‘Mad’ Manulife CIO talks testing AR, Blockchain and IoT tech

‘Mad’ Manulife CIO talks testing AR, Blockchain and IoT tech

‘Mad’ Manulife CIO talks testing AR, Blockchain and IoT tech
‘Mad’ Manulife CIO talks testing AR, Blockchain and IoT tech

Manulife’s Sebastian Blandizzi talked through the insurance company’s Lab of Forward Thinking at the Internet of Insurance conference in New York, US today.

NEW YORK, US – Blandizzi, the SVP and CIO of the investment team at Manulife, detailed the firm’s unique approach to innovation at IoB’s second Internet of Insurance, as well as discussing what technologies the firm is piloting.

Through LOFT – which was launched in July 2015 – the Canada-based financial services firm has established innovation labs out of Boston, Toronto and Singapore, and have held tech hackathons in all of those areas.

LOFT is designed to look at “emerging technologies, new business processes and consumer needs to drive innovative solutions.”

Blandizzi said it’s hard to get innovation ingrained in a risk-adverse sector and company. Creating an innovative culture takes a mix of the right people with the right mentality, and they must be wary of the naysayers who say that innovation cannot be done.

Indeed, Blandizzi admits that he often gets quizzical looks from executives who think he’s ‘mad’, even if this might seem more reasonable when the innovator in question believes the company should be changing tact every six months to meet the insatiable pace of new technology.

And with insurers often seen as laggards in terms of new technology, and with executives who often want to stay in the status quo, he had one word of advice for likeminded innovators looking to get ahead: “Run as fast as you can because the resistance is coming”.

He also admitted that it’s also about being ruthless and disciplined, and killing projects after three months if they are costly and not going anywhere fast.

“Killing it is extremely difficult – and you have to have the discipline to kill it if the legs are not there.”

manulifecioManulife exploring new technologies

As with many other insurers, Manulife is exploring a number of emerging technologies, including Augmented Reality (AR), Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

“AR, we didn’t really think about this one,” he said, explaining how the lightbulb moment came at a conference in Montreal, Canada. The real-estate division has since implemented the use of AR to model a building so that prospective tenants can see the layout before the builders break ground.

He further explained that he is “very excited” about the potential of Blockchain and cognitive computing/AI, although disappointingly he said that he couldn’t add any detail on the projects Manulife is working on.

Some of this work can be seen in the public eye, with LOFT announcing a collaboration with Boston-based deep learning platform indico data solutions back in August. This followed a similar collaboration between LOFT and Nervana Systems, a deep learning firm which was bought by Intel for a reported $350 million in the same month.

And on Blockchain, in April it was announced that ConsenSys and BlockApps were working together in the LOFT’s first Ethereum Blockchain proof of concept (PoC). The LOFT will apply Blockchain technologies to improve the on-boarding of new wealth management clients.

“IoT is going to happen – it is a case of disrupting yourselves or you are going to be disrupted.”

On change and innovation, he finished by saying: “You have to embrace change…. just do it”.

Insurance and IoT not a natural fit

Other speakers at the Internet of Insurance have discussed not just the potential of IoT, but the challenges too, with many highlighting business culture and data privacy.

And these comments chime with recent research from Parisian think-tank Efma.

Efma’s study found that connected homes, cars, and health all stand to change the nature of insurable risk, allowing insurers to devise more profitable business models, leveraging data to create more personalized offerings. The result will be stronger revenues and closer customer relationships.

However, Efma CEO Vincent Bastid said that success doesn’t come easy. “It’s likely that premiums will reduce quite significantly and there are significant implications in terms of data management, privacy and security,” he said.

“Laden down with traditional processes and archaic systems, traditional insurers will have to think outside of the box in order to avoid being disintermediated or attacked in their market by newcomers or incumbent players who manage to capitalize on the potential of IoT first”.