Farmers reflects on drone program and 'aerial imagery strategy'

'Drone technology is one of the best examples of technology working with a human'

Farmers reflects on drone program and 'aerial imagery strategy'


By Bethan Moorcraft

Drone technology is generating quite some buzz in the insurance industry. It’s helping loss adjusters deliver rapid claims assessment and enabling carriers to deliver faster payouts for clients. Greater claims efficiency correlates to greater customer satisfaction.

In August 2017, Farmers Insurance set its sights skyward by enlisting a fleet of unmanned aerial aircraft systems (UAS) produced by Kespry. The plan was for the insurance giant to enhance the claims experience for customers who suffered significant damage to their roof following major weather events, while also increasing safety for Farmers’ loss adjusters.

For the last 10 months, the insurer has been slowly and strategically rolling out its drone program, validating the data and imagery captured by the drones and testing the aerial technology in different scenarios. The firm’s initial drone use-case was to asses steep and high roofs, which are more challenging for loss adjusters to access and generally more dangerous.

“Any time we don’t have to put an employee on a roof, it’s a better outcome for us because it reduces the risk of somebody having an accident,” said Tim Felks, head of property claims at Farmers Insurance. “So far, we’re getting positive feedback from our claims representative operating the drones, and from the customers as well.

“One of the things we like about Kespry drones is that they almost fly themselves. The adjuster enters the flight pattern and then the drone takes to the air autonomously. This means the adjuster can focus on the data and imagery the drone is capturing, while still monitoring the drone and following safety precautions. Any time we come across a roof where we’re unable to determine the cause or extent of damage, we still get an adjuster up on that roof in order to validate and complement any data we got from the drone.”

Drone technology is still in its infancy in the insurance industry. In some scenarios, such as post-hail storms, drones have really come up top trumps and proven valuable returns on investment (ROI). Other situations are no so drone-friendly. During the catastrophe season last year, Farmers found out that using UAVs to assess wind claims post-hurricane was not the best way to deploy its drones, because once the air space was opened by authorities, most roofs had already been tarped.

Despite a few set-backs, Farmers remains dedicated to using drone technology as part of an “overall aerial imagery strategy” alongside fixed-wing aircrafts and satellite imagery, explained Felks. In the early stages, the insurer is testing the efficiencies and capabilities of the various technologies, and how they fit in with the Farmers strategy and workforce.

“I think drone technology is probably one of the best examples of technology working with and enabling a human,” Felks told Insurance Business. “It will make us more efficient and will allow us to respond to customers much faster.

“I don’t know how much of an impact drone technology might have on staffing long-term. What I can say is that we’re still going to have a person operating the drone and we’re still going to have somebody validating data from the drone. If there is an impact on staffing, I don’t think it will be as significant as maybe some of the other technologies that could potentially come our way.”

Kespry CEO George Mathew remains adamant that drone technology is there to “enable and assist the adjuster” in order to provide a “safer and more seamless claims experience”. The firm has introduced new artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to take its drone technology to the next level.

Image from Kespry.



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