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Training at forefront as AI fails to fill underwriting needs

06 June 2019 INSETA

In the 1980s, when first underwriting computer programs were developed, the insurance industry saw this as the end of the need to train underwriters. Decades on, the industry and the Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority (INSETA) have recognised that the ‘human touch’ is still very much needed in the position of underwriter, despite great strides in digitisation.

This makes the establishment of INSETA’s formal Occupational Certificate: Insurance Agent (Insurance Underwriter) qualification so valuable, as experts agree.

“We have discovered that certain ‘standard’ elements can be done via computer but the information we get from individuals varies so much that the narrative cannot be underwritten solely by a machine. Underwriters assess the particular risk based on the individual’s history,” explains Dianne Steyn, life underwriter at Bright Rock Insurance.

She, and others in the insurance sector, believes it is a myth that underwriters will not be required in the future. While certain components of underwriting can be and have been automated, there are clients who do not conform to the ‘standard elements’ and require individual consideration, which is where the understanding of detailed industry data comes into play.

It is acknowledged that underwriters need to have a broad knowledge on a range of subjects. “An underwriter is part actuary, part accountant, part lawyer, part medical doctor,” continues Steyn. “Underwriters must take into account the current laws, ownership of a policy and assessment of financial evidence, amongst other things.”

Duane Hoffeldt, chief underwriter of Munich Re of Africa, agrees, “Underwriters have a wealth of knowledge about highly specialised areas but until now there has been no formal qualification that can be written to allow the occupation to be recognised. Which is why what INSETA is offering is critical. It essentially puts a value to the experience and the knowledge that an underwriter has.”

The INSETA qualification prepares candidates to evaluate and interpret information to protect stakeholders’ interests, by using specialist technical knowledge to determine price, manage and transfer risk. The 18-month course is divided into face-to-face lectures, to provide the knowledge component, assignments that speak to the practical application of the knowledge to the industry and each person’s workplace experience, created as an individual Portfolio of Evidence.

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