Insurance & Virtual Reality – The Future of Insurance Podcast

Most people are familiar with the emergence of virtual reality as a video-game format, but VR’s potential utility goes far beyond entertainment.

Join Rooney Gleason, President of U.S. Grocery & Retail, for a conversation with Cortney Harding, founder and CEO of Friends With Holograms, to discuss VR’s expanding role in risk management.

Narrator:  Welcome to The Future of Insurance, the podcast that looks at technology, innovation and the evolution of the insurance industry. The Future of Insurance is presented by Argo Group, a specialty insurance company that helps businesses stay in business.

Gordon Bass:  Today, when most of us think of virtual reality, we think about how it’s used for gaming and entertainment by hardcore tech enthusiasts. But today, we’re going to talk about using VR as a tool for employee training, a tool that could potentially reduce incidents and claims.

Joining me from Portland, Oregon, is Rooney Gleason, president of Argo Insurance, U.S. Grocery and Retail. And from New York, Cortney Harding, who is founder and CEO of Friends with Holograms, a virtual reality and augmented reality agency.

Cortney, to set the stage, what is the state of VR today, and what’s it being used for?

Cortney Harding: I think it’s great right now, and I actually just come back from Oculus Connect 4, where they announced two amazing new headsets, both of which will be out in the coming year. That’s going to give it a huge boost and I think encourage a lot more consumers to get into VR. Right now, the space is growing and wide open, but it’s a very exciting place to be.

Gordon Bass: What’s the key use of VR at this point?

Cortney Harding: I don’t think there is one. I think it ranges so much. You can do training; you can do education; you can do entertainment; gaming, obviously is huge. I don’t think there’s a single vertical out there that VR doesn’t have some use case or application in.

Gordon Bass: So, VR isn’t just for entertainment. Rooney, at Argo Insurance, you cover clients like grocery stores and restaurants. So, how would clients like these use VR in training to manage their risks?

Rooney Gleason: So, I think the primary use will be in training out of the gate. And most of our risk management, when it comes to training, focuses on safety. Safety’s not such a sexy subject, and not really exciting from a gaming standpoint. But it’s making sure that our client base has the cutting-edge products in order to really effectuate safety training on an ongoing basis. So, it’s not you train a person one time in how to handle knives in a restaurant. But you want to train those people over and over and over again, until it becomes part of their normal behavior.

Gordon Bass: Cortney, what are the advantages of training in VR versus the physical world?

Cortney Harding: One is that, in VR training, it’s much more easy to make the training entertaining and gamify it. So, one thing that I’d love to see is training for even, like, repetitive tasks that aren’t terribly complicated. But, if you make it into a game that’s interesting and fun, that’s something that an employee can then take with them and keep in the back of their mind as they’re working and doing these tasks. And that’s going to incentivize them to do a better job, because they’re going to be in the mindset that it’s a game. It’s something they have to try to beat. I think the other thing is, it does mitigate risk when you’re talking about higher-risk initial training.

I think the knife use is a really great case study. Obviously, if you’re going to learn how to use a knife, at some point you actually have to physically use a knife. But the initial training can be done in VR with controllers, and you are much less likely to chop off your fingers using a controller than you are an actual knife. I think, especially for much riskier situations like forklift training, for example, or initially driver’s ed, those are things where you can really reduce a lot of risk because people will have more experience initially before they get behind the wheel of a forklift or a car.

Gordon Bass: Same question for you Rooney, what are the advantages of training in VR versus in the real world?

Rooney Gleason: I would agree with Cortney on a lot of this in that things like confined space entry, which is on OSHA’s radar screen all the time, we can teach people the appropriate use of protective equipment, personal protective equipment, respirators, those types of things, and we can simulate the types of experiences that they would have in entering confined spaces. Or a big piece of it is, like, lockout–tagout, which means that we’re teaching people how to basically shut down a machine, and we can do this in a consistent basis over and over again, until we get the desired behavior.

Gordon Bass: Let’s take this from theoretical to actual. Cortney, what companies are using VR now for training?

Cortney Harding: Home Depot is a great example where they’re using it to train employees on how to stack pallets correctly. Again, that’s not the sexiest or most glamorous use case, but it’s incredibly useful, and I think it’s really increased safety and productivity. KFC has done a more entertaining, funny training video. I don’t even know how much they’re actually using it for training, per se. But I think it was a recruitment tool and a media piece and something they’ll try to win awards for, so it really runs the gamut.

Gordon Bass: Rooney, what about you? Who are you seeing using VR now for training?

Rooney Gleason: It is really in my mind at the infantile stage, meaning that there are the major companies like UPS and Walmart and Home Depot and those folks that are using it for specific issues that they see within their workforce.

I see it more as the next step for someone like Argo Insurance that does a lot of workers’ compensation in a very specified niche, being in restaurants and grocery, to get at the number-one cause of loss when it comes to worker injuries, and also really in how we address the issues and safety things that present themselves to our customers as well. It’s really about getting people into the correct behavior when presented with it in their day-to-day work activities.

Gordon Bass: How do you know when it’s working? How would you measure the ROI?

Rooney Gleason: For us at the insurance company level, it certainly will manifest itself in the reduction of frequency of these claims, and in some cases should also reduce the severity of these claims. If someone has been trained and they do three quarters of the process appropriately, we might not get the catastrophic claim that we had seen should someone not have been trained at all.

Gordon Bass: Cortney, for the companies that we’ve talked about that are currently using VR, what kind of ROI are they showing, and how are they determining whether it’s working or not?

Cortney Harding:  I don’t know that any of those companies have publicly shared that, but what I can say is there’s a lot of different ways to measure ROI in VR. I think that for a very straightforward use case like the one we’re talking about with training, that’s a really easy one. You do a VR training program in one location and you don’t in the other location and then you compare the rate of accidents, or the rate of claims from one location to the next. You can do employee surveys. That’s really easy and straightforward. I think there’s also a ton of other different ways to measure VR. There’s a lot of companies now that are doing heat maps, so you can see exactly where someone is looking at any given time in a VR experience. If you’re doing something that’s more consumer-facing, you can get great reporting on what consumers are actually responding to.

Gordon Bass: Rooney, I want to take this back to Risk Tech and your specific interest and what got you interested in VR. Can you talk a bit about Risk Tech and how VR training would apply to that?

Rooney Gleason: Argo Risk Tech is an applied application that is sensor-based and handheld-based for supermarkets and restaurants to meet their compliance needs, both on the food-safety and on the premises-safety sides. The VR portion that we are considering right now is, how do we get and train the maximum number of associates to execute on the Argo Risk Tech platform those activities that we know lead to the positive outcomes, which are reduced frequency of customer and employee accidents.

Gordon Bass: Cortney, looking into the future, what’s most exciting to you in terms of VR? That’s a big, broad question; I know.

Cortney Harding: Oh, my gosh. There’s so much. Like I said at the start of the podcast, Oculus just announced that they are releasing two new headsets, which I think will be much more consumer-friendly pricing. They’ll be much easier to use, and I think that’s going to be an incredible game changer. Mark Zuckerberg said that the goal is to have a billion people in headsets, and I think he’s going to get there. My personal interest is in multisensory VR, so I’m really interested in VR experiences that involve not only hearing and watching VR, but touching things, consuming things, just exploring different senses. And I think that’s also great for training, because you could have someone in a VR headset and then they’re also touching something physical that helps make the experience even more realistic.

Gordon Bass: What about you Rooney? What’s most exciting to you as you look into the future, especially as it relates to VR and risk management and insurance?

Rooney Gleason: It goes everywhere from in the building trades where you can basically set up, build a building in virtual reality before you actually put a single spade into the earth to try and realize where there might be pinch points or design flaws, the whole way up to the simulated driving experience that involves movement and physical feedback in the seat and that type of stuff. I think really, particularly from the insurance industry standpoint, we’re really at the very, very beginning of this process, but I would agree with Cortney. I think that as the headsets and the hardware that is necessary for these types of experiences become more, let’s say, “normal”; then when people are used to the virtual reality experience, you’re going to see it cut across everything, as she said, from social experience to collaboration in different parts of the world, with the same company working on the same issues.

So, I think there’s just a ton that can be applied to this. I think, for us, we really focus on what is the number-one cause of loss in our client’s base. And then I think from there, the sky’s the limit on what we develop from the virtual reality experience to get at those number-one causes of loss, number two, number three, and so on; and you just move down the line.

Gordon Bass: Rooney Gleason and Cortney Harding, thanks to the both of you for talking today and sharing your insights on VR, employee training and risk management.

Narrator: You’ve been listening to The Future of Insurance from Argo Group. To learn how your business can leverage technology to transfer risk, go to

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