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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



September 15
09:47 2016

Survey results reveal opportunities for industry to advance

 Earlier this year, more than 4,300 agents, brokers and managing general agents shared insight on technologies available to help them grow their business and serve their customers. They also revealed which they’re using—and which they’re not.

The online Insurance Digital Transformation Survey was conducted by the Insurance Digital Revolution (IDR), an industry initiative formed last year to accelerate adoption of technologies that help independent agents improve customer satisfaction, grow their business, and boost profitability. IDR was organized by IIABA’s Agents Council for Technology (ACT), the ACORD-User Groups Information Exchange (AUGIE) and the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA).

“Technology exists that can empower agents to grow their business,” says Mike Becker, PIA executive vice president and CEO. “Through this survey and listening to our member agents, we recognize that some technology is underutilized. IDR’s goal is to increase awareness and accelerate adoption.”

Cost can be an issue for some agencies. “Also, implementation itself can be rather daunting,” he adds. “This survey provides a benchmark or foundation for us to create a roadmap and put together resources that can help agents move forward in a meaningful way.”

The survey says

The Insurance Digital Trans-formation Survey looked at a wide range of tech-related issues, addressing everything from attracting and retaining customers to meeting customers’ “anytime, anywhere” expectations to automation-based agility. A number of findings stood out.

“More than half of agents say they don’t operate 24/7 in any form,” Becker says. “In this day and age—in this right-here, right-now world that we live in—customer expectations are incredibly high, and agents need to be able to be in that environment. Evidently, fewer than half are.”

“The survey found that 91% of agents who responded don’t think their clients want 24/7 access to their insurance information because they are not asking for it,” adds Cal Durland, CPCU, industry consultant and advocate for the Insurance Digital Revolution initiative. Durland is a strong supporter of the independent agency distribution system who got involved with the IDR to help ensure a strong agency system future.

“People use technology 24/7 to shop, learn and buy,” Durland notes. “They didn’t necessarily ask the other industries for it, yet we all know that people use it! Agents need to operate on a 24/7 basis.”

If they don’t find a way to expand access, someone else will—and already does. “Around-the-clock access is something that could very easily attract a customer to a direct writer rather than an independent agency,” says Lisa Goth, president of Charles Leach Agency in New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Goth has been involved in agency technology initiatives for many years.

Becker acknowledges that offering 24/7 functionality can be a challenge. “Some agencies offer client portals that let customers come in and request information or certificates of insurance, process changes, and maybe get quotes,” he says. “But for really small agencies, that’s a big step.”

Low use of claims download was another finding. “Rather than use claims download, some 60% of agents expend time and resources on manual workarounds—or they let carriers handle everything,” Durland observes. “Customers buy insurance based on a promise that if they suffer a loss, insurance will respond. Claims download helps agents deliver value in the claims process and boost efficiency in their operations.”

Quoting represents another opportunity for improvement. “I was surprised to learn that 40% of agents quoting personal lines start on individual carrier portals,” Goth says. “This is a very time-consuming and inefficient workflow. I’d have thought at least 75% of agencies would be starting in a comparative rater.”

“On the commercial side, 55% of agents say they start quotes on the carrier portal,” Becker notes. “This requires rekeying of the data, rather than taking advantage of technology that’s currently available. Agents need to look at workflows and processes, and make sure they’re operating as efficiently as possible.”

Low website self-rating also stood out. “Only 8% of agents say their websites are excellent,” says Durland. “This may also be why only 10% of agents say they receive a large number of leads from their website or social networks. We know people investigate and research on the Internet. Agents need to improve their pipelines using technology available to them.”

Social communication is another issue. “While 78% of agents say they’re on Facebook and 68% say they’re on LinkedIn, a really small percentage of folks, just 16% of agents, are using some sort of instant messaging platform to communicate with customers and prospects,” Becker notes. “This represents a great opportunity for agents; it’s inexpensive, it’s relatively easy to implement, and it provides ‘right-here, right-now’ support to improve the customer experience.”

Moving forward

According to Becker, “The survey should serve as an eye-opener for agents. While implementation can be overwhelming, the opportunities are real. We see it in the survey. The opportunities can directly impact the agents’ bottom line.”

To make progress, he says agents must embrace change. “That’s sometimes easier said than done,” he acknowledges. “We hear from agents about their own personal experience, and the survey bears it out: Agents who remain on the cutting edge and who embrace technology are well positioned for the future, versus agencies that don’t. Frankly, it’s that simple.”

Goth encourages agents to continue to press carriers for common workflows. “Also, agents need to engage their management software companies to create better workflows and develop easier ways of documenting communications,” she says.

“When developing websites,” she adds, “put money and time into mobile device development ahead of traditional website development. The use of mobile devices by customers far exceeds the use of standard websites.”

Agents also should make use of available tools and information. “Agent associations, carriers and technology vendors all have resources they make available to agents,” Becker says. “Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but look to your partners for support in taking that step.”

Durland recommends that agents and their partners sign up for communications coming out monthly from the IDR. “Each month we’ll be sharing information through a digital toolkit that will improve agency efficiency and client experience,” she explains. “Each agency is different, and some will feel pretty good when they see that they are already doing what’s highlighted in the toolkit. Others will be able to learn how to get started.”

In June, for example, the IDR provided information on the value of eSignatures; in July the topic was how eDocs and messages are streamlining the agent’s workflow and giving the sales team more time to sell.

The IDR continues to develop tools and resources to help agents and brokers. “The survey was an excellent starting point,” Becker says. “It lays the groundwork for what’s to come.”

Durland adds, “We have a lot of input from agents who took the survey that will help us to identify information we need to share. The IDR Advisory Committee will help us focus on industry opportunities and identify where communication pieces are needed to inform all agents of the resources that are currently available.”

She also says agents need to step up and share their successes, to encourage more agents to provide the digital opportunities their clients expect. “We need agents, carriers and solution providers to know that the IDR is a hub of information, a resource for accelerating adoption of digital technologies that enable independent insurance agents to improve customer satisfaction, grow business and increase profitability,” she says.

Goth encourages broad sharing of survey results. “User groups, carriers, associations and vendors need to find ways to help agencies improve in the areas of communication documentation, web development, mobile device development, customer access to information, and what are considered minimum standards of customer service in this environment,” she says.

“We’re excited about the future,” Becker notes. “There’s a tremendous opportunity in front of us for agents to better embrace technology, improve customer experience, and bolster the agency’s bottom line.

“We have an excellent community made up of leaders from just about every segment of this industry, and we’re sharing these incredible ideas—some of the best practices that are available,” he adds. “The survey has opened our eyes, validating some of what we do, confirming some thoughts we had and, most important, shedding more light on areas that can move our industry forward.”

He concludes, “Agents who want to improve their customer experience and their future should make use of all available tools and resources. This will help them establish and maintain their relevance and strengthen their competitive position in the market. Those who don’t take the first step will be at a significant disadvantage.”

By Dave Willis, CPIA

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