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Ping Ans Castle Made Of Data Image Credit: Fortune
Ping Ans Castle Made Of Data Image Credit: Fortune

Ping An's Castle Made Of Data

China’s largest private-sector company built an empire around safe and staid products like life insurance. Now it’s betting its future on inventive uses of big data—and gearing up to do battle with fastgrowing tech giants like Alibaba.

Clay Chandler
FENDER BENDERS, EVEN MINOR ONES, used to mean interminable hassle for Chinese drivers. One could wait hours by the roadside for an insurance inspector—then lose hours more filling out forms. Reimbursement took days, and often weeks.

In 2017, Ping An, China’s second-largest insurer and its biggest non-state-owned company by revenue, rolled out a “Superfast Onsite Investigation” system—enabling policyholders to submit claims by simply opening a smartphone app and answering a few questions. But the app’s niftiest feature offers the option to not even wait for an inspector. Instead, customers can snap photos of a damaged vehicle and send them to a Ping An computer, which can respond with a repair estimate in three minutes or less. If the customer accepts the estimate, then wancheng! (“Done!”) Ping An can transfer funds immediately.

Last year, Ping An’s customers used this feature to settle 7.3 million claims, or 62% of the total. The service saves the company more than $750 million each year by reducing bogus claims and human error. But its simplicity belies the extraordinary sophistication of the artificial intelligence and data processing operations that make it possible.

To generate accurate estimates, Ping An matches photos of vehicle damage against a database of 25 million parts used in the 60,000 different auto makes and models sold in China. The system assesses whether those parts can be r


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