A team of nine robots has joined the workforce at one of New Zealand's largest companies - but the business insists no jobs will be lost.
Marvin, Winston, Nida, Steve, Kastor, Jack, Jill, Boris, and Evie have started work at AA Insurance - but the company will also employ 40 humans in the next month.
Brian May, Technical Operations Manager at AAI, said the Robots are "employed" to make existing staff members' jobs easier and more enjoyable - not to replace them.
"We'll always need our people," May said.
"Our people are at the core of delivering our purpose as a business and automation frees up their time from doing mundane administrative tasks to focus on caring, helping and getting things sorted for our customers."
May said rather than walking talking robots the new teammates were pieces of robotic automation software intended to save time.
The four virtual employees that started in 2020 are:
• Jill processes admin tasks in the claim centre.
• Jack allocates claims related costs to the associated claims.
• Steve attaches all the documents the team needs to a claim, and leaves notes for the claim customer manager.
• Evie works in finance preparing files for claims bulk receipting.
Steve is the motor claims department's "total loss" bot - a piece of automation intended to save Motor Customer Managers time and clicks when processing a total loss settlement for a customer or uninsured third party.
Steve was named after a respected colleague who left AAI in mid-2020. The team honoured him by naming the claim centre bot after him.
But May said one of the best examples of the value the work the bots do is Marvin.
Marvin's task was to freeze customer premiums in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Marvin was built and set to work reviewing nearly 35,000 renewals, removing the premium increase and reissuing notices to our customers," May said.
Because of the scale and urgency, there were eight Marvins set up to deal with the job, and the work was done within 12 days.
"To provide some context, we estimate it would have taken 36 staff members to complete the work Marvin did within the same timeframe," May said.
"Without Marvin, those staff members would have been taken away from helping our customers directly during a time when they needed us most."
The bots had also provided relief to a workforce that suddenly moved to a work-from-home situation during the first lockdown.
"In 2020 our bots processed 178,122 transactions that would otherwise have taken 7,722 hours for staff to complete," he said.
"It was incredibly helpful to have our virtual workers take the pressure off."
May said the bots had helped streamline claims and taken care of critical behind-the-scenes tasks.
"They allow us to work on the right things - the irreplaceable 'human element' of focusing on our customers' needs," he said.
"We can now actively talk to customers without the time pressures of doing unnecessary admin work."
The employment of the bots had not led to any human job loss.
AAI was about to employ 40 more people in Auckland and Hamilton for roles including marketing, technology, and customer service, and sales.
May said the feedback from staff members about their robot teammates had been positive.
"We look after our people and want them to grow, progress, and see their career develop, so repetitive tasks like data entry are now performed by our virtual workforce," May said.
"We're actively asking our workforce for suggestions of repetitive, high-volume, and straightforward admin tasks that they'd prefer a bot to do."