Sounding Board: Benefits industry should prepare for chatbots

If you’re still trying to figure out how to submit a claim through a smartphone app, you may not want to hear this.

There has been much buzz around chatbots lately and how they might affect insurance. Chatbots are just what they sound like: chat robots run by artificial intelligence software that simulate conversation with a human being.

The use of chatbots is rising, as they’re at the intersection of the hottest topics in technology right now: artificial intelligence, messenger apps and the mobile wave. A chatbot is similar to an artificial concierge, like a Siri or Alexa, but is embedded within the messenger application.

For example, you might open up your Kik messenger app (which has replaced texting for many teenagers), then open the Kik bot store, add the Sephora chatbot and ask it about beauty tips or to find you the best product. The Sephora chatbot script returns customized answers to you, delivering them as if you’re chatting with a human.

Read: Robots will mostly take over the jobs humans hate doing anyway

Teens spend an estimated 80 per cent of their time on mobile devices on chat applications, such as Facebook Messenger, Kik, Whatsapp, iMessage and others. Most marketers know that many mobile trends start with teens and then those in their 20s. The mainstream usually follows.

There have been a handful of global insurers that have used chatbots to connect with customers. Insurance companies that have joined in on this trend include: Royal Bank of Scotland through its home insurance chatbot; Halifax General Insurance in Britain; Ana, the insurance agent; Spixii, the British automated insurance agent; and Polly, the employee happiness bot created by online communications tool Slack.

The applications are endless. The Kik platform allows users to earn or buy Kik points to redeem for items such as unique emojis and enter contests with chatbots to win prizes. Is there a future where a group benefits carrier awards plan members points for engagement?

Read: Time for plan sponsors to embrace digital innovations in health care

Examples include:

  • 100 Kik points for filling out a wellness quiz.
  • Awarding 200 Kik points for reviewing the provider online.
  • Awarding 1,000 Kik points for applying for a home and auto insurance quote.
  • Awarding 2,000 Kik points for downloading the company’s mobile app to submit claims.

Is it also possible to reward benefits plan administrators or sponsors? Again, the possibilities include:

  • 100 points for signing up for the monthly newsletter.
  • 1,000 points for completing a quiz on the legalities of a benefits plan.
  • 1,000 points for attending a human resources seminar.
  • 10,000 points for referring another employer to the group benefits provider.

Points aside, there may be an application for a group benefits chatbot for plan members and a separate one for plan administrators. The plan member chatbot might reply to questions such as:

  • What is my coverage for orthotics?
  • How much do I have left for dental coverage this year?
  • How much would optional life insurance cost?
  • Has the company processed my massage claim?

The benefits plan administrator chatbot may answer questions such as:

  • Where can I find the long-term disability claim form?
  • How long do I extend benefits in a termination?
  • How much would it cost to add group critical illness?

It may sound like a stretch today, but as technology moves at an increasingly fast pace, our industry should be preparing itself.

Read: Robo advisors eyeing the group pension market

Yafa Sakkejha is the general manager of the Beneplan Co-operative, a mutual buying group for employee benefits: