Technology investment is a must-have for brokers operating in today’s insurance landscape, as consumers’ buying habits are influenced by the fast and innovative service of the Amazons and Teslas of the world. Brokers in turn have to meet their customers wherever they want to buy insurance, or risk becoming irrelevant as the market rapidly evolves.
“The big development in the Canadian insurance sector for brokers has been the rising customer expectations that are making their way through the market,” said Graham Haigh (pictured), who was recently promoted to VP of broker distribution at Wawanesa Mutual Insurance. “That’s why I think technology investments have become as important for both companies and for brokers. Today’s consumer wants to work with their broker in a variety of different ways – today it could be online, tomorrow it could be by phone, and the next day it could be in their office – and a modern broker has to figure out the right way to meet the needs of today’s modern consumers.”
While the debate around the value of the direct-to-consumer versus traditional broker channel model continues, Haigh notes that most insurance buyers don’t actually see themselves as direct customers or broker customers. That’s good news for brokers.
“They just see themselves as a customer, and they move to the service channel that they see as the best fit for them today and for their needs,” explained Haigh. “If you were to ask a typical customer, do they consider themselves to be a direct or a broker customer, they might not even know what we’re talking about, so that’s where we see the opportunity for brokers to come in. They can repatriate business into the broker channel as companies and brokers work together to deliver a better technology platform to provide that exceptional customer experience.”
Some brokers that Wawanesa partners with are already leading the charge, and, in fact, are ahead of insurance companies in terms of their investments in technology, how they see their business evolving, and their implementation of digital strategies.
“The opportunities are significant for brokers that are embracing a modern distribution model, and the risks are incredibly high and potentially insurmountable for brokers that aren’t prepared to modernize,” said Haigh. “Today, we’re seeing brokers divest because they’re not knowledgeable enough or they’re unprepared to do the investment into technology.”
In this environment, Wawanesa is underscoring its commitment to the broker channel. In February, the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC) announced that Wawanesa became a full partner of the association for 2019, providing support to IBAC’s Broker Identity Program (BIP), a campaign that raises awareness of the value that insurance brokers give to clients. Back in October 2018, the company also made a full transition to the broker distribution model in Quebec.
“The rationale behind this was our belief in the advice and advocacy value proposition of today’s broker. Consumer research and our own customer research tells us that insurance is a complex product that consumers want guidance on, and that’s both commercial and personal,” explained Haigh. “They want to see professional guidance that can help them manage their modern risk,” pointing to emerging threats, such as cyber.
Today’s commercial insurance customer, whether they’re a small package buyer or a bigger spender with $20,000 a year in premium, has distinct needs and expectations from their broker, and that includes loss control and risk management services. That also explains the moves that some brokers are making into the employee benefits space, to provide a 360-degree program for commercial clients so they can get everything they need from a one-stop shop, and that’s why Wawanesa has kept, and is growing its life insurance company.
As brokers ramp up their tech expertise and investments along with adding more value through more services, insurers too have to step up their game.
“Brokers expect more out of their insurance company partners, so we need to invest heavily in technology ourselves to be able to support our broker partners. We’re at the point where we’re actually delivering on broker management system integration,” Haigh told Insurance Business, adding that brokers in Alberta can now quote and buy Wawanesa products without leaving their broker management systems.
“Brokers need to be able to navigate that customer experience with us, and invest in their own business and technology to deliver, and we’re a more sophisticated enterprise, so we have the ability to measure and manage our broker relationships in a way that we didn’t in the past. We’re asking more of our broker partners, they’re asking more of us, and customers are asking more of everyone, so it’s a more complex time, and I think that makes it interesting. The pace of change today is exciting, and it’s invigorating for insurance professionals.”