Greg Dalgetty
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To boldly go…

“Tea, Earl Grey, hot.”

If, like me, you watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation back in the day, you’ll get that reference. And if you didn’t? Well, I’m sorry, but reading this editorial might be a tough slog for you.

For the non-Trekkies out there, I’ll try to summarize this as quickly (and painlessly) as possible. On TNG, the Starship Enterprise was equipped with these devices called replicators, which could produce any kind of food or beverage you wanted out of thin air. All you had to do was ask. Romulan ale, tranya, prune juice—you name it, the replicator made it.

Now, Captain Picard’s favourite beverage was—you guessed it—tea. Specifically, Earl Grey, served hot. There were many scenes in the show where he’d ask the replicator for a cuppa with his usual “Tea, Earl Grey, hot” refrain.

I grew up watching TNG and the idea of having a replicator blew my mind. You’d think I’d have been more impressed by the spaceships, the phasers or the transporters. But no—I wanted a computer I could order food from. And I was gullible enough to think I might eventually get one.

Sadly, we’re not there yet—but we’re getting closer. We’re now surrounded by computers we can interact with verbally. And they’re gaining an even firmer foothold in our lives, with smart home speakers such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa now available in Canada.

Interestingly, the insurance industry—widely regarded as being sluggish when it comes to technological innovation—is already dipping its toes into the waters of smart home technology.

Aviva Canada has released a “skill” for Amazon Alexa that allows customers to ask questions about insurance jargon, locate brokers and give drivers in Ontario auto insurance quotes. Kanetix is also offering auto insurance quotes through Google Home. I’ve tried these out and, to be honest, they’re not perfect. But few things are perfect the first time they’re attempted, and it’s fascinating to see the industry boldly going where it hasn’t gone before.

Do these offerings pose a threat to brokers? In their current state, I would say the answer is a firm no. It’s not yet possible to actually purchase insurance through these devices. And I’m not convinced consumers will immediately turn to their smart speakers to shop for insurance. But it’s possible that could change someday. And I see no reason why brokers couldn’t—or shouldn’t—also start offering services through smart speakers. In fact, some already are.

Think of all the technological innovations Star Trek predicted: handheld communication devices, video calls, translation software. And now, we’ve got talking computers. Who’s to say we might not be ordering insurance through them someday?

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Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the January/February edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine