and useful to them, we're providing more value to them. And that is only done when the technology is scalable and flexible. So, Google's entire imperative is to make sure that the foundational layers, and the fundamental, you know, Insight driven thinking that we're creating in the industry is done in a very flexible architecture. That's what Google is very good at looking at information and data and making it available to everybody. Right. So that's the Google mission from the very beginning. So, if you think about that being the prerequisites of how we partner with insurance space, you know, we're aiming to do that. And we are doing that now with organizations in a very thoughtful partnership.

James 06:27
And I just wonder, you know, as we look to drive the insurance industry forward, based on what you just mentioned there, what do you think of the current roadblocks and organization efforts for the insurance sector?

Henna 06:37
That's a great question. You know, we often talk about these roadblocks as mindset shifting, culture. You know, let's think of it this way. It's not an if question, It's a when question. And in that model, there is no turning back to legacy systems, no organization is saying, I'm going to build this on premise, because I want to be behind the times, they may be saying something like, I have to build this on premise, or I have to do something, you know, sort of short term focus because of the prioritization and the company, the strategy that might be very particular, the way that the company wants to pivot. So really, a roadblock could be a culture or mindset, it could be the strategic lens in which an organization is trying to operate. It could be that the company is much, much too operationally focused. You know, if I think about the idea of going seamless, or thinking about claims processing becoming very, you know, triage so that you have no touch claims and things like that, that's still up an operational game. You know, we're still thinking about that, operationally, where should we happening, and if you think about what we want to do going forward, if the customer is at the center, that means it's not about speed, it's actually about value that comes from speed. But it's actually about value and as a paid forward mentality. So, you know, the thought process that I often hear with organizations is that the roadblock today is not tech, it's not lack of data, we have a lot of data coming our way. And we have more and more data trapped in our architecture than we could have imagined at this point, and we really have to unshackle that data. So, it's not a data issue. It's not a tech issue, it really comes down to a mindset and strategy discussion. And Google as in a Google Cloud partnerships are really aiming towards both of those things. We know we can solve the tech in the data with organizations, we're also partnering with companies to make sure that we're thinking about the art of change, changing in mindset of the individual, but the technical skills that they need to engage in the go for plan. So, we actually create on the go, we don't think of it as you know, let's build a tech stack and leave you at it. That's a bad idea. So, so we definitely want to want to make sure that the individuals on the insurance side are actually loving what they're doing for years to come. Because they know what they're doing and find the information insights really powerful.

James 08:45
You mentioned there about no turning back to legacy systems. I'd love that to be the case. Goodness gracious, how many meetings do I have on legacy systems? And a mindset strategy, I think what we're seeing now in the insurance industry is a new cultivation, a new emphasis on innovation, innovation is critical in a changing world. What are the some of the most exciting, transformative and tangible possibilities could we see if the industry gets its approach to data right? And are we starting to see some of this take place already?

Henna 09:13
Yes, you know, prime example typically isn't the personal auto space, but we're seeing the change throughout there is enough leaders and change agents spread across, you know, numerous areas of the insurance ecosystem, you know, both on the carrier side, on the agent side, the broker side, the reinsurance side, the seated side, you name it, that are very aware that changes is happening, and they want to be part and parcel to it. And most of the changes occurring when it comes to buckling down and making the data not a back-end system, but actually a product or an asset for the organization. That is really where we're seeing a lot more all hands-on deck kind of mentality to make that happen. Sometimes the process gets even more delayed because of the largest of some organizations but some of it in the mid-tier companies, we're seeing movement accelerating quite a bit. I'll give you a quick example. You know, we're now engaged with organizations that are not talking about just operational shifting, but they're talking about experiential changes. So really trying to encourage more and more customer touchpoints, that's really where we're going, we're going to see the most value. So it's not about the point of renewal, it's not about the point of a claim, it's not about the point of a capture or an acquisition of a customer. It's what happens all between all of that. So, more customer touch points equates to more reasons to value the customer relationship and more opportunity to get a trusted partnership, and then the engagement type is also changing. So not only am I increasing the frequency of the customer, touchpoints, I'm also shifting in the way that we we are in engagement with them. So, it's not just a push, let me push information to the customer, is that to the customer wants more from us. And that is a bidirectional relationship. So, the frequency in which we're engaging, and the relationship type, which is now going from unidirectional, or bidirectional, those are the two areas we're seeing a lot of innovation occur, no matter the line of business, whether it's, you know, commercial consumer of others, life, nonlife, health, it doesn't matter. That shift is definitely occurring.

James 11:11
Fantastic. There's definitely one thing I'd love to get your read on. One thing I've noticed in both my time as a management consultant, and here at Dun and Bradstreet is that sometimes modernization efforts tend to focus or at least have more weight towards digital rather than data. And you know, I've spoken to some clients, they've you actually look to point a digital solution to answer a data problem. Why do you think that is? Could you share more on the importance of having a joint digital and data strategy?

Henna 11:35
It's the best question James. That's the best question because it's some-how I think, perhaps the way that we stumbled upon the need for digital, we split out that from data, and it is so much how do you go digital without a data backbone? I think it's a very superficial task at that point, right? It's almost adjusting that, and the experience of the customer matters, but only for flighting second, which is really not the game that insurance plays, insurance plays a - in some cases, a long-term game, right? Whether it's short term or long tail, we are managing portfolios and books and businesses with precision and granularity at the heart of it all, and personalization at the heart of it all. So, we don't have the luxury of splitting out digital and data. In fact, I don't know which industry does but for sure, for us it's a very big thing. You know, some of the trends we're seeing in the industry that would articulate towards that is, you know, just looking at the laggards in the digitization space, looking at historical data isn't enough anymore. We have now things like, you know, we have data caps and paper documents for sure. We also have things like IOT central data coming our way, we have things like telematics data coming our way, there's so much variety of mediums of data, that it's not just about, let me go get the documents and digitize them and put them in some digital experience. It's not that, it's about trying to connect very different kinds of imagery data with voice recognition data with sensory data, like we're talking about it’s like you know, acrylic painting, and oil painting and watercolor painting, all of that together, then you could probably throw in like pottery and all sorts of different art forms, that that medium is agnostic to the experience and in digital architecture. So that means your data flow, and the connection has to be really seamless, and frictionless. So, in order to get that digital experience to actually happen. So, we really want to make sure that there's dynamic capabilities at the heart of organizations where they're looking at risk models, where they're able to understand, you know, how to underwrite things very differently with different sort of perspectives, so that the experience is as expected by the end consumer. That's the digital experience. But that is a complete data game.

James 13:40
Yeah. And I love your analogy there about different types of law, the one that I love to use is that no, you cannot build a shiny new skyscraper on foundations of sand.

Henna 13:49
Yeah, that's called quicksand.

James 13:51
That's going to fall over quite quickly. And this ties nicely into my next question. So, what are your plans for how the insurance industry is going to leverage Google Cloud in unique and innovative ways across digital and data?

Henna 14:01
Yeah, so our mission is quite simple. We want to create the gold standard for data analytics AI ML, our vision is a little bit more dramatic, in that we believe the customer should be at the center. What does that mean? It means that we will start to pivot the industry from loss financing to risk management, risk mitigation, risk prevention. Now we talk about it internally as a flywheel and externally, when we think about the way that we engage with organizations, we think very much around you know, what does that mean? You know, it means using natural language processing better. It means looking at API first mindset. It means understanding fraud detection, you're looking at the geospatial analytics and understanding know your customer conversations a little bit more in a technically advanced way. So, all of those things become the way that we engage with organizations on the insurance side. The Google Cloud in particular is committed to thinking about using the idea of artificial intelligence for not only understanding contact centers, but all the way through to understanding submission processing going all the way into document ingestion and the variety of different kinds of document types we get. We all talk about these things, I think, in the industry everywhere. I think what Google does, are three things that are quite different. One, it starts to move information as a connective source, it starts to go think about data as a dynamic organism that is constantly evolving. So data is not static. It is not necessarily structured actually, it is also not indexed. to the nth degree, it is created in the knowledge graph mentality. So we're constantly connecting and reconnecting and discovering information in real time fashion, at the backbone at the back end of the architecture. So that makes it even more possible for our insurance colleagues to have a question a year later, and find an answer that was not available to them when they had that question before. So if you think about Google search, that's really what it does. It's not saying I know all the questions today is just connecting all the data that if there is a question, years to come, the data may be able to link it together when that question arises. So, we're really thinking about it that way, a knowledge graph mentality of how the data is, if the data is organized with knowledge, graph, mentality or mindset, then it's really prepared to answer those questions going forward. The second thing that we do is, and I think we talked about this, James, from a D&B standpoint, this concept of brilliant basics, right, I think you and I actually had this discussion a year ago. And the idea, right, and the idea being that insurance has a lot of what it needs already within the architecture within its walls, it has submission data has lost data, if it doesn't have lost because it's a new InsurTech, it's got quite a bit of an ability to understand the information that's coming its way from different kinds of data that's already whether it’s social, or IoT century, whatever it might be, all of those data assets, there are some fundamental things that just don't change, a lot of what the D&B does with us, right. So, when we think about industry code, when we think about the existing, you know, Lego pieces, those white and black Lego pieces that already exist in our industry, we need all that. So those are basic data and if we do it more thoughtfully, and we mature that data assets, so that no one has to reinvent it every single time and exposure comes in, or policy comes in every single time I have to renew, we don't have to reinvent that data asset, then it's brilliant, because it's really leverageable and pluggable and across the insurance value chain, we want to get to that state of capability in the architecture for insurance. And the third is the idea of really leaning into the capability that Google has thinking about that broader one Google concept of what else can we do together with Google Cloud that is going to bring in a much more broader ecosystem, you know, looking at the workspace, looking at some of the things that in terms of how we share information, all those things become pretty powerful. So, it's the analytics at scale knowledge graph concept is to brilliant basics idea that we, I know, we have spoken about quite a bit James, and then the idea was the putting together an ecosystem at play.

James 17:53
Thank you, Henna. And we're delighted to support your vision for insurance. So, we're looking forward to working with you more. Before we close, it'd be great if we can end on a piece of advice or a learning that has helped you throughout your career that you can share with our listeners, whether they're starting out in their career, or been in the industry for a long time, what would that be?

Henna 18:12
Ah, that's an awesome point. I have to think about that really thoughtfully. I would say that we always get the advice, work life balance, we also get the advice, you know, do what you love. I would say I tell a lot of people that I speak to, you’ve got to love what you do, instead of just do what you love. Because sometimes I don't know if I did insurance, because I loved it. But I do love what I do. I do love the idea that we're solving something bigger than what our day job equates us to do. So, I have started to love what I do because of the sheer impact that we can create. And whether it's, you know, backend coding, where we're trying to create the auto ML models for the Google architecture or whether it's trying to articulate the right strategic pivots that we have to make from a data analytics or digital capability standpoint, whether what you said James is really powerful, like the thought of digital and data, that combination, what does that mean? And how does that translate to the value of the end customer, whether it's at the 10,000-foot level or at the 1000 foot level? Find what you love in it, because I think that makes us think differently. It makes us spend the extra hour to really discover what we can add that's unique to who we are as individuals. I know that sounds kind of maybe fundamental, no magic in there.

James 19:23
No, no. That’s brilliant. That's a fantastic message to our listeners. Henna, thank you very much for your time. We really appreciate it. Thank you.

Henna 19:31
Thank you.