SilverBridge recognised at Microsoft AI hackathon

A three-member SilverBridge development team, who participated at the Microsoft Artificial Intelligence (#MSAIHack) Hackathon held in Bryanston last week, was awarded the runners-up prize in the Financial Services Industry (FSI) category.

The team consisted of JC Oberholzer, Henlo Ueckermann, and Yunus Scheepers. The event took place over two days at the Microsoft South Africa headquarters on June 12 and 13.

The hackathon was designed to facilitate the creation of innovative prototypes that leverage AI and machine-learning services in the Microsoft Azure cloud. It was used as a platform for developers to showcase their talents and build something innovative by highlighting how Azure AI services can improve people’s lives and experiences in the FSI and Health services industries.

Six teams competed against one another by creating prototypes and presentations using Microsoft Azure AI services.

“The SilverBridge developers used the cognitive Services Vision API (application programming interface) with a specific focus on facial recognition to build an app focussed on client services within the FSI sector,” says Yunus Scheepers, CTO at SilverBridge Holdings.

The facial recognition would identify customers walking into a service centre and provide the support personnel with information on that individual.

“AI and machine-learning have the potential to fundamentally change customer service in the digital age. The SilverBridge app highlighted just how far-reaching this impact would be by empowering FSI employees with all relevant customer information once a person walks into a service centre such as a bank branch. We are incredibly proud of our team for the recognition they received at the event,” concludes Scheepers.

About SilverBridge

SilverBridge has over 20 years’ experience as a leading provider of insurance software solutions in the African financial services industry. Our footprint extends to 14 African countries. SilverBridge has introduced an enhanced service offering allowing financial services companies the opportunity to respond quickly to changing markets. With customers throughout Africa, SilverBridge has the knowledge, experience, and technology to help its clients do better business.

The importance of personalisation in insurance

If the digital age has delivered customers anything, then it is the ability to personalise virtually any product or service to meet their unique needs. Financial services providers, like insurers, must capitalise on this to satisfy individual customer requirements and differentiate themselves in the process, says Leonel da Silva, Portfolio Manager at SilverBridge.

“It has become too easy to throw terms like digital transformation and disruption into business and think it will overcome all organisational challenges. And while personalisation and customisation are vital parts of the innovation needed in insurance, solid business principles still need to apply,” he says.

The temptation to embrace any technological innovation to the detriment of more traditional options have become part of business as usual. Instead, decision-makers need to examine what the business case for that innovation is and whether there is a logical fit inside the organisation to do so.

Be different

This is where personalisation for insurers come in.

“Customers want to feel empowered and masters of their own destiny when it comes to selecting the products and services that align to their needs. Insurance, for its part, is an industry that has a natural allowance to do so. After all, no two customers want to insure the same things or have the same household items or vehicles that can be neatly pigeonholed into a specific product offering.”

Sadly, many incumbents have done just that – offered people an ‘off-the-shelf’ insurance product in which all their needs must be met. And while they have been doing so successfully for many decades, the rise of more agile insurtechs are forcing a rethink to this old school approach.

Under pressure

These insurtechs do not have to rely on cumbersome legacy systems to deliver solutions to their customers. Instead, they capitalise on the flexibility digital innovation provides them and deliver a niche service offering (for the time being) that is designed for very specific customer needs.

“This personalisation is more than just a targeted email or SMS message wishing a customer a happy birthday. It is integrated into all aspects of data capturing, analysis, and insights to deliver a complete view of a person. Being able to put the pieces of the data puzzle effectively together and pro-actively address customer expectations will result in someone potentially leaving the insurer to a person loyal to it – an incredibly valuable proposition today.”

Just because insurtechs are more adapt at doing this, does not mean incumbents are unable to. In fact, the wealth of customer data they have at their disposal puts them in a much stronger position than the ‘young upstarts’. There just needs to be a willingness to use this data in a more integrated fashion.

“Today, it is about using data in real-time and moving away from the siloed approach of the past. It is all about innovating quickly, learning from mistakes fast, and adapting solutions accordingly. To do any less, will result in a negative customer experience. Now is the time for insurers to act and leverage their data to become significantly more competitive,” he concludes.

About SilverBridge

SilverBridge has over 20 years’ experience as a leading provider of insurance software solutions in the African financial services industry. Our footprint extends to 13 African countries. SilverBridge has introduced an enhanced service offering allowing financial services companies the opportunity to respond quickly to changing markets. With customers throughout Africa, SilverBridge has the knowledge, experience, and technology to help its clients do better business.

Digital expectations must drive insurance strategy

Sune Ueckermann, Operations Manager at SilverBridge, believes the connected world has fundamentally changed people’s expectations of service providers, including insurers. Fundamentally, they must be able to meet in the digital needs of their customers to remain relevant. The attention that insurtechs are getting means there is no room to be patient about this transition any longer.

Thanks to how easy it has become to access all types of services, people are looking for more innovative and individualised solutions. This can be attributed to the pervasiveness of mobile devices, more affordable data rates, and faster internet connectivity. Today, consumers are empowered with a wealth of information at their fingertips where they can easily compare prices, product benefits, and value-added features irrespective of the industry.

To a certain extent, insurance has traditionally been protected from high customer churn as it was about selling a brand image as much as a reputation of being able to deliver on claims when the worst should happen. However, in recent years that has changed thanks to the expectations that insurtechs created that they can deliver a more personalised service to customers. These expectations are intensified by the real-time availability of almost everything from news to bank statements. Being able to transact immediately has become the norm.

Combining tech and people

“While it might sound contradictory to say, the sophisticated technology adopted by insurtechs enable them to deliver a better customer experience, often via an agent who has all relevant customer data in front of them.”

In fact, combining technology, data, and advanced analytics ensure that an insurer can deliver on fluid customer expectations more easily. Building the tools to achieve this requires a fundamental understanding of customer requirements and the underlying technologies.

“Despite the insurance industry’s early adoption of technology for keeping data and workflow management, digital processing does not come naturally. Often apps, Web sites, and call centres are used to maintaining daily operations without innovating process and customer engagement.”

She says that the daily struggles to keep up with customer issues often leads to insurers missing out on significant opportunities to embrace a user-centric approach to product development and customer service.

“The upcoming insurtechs have an advantage of not having the legacy structures that are difficult to change of incumbents and they can put the customer at the centre of the digital experience. In this way, the customer remains at the forefront of all organisational aspects instead of only being plugged in when it comes time to sell a policy.”

Beyond traditional

Clearly, the tools and data are available to insurers. The incumbents have massive amounts of customer data to leverage and they have the budgets to embrace all sorts of technology innovation such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics.

“A key part to becoming more digitally-aware is aligning business units to share a common vision built around the customer. Instead of only developing new products, an insurer should evaluate its existing processes and see how it can enhance them to be more customer-centric. Potentially, an insurer can even partner with an insurtech to deliver complimentary offerings. In this way, they have the best of both worlds – an existing customer base and a potential new one that can be driven through the digital-first mindset of the insurtech.”

This shift is not something that can happen overnight. Yet, it is much-needed given the complexities of the modern consumer market and the challenging economic times businesses face.

“Digital is giving insurers the tools. They already have the data. Now, they just need to rethink using a customer perspective on delivering through the value chain. Change is inevitable and the sooner they embrace this, the better for their long-term success,” she concludes.

About SilverBridge

SilverBridge has over 20 years’ experience as a leading provider of insurance software solutions in the African financial services industry. Our footprint extends to 13 African countries. SilverBridge has introduced an enhanced service offering allowing financial services companies the opportunity to respond quickly to changing markets. With customers throughout Africa, SilverBridge has the knowledge, experience, and technology to help its clients do better business.

Local Azure data centres to drive cloud growth

Earlier this year saw the launch of Microsoft data centres in South Africa. Located in Johannesburg and Cape Town, this world-class cloud infrastructure that will power emerging cloud, AI and edge computing innovations across the continent. Azure is the first of Microsoft’s intelligent cloud services to be delivered from the new datacentres. Office 365 and Dynamics 365 are anticipated for later in 2019. Lee Kuyper, COO of SilverBridge Holdings, believes this will provide local insurers with significant opportunities.

“For one, the benefits of the cloud become far more tangible for most businesses. Cloud computing has been around for a while but has always been something removed for most in Africa or something that happens ‘somewhere else’. With the new Microsoft data centre regions, it becomes something that is closer to home that can be practically implemented.”

Even though financial services organisations have become more open to move to the cloud in recent years, there has been a general hesitancy to fully embrace it.

Locally available

The new Microsoft Cloud region will offer the same enterprise-grade reliability and performance as offered in the over 40 cloud regions around the world with the added benefit of data residency.

“So far, the reception from our customers to these data centres has been positive. Although some have been working with and have embraced the cloud for a while, there are benefits to be realised from having the option of local data centres.”

For one, data is stored locally. South Africa’s two regions provide geographic redundancy capability, meaning that data replication can happen within the country for backup and recovery purposes. There will also be private connection available via Azure ExpressRoute which provides 99.95% dedicated availability.

Opportunity for the industry

“Insurance is an industry which is typically risk averse and in many cases for valid reason. Insurers deal with very sensitive customer information but also provide a critical service which requires a high level of credibility and trust. Having the option of local data centres just supports these underlying fundamentals. In addition, it also serves as a basis for the industry to drive innovation in terms of the way their customers interact with and experience insurance.”

The Microsoft cloud provides a level of security and compliance far beyond what any business could invest into on their own. Insurance is a highly regulated industry and by using the Microsoft cloud, insurers can tick many of the required boxes.

“From a regulatory point of view, local customers can rest assured that no data protection issues will be raised as all data is hosted within South African borders, rather than in other geographic regions. With these concerns removed, the improved speed and accessibility of new cloud environments as well as certain Azure functions that deliver better data and application management, will result in improved service delivery to customers.”

Furthermore, the fact that there are now physical Microsoft servers in the country mean SilverBridge customers can have a faster connection to the data centre thereby improving responsiveness of the applications on customer devices.

“Perceptions around the cloud are already changing even without the local data centres. However, their arrival will accelerate this and give South African business an improved ability to leverage the power of the Microsoft Cloud. Of course, the cloud on its own will not deliver the full value available. To really gain benefit, insurers will need to move towards business applications that are built for and that leverage the cloud not just from an infrastructure perspective but also from the wide range of services which are available on the platform.”

According to an IDC study, commissioned, spending on public cloud services in South Africa will nearly triple over the next five years, and the adoption of cloud services will generate nearly 112,000 net new jobs in South Africa by the end of 2022. The study also shows that increased utilisation of public cloud services and the additional investments into private and hybrid cloud solutions is enabling organisations in South Africa to focus on innovation and building “digital businesses at scale.” In turn, this enablement will help businesses generate close to R80 billion in new revenue over the next five years.

About SilverBridge

SilverBridge has over 20 years’ experience as a leading provider of insurance software solutions in the African financial services industry. Our footprint extends to 14 African countries. SilverBridge has introduced an enhanced service offering allowing financial services companies the opportunity to respond quickly to changing markets. With customers throughout Africa, SilverBridge has the knowledge, experience, and technology to help its clients do better business.