BLOOMINGTON — While speaking to 120 people Wednesday at the Illinois State University's Alumni Center, State Farm executive Duane Farrington asked how many of them owned a drone.

About 30 hands were raised.

"Think about what you can do with that technology when a hail storm comes through," said Farrington, in a speech about the future of the insurance industry as part of the ISU College of Business Community Engagement Speakers Series.

The executive vice president, whose overall responsibilities include information technology, business and systems, and technology integration, also repeated State Farm's commitment to the Twin Cities in an interview with The Pantagraph.

"Our home office is here in Bloomington, and we plan on staying here," he said. "We have always fluctuated around 15,000 employees in the community, give or take a few thousand. We have been higher at times and we have been lower at times. Our goal has always been right around that number."

Farrington kicked off the speaker series launched to celebrate the business college's 50th anniversary.

"Drones can now go up and survey that damage," said Farrington. "Drones can ... do multiple homes at one time. It's safer for our employees if they don't have to climb on roofs." 

During the recent hurricanes on the East Coast and in Houston, State Farm used drones to assess the widespread damage.

"So you can start that insurance recovery before human beings can even get back into the (damaged area)," he said.

While the use of drones might mean insurance agents will spend less time on ladders, technology will never totally replace the human factor in insurance sales, said Farrington.

In October, the company said it was restructuring its information technology department over the next year, offering severance payment to certain employees who voluntarily choose to leave the company.

The restructuring is intended to "better serve customers’ increasing expectations for simpler, faster, technology-driven ways to do business with the company," including "more sophisticated online and mobile solutions to customers in our fast-paced, hyper-connected world," the company previously said.

"It's a matter of understanding external employees," Farrington said Wednesday. "They are temporary in nature so we utilize them when we need to, and when we don't need to we can come back to a normal number of people who are actually doing the work. So that is what you see happening."

When Farrington was asked if managers were being laid off, he said, "Right  now we have a number of activities of transformation going on."

He added, "We're giving people opportunities to leave early and we're assessing how we place the rest of those people. We always think about our employees when we do that, and we try to do that in the most thoughtful way we can."

He declined to give a number of employees affected.

Farrington said besides explaining how technology is impacting the business world, he hoped his speech also addressed "how we live and how we act today, and how important that (the insurance industry) embraces that technology and uses it to provide better products and services."

An example he gave was driverless automobiles.

With 94 percent of car accidents caused by human err, Farrington sees such vehicles resulting in fewer deaths and safer roads. 

"If you can take the human element out of it, we will be safer on the road," said Farrington. "When you have fewer accidents you have fewer claims and that has a huge implication on State Farm and all insurance companies in terms of the rates (drivers) pay."

Telematics systems built into new cars can provide information about the distance, time of day and driving habits, including speeds and hard braking.

Based on that information, insurance companies can provide individual automobile insurance coverage based on how the driver actually drives. 

"So the safer you drive, the more discounts you can get off of your insurance," said Farrington.

Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @pg_nagle

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