The Connected Business of Insurance
January 27, 2015
In the recent report “Evolving to Compete and Win in the Long-Term,” Accenture discusses the growing division between the independent agent and carrier relationship – one that is both simultaneously interdependent and competitive. In fact, 39% of independent agents saw carriers’ direct solutions (website and other direct-to-consumer channels) as their greatest source of competition.
To enhance their competitive value, participating independent agents named improving the customer experience and concentrating on providing higher value service to the existing client base as their number one business priority. Additionally, adding sales capabilities is the second priority – yet, with capital constraints, it is a difficult operational objective for many agencies to fulfill.
The report identifies a noticeable and critical discrepancy – agencies are prioritizing customer experience while placing less emphasis and investment in new technology capabilities, which are key in reaching today’s more tech-savvy consumers. To maintain the strength of the IA channel and lay the platform for dynamic growth, independent agencies need to harness the benefits of technology and digital capabilities to improve their customer experience and increase operational efficiency.
PropertyCasualty360 reviewed the survey and published 5 steps that agents can take to optimize their channels. Below I evaluate these key opportunities and how technology can support agencies’ top priorities.
1. Maintaining and improving customer loyalty
Property Casualty 360 says: “Independent agents should focus on providing differentiated services that are important to customers, and selectively choose carriers that have similar goals. Furthermore, independent agents can sharpen the focus on advisory services in order to put an agent in the position to give customers choices, while also assisting them in making sound decisions on complex insurance and financial offerings.”
My technology advice: Recent Accenture research confirms that customers trust the advice provided by independent agents more than others, which is a clear competitive differentiator for the IA channel. However, in order to maintain the trusted advisor role, agents need to have adequate time and insight into their clients to provide superior advice. Technology can streamline business operations and reduce time spent on administrate tasks, creating more time to focus on providing an improved customer experience to drive client loyalty.
Technology allows the agent to automate customer touchpoints, based upon historical and current activity, as well as predict future opportunities. For example, your system can automatically alert you when policy renewal premiums increase beyond a preset amount or percentage, prompting you to evaluate the policy for your client. Additionally, advanced technology can deliver insights into an agent’s book of business, allowing them to identify opportunities for better client coverage – which increases client retention and drives organic business growth.
2. Adopting an omnichannel approach to engage with customers on their terms
Property Casualty 360 says: “Integrating with the online distribution ecosystem, by becoming part of the growth of new and alternative channels, is one way an independent agent can adopt, fostering an omnichannel approach to business.”
My technology advice: Today’s consumer expects access to insurance information anywhere, anytime and carriers are clearly investing in providing this access. Agents need to evolve their customer service model to include multichannel servicing, extending client touchpoints to reach each client through their preferred channel – whether online, in person, or on the phone. By leveraging technology, agents can increase their mobility to service clients away from the office and can extend their online presence to include client self-service portals, providing access to insurance documents and claims processing 24/7.
3. Engaging in advice-oriented sales and services
Property Casualty 360 says: “While selling insurance products is the essential crux of an independent agent’s role, no less important is their ability to address customers’ needs holistically. Agents should work to provide advice for their clients on risk management and value-added services.”
My technology advice: In an effort to increase client retention and satisfaction, agents need to evaluate opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell their current client base, ensuring they provide more complete, full coverage and advice to clients while expanding their book of business. To maximize cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, agents need an advanced, modern agency management system that provides a single view into their entire client base across different products and regions.
4. Creating efficient, effective and adaptive agency operations
Property Casualty 360 says: “Making the most of capabilities provided by carriers, deferring low-value tasks to them while motivating producers to sell and serve customers is key in laying the groundwork for effective agency operations. Agents must also consider investing in new technology solutions that operate business through an integrated and highly efficient platform.”
My technology advice: Time is money. Leading agencies require advanced agency management systems with pre-built, best practices operational workflows that will streamline processes and reduce time spent on duplicate tasks. Additionally, agencies can leverage ancillary mobile and online technologies that extend access to information within the agency management system to producers via tablet devices, enabling them to service clients and prospects on-the-go, and to clients via online portals, allowing client policy and claims self-service.
For carrier-agency connectivity, Direct Bill Commission Reconciliation and Commercial Lines download are two examples of functions many agencies perform manually (at considerable payroll cost) when there are effective automated solutions. Automated Direct Bill Commission Reconciliation from carrier download can save many agencies up to 15% of their servicing payroll. Implementation and integration of these technologies can increase agency productivity and mobility, allowing agents to focus more time servicing clients and driving higher rates of business growth.
5. Leveraging data to achieve insight-driven actions and outcomes
Property Casualty 360 says: “Agents need to apply basic analysis to current customer data and interactions to identify relationship building, cross selling and retention opportunities, Accenture claims.”
My technology advice: With the immense amounts of data agencies accumulate daily, insurance businesses’ agency executives are quickly and increasingly adopting new business intelligence (BI) strategies and product solutions needed to provide additional, data-driven visibility into their clients, prospects, internal operations and carrier relationships.
Agencies can leverage BI solutions to better understand “why something happened” – why one producer outselling another, why clients are based in a particular geography, and why one carrier is quoting more business than another, among other key business considerations – to make more informed business decisions. BI brings insights that will refine an agency’s decisions, permeate client, carrier and employee discussions, and ultimately create new business opportunities and more profitable relationships.
What are your thoughts on implementing new technologies? Do you feel technology can help your agency enhance its competitive value?
Michael Howe, senior vice president of product management, is responsible for the strategic direction of the Applied product portfolio. Howe joined Applied in 2013 with more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software. He formerly served as senior vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Aptean, a global provider of industry-focused enterprise software. Prior to Aptean, Howe held senior executive management positions at SAP and other leading software companies.