Opinion | Meet Your New Workers’ Comp Coworker: A White-Collar Robot

By: | November 9, 2018

Roberto Ceniceros is a retired senior editor of Risk & Insurance® and the former chair of the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® & Expo. Read more of his columns and features.

A new breed of white-collar robots is marching into the workers’ compensation world.

Expect them to arrive with endearing names, like “Rosie the Robot,” named after the Jetsons’ housekeeper in the 1960s cartoon.

We mostly think of robots invading blue-collar workspaces, taking over manufacturing shop floors and replacing employees conducting physical tasks.

But transactions requiring a large volume of repetitive, mundane clerical procedures — like activities necessary to administer workers’ comp claims or issue insurance policies — are ripe for robotic process automation, known as RPA.

Although relatively new, RPA is already moving into workers’ comp. No doubt you will hear more promises about how it will improve life for claims payers and injured workers.

Relax though, proponents argue that RPA won’t replace workers’ comp jobs any time soon. It’s more assistive technology expected to free up time for adjusters and others responsible for insurance processes to exercise creativity.

Think of today’s adjuster, overburdened with bureaucratic procedures. Post-RPA, they could enjoy more time actually talking to injured workers and generating solutions for the challenges holding up a worker’s recovery.

Removing mundane tasks could improve the job enough to reverse the high rate of adjuster attrition plaguing insurance organizations, said Jeff White, senior VP and product manager, workers’ compensation, at Gallagher Bassett. White is known for studying technology-driven change and will speak on Insurtech, artificial intelligence and new technologies impacting claims management during the upcoming National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference® in Las Vegas.

He recently hosted an RPA symposium, drawing participants from finance, health care and insurance.

White was surprised to learn how far along those companies are in applying RPA. Some are already asking their service vendors to improve their websites to make them friendlier for customers’ robots to access.

These are not robots in the mechanical form one tends to think of; just software really.

Workers’ comp insurer AF Group is an early RPA adopter. Its robot wakes up a computer, logs onto regulator websites and searches for documents that must be included with insurance policies. It downloads the forms into a network folder where a human can access them to include with the policy, said Craig Bilinksi, AF Group manager of innovation.

I expect you will hear more about RPA bots, because third party administrator Helmsman Management Services recently announced its using them to intake and assign workers’ comp claims, even those arriving during non-business hours.

Helmsman says that will speed up its claims processing. That makes its RPA use a competitive differentiator, at least for now. Helmsman is a unit of Liberty Mutual, which was also the insurer I first heard of employing predictive modeling for claims management. That was years ago and eventually everyone managing workers’ comp claims bragged they, too, had predictive capabilities — although they were not all created equal.

I also expect competitors will eventually want to brag about their adoption of RPA bots as well. &