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Converging AI And Longevity Research: Cutting Edge Innovation In Insurtech At HITS

Artificial intelligence, distributed ledger technologies, novel biomarkers of aging and longevity, internet of things; all of these technologies are rapidly evolving, converging and giving raise to the new applications in every industry. From helping us track the rate of our mental physiological aging, to impacting our overall health and longevity, AI has the potential and the capacity to transform life and health insurance as we know it. In a recent article titled “How AI And Aging Research Can Help Life Insurance Companies”, I explored many ways in which AI and aging research are going to disrupt the traditional models of how life insurance companies operate and can help them, as well as policy owners, make better informed decisions.

Traditional life insurance companies used broad actuarial tables to assign policy seekers to a risk category. However, there is a new upcoming brand of insurance that makes it even more relevant for the entire society and economy at large. You might have probably heard of fintech, the technology startups disrupting the finance industry. The insurance industry has a term for its hyper-growth startups too – Insurtech (insurance + technology). Although still behind the fintech curve, insurtech is poised to be a game changer for customers and insurance companies alike.

Insurance is at the crossroads of major changes that are happening in society, aging being one of those. Today, more and more insurance companies can be seen at longevity conferences. While some of them are there to give presentations on actuary, it seems that they visit these conferences to see where longevity is going, and if we are going to see a major shift in life expectancy and health span. The participation of insurance companies in longevity conferences has accelerated a lot in the past few years. And the general trend is that these companies are focusing more on how to influence the environment surrounding you, because the biology of a person cannot be changed but the environment around them can be altered. The end goal for Insurtech companies is to make people live better and longer lives, not just longer lives. How do they plan to achieve this? By bundling well-being initiatives with insurance. Because after all, if the focus is just on prolonging human life, then it will not be inspiring for a long time.

One of the leading Insurtech hubs is House of Insurtech Switzerland (HITS), which focuses on building partnerships with startups to co-create and scale-up innovative services. HITS is a subsidiary of Generali Switzerland and is thus part of the Generali Group, one of the largest insurance companies in the world. HITS has operated as an independent limited company since December 2019. HITS is one of the Corp-Up Studios of Generali: an open innovation lab connecting insurance-related corporates and startups to co-create and scale-up innovative tried-and-true services.

The hub has so far partnered with many startups, including: Art Recognition, which offers an AI authentication system to art lovers; Billte, which digitizes the entire billing process; Clara, which focuses on providing fintech options through AI and digitizes map visualizations; Imburse, which helps enhance and deploy any changes to your payment offering; vlot, which helps identify and close income and savings gaps; Zoundream, a portable device to translate newborn cries into baby needs; and Lynna, an innovative B2B2C distribution platform for single item insurance, among many more. Because of its unique model of building a direct relationship between corporates and startups, HITS is on the verge of becoming the leading insurtech hub in Europe.  

I recently interviewed HITS CEO Pietro Carnevale. Pietro joined Generali Group in 2014 in the Technical Insurance area and Generali Switzerland in 2016 as Director of Strategy and Innovation. He also led the set-up of the local innovation platform and The Innovation Garage, where all the magic happens and home for the startups they work with, at the Generali Switzerland headquarters near Zurich . In 2018 and played a key role in the modernization and transformation of the business. In addition, he is a board member of Swiss Fintech Accelerator F10. Pietro obtained a master degree in Engineering from Milan Politecnico and post-graduation training in Digital at IMD. In simple words, Pietro is a guru in the areas of digital, innovation, strategy and transformation.

In this interview, Pietro and I discuss how the relationship between insurance and AI can generate new customer-centric solutions; how we can best use the advances in longevity into practice; and most importantly, how do we enable people to take decisions and shape a safer future for themselves in an increasingly complex world.

Alex Zhavoronkov: Over the past few years, HITS has gone from a simple concept to a well-known industrial hub. What were some of the key factors for this tremendous success? And can you tell us about some of the most exciting projects?

Pietro Carnevale: With the opening of the Innovation Garage at the Generali Switzerland headquarters, we created a space where startups find a place to work, get in contact with corporates and potential investors and, most importantly, thanks to the physical proximity with the operation of Generali, created the perfect environment to co-create innovative solutions together with startups. We call it Corp-Up.

We firmly believe that partnerships between corporates and startups create value for both parties. Corporates can benefit from quicker time to market, flexibilization of costs and investments, access to skills, and technologies. It also provides them a strong edge in the increasing war for talents. Startups, on their hand, benefit from industry expertise, market access to end consumers, geographical scale and, eventually, capital provided by corporates.

It is evident that the Corp-Up approach has been quite successful. If done properly, it can lead to an acceleration of digital transformation.

We have on-going projects that are exciting and are living proof of our Corp-Up strategy. For our partner Generali Switzerland, we created in cooperation with Imburse, Smart Savings, which makes saving money easier and more accessible for young people. Smart Savings is a tool where customers can top-up the amount of their credit card transactions and invest it directly into their digital savings solutions.

Another example of how we work on new solutions for Generali is the collaboration with vlot. Thanks to vlot’s technology, Generali can quickly test innovative solutions in the area of risk protection.

We also count with the first community asset based on-demand insurance in Europe called LINGS, which makes insuring your belongings as simple as listening to your favourite music. Lings was built as a corporate start-up by Generali Switzerland in 2017.

Also, to open the insurtech space and create visibility within the insurtech ecosystem, we created, together with Swisscom, Clara, and Hochschule Luzern, the first interactive Insurtech Map. This map is a virtual and interactive place to highlight start-up entries and relevant innovative solutions across the insurance value chain. With over 200 startups from all over Germany, Switzerland and Austria, the map is a guide for corporations and investors to find innovative startups to collaborate with.

Alex Zhavoronkov: What excites you the most in the longevity biotechnology space and what are the most promising directions?

Pietro Carnevale: I believe in enabling people to shape a safer and more sustainable future by caring for their lives and dreams. In an increasingly complex world, our ability to care and help people by offering innovative, personalized solutions will enable them to take decisions and shape a safer future for themselves, their loved ones, their businesses, and their communities. Simply put, we want to become lifetime partners with our customers and provide solutions that go beyond insurance and require a shift from protection to prevention.

In addition, the industry in which I operate is also at the crossroads of one of the great contemporary issues: ageing.

So back to your question; what excites me the most? Everything! There is one aspect of aging that we may be able to manage for a better outcome, such as psychological aging. We want to demystify aging to help people take decisions for a better future self.

Alex Zhavoronkov: How can you bridge the advances in longevity and AI and put them into practice?

Pietro Carnevale: There are many ways in which technology is helping make advances, not only in longevity, but also to help people live healthier lifestyles. We’ve already crossed bridges and we are using technology for this. For example, our project Baby Translator, which uses an AI device that differentiates new-borns basic needs from the sound of their cries. As a dad, this would have been super helpful back when my kids were babies. This is done together with Zoundream, a Swiss startup from Switzerland. This project won GOLD in the insurtech category at the EFMA Awards 2021.

Alex Zhavoronkov: Longevity is not only about living longer but also about staying healthier and more productive, what are you doing in this area?

Pietro Carnevale: I’d say longevity is mainly about staying healthier and happier. Understanding and influencing what is our health span – how long will we live healthily – rather than our lifespan. That’s why I do my 5 Tibetans every morning and get my cold shower. At Generali, well-being is core to the Lifetime Partner model, which is why we teamed up with Discovery and have exclusive rights for Vitality in Europe since 2016. This implies that Generali gives 300 million clients access to these Vitality services — today in Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain and France, with Poland and Czech Republic to come the first half of 2022. It’s a great tool to do regular check-ups, work outs and benefit from partners like Amazon. Not only as a reward system but to stay healthy.

Food and nutrition play a key role. The app has a questionnaire on nutrition (as this contributes to the Vitality age) and there is a partnership with HelloFresh (home cooking, fresh ingredients). Generali gives access to services like biometrics, early detection apps, visual signs apps to predict diseases. All examples of early detection instead of symptom treatments. In most markets, people do not have sufficient screenings on a yearly basis, like what you are used to with your car. With tech innovation, that now becomes more feasible.

Alex Zhavoronkov: I am 43 and in good health. In your opinion, how many years should I expect to live and remain productive?

Pietro Carnevale: The oldest person in history, a French woman named Jeanne Calment, lived to 122. But when she was born, the average life expectancy was roughly 43. Most of us can expect to live to around 80. Some people defy expectations and live to be over 100. According to some, we might already have people that can live forever – based on technological advancements – as long as they are enough rich (Homos Deus). Again, the real deal is not “how many years,” but “how fulfilling those years” will be. And cracking the nuts of psychological aging can bring a lot of good to society.

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