We caught up with leading insurance industry tech expert and thought-leader Steve Anderson
to talk about his varied career and judging the upcoming Insurance Business America Awards
You’ve had a remarkable 30-plus year career as an advocate for tech in insurance. What inspired this career journey of yours?
As you may see I worked in two different insurance agencies here in the US for almost 23 years or so – one in the Washington, DC area and one in the Dallas, Fort Worth area. In both of those organizations I did all kinds of different jobs from sales to internal operations but that’s where I got my first taste for technology within an agent broker situation.
I just really liked figuring out new stuff! I would say the bottom line is that I really am curious. I like to learn new things and technology gives me a great opportunity to be able to do that.
In the late 90s I realized I really liked concentrating on that – writing, speaking, talking and figuring out how tech impacts insurance organizations. I always tell people that I feel like I have the best job in the world because I play with toys and get to tell people about them.
Has the variation in your career bolstered your reputation as a ‘thought leader’?
Well, yes and no. my focus has remained within the insurance sector. I have been asked multiple times over the years ‘why don’t you broaden out?’ … but being focused just on insurance allows me to go deeper in one arena.
But that arena is very broad. It’s policy management systems, document management, online sales, websites, ecommerce, all those things … they allow me to go deep within that arena, and frankly there aren’t many other people out there like me who do that. So that has provided me a great niche.
Are there any particular areas within that niche that you find especially fascinating?
I would say that changes over the years. Currently what I’ve really been interested in is the area of chatbots, or guided conversations. Machine-learning, the implications of that both on the service and sales side – so client interaction and internal help for employees, which I call employee augmentation.
So you think it’s important that tech is used as an ancillary, extra element to the more human side of insurance?
I do. And everything over the last 10-15 years has pointed to the fact that – for insurance, at least currently, and this may change a little bit but I don’t know how much – people research online, they look up pricing indications online, but ultimately most people understand that this is a different type of decision than buying a book on Amazon.
Now, can the industry do better at improving that online process and experience? Absolutely. And I think that – again, not everyone, but for most people, having someone to say ‘yes, that’s the right decision’ is important.
The machine learning ideal will help augment that sales and service process, certainly on the personalized and small commercial side first. That’s an area I’m spending a lot of time thinking about, learning about, and really trying to figure out the implications there.
Where would you say tech is taking us next? Is there one big development right now that points the way to the future?
There’s several! One of the organizations I work with is an independent agency and broker here in the US, and they have a group called ACT (Agents’ Counsel for Technology). I’m a coach there of the ‘Changing Nature of Risk’ work group. And we’re looking at what technologies are coming, and what agents and brokers need to do now to be ready for when they come.
For example, we’re looking at blockchain
. There’s lots of confusion between what that is and what impact that could have… and unfortunately way too much confusion with Bitcoin while they are two completely separate things.
Another thing is voice computing. So Amazon Echo
, or Google Home, for instance, will change how people use their voice as a primary way to interact with information through a computing device. I think the Echo has certainly shown some of the capabilities there. In fact I’ve been working with a vendor who has a demonstration – early – which involves getting a workers’ compensation quote entirely by voice. I think that is probably a couple of years away, but if you’re not preparing you’re not going to be ready for them.
There’s also virtual reality and augmented reality that have some interesting implications, certainly for the insurance industry. And the internet of things, smart buildings… and that’s not even getting into three to five years out when we’re looking at DNA testing and designer drugs, some of those kinds of things on the life and health side, things that will have both potential benefits and downsides.
Is this speedy tech progress a recent thing, or has it been like this throughout your career?
It’s a recent thing. I call technology a time accelerant. Our perception of time gets different and a number of factors go into technology getting developed faster today than it ever has been. I don’t see that changing or slowing down.
The implications are that, with new technology emerging, existing companies have less time to evaluate the impact of that technology on their products and services than they had in the past. Ten to fifteen years ago you could take a couple of years just to figure things out. Today you have six months. So that’s putting major pressure on existing organizations to respond faster… and culture-wise they’re not set up internally to be able to do that.
I call this the ‘risk dilemma’. There’s a risk of taking action, but there’s also a risk of not taking action. The dilemma involves helping organizations find that sweet spot between too much risk and not enough risk.
The times now are really interesting – and that’s what keeps me fascinated not only with the technology itself, but with the implications on the industry.
What is it about insurance that has kept you dedicated to the industry?
I would say I got into the industry like most people – meaning I never planned on it. But I call the insurance industry quicksand – you stick your toe in and it sucks you in and never lets you go.
Nothing could happen without insurance - so that part of it and the technical side of coverages and policies and contracts I enjoy. And I think I have always enjoyed understanding how different businesses work – so when I sold insurance I would need to go into a manufacturer or business to understand their operation, and then create a risk management program to help mitigate financial loss. That’s always been intriguing to me.
How great does it feel to be part of a thriving insurance community?
I think there’s no question that there’s a sense of community. Over my career I’ve been involved with a lot of different groups and I’ve found that agents and brokers will both compete and share. I was just at a group made up of big brokers last week in San Diego and the purpose of that meeting was to share information – ‘who’s doing what, what are you worried about?’.
There’s a real sense of sharing within the industry and it’s often very hard to see that from the outside.
Regarding the IBAs, why is it important to showcase & celebrate those in the industry who are raising the bar?
I think it gives others an idea of what needs to be done. It relates to time. Businesses increasingly have less time to think and evaluate and we really try to find those who are doing something interesting… so awards like this really highlight those businesses so that others can look and see what they’re doing, then figure out how to emulate thoughts, tech and culture. I think that helps raise the bar for the entire industry.
What are you looking for in an IBA winner?
Innovation is a factor – but innovation is such a difficult word right now, as there are so many meanings that get attached to it. I think it’s important to remember the difference between change and transformation. Change is incremental, we all do it. But transformation is really taking a process or service and completely thinking differently about the delivery or experience for the customer. So I would say I’m looking for transformation rather than more incremental change.
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