When it comes to using tech in insurance, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. So many claims are made about how technology will enable adjusters to be more efficient and effective but with so much noise in the insurtech space and, regrettably, a number of false dawns, it can be difficult to know who or what to trust.
But taking a conservative, defensive posture in the face of digital progress simply isn’t an option – that is a sure-fire way to get left behind. Which is why at Crawford we carefully analyse, select and trial the range of tools we believe will make a real, practical difference.
This has always been our approach to restoring and enhancing rural lives, businesses and communities and one of the most effective tools we have adopted over the last couple of years is drones.
Think outside the box:
There is an assumption that they are best utilised in flood situations or major loss property claims – basically enabling quick and safe access to areas that humans can’t easily reach. And while that is correct, the applications of drone surveys also go far beyond providing access, as we have found. We started out using drones for flood and property damage claims but recently, we have been using them for core agricultural claims and with impressive results.
For instance, we were recently instructed on an agricultural claim that arose from hailstorm damage to an oil seed rape crop. Just before harvest, the crop was hit by a storm and the hail severely damaged the fragile pods that contain the rapeseed on a large portion of the open fields.
The traditional approach would have been to get the wellies on and measure the perimeters and walk through the entirety of each affected field in a ‘W’ fashion to cover as much of the crop as possible, assessing the severity of damage. Our findings would then be reviewed in conjunction with the combine harvester readouts to try to obtain an estimate of the loss.
Back in 2018, we had discussions with Iprosurv about hailstorm damage to oil seed rape crops and whether drone inspections could assist, and two years later, with this instruction, the perfect claim arose for a trial.
It was fortuitous timing as Iprosurv had recently added new equipment to their drones, namely Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) cameras. In simple terms, these cameras analyse the different light colour spectrums reflected by the chlorophyll within crop vegetation – healthy plants reflect at a different light frequency to damaged or unhealthy plants.
Open Field Claims:
We are the first adjuster in the UK to use NDVI technology on open field claims, so it was a bit of an educated leap into the unknown, but the tech not only gave us a quick and accurate measurement of the damaged crop but also the overall health and expected yield of the standing crop. This allowed us to compare the expected yield with the yield achieved and indeed the ‘expected’ yield claimed by the Insured.
That is a level of detail we have never been able to achieve before and, for an outlay of around £2,000 for the drone survey, footage and imagery, the insurer was able to make a £220,000 saving on the initial amount claimed. While that was something of a difficult conversation with the policyholder, the rationale for the settlement offered was all there in the data. As they say, the data doesn’t lie.
Despite what anyone might think, the main motivation for any insurer in any claim is to get to a settlement that is accurate and fair – using a drone fitted with an NDVI camera allowed us to do that with pinpoint accuracy in a relatively short timeframe.
Such was the success of this, we have started exploring other uses for drone inspections and we believe that it could be of huge benefit in environmental damage, aquaculture, spray drift and forestry claims. We could even use it to analyse the health of a potato crop without having to go through the disruptive, time consuming process of digging up the field. The possibilities are almost endless.
It’s an exciting time in the world of claims with more and more digital tools playing an increasingly important role. Whilst it’s true that tech isn’t the answer to all our questions, working with the right partners and with the willingness to try new things, we’ve found that you can effectively separate the wheat from the chaff, both figuratively and literally.
When we set up Iprosurv back in 2014, the number one priority was to convince the industry that drones in insurance were the future and that they had a huge role to play in claims and risk management. We believed that then just as much as we do today.
And as we come to the end of our sixth year, I find myself thinking (tentatively), that in the last year the market has finally had its eyes well and truly opened to the possibilities presented by tech and by extension, drones.
In those early days when Shane and I first set out, it was a hard slog convincing insurers and adjusters that there was a better, cheaper way for them to manage their claims using drones to conduct aerial surveys. But a brave few souls took the leap (you know who you are!) and when they did, their peers saw what was possible and more and more have turned to drones for the proven cost and time savings.
So much so, that drones are now a regular point of discussion in the claims and risk management community and they have recently become part of the general market discourse in the trade press.
We are nowhere near full adoption of unmanned aerial vehicles yet, but the momentum is there – it’s only a matter of time before every insurer and loss adjuster is using drones as standard. And I’m not shy to admit that this gives me a huge sense of satisfaction. To imagine a different way of doing things and then to see that actually take place … it’s something else.
But even though I was sure drones could make a big difference in insurance, I am still constantly surprised at the applications businesses find for them and the inspections our pilots undertake.
We always knew drones were perfect to assess the scale and impact of a major flood with their ability to get a bird’s eye view of a landscape. But we hadn’t considered that they could be used by farmers to assess crop damage by taking the colour temperature of their crops.
We hadn’t considered that a water supply firm would want to use drone mapping software to detect leaks in a water pipe rather than dig up the landscape in a time-consuming and expensive search.
We hadn’t considered that a security firm would ask us to survey the security measures at a port facility to help them identify weaknesses in that security.
And we hadn’t expected to be called in by the emergency services to provide crucial support in search and rescue operations.
But all of these instructions and more have come in this year – from statutory LOLER inspections to thermal renewables for hospital refurbishments to site surveillance in support of a criminal prosecution of fly-tippers. All of these have opened our minds to the huge array of potential applications for drone technology.
The interesting thing is, other than using different types of cameras (LIDAR, thermal, photogrammetry) and tailoring the pilot skill with the job, Iprosurv hasn’t actually moved far from our core offering – collecting, translating and delivering data to our clients in a fast, cost-effective and completely secure way.
What is different is the mindset of our clients and the profile of our new clients. It feels like we are well beyond the first hurdle of introducing drones to the commercial world and are now faced with a different challenge – managing the demand and adapting our skills to those new demands.
But the flexibility of drones actually makes that side of things quite straightforward – whatever the request, I can pretty much guarantee that we have a pilot and the equipment to meet it. Just last week we were instructed by an insurer on a business interruption claim and using our imagery and data, the insurer was able to save over £1m by instructing us for less than a thousand pounds. This case, coming in at the end of a hectic year, pretty much encapsulates what drones can do for the insurance industry.
So, where next for Iprosurv and drones after a momentously challenging and rewarding year? Based on what we expected compared to our experience today, I wouldn’t dare hazard a guess but what is certain that our ever curious and creative clients will continue to find more uses for drones and continue to surprise the Iprosurv team in the process.
Whether you are a current or a future client or just an interested observer, I hope you all manage to experience some kind of festive joy during a very different festive season and that when we all return after the break, we will see some light at the end of an often very dark tunnel.
Rebecca Jones and her partner realised the commercial potential of drones, but, as she tells Martin Friel, it needed a leap of faith before their high-flying business could take off.
Drones, those little machines we see buzzing above parks and fields across the UK, have something of an unsavoury reputation. Whether it’s as dealers of remote death in the Afghan and Iraqi wars or causing huge disruption at Gatwick airport, people, understandably, are nervous about them and what they might be doing up there.
But love them or loathe them, drones are increasing in popularity across the country with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) estimating there are around 130,000 registered drone operators in the UK, of which, nearly 6,000 are commercial.