Can Aviva see into the future?

Chris Wei reviews an internal research summary from 1995 which looked into key technology trends that would influence the future of the insurance industry to see how accurate we were.

Reviewing the archives at Aviva always turns up some fascinating historical perspectives . We're lucky to have a team of archivists who meticulously record and keep our history. Recently they sent me a piece I can't resist sharing.

It was a research summary from 1995 written for Commercial Union (CU), one of Aviva’s ancestor companies. It looked at technology trends that would influence the future of the insurance industry.

This was a time when Windows 95 had just been released, eBay had started to trade online, the DVD was announced as a digital storage format and 'Forrest Gump', 'Pulp Fiction' and the 'Shawshank Redemption' topped the Oscar nominations list.

But what exactly were CU looking at and - more interestingly - how accurate were the predictions? I thought i'd share a few of them, so you can judge for yourself.

The internet, AI and remote working

In 1995 the internet had only been in existence for around four years and according to the report had three million users (one million private and two million corporate). It’s hard to believe today that CU didn’t have a company website when their research paper was written, although the paper does outline that they had built an internet application.

But they did make some rather accurate predictions of how internet use would evolve.

The paper speculated that improvements would lead to full-motion video, 3D graphics and stronger business and retail applications – tick!

The paper also predicted the advent of devices other than PCs, giving people access to “a much wider Information Superhighway.”  Another tick.   

The accuracy continues, with a prediction that the internet would change the face of shopping.

For insurance, it saw “countless new applications allowing individuals to browse our products and services, request quotations, convert quotes to policies, request changes and renew, all over one device”.

Had the writers foreseen the smartphone revolution or the development of MyAviva? Maybe they did; the report also predicted that the use of artificial intelligence could “deliver an underwriting benefit with underwriting skills being captured and reused”.

Though the use of AI was seen to be for simple to medium complexity. I wonder if (back in the '90s) the idea of Aviva's ‘Ask it never’ might have blown the author's mind!

The researchers also predicted that technology would lead to a significant increase in ‘location independent working’. Today many people can and do work away from the office. Although, the focus in the 1990s was more about the opportunity to provide ‘office at home’ insurance to customers, not offering flexible working for employees. How times change.

Did we act on these predictions?

So the predictions seem to be fairly accurate. But were the recommendations of the paper also accurate and how many of them have we taken on?

The recommendation to “adopt a coordinated corporate approach to electronic commerce” is something we are definitely tackling and leading on. The recommendation to “forge new partnerships” is another area where we continue to push forward - from Tencent to Cocoon, Leakbot and Wealthify.

The report also recommended that we “monitor new competitors” although this should be a 'given'. It's something we do constantly as new technology and players enter our market with very high frequency.

Interestingly not all of their report was quite right…

The research predicted that internet use in the UK would peak at around 35 million - equivalent to 50% of the UK population.

In reality 2017 ONS data suggesting that 90% households in the UK had internet access.

It will be interesting to see how our markets evolve in another 23 years. Will we all have a driverless car in 2041? Will we all be working remotely? Who knows - but what I do know is that Aviva will continue to disrupt the market as we have done for the last 320 years and I, for one, am excited to see where that journey takes us. 

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