Voice assistant: an opportunity for insurance

In 4 years, voice assistants will be more than people throughout the world: this human-machine interface is going to be the new way for people to buy, learn about, manage health; even insurance carriers must deal with it reinventing their own

Published on 23 Jun 2020

Donatella Cambosu


Anna, uh, you’d better not leave until you’ve triggered a new insurance policy. Shall I show you the cheapest ones for your hoopty right now?”. The voice assistant  on our car could talk nonchalantly to us, perhaps within a few years. The technology is ready now and its evolution is tied also to its use (AI and Machine Learning tools that learn and improve); people seem to be pretty willing to use this kind of technology, voice interaction and the market data confirm and support this approach. 

A new report by Juniper Research, Voice Assistant Market: Player Strategies, Monetisation & Market Size 2020-2024, outperforms the number of voice assistants worldwide by 2024, growing by 113% from the 4.2 billion devices expected to be in use by the end of 2020. 

The highest growth rate will be achieved by automotive voice assistants and those connected to televisions, mainly as can be used through already existing devices, rather than new hardware. 

Notwithstanding the sprawl of several voice assist devices, according to Juniper Research, smartphones are likely to keep leading the market, at least based on a global market. Juniper Research reports that it’s still a work in progress: despite the market trend points sharply upwards, voice assistants’ monetization still proves to be a challenge. 

So far there’s a lack of business models, since it’s pretty obvious that the most interesting feature of voice assistants is the range of services available, or simply to sum it up: what are we gonna talk to them about? What are they gonna suggest us? 

Let’s take a step back. 

What’s a voice assistant? 

The Voice Assistant is a software. An advanced software based on AI technologies to recognize and reply to natural language speaking, processing the content so as to further the conversation. Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana give us samples of this and their improvements are endless. 

The voice assistant is often mingled with the smart speaker, which is the hardware part, like Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod. Software and hardware of course run together, yet basically the Google Assistant software in Google Home is the same software in Android smartphones we talk to. Essentially it can be enriched with specific applications, according to the device it is installed in. 

What can a smart speaker do? 

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Currently, in Italy (development differs by country), we can listen to music, also Spotify and Youtube Music, ask for weather forecast, traffic and other information the device accesses from the web; we can ask for recipes and nutritional information; manage the calendar or the shopping list; a range of products for the smart home can be connected to manage thermostats, locks, lights and surveillance devices. 

At the moment the system is in its early stages and thanks to machine learning will increasingly learn to understand our natural language, developing its functionality in an app and ecosystem approach: the contribution of the developers’ community and the companies producing solutions relevant to this environment and economically sustainable, is the key to the development of the Smart Home. 

It’s worth noting that to get the most out of these systems, user-side, we are gonna take some choices: whether we are willing to join Apple or Google or Amazon (Alexa), for example; such systems will also “talk” to our other devices, the smartphone, the TV, maybe the car. 

The future of virtual assistants in insurance 

How can insurance companies deal with Voice Assistants? 

A first important area could be health insurance. The video-visit sector gives us a clear idea: right in this emergency for Covid-19 it has shown its full potential and a first medical care even for elderly, sick people, caregivers, could be represented by a virtual assistant inside a smart speaker. 

Pioneers in this direction are the UK startup Babylon Health, which already works with the national health system, and has created an app, also available on Alexa, to conduct a very accurate medical examination. 

According to the same company, surveys from the UK and other countries where the company works have revealed that after the interaction with the chatbot only 1 in 10 patients needed to see a doctor in person, taking pressure off physicians and the health care system. Babylon Health has an impressive 95% Net Promoter Score (NPS) in the UK. In addition, in Rwanda, supported by the government and the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, millions of people have signed up – 70% of the population to be exact. 

Voice assistants are closer to our natural interaction system with the environment, i.e. the voice, than a keyboard; hence there will be no barriers to the use of this technology, grandfather and child proof, we have nothing to do, just talk to and ask for. 

According to the Spixii startup, creator of insurance chatbots, Babylon Health has trained its artificial intelligence to ‘be a physician’, giving it a considerable amount of knowledge about medicine, to create a starting point; the same approach can apply in the insurance industry, training an artificial agent with data sets on risk profile or insurance policies. A voice communicating software that seamlessly fits into the smart speaker and the smart car as well. 

A voice talent lies in rethinking the relationship between insurers and their customers, according to Spixii (winner of Open-F@b in 2016). Insurers, brokers, agents and reinsurers could have two-way conversations with their clients, using empathy and sympathy-driven scripts. 

Insurance currently has two highly sensitive touch points: first, upon purchasing an insurance product, and when a claim occurs. Voice and chat could help fill the gap and develop more lasting relationships among insurers and customers. 

Basically, virtual assistants serve as a new platform to reach potential customers and above all to reach them when the value of a business proposal is being perceived. 

Wellness is already on the smart speakers, for example, with meditation, diets, workouts, and is well connected to the concept of preventive insurance; not to mention the retail industry. 

In 2022, the voice shopping market is likely to grow dramatically from the current $2 billion to $40 billion. These are the results of a survey involving as many as 1,500 Smart Speaker owners, such as Google Home and Amazon Echo, already very popular in the US market. 

In recent days, Alibaba announced a further $1.41 billion investment in Tmall Genie, its smart speaker (the only one in China) to enhance its technology and functions, the latest model has also been equipped with a screen. 

The future is ‘talking to machines’ with all services being transferred to this new platform/interface consisting of artificial intelligence devices and voice commands. 

Insurance companies need to understand whether they want to be the last to get there, as already happened with other technologies, or take a first-hand approach to the opportunities it offers. 

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Donatella Cambosu

Scrive di tecnologie, startup e innovazione da oltre 15 anni. Dal 2015 collabora con il Gruppo Digital360, in particolare con le testate Startupbusiness, University2Business, EconomyUp. Collabora con InsuranceUp sin dal lancio del portale avvenuto nel 2015 e ha maturato un'ampia esperienza in ambito insurtech.

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