The UK got a real taste of what’s possible when insurance comes together with industry to help craft the future with the recent success of Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle trial – the first of its kind on an open road in Europe. The trial saw autonomous vehicle software provider Oxbotica collaborate with Marsh and Apollo ibott (through its MGA, in partnership in the UK with insurer Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe) for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to plant the flag for fully autonomous driving in the UK.
Richard Jinks, VP of commercial for Oxbotica emphasised that what set the test run apart was not the technology utilised (which only skims the surface of what Oxbotica has created) but rather the ecosystem that made the trial possible. Putting the vehicle on a road accessible to the public meant the intersection of regulatory process, lawyers, the government, transport organisations and every other stakeholder imaginable.
“And the pivotal point was the insurance side of things,” he said. “When we had an insurer and an insurance broker that stood by us and said, ‘yes, we’re going to do this’, that was really pivotal to us actually being able to do it. The trial itself, and what we did from an autonomy point of view, was not a challenge for us… Rather, the challenge we set ourselves was to do all the other things we had to do to get the tick in the box that says we can do this on a road accessible to the public.”
Looking back on what it took to bring about this groundbreaking innovation, Sam Tiltman, sharing economy and mobility leader, Marsh UK & Ireland, noted that Marsh’s risk advisory services proved as crucial as its broking expertise. This trial was about drawing a line in the sand, he said, which is not just about realising what’s possible with new tech but also evolving public trust in these technologies. After all, how can you generate public acceptance if the risk industry isn’t on board?
“And as a risk advisor, we found that a key problem is that the insurance market has really formed into discrete silos developed over hundreds of years. And a lot of these disruptive innovations don’t neatly fit in these silos,” he said. “So we adopt what I call a horizontal approach to really sit with the client to determine what we’re trying to achieve as a team, and then we take a solutions-based approach to achieving that.
“And then we try and find the right insurance partner who has the same mindset, which was the Apollo and the ibott team, and [then] it’s really about thinking about a solution. It’s not ‘here’s a product that sits here, so you need this’… It’s about who has a growth mindset and who wants to design something that solves a particular problem or enables a business.”
The ethos at Marsh centres around ‘powering possibility’, Tiltman said, which is at the heart of this collaboration. The Oxbotica trial was an opportunity for the insurance sector to prove that insurance is indispensable to achieving real milestones. Without insurance this could not have happened, and so it’s a true example of the capacity and the responsibility insurance has to step up and be an intimate part of a client’s journey and to help evolve that journey.
Being a part of the collaboration that made the trial so successful has been a source of pride for everybody involved, noted ibott underwriter Rebecca Marsden (pictured). Working together over the past few months to achieve this innovation had truly been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she emphasised that its success was the culmination of a truly joint effort.
“This has not been just a solution put together in isolation by a broker, a risk advisor and insurer,” she said. “Oxbotica was very much involved in putting together this truly innovative solution so that we can all look to enable this technology going forward in its many exciting and varied iterations.
“And from our perspective, [the key to this] has been having the ability and appetite to look at a genuinely new, evolving risk and not be too wedded to the concept of needing long-data and historical loss runs dating back 10, 20 years or so - which would be the traditional approach of the insurance market.”
Rather than taking the approach of trying to fit this new product into a pre-existing silo, the trial required a new way of looking at risk, taking into account its continuous evolution. The beauty of autonomy when you’re looking at data-driven underwriting is that while it’s not long, the data is very deep and very rich, she said. Having access to this huge wealth of high-quality data is fantastic as it allows underwriters to put in place models that will be able to capture and understand that data, and form a comprehensive understanding of the risk both today and as it evolves.
“That’s the other exciting thing about this technology,” Marsden noted. “The risk today is not the same as the risk in five years. The Oxbotica driver, for example, is always learning, and always improving, so we want to develop a solution that covers the risk today as it manifests but will also evolve to represent the risk as it goes forward…
“Having that adaptability is so important because we don’t want to have to go back to the drawing board every time there’s a new idea. It will continue to be an ongoing partnership and that’s really exciting from an insurance perspective, to have a continuous role in enabling this evolution. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience because, as an underwriter, these experiences don’t come around very often. So, it’s something we’re all very excited about.”
Jinks and Tiltman also emphasised the excitement that they feel about being part of this project. What’s happening at Oxbotica is going to change the world, Jinks said. He highlighted that he took two of his three children to see the trial and how it’s overwhelming to think that they’ll be among those who benefit from this technology going forward.
“At the core of what we do is bringing people together,” Tiltman said. “That’s essentially what our goal is – to bring people together and reduce risk. But here, we’re actually enabling a new innovation and a new business model. That’s what I’m really passionate about, this is not just about traditional risk transfer, but rather enabling something that’s going to change the world.
“In the future, this will be adopted, and it will look completely different to now. And I’m working with some pretty special people and companies so it’s just an absolute privilege to really explore these great minds and do something new.”