Michelle Dupaix, Strategic Business Claims Manager at California Casualty, is currently leading the effort to incorporate AI within her organization, but her path toward a job in tech did not begin with an active pursuit of the STEM field.
Michelle earned a bachelor's degree in Business Administration, followed by a master's degree in Organizational Management. She then worked at a Wisconsin-based insurance company for three years before joining California Casualty, where she has worked for the past 23 years.
During her 23-year tenure at the auto and home insurance company, Michelle has worn many hats within insurance management, including stints in the material, total loss and auditing departments. She also managed the restructuring of California Casualty’s claims department, which involved coordinating different departments within the company. “We learned how we all work together, and [how] when we make changes in one way, we also must consider downstream how it affects another department,” Michelle recalls.
All these experiences prepared Michelle to take on the newly created role of Strategic Business Manager, which was offered to her by Vice President of Claim Operations Jim Kauffman. She considers Jim to be her mentor as he has entrusted her with several projects over the years and has been integral in transforming California Casualty.
“[Jim is] such a forward thinker and he’s brought so many changes to the company that we never considered before he took over,” Michelle says. “If you asked me 26 years ago if this is something we would have been able to do, knowing at that time we were writing our claim notes on paper and physically filing them away... I wouldn’t believe you.”
After more than two decades working with insurance claims, Michelle felt excited to make a change in her own career path. “I’ve learned every aspect of claims, every type of claim, I’ve seen them all over the past 26 years. This is a fresh start for me,” she says. When describing the transition into the new role, Michelle says, “it’s given me an opportunity to take everything I’ve learned over the 26 years from working with all departments and apply them differently. I never thought we would have a role like this, so it’s just a great opportunity that I was asked to test it out.”
Bringing AI Into Her Organization
Although she jokingly hopes that one day AI will help us live like The Jetsons family from the 1960s cartoon, with flying cars and machine-produced ready-to-eat dinners, she is already seeing the transformational benefits of AI in the insurance industry today.
For example, Michelle’s current role is to see how the organization can implement AI in the claims department — and eventually the service, underwriting and sales departments — to make processes run smoother and more efficiently. “By going into the cloud, we’re able to interface with different companies that we do business with like Enterprise Rent-A-Car” and others, Michelle explains. “My role is to create a claims reporting portal, which originates from our website, using AI in the background to take the person’s new claim, whether it be home or auto, to get the appropriate information and then assist them with repairs while reducing their anxiety and providing a positive claims experience.”
The industry can also use AI to automate the process of keeping track of state-specific time and information requirements for insurance claims. By using automation to offload this routine task from claims adjusters, they will have more time to provide better customer service, as well as for training and development, Michelle believes.
Michelle also highlights how AI helps to reduce the risk of human error when managing insurance policies. “When you have human error, like forgetting to ask a question or not asking it correctly, AI sort of takes that away and makes sure that we’re doing everything consistently, correctly and providing a better service for the customer,” she says.
To quell others’ fears about AI taking jobs, it’s helpful to provide examples such as the one above, which demonstrate how AI enhances, not eliminates, the work done by humans. “I think the human element will always be needed. We at California Casualty never used any system where a machine dictates the amount an individual receives for a claim because we always liked the human element,” she says.
“I know there are those fears that eventually everything will be replaced with robots or with analytics and we won’t need people anymore. But we will need people to program it, we will need people to show AI what you know, tell the thinking machine: ‘This is the answer you need to give them,’” explains Michelle.
The Benefits of AI
The benefits of AI and humans working together is something Michelle also emphasizes when describing her work to non-technical friends and family. She explains that while most people do their best to not let their personal lives affect their work, it does happen. Unlike humans, AI is a “consistently nice, available 24/7, never-calls-out-sick agent,” she says. “This technology helps the customer get what they needed done, but there will always still be a human element.”
She describes how AI can be used to begin the claims process more efficiently and accurately, which leaves more time for human employees to address requests from customers who still prefer to speak to human agents, resulting in a stronger overall customer experience operation.
To address the gender gap in tech and encourage more women and girls to pursue STEM careers, Michelle believes there should be a greater effort to offer internships to girls while they are in high school. For the women currently pursuing careers in STEM, Michelle reminds them they are just as smart as men.
“You sometimes have to put aside what your heart tells you and focus on what your head and gut is telling you. I think it's harder for women, but we can make tough choices too,” she says. She also advises women to find a mentor and "never stop learning,” whether that be by listening to podcasts, researching questions or new areas of interest, or through other learning avenues.
Michelle’s final reminder is an important message for all: “Keep searching for knowledge, as knowledge is power.”