Usually, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning is associated with job losses as people are replaced by machines. Insurer Zurich has decided to go in a different direction and use AI to create jobs. Patrick Brusnahan writes

Zurich has decided to re-skill and retain a large chunk of its workforce in the UK. How is this set to benefit the company and its employees?

After analysis of its workforce, in collaboration with AII analytics platform Faethm, Zurich found that 270 jobs could go unfilled in the next five years if the team is not reskilled.

As a result, the insurer has invested £1m to future proof its workforce and retrain 3,000 employees, two-thirds of the workforce.

In addition, its new Automation Academy has supported the founding of a 40-strong AI team. It has already introduced over 120 new automated interventions and another 100 are in the pipeline. Over the next 12 months, the figure is expected to double.

What has led to Zurich utilising AI for jobs?

Speaking to Verdict InsurTech, John Koppel, COO of Zurich Insurance, says: “Over the course of the last couple of years, we’ve made material strides in the work that we did with Faethm. That created a management theory about the kind of problems we had with acquiring skills and the sorts of skills we thought we would need.

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“We did some AI work to more accurately predict exactly what skills we’re likely to need and in what volume. That helped crystallise the broad concern and give us something that we could plan and look to execute. It’s been happening for two and a half years but has made more material progress in the last 18 months.”

The range of measures to future proof the workforce includes:

  • Introduction of data and automation academies: reinforcing the development and support of automation, robotics and innovation across the UK business;
  • 120 new processes implemented: evolving to facilitate the building and implementation of necessary claims automation solutions to support claims commitment, and
  • Partnering with universities: Zurich and the University of Winchester are working together to develop a three-year Data Scient Apprenticeship degrees. Seven Zurich employees are already on the course.

Alastair Robertson, head of continuous improvement and automation at Zurich UK adds: “My team is a perfect example of how to nurture existing employees for the future. There are many preconceived ideas about implementing automated processes into a business and how it these roles must be carried out by tech specialists. In reality, the best people to do this effectively have worked within the function that you’re looking to automate as they really understand the process.”

Koppel continues: “We have an initiative around workforce sustainability, making sure we can continue to support the jobs and the families that we support today in the future. That underlying element of our culture combined with this data was a perfect story.

“We started working on the academies and the pathways to help individuals navigate from a career that might have started out in one particular part of our business, helping them leap across to a new platform that’s growing. It is a platform that is perhaps a more opportunistic area for them, so far with really pleasing results. Not only is it helping us access skills that we find it quite hard to find externally but it’s working out to be cheaper and more effective.”

How have Zurich employees reacted to the reskilling?

Koppel concludes: “I think people have been quite pleased with their individual outcomes.

“We certainly have more hands up than we have places on our academy programmes now. That’s why we’re going to expand them.”