Imagine two hypothetical insurance brokerages. One is already employing mobile applications for their customers and employees, and has embraced online self-service tools, such as portals. The other brokerage has, meanwhile, adopted none of these capabilities. It still uses a lot of paper, and its staff has to scan documents and then walk them to the right colleague’s office.
Suddenly, both have to adjust their operations in light of a disaster, whether that’s a hurricane or, as we’re experiencing today, a global pandemic. Which insurance brokerage is likely to be more successful when they have to make changes – and fast – to keep the business going?
“The answer hopefully is obvious, which is the one that’s already equipped to serve customers where they are, the one that’s already equipped to allow their employees to be productive wherever they are, and there’s already the infrastructure and the connectivity of systems and access to data that they need to be able to do their business,” said Michael Howe (pictured), senior vice president of product management for Applied Systems.
In this situation, it matters far less where the brokerage’s employees and customers are working because they’ve already developed the muscles to interact with each other digitally. On the other hand, for the business that’s not so digitally-savvy, the coronavirus has likely been highly disruptive because people aren’t in the office and don’t have access to the information they need to be able to serve the customer.
Nobody wants to be that second brokerage, but, in reality, not all businesses have gotten on board with digitization to the same degree. Nonetheless after the coronavirus, the importance of digital tools is predicted to increase, even for the agencies that fall into that second category.
There’s a variety of these tools that brokerages can adopt to evolve into the first example of a digitally focused business.
“Think of the first bucket as tools that can help the agency to be more resilient and employees of the agency to be more effective and efficient,” said Howe.
In addition to accessing their agency management systems via the cloud, using a mobile app to access that system is one of the tools that falls into this category. That way, if a customer calls the broker or agent and they’re not at their home office, they can still look up critical information about a policy on their cellphone.
The second bucket of tools includes technology that helps the agent or broker continue to serve their customer during this period, online and in interactive ways that don’t require the physical presence of people or documents. Howe calls this category of tools one of the most interesting ones to watch in the industry as agents and brokers re-consider how to serve their customer.
“It challenges all kinds of assumptions that many have had for years about what it means to serve the customer and what kinds of tools and information they need to do that. It forces people to fundamentally rethink, ‘wait a minute, I need to be able to serve my customers in any kind of circumstance, wherever they might be,’” Howe said.
A self-service portal is a key offering in this category that helps insureds access their insurance-related information and conduct transactions, just like they would in a mobile app for an airline where they can manage their plane tickets or an app with their bank to manage their financial accounts.
“During times like this, the agents who have provided that kind of capability are really able to step up and provide a different level of service to their customers than the agents that don’t have that,” noted Howe.
Another example is a technology solution like that offered by Indio Technologies, which Applied acquired in December 2019. The deal has helped Applied digitize the end-to-end commercial lines submissions process across agencies, brokers, insurers and insureds. By integrating Indio’s solution with Applied Epic, the insurance software firm provides customers with a collaborative and automated data capture experience, while increasing the velocity of the insurance application and renewal lifecycle, lowering costs and reducing the risk of errors and omissions.
As agencies and brokerages bring these digital solutions into their businesses right now to deal with the coronavirus lockdowns, they’re not likely to turn back time once the pandemic has passed.
“Once people stand up these sorts of tools and get their customers used to using [them], and once [staff] gets familiar with and recognizes the benefits of some of these tools, there’s no reason why you would see interest and demand decline because people will get used to them and they will become less mysterious,” said Howe. “They will have been forced to put some of them into action and once they do put them in action, they’ll come to rely on them.”