Trends in Data: an IT Perspective

As underwriters, you work with data on a daily basis, and have a  great appreciation for the role plays in effective risk assessment.  Let’s take a second look at data from an IT perspective and see how your technology partners can and should add value to the underwriting process.

The Current State of Art:  Unstructured Data

Unstructured data is a data-mining and data-analysis term used to describe the bits of information captured (or trapped) in medical records, tele-interviews, credit-reports, and a myriad of other types of documents.  These types of sources produce arguably the most tailored assessment of risk on a case by case basis.

The defining characteristic of unstructured data is that they lack a standardized format.  You underwriters, as consumers of this data, must be solely responsible for identifying, classifying and interpreting the details in order to apply them to your respective guidelines.  Naturally, this process leaves room for re-interpretation of the same details by other underwriters or, more likely, the agents attempting to place a piece of business.

IT's role with unstructured data is largely a support function. Your internal departments should be responsible for providing you with tools and systems that simplify and expedite your access to the documents that contain the data you require.  Challenge vendors to work with your IT to provide these data sources in compatible formats.

Emerging (for the past 5-8 years) trends:  Structured data

In contrast to hand-written physician notes, MIB or Prescription History data, for example, are available in standardized and consistent formats.  Perhaps the greatest advantage that standardization provides is the ability to process, analyze and integrate the data at scale.  That is, you can easily (and often cost-effectively) apply MIB or Rx based rules to all applications, or large segments based on demographics etc.

While standardized data can deliver greater consistency in certain aspects of the risk assessment process, they are perhaps not as comprehensive a source as traditional UW requirements such as medical records or tele-interviews.  Nevertheless, data points such as MIB codes, Rx fills, cholesterol readings etc. are successfully being incorporated into decision models for simplified issue or final expense products.

IT is able to engage more as a partner with structured data.  Beyond making the data available in the first place, IT can help facilitate the UW process.  The extent is upto UW management.  Share your needs and plans for new products and processes, and encourage your IT department to share the extent of their capabilities and assets freely.  Challenge vendors to fit their solutions to your product plans, rather than simply list features.

Upcoming trends:  Graph data

Today's structured data are distinct and isolated points.  Graph data is about relationships between these different data points.  So, its about the applicant's last cholesterol reading, height and weight, and dosage of a lipitor prescription, all taken together that mean something more useful than any of those specific data points individually.

The technology to process graph data in other fields is well vetted and can represent these relationships very effectively.  Adopting graph data will require underwriting to "go back to the drawingboard" to some extent, and work with the actuaries and marketers to develop a holistic model for the product's features, pricing and operation.

IT can serve as a strategic leader in initiatives to adopt new technologies and techniques to apply them toward existing processes.  Internal IT, as well as technology vendor partners, can deliver the technical expertise required, but will need close cooperation from business units to deliver a profitable solution back to the enterprise.

Underwriters and technologists alike, we all use and apply data to different extents throughout our day.  It is well worth a “peek over the fence” to see how our we can improve our relationships with these important tools.

(Shaheeb Roshan is the IT Manager for MRS Inc. (, a full-service underwriting and new-business solutions provider to the health and life-insurance industries.)



Facts You Thought You Knew: Electronic Cigarettes are safe

Electronic cigarettes are devices that simulate smoking. These devices are manufactured primarily in China and are readily available for sale on the internet. The manufactures have aggressively marketed these products as a safe alternative to traditional tobacco smoking and as a nicotine replacement device that may lead to a smoker quit smoking. This has not been documented in any study. In fact the manufactures have successfully fought the FDA and other regulatory agencies in other countries to not supervise theses cigarettes as either medical devices or tobacco products.

The fact is many countries including Canada have issues warnings to consumers and healthcare personal about these products. The facts are these e-cigarettes not only are poorly regulated in manufactory (containing various amounts of nicotine or other chemicals than noted on the label), but they have according to one researcher many undisclosed chemicals that could be worse than those found in regular tobacco smoke. In addition the health affects us in insurance dislike about tobacco products are still present (i.e. nicotine or other tobacco specific nitrosamines). These later compounds are carcinogenic in their own right and nicotine has substantial influence to elevate blood pressure, increase heart rate and accelerate narrowing of arteries. 

The rush to treat these products as a safe alternative to smoking, or even as a device to help smokers’ quit is premature. We should perhaps view them more as a smokeless tobacco product and treat the user as a tobacco user, but a non-smoker.

Dr. Nicola Charlton ~ Medical Director at Catholic Financial Life


2012 WAHLU Spring Seminar

Tuesday April 24th at Brookfield Suites Hotel and Conference Center

Hank George will bust some Underwriting Myths, Betsy Sears of Exam One will present Critical Underwriting Issues in Laboratory Science (predictive modeling with lab/paramed data, NT-proBNP, cystatin C and changing requirement practices between 2007 and 2012) and Dr. Daniel Gutenberger of American General Life will present an overview of Atrial Fibrillation .

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