Tech has crucial role as spike in registrations leads to increase in ‘puppy farming’, says Aquarium Product Marketing Director Mark Colonnese

The last few months have seen a significant boost in the number of pets being purchased throughout the UK with pet insurance providers seeing a 78 percent increase in new pets being registered.

This huge surge in demand has led to a dramatic increase in ‘puppy-farming’ – where dogs are bred in large quantities with the sole purpose of being sold.

The animals – often from overseas – are housed in poor conditions and in many cases face long-term health issues because of in-breeding.

Owners who have purchased their pet through a ‘puppy-farm’ will likely face increased insurance premiums for these dogs as treatment for these serious medical conditions is expensive.

Although purchasing a pet is often an exciting time, many animal welfare organisations and charities such as Battersea Dogs Home and the RSPCA have warned that lockdown-purchased pets are at risk of being abandoned as owners may not have the finances or time to care for an animal who may need regular veterinary appointments.

With puppy searches increasing by 120 percent during the first month of lockdown alone, there is a potential crisis on the horizon – with UK veterinary practices soon to be inundated with sickly animals if this trend continues.

The pet insurance industry has already undergone a digital transformation in recent years – with software platforms now being used to manage policies and implement claims management and customer service procedures.

Digital platforms also provide the fundamental tools to rapidly collate, manage and analyse vast quantities of data, which can help insurers identify breeds which are susceptible to a certain illness or regions where pet insurance claims have spiked.

By being able to identify trends as they evolve in real-time, technology is giving insurance providers the bigger picture and enabling them to offer more accurate premiums.

But how can we take the technology to the next level?

During lockdown, veterinary practices across the UK implemented new procedures which mean fewer people entering the practice and more routine check-ups being done using telemedicine.

The primary focus of this move was to stop the spread of COVID-19 but for many, this process was quicker and more cost-effective for both the owner and saved the animals any distressing car journeys or unnecessary trips to the vet.

As the pace of digitisation increases and more facets of the insurance industry invest in technology, insurers could use big data to offer consumers access to specialist vets via teleconferencing or warn them of health trends in the local area which may impact their pet.

For example, a German shepherd owner in St Ives may be able to speak directly to a veterinary surgeon in London who specialises in hip replacement operations. Similarly, the owner’s insurance company could warn them via a digital alert of their pet’s genetic disposition to hip dysplasia and provide regular dietary advice to limit the risk.

In digitising the process, not only can insurance premiums be reduced but so too can the strain on local veterinary practices, while consumers and their pets can get quick and easy access to the knowledge they need.

From an insurer’s perspective, harnessing the power of digital platforms significantly reduces operational costs – estimated to save more than a million dollars per year for larger providers.

It also gives consumers the ability to update claims or policies instantly, either online or in an app, which not only not only saves time but improves customer service relations – doing away with call centres and customers being left on hold.

Claims settlement times and the costs associated with managing these are also reduced, as radical improvements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning mean these are less reliant on human expertise.

Platform technology has enabled insurance providers to settle 80 percent of common claims in seconds.

It is better to prevent an illness rather than cure it, so using AI to evaluate and predict the health and safety of pets will be hugely beneficial to the industry and wider society.

Insurers will be able to provide a more personal and efficient offering and pet owners will finally have the expert insight they need to protect their pets’ long-term health.