American Family Insurance Director cites three reasons for drones

By Luke Geiver | September 03, 2015

Ryan Rist, American Family Insurance’s director of innovation, sees three reasons why his company has chosen to invest and now deploy small unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs).

After working through research efforts and implementation protocols for the past two years, it has now become clear to Rist’s team that drones are necessary to first, provide faster information gathering through a rapid deployment option, second, ensure quality data is captured of a scene in question, and third, because drones are lower cost options than other means used for information gathering currently available to insurance teams.

For Rist, a perfect example of how drones can increase AFI’s ability to help its customers is after a disaster such as a tornado. “We could deploy drones that next morning or shortly thereafter as we could couple that with our GIS technology and our weather technology. We could then take that data and go to find customers before they come to us. We could proactively show up on their doorsteps,” he said.

AFI’s interest in drones and proactive customer support relates to its emphasis on implementing new technology, Rist said. “This is a great example of how we can invest in and stay on top of these early stage technologies.”

Since AFI first started following drones, Rist said the company has seen great change in the price point for platforms and payloads. “A few years ago,” Rist said, “a drone that was $50,000 is now $5,000.”

Although Rist and his team recently received a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration section 333 exemption to fly for commercial purposes, Rist said the team is still working on how to implement drones in its efforts. “I think we still have to educate the population on how and why we are using them,” he said. Rist wants his customers to know that they value individual privacy and will only be flying to gather information for helping to speed up claims and provide better insurance to its customers.

Before that happens, however, he notes that claims adjusters will need to be trained. “Hopefully there is something in the future to get our adjusters trained,” he said. AFI will begin testing drones later this fall.