Sitting at his desk on the second floor of the Saxon Centre on Eastern Avenue, Saxon technology manager Mitchel Wright pulled up a digital image of the Newlands area on his computer.
“See those green dots?” he asked. “Every dot represents a block and parcel number of a home we insure.”
Wright then pulled up images of a specific Cayman home – one photo taken by drone in 2017 and another last June. Suddenly, he noticed a difference between the two images.
“You just made me realise that building was not there in 2017, and now it’s here in this photo,” he said, pointing to a structure that looked like a shed in the back of the person’s property. “This person is insured with us, but we have to tell her you have an add-on because she’s underinsured. I swear I just saw this now.”
Without Saxon’s aerial imaging abilities, this change Wright spotted on the property may never have been identified. In the event of property damage, the owner would be at risk of receiving on a fraction of her claim due to being uninsured.
But examples like these only scratch the surface of the benefits that aerial photography and imaging technology can offer, according to Mitchel.
For the purposes of the insurance industry in Cayman, this technology will be most useful in the event of a major hurricane or other natural disaster.
When a disaster like 2004’s Hurricane Ivan strikes, it can take months for insurance companies to process the hundreds of claims rolling in.
For starters, Wright said, companies have to import dozens of loss adjusters to evaluate the claims. They do so by inspecting each home to assess the value of the property damaged.
Saxon CEO Brian Williams said his company sent someone to the Bahamas a few years ago to see how loss adjusters were faring in the wake of a hurricane there. With street signs and other landmarks down or destroyed, the adjusters struggled to find their way around the islands, said Williams.
“Some adjusters would take a day to evaluate a single property,” he said.
Loss adjusters also face health risks when they, for example, climb onto a roof to measure it in the wake of damage.
These difficulties and hazards will be mitigated, if not eliminated altogether, with the use of Saxon’s technology, said Wright.
Instead of relying on a loss adjuster to physically inspect a damaged property, Saxon will already have a digital image stored in a cloud database. That image is not a simple photograph, but a three-dimensional rendering that contains information about all the image’s relevant metrics – things like the spatial dimensions of the home, as well as how much plywood, shingles, and other materials are used. The software Saxon uses also has the information of how much all that material costs.
A loss adjuster operating remotely is able to use that image and information to process a claim offshore. So, if someone in Cayman has their roof destroyed, the offshore loss adjuster can view an image of the roof remotely to assess exactly how much the property owner’s claim should be settled for.
This means claims could be processed in days instead of months in the wake of a hurricane, according to Wright. Saxon could also save millions if it were able to process its claims remotely rather than having to import loss adjusters, who may charge 100% of a claim’s value, said Wright.
“If we have a $100,000 claim, an adjuster will charge the insurance company $200,000,” he said. “So why do we want to wait for a public adjuster to get involved? One claim could pay for this entire programme.”
The ease in which drones allow Saxon to capture images of clients’ property can be applied on a much larger scale, Wright added.
The Saxon technology manager estimated that it would take three drone pilots only five days to map the entirety of Cayman. This could save government hundreds of thousands of dollars by not having to pay a surveyor to fly a plane over the islands to map them. It would also allow government to frequently update its survey maps of the territory, which would allow it to keep up with Cayman’s rapid development.
According to Saxon, the company is one of the only insurers in the Western hemisphere to be investing so heavily in aerial imaging technology as a claims-processing strategy. The technology has not caught on in other Caribbean jurisdictions, and many US insurers are hesitant to navigate the complex Federal Aviation Administration regulations about commercial drone operations there.
Wright, who has a degree in computer science, has been a drone enthusiast for years, having built his one aerial vehicle before they were widely available to purchase from store shelves. About two years ago, he moved from former Saxon parent company DMS to head up a new subsidiary created by Saxon: Drone Works.
Williams and Saxon CFO Nick Brierly joked that Wright uses Drone Works as his own private playground, but they said, in reality, he is conducting research and development that will only increase in value as the technology takes off.
Even though Saxon is making money and is well positioned in the local property insurance market, the company is investing to position itself for the future, said Brierly.
“The time to invest is when times are good,” he said. “If you wait until a hurricane, suddenly you don’t have the money.”
“This isn’t a one-off,” Brierly added, referencing Saxon’s investment in drones and imaging technology.
“We want to get to a point where we don’t even have to fly in loss adjusters after a hurricane. So the day after a storm, we have someone offshore who’s looking through the stuff and settling claims in days and not months.”