Sep 26, 2022 4 min read

Can Trust be Automated?

A leading supplier of software to the insurance sector has launched a ‘Trust Automation Platform’. It’s great of course that Friss are recognising the important of trust. It should get their clients and prospects thinking about it more. Yet can platforms like this actually deliver on trust itself?

Is trust holding back the speed of insurance?

Let’s look at how Friss is positioning their platform. They say at the outset that trust is “a key factor holding back the speed of insurance’. And in the accompanying video – “We can no longer let time get in the way of trust.” The rationale therefore is that if there was more trust, then insurance could be done faster, throughout (in their words) the insurance value chain, from quote to claim.

The Trust Automation Platform is therefore about allowing insurers to automate more, without a concomitant reduction of trust. It’s an acknowledgement therefore that in insurance, automation can diminish trust, unless addressed specifically.

Friss says that their platform…

“allows insurers to improve operational efficiency following the 3 pillars of trust:
1. Standardize, safeguard and automate competence; deliver products & services through process excellence & know-how
2. Increase customer satisfaction by showing your motives; driven by the intention to do what’s best for your customers you interact with and think how to balance the needs for different groups when needed
3. Enable fair processes and treatment of customers. Processes should be open and transparent, both for trustworthy customers as for those you need to verify.”

Let’s translate this into plain English...

1. this point is about competency and reliability (“standardize, safeguard and automate competence”);

2. this point is about honesty (“showing your motives”) and genuineness (“driven by the intention to do what’s best for your customers”);

3. this point is about fairness.

Trust is Not for Sale

So how well has Friss taken on board wider research into trust? I’ll look at this on two levels. The first level is about a distinction that Friss seem to have ignored, probably for marketing reasons. And the second level is about those three process specifications.

Friss are positioning their system to deliver trust. Unfortunately, they’ve got this the wrong way round. Trust is something the customer gives to the insurer. It is not something that the insurer gives out through their processes. What insurers need to do is build trustworthiness. Experienced and assessed by customers, that trustworthiness causes the customer to increase or decrease their trust in that insurer.

This mis-positioning of trust relative to trustworthiness is perhaps understandable, given that ‘trust’ is a short, distinct and widely understood term, while ‘trustworthiness’ is a bit of a mouthful and not part of everyday vocabulary. So from a marketing perspective, I see this mis-positioning of trust as understandable. It’s also acceptable, so long as Friss make the distinction clear to their insurer customers, otherwise those customers might think, to put it simply, that trust can be bought. Nothing could be further from reality.

An Authority on Trust

Let’s look at the three process specifications for their trust platform. In translating them into plain English, I used Onora O’Neill’s four pillars of trustworthiness, namely competence, honesty, reliability and genuineness. Professor O’Neill, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, is one of the UK’s foremost experts on trust. She talks about trust and trustworthiness in this short talk…

In judging Friss’s three process specifications, I’ve taken a) a pot half-full mindset and b) their word that their system delivers these things. And as you see, the match is pretty good. Their specification is emphasising the right things. What’s more, they bring in fairness as well, which I think is right, for fairness in insurance is a significant influence to how customers weigh up what insurers do.

Doubts over Genuineness

All in all then, Friss seem to tick the right boxes. Yet I can’t help returning to two ways in which they position their platform. These are the emphasis on trust being something that gets in the way of the speed of insurance, and on their platform improving the operational efficiency of insurers. Both of these raise a question around genuineness as an attribute of trustworthiness.

What does Friss want their clients to get out of using this platform? More trust through operational efficiencies? Or more operational efficiencies through trust? From what Friss are saying, I think it the emphasis is on operational efficiencies.

Am I nit-picking, some of you may ask. I don’t think so: I’m just being specific and questioning, for the reason why a firm ‘does trust’ directly feeds into the results it sets out to achieve. Customers invariably recognise that difference over time, with a firm then being criticised for ‘ethics washing’.

Speed and Efficiency

Let’s take those two assertions, of speed and efficiency, and turn them round. Does operational efficiency influence trust? Absolutely, as it’s an indicator of reliability. Poorly operated firms don’t deliver on their promises on a reliable enough way.

Does speed influence trust? Only partially, in my opinion. Very slow processes raise questions about competency. At the same time though, very fast processes can do exactly the same. There have been systems that speeded up the time to quote, but then found that prospects were concerned about whether their quote would stand, as so little had been asked for. Those concerns extended to the claims side too – ‘given what they’ve asked for, will they still pay any claim I may have?’  So speed needs to  be proportionate, as least from the customer’s perspective, which is a pretty important one.

Insurers interested in trust automation like this need to do some critical thinking, as indeed they should do with any process acquisition. The challenge here is that ‘trust as an outcome’ is not something they’ll have had much experience of weighing up. And the danger then is that they tend to take the supplier’s word for the results they will achieve.

It’s good that Friss are thinking about trust. I’m just not sure they’ve done enough in terms of what is actually needed to generate trust amongst their clients’ customers. The scientific side of me would then start looking for test results, including independent customer research. Am I asking too much of them? Not at all, for delivering trust is a big and important claim to make.

Duncan Minty
Duncan Minty
Duncan has been researching and writing about ethics in insurance for over 20 years. As a Chartered Insurance Practitioner, he combines market knowledge with a strong and independent radar on ethics.
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