March 5, 2021

Info IEC

Business & Finance Information

Insurer Looks to Shorten Time From Car Wreck to Body Shop

Policyholders from Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. HIG -3.81% will now be able to take...

Policyholders from

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.


HIG -3.81%

will now be able to take photographs of their damaged cars and almost instantaneously generate a repair estimate.

The new offering is thanks to a partnership between

Hartford Financial


HIG -3.81%

and London-based Tractable. The startup is at the forefront of a growing number of technology firms trying to help car insurers use techniques such as artificial intelligence, computer vision and machine learning to speed up claims processes. Founded in 2014, Tractable already is working with big insurers in Japan and Europe.

The collaboration with

Hartford Financial

signals that artificial-intelligence activity is heating up in the U.S. car-insurance market, industry executives and consultants said. Among other strategic efforts, giant car insurer USAA has been working since 2019 with

Alphabet Inc.’s

Google Cloud unit to develop a photo-based estimating program for its policyholders.

Under Tractable’s approach, computers study the damage in photographs, which can be taken by policyholders while still at the wreck site or later. To produce estimates, the algorithms tap into data from a provider of parts and labor data.

Once the estimate is generated, policyholders can select a recommended body shop and get the repair work started.

Financial terms of the partnership couldn’t be learned.

Tractable guides car insurers’ policyholders through online filing of wreck claims.



Photo:

Tractable

“Tractable’s technology understands vehicle damage like an expert human appraiser, and has already accelerated accident recovery for over a million households globally,” said

Alex Dalyac,

Tractable’s co-founder and chief executive.

As part of its activity in the U.S., Tractable said it is teaming with San Diego-based Mitchell International Inc., an information and technology provider to more than 300 insurers and 20,000 collision-repair facilities.

Tractable’s artificial-intelligence technology can cover all types of wrecks from fender benders to total losses, though estimating repairs is most accurate on vehicles with visible exterior damage, especially fender benders, said

Stephen Applebaum,

a managing partner who provides independent research about claims technology at consulting firm Insurance Solutions Group of Skokie, Ill. Minor wrecks represent the majority of accidents.

USAA’s work with Google Cloud is aimed at “reducing time from image to estimate to payment to just a few minutes in some cases,” and potentially having “touchless claims in the future,”

Jim Syring,

a retired vice admiral with the U.S. Navy who is president of USAA Property and Casualty, said in an email.

Claims-focused artificial intelligence could ultimately save insurers substantial costs by bypassing human appraisers, though insurers generally seek to retrain and redeploy most such employees for customer-service and other positions, Mr. Applebaum said.

The move into artificial intelligence is aimed at eliminating some of the headaches that consumers have with drawn-out claims processes. At its most time-consuming, adjusters make appointments to meet policyholders in person to inspect the damaged vehicle, or visit a body shop where the vehicle has been towed. Those steps can take days to get done.

The new technology also is expected to shorten an increasingly popular alternative to in-person visits offered by many insurers, in which policyholders upload photographs for review by office-based specialists. For some carriers, as many as 50% of car claims now start out with photographs submitted by policyholders, up from about 5% just five years ago, said Mr. Applebaum.

Write to Leslie Scism at [email protected]

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