A growing number of commercial industries deploy aerial drones to reduce their operational costs, enhance workplace safety and improve their contribution to sustainability. Drones can reduce a company’s need for time-consuming and expensive ground surveys; they can improve data collection in otherwise inaccessible areas; they can reduce the exposure of their field workers to harm and injury; and by replacing gas-fueled vehicles with battery-powered aircraft, drones can shrink the size of a company’s carbon footprint.
While the role of drones in precision agriculture and construction and pipeline inspections has become increasingly well known, the insurance claims industry was the first to deploy UAVs commercially. In fact, insurance still claims by far the single largest share of drone activity, about 17% of all sales and deployments (compared to just 3% for agriculture), according to the market research firm Intellias.
U.S, firms like Allstate, Erie Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Liberty Mutual, and Travelers first pioneered the use of insurance drones back in 2015. According to InsurTech, insurance drones are primarily used to “assess risks, monitor damage, and interrogate claims.” The main structures assessed are roofs on residential homes and apartment buildings but drones are also used to survey taller commercial structures and remote hard-to-access assets where the use of field assessors is especially dangerous. Unlike satellites, drones, equipped with thermal imaging cameras, can zero in on below-surface – and even some interior building – problems that field surveyors may miss; they can also gather data at close range under nearly all conditions, while satellite surveillance may be blocked by cloudy and inclement weather.
A USA Today report found that it typically took Allstate 11 days to issue a repair estimate with a human-conducted roof examination. By contrast, the same estimate took just 4.5 days using a drone; a 60% reduction. As a result, drones help carriers write policies and process claims more quickly, reducing their operational costs while enhancing customer satisfaction. Drone-based data is also easily stored and shared, eliminating many of the assessment disputes that can arise during field inspections. More sophisticated AI-equipped drones can also provide 3-D photogrammetry estimates to anticipate future insurance problems based on a modeling of wear-and-tear over time.
Drones may not always be perfect, experts say. Companies seeking to mitigate fraud have sometimes used aerial inspections to uncover dubious or exaggerated insurance claims. In a few highly-publicized cases, homeowners have found their insurance canceled as a result of a carrier drone inspection; some have complained that their insurer exaggerated the problem or worse, invaded their privacy.
Laws regarding drone flights over private property do vary from one jurisdiction to the other; and carriers may have different guidelines and requirements for property access. Most insurers will agree to perform a follow up field assessment if a claimant disputes the results of a drone-based inspection. On balance, though, properly-conducted drone inspections have the potential to make the insurance adjustment process fairer, more accurate and more efficient for carriers and consumers alike.
Homes are not the only focus of insurance drone inspections. Drones are increasingly being used to assess insurance liability in the wake of traffic accidents and natural disasters. Field inspectors may not be able to reach the scene of a natural disaster for weeks, or even months, while a drone can conduct an aerial assessment right away. On busy highways, speedy drone inspections allow roads to be cleared and lengthy traffic delays avoided. Overall, the broader public benefits from the use of insurance drones.
According to McKinsey, a “seismic, tech-driven shift” is occurring in the insurance sector: By the year 2030, automation will account for more than half of all insurance claims activity, the company predicts. Forward-thinking insurance carriers have an opportunity to establish a strong competitive advantage in the marketplace by getting ahead of the tech curve. Drones are faster, less expensive, more efficient and safer than traditional field inspections, and their use enhances sustainability. There’s no better way for insurers to thrive and to better serve their customers and themselves moving forward.