Dec 25 2021 / Round the Table Magazine
Using AI for efficiency and expansion
By Matt Pais
When Renyu Xu emigrated from China to Canada 17 years ago, it took her three hours on the phone and in person — over the course of two days — to set up travel insurance for herself as she awaited her permanent resident medical insurance card.
Now, to help new clients in a similar situation, the nine-year MDRT member from LaSalle, Quebec, Canada, uses an artificial intelligence (AI) system to accomplish the same thing in just 20 minutes. In the last two years, she has helped 3,000 individuals secure travel insurance, and 20% have become clients for other products as well.
“If we educate the client in person, it’s very slow,” Xu said. “AI is a very good tool to provide real-life stories to let people understand the whole process and the risk in their life. Then the client may come to us and be able to go directly to the plans rather than talking a lot about why they need to do something.”
In 2018, Xu — who works primarily with business owners and professionals on life insurance, health insurance, group insurance, retirement products and investments — wanted to expand her practice in a manner that targeted younger clients while also requiring minimal resources. She connected with the AI department at the University of Montreal and employed a student to help her build an automated database for travel insurance quotes. (More complicated products like life insurance that require more private information to qualify are far more difficult to build with data.)
Using Xu’s existing clientele to set up the model, the system, housed in WeChat, took six months from inception to launch. All a user needs to do when they access the program through their phone is provide some basic information (age, gender), and the system will provide quotes from numerous companies. Users receive a code that allows them to buy the insurance through Xu’s website.
In the past two years, Renyu Xu helped 3,000 individuals secure travel insurance.
Younger people tend to be more technologically savvy than older people, meaning that this service helps Xu expand the type of clients she works with. It also requires just one support staff member to maintain, and again, has led to a whopping 600 new clients in just a couple of years. (These are typically people who buy travel insurance for three months and then become residents.) In a period where people are less able to connect in person, Xu says, AI provides another option (like Zoom, but faster than scheduling and explaining things in a meeting) for clients to get information using just their devices.
Because prospects enter their email address when they request a quote, Xu and her support team can follow up with those who do not complete their purchase through the website, which accounts for about 60% of those who receive a quote.
Because the annual revenue is currently not very large from the travel insurance component alone ($60,000 out of more than $1 million total) — Xu notes the impact of the pandemic on how much people have traveled recently — the salary cannot be competitive with a full-time AI professional who might make $200,000 per year. As a result, Xu continues to work with university students who are part of the AI program and strives to find the right balance of affordable and skilled individuals.
In addition, technology comes with its own set of limitations. Xu’s practice comprises 80% Chinese clients based in Canada, most of whom speak English. While the AI system is set up for both English and Chinese, the automated system sometimes struggles with pronunciations. If, for example, you say “female” and the system thinks you said “male,” the quote provided will not be accurate.
Also, the system is not set up to handle French (which many speak in Montreal), though Xu has support staff who speak that language.
Xu hopes to expand her marketing efforts so existing social media initiatives don’t blend into the background. She also hopes to be able to incorporate bigger products into her AI service as costs go down and technical capabilities go up for small and medium companies.
“I’m very interested in new things and finding a different way to integrate the internet into the financial field,” she said. “We have to use a different way to face a different generation.”
Contact: Renyu Xu firstname.lastname@example.org