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Technology is making waves in the marine insurance market

Technology is making waves in the marine insurance market

By Anne Marie Elder, Chief Underwriting Officer – Marine, North America

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term that’s quite mainstream these days. And players in the Marine industry are finding ways to use it to their advantage. Cost-savings, safety, efficiency and product/service quality are all wins when embracing technological innovations, but there are some concerns to be addressed. One thing’s for certain: MarineTech is here to stay and evolve. How do industry players do the same? AXA XL’s Anne Marie Elder looks at how new technologies are changing the marine risks that her team insure and changing the way they underwrite risk.

Where are MarineTech innovations making the most impact in the Marine insurance industry?

Elder: From more autonomous vessels and vehicles… to surveying drones… to wearables that are helping mariners, truck drivers and others in the industry monitor movement and more... new technologies are sliding into every corner of the industry. Sensor technology and geo-spatial technology are aiding navigation. Advances in artificial intelligence are helping vessels to operate with less human interaction or smaller crews. Blockchain is starting to challenge the way that the industry conducts business.

As an insurer, we are looking at how these advancements are changing our clients’ risk profiles, and how well our insurance coverages protect them. Similarly, the insurance industry is adopting some of these technologies to help our clients’ risk management and loss prevention efforts, and to boost our own efficiencies.

Technology innovations are accelerating the way all industries work. Are they changing the face of risk, too, particularly in the Marine Industry?

Absolutely. As technology changes how we move goods by land and by sea, we are seeing new risks emerge. But the ways in which industry players can anticipate and mitigate those risks have also gotten better.

From a Marine Insurance perspective, it’s exciting times because we have better and newer ways to size up potential risks and protect our clients accordingly. We now have data that we never had access to before. Data and analytics are playing a much bigger role in how we underwrite and price marine risks.

As new technologies produce more and new data points, how is Marine insurance taking advantage of the benefits that big data can provide?

The marine industry is one of the oldest on the planet. We rely on years of data to help us underwrite ocean and inland marine risks. It’s because of this wealth of historical knowledge that we can anticipate what’s next… to predict the future. Now, given new technologies and new data points, we have even more information to influence our underwriting decisions. And artificial intelligence is helping us find new, more efficient and dynamic ways to analyze the growing pile of data. It’s helping us uncover trends and relationships or correlations between risk factors.


" We see significant advantages in how our clients use technologies to keep their risks in check."


When it comes to handling risk, who benefits more from new Marine technologies, the insureds or the insurers?

Both do. We see significant advantages in how our clients use technologies to keep their risks in check. Historical and real-time data from connected devices like wearables and sensors help our clients keep close tabs of their day-to-day safety risks, be it on a construction job site, on the road, or on a container ship. That can influence how insurers evaluate risk and price coverage accordingly. 

The more data points we have, the more accurately we can assess risk. New technologies are helping to provide additional oversight on how a project is progressing, or measuring workers’ safety, can only improve our loss experience.

With so many benefits to be had, why would anyone hesitate to use new technologies and greater use of data and analytics? 

There is, understandably, some apprehension in this area. Some companies just don’t want to share data about their procedures. They are concerned that, the more information you provide, the more chance it can work against you. Unless you are a trusted business partner, a broker typically only shares minimally required information with their underwriter.

Another reason could be that many of these advances make it possible to pinpoint what went wrong and/or who was negligent. While that should be seen as a positive, when it comes to liability and settling claims, having grey areas can be helpful in skirting potential blame. 

Some may be concerned that more technology and models will replace underwriting judgment. I don’t’ think that will be the case. We’re not using more data and analytics and building predictive models to replace underwriters. Rather, we are working to enhance our decision making. Human judgement will always be a critical component to effective marine underwriting. Models can’t access the industry knowledge many of us have – that first-hand experience is an integral part of managing marine risks. 

So how does an insured or an insurance provider decide whether or not to take the technology innovation plunge?

We have to look at the added value from being more connected and using that increased connectivity to learn and uncover information to our benefit. With tight budgets and slim profit margins, any way to mitigate loss and risk before it impacts the bottom line is essential. Analyzing historical data from the marine players in their business environment helps us help them be aware of possible risk factors. 

It also assists us in better developing insurance products and services that manage these risks. Growing use of new technology, and data analytics are helping both us and our clients. 

Are there indirect benefits to MarineTech for those companies who make the investment?

No doubt using new technologies will make a company – including marine insurers like AXA XL and our clients – more competitive in the marketplace. There may still be apprehension and fiscal constraints to invest in new technologies. However, the many indirect, incidental and practical benefits of MarineTech advancements will make dipping our toes in the IoT pool worthwhile. Things like better tracking and management of assets, increased safety and security, and better customer service will help us be more valuable to our clients, and ultimately help our clients increase their value to their clients. 

Anne Marie Elder leads AXA XL’s North America Marine insurance business. She can be reached at

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