RAAC: How insurer AXA used AI to identify problem buildings

New disclosures from AXA Commercial show how the insurance giant used artificial intelligence to identify customers affected by the RAAC concrete crisis

When, at the end of August, the UK government published new guidance for schools known to have been built using reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, it caused a political storm and threatened to undermine both parents’ and students’ confidence on the eve of a new school year.

This building material, known as RAAC for short, was used in many different construction projects during the second half of the 20th century as a cheaper and lightweight alternative to concrete. Concerns about its durability and reliability have been raised since the 1990s, but in the UK, it was not until a partial RAAC collapse in a school this summer that the issue began to mothball.

More than 100 schools in England and Wales were forced to close buildings after RAAC was found. It’s not just schools either; hospitals, shopping centres and even court buildings have all been implicated in the crumbling concrete controversy – a legacy hangover from a whole era of quick and shoddy construction tactics.

Nor was it just the UK affected; RAAC was used for many years in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland and other European countries – but it is perhaps in the UK, against a backdrop of sluggish public investment, where the story has been most heavily reported.

Now, a month on since the crisis first came to light, insurance giant AXA has revealed the lengths it has undertaken to identify potentially problematic structures and inform impacted customers.

Identifying RAAC risk ‘could have taken a year’

In order to uncover which policyholders might have RAAC mentioned in their insurance files, AXA Commercial needed to trawl through more than 70,000 multi-page documents, looking for mentions of the material from AXA’s in-house risk engineers.

This would ordinarily be an arduous task – one that AXA predicts would have taken about a year, far too long if another structural failure occurred in the meantime. Instead, it has turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to help speed up the process, with the whole effort taking just a week instead.

Initial checks identified 65 cases as potentially containing RAAC. After a detailed desktop review of the reports, four were confirmed. AXA says its underwriters are now working with impacted customers to discuss next steps and outline how the insurer can provide support.

AXA’s disclosures show just how pivotal AI can be within the insurance industry – particularly when it comes to time-critical news stories like this one, which have the power to significantly impact policyholders. It also provides a timely reminder of how important it is for insurers to remain vigilant and proactive in the face of rapidly evolving events.

AI enabled AXA to ‘react quickly’ to RAAC concrete

Dougie Barnett, Director of Customer Risk Management at AXA Commercial, says: “This was a situation where speed was of the essence – our customers were concerned about their buildings, and we were able to provide reassurance about which ones were at risk.

“Using the AI tool enabled us to react quickly to an urgent issue, rapidly reviewing thousands of pieces of data to identify those customers whose buildings could have been constructed using RAAC.

“Our customers are our priority, and we are constantly exploring ways to use new technologies to improve and enhance our processes. This powerful AI tool has shown it has the potential to revolutionise admin-heavy tasks of unstructured data  and allow us to respond rapidly when needed.”

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