Drones fly into SA’s insurance sector

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 21 Aug 2019
The use of drone technology is gaining traction in SA.
The use of drone technology is gaining traction in SA.

Old Mutual iWYZE, underwritten by Old Mutual Insure, a South African short-term insurer, claims it will soon be the first local insurer to deploy drones, together with drone mapping technology and photogrammetry, in its operating model.

In a statement, the insurer says after a rigorous two-year planning and pre-registration process, it recently passed the operational audit and demonstration flights required by the South African Civil Aviation Authority and is in the final certification phase of obtaining its remotely-piloted aircraft systems operator licence.

This as the use of drone technology gains traction in SA. In June, ITWeb reported SA’s first blood delivery unmanned aerial vehicle will be operated by Lebohang Lebogo, a female medical technician and drone pilot for the South African National Blood Service (SANBS).

Although SA has seen drone popularity increase in recent years, drone use has been mainly focused on agriculture and construction, as well as hobby pursuits.

In May, the SANBS, together with the Western Cape Blood Service, sought to change this, introducing a drone blood delivery service that sees SA join its African counterparts.

In other parts of the world – Rwanda, for example – drones have been used to deliver blood and medical supplies to doctors in rural areas. Meanwhile, last month, US surgeons successfully received a donor kidney delivered by a drone.

According to consultancy firm Deloitte, insurance is among the industries already deploying and expanding the potential of commercial drones, eyeing two strategic objectives: better risk management through improved data collection, analysis and actionable insights; and reduced operational costs through improved efficiency and effectiveness in claims adjudication, claims processing and customer experience.

It notes drone deployment is rapidly expanding and evolving, with current and potential applications spanning the insurance value chain.

Christell Coleman, insurance expert at Old Mutual Insure, says: “Commercial drone use is revolutionary for the South African insurance industry, and Old Mutual iWYZE is proud to be at the forefront of this innovation and new ‘flight path’.

“The application of drone technology in our business is an empowering game-changer – it will significantly improve our risk assessments, underwriting and quantification of assets through improved data collection, field assessments, high-quality photos, videos and analysis.”

Coleman notes accident reconstruction software has abilities to import aerial accident scene photography and vehicle crush damage, which will enhance the overall final product and accuracy.

“Drone operations will further reduce our operational, safety and fraud risks; fast-track and improve claims adjudication and processing; cut operational costs through enhanced efficiency and ultimately elevate our customer experience. The technological advances that drone solutions offer for agricultural catastrophe and storm damage assessments are extensive,” Coleman adds.

According to Old Mutual, as an early adopter of drone solutions, Old Mutual iWYZE will be one of only 46 registered remotely piloted aircraft systems operators across various industries in the country.

It notes that since obtaining its remote pilot licences and “taking off” in the aviation sector in 2017, Old Mutual iWYZE had to demonstrate and show compliance with the Civil Aviation Act by addressing various regulatory, technology, training, business risks and challenges.

Christell Coleman, insurance expert at Old Mutual Insure.
Christell Coleman, insurance expert at Old Mutual Insure.

“The toughest part was to transition non-aviation employees to an aviation mind-set, and write a fit-for-purpose operation manual which adheres to all safety and security measures to ensure safe operations. We had to become pilots, versed in the Civil Aviation Act, regulations and technical standards; and master and understand aeronautical radio equipment and charts,” says Coleman.

Old Mutual iWYZE plans to expand its drone operations and deployment in the group over the next few years, with various applications across its value chain in pre- and post-loss assessments.

Coleman confirms: “We’ve identified exciting opportunities which hold the potential of significant cost savings and return on investment in our domestic assessment, surveying and agricultural business units. In addition, our commercial drone deployment will act as a catalyst for job creation as we will need more licensed employee drone pilots, technicians, and safety and security managers in our major regions.”