IT’S TIME TO INNOVATE IN PREMIUM FINANCE
A blueprint for using tools available today to improve experiences
By Russ Goldstein
I’m a child of the 80s and 90s and I’ve been known to feel nostalgic while listening to the 80s channel on satellite radio or watching old movies. That said, I’m grateful for the many aspects of society that have improved since then. Innovation and technology have changed our lives in countless ways over the past two decades, with new industries emerging seemingly overnight and leaving others in the dust. Sure, we all know how streaming services have turned the entertainment industry on its ear and how Uber disrupted the transportation space, but have you followed along with what’s transpiring in insurance and financial services?
Among myriad examples, we’ve seen companies like Lemonade, Square, Venmo and SoFi change the way we think about payment processing, loans, personal insurance products and money transfer. Premium finance technology, on the other hand, is still living back in the 80s and 90s, and while it outlasted VHS rental, pay phones and pagers, it’s long overdue for an overhaul.
Now, keep in mind that I’m as big a proponent of the premium finance space as you can find. I’ve made a career in the industry, as well as many friends and profitable business relationships. I’m grateful for the experience and I’m certainly not suggesting we put the entire way we operate out to pasture. What I’m suggesting is that as insurance agents you give some thought to how you handle premium finance today.
Is your experience simple and fast? Are your clients able to make payments and get customer support painlessly? Here’s a rundown of where I believe we can innovate in the premium finance industry today. And I welcome you to use this as a checklist of sorts to evaluate your financial partners and/or legacy premium finance technology systems:
Commissions. Because everyone loves to get paid, why not start with commissions? We’ve all waited longer than we’d like to receive our commission checks, but has it become a common occurrence for your firm? With updated technologies, your premium finance provider should be able to automate the commissions process, give you the ability to review commissions data in a matter of a few clicks, and get your check to you in super timely and reliable fashion each and every month.
Agent’s experience. A mentor of mine once told me that customer experience is the most important aspect of marketing, and I believe that to be true. Unfortunately, many insurance agents are relegated to using software systems that were developed when Friends and Seinfeld were in their heyday. Some systems have a cumber-some feel to them that can lead to a very frustrating experience for agents seeking to quote financing plans for their clients. The things you do every day—quoting and generating finance contracts—should be easy to accomplish in a matter of a few clicks.
As we move forward, customization also becomes more important to the user experience. If your premium finance partner’s system doesn’t provide the ability to customize rates and terms across the different types of business that you write, it may be time to evaluate your options. Modern technologies enable you to customize virtually every aspect of the premium finance experience, minimizing clicks and keystrokes and maximizing your productivity. And speaking of productivity, we’re not quite there yet as an industry, but I’m hopeful that someday soon we’ll find a way to eliminate double data entry from insurance policy to finance contract.
Insured’s experience. In most cases, insureds have a basic relation-ship with their premium finance company. They really engage for only three reasons: to make a payment, to review their account details or to reset their password. Surprisingly, despite the fact that we live in a world where we all have numerous passwords for a wide variety of services, and despite the fact that you can quickly reset almost any password with secure dual authentication in a matter of seconds, many premium finance end users struggle mightily to reset their passwords. This can be the case for some agents as well, and they’re forced to call customer support to execute a simple password change.
In addition to easy and secure password resets, data reporting should be much less cumbersome today than it has been in legacy premium finance systems. Using a simple dashboard, insureds should be able to review their accounts, by policy, including specific details of each insurance policy covered under the finance contract.
Innovation and technology have changed our lives in countless ways over the past two decades, with new industries emerging seemingly overnight and leaving others in the dust.
Payments is arguably the biggest area in need of revamping, including data visualization (i.e., payment history) as well as the ability to make a payment in any way the insured desires. Earlier, I mentioned that there has been much innovation in the payments space and everyone has a favorite payment technology. There’s no reason for our insureds to use anything other than their preferred method when it comes to premium finance payments, including Venmo, Zelle, PayPal, credit card or ACH. In the past, setting up autopay was unnecessarily complicated. Today it should be simple to set up and connect to any payment method in just a few clicks.
Omni-channel support. Support is another critical aspect of customer engagement that applies to both the agent and the insured. What we’re really talking about here is communication. As premium finance providers, we need to make it as easy as possible to get in touch with us. If you think back to the 80s and 90s, it used to be 100% telephone, and then came the advent of fax and email. Today there are tons of communication channels, including text messaging and social media, but only the top customer service organizations use them all. If you’re anything like me, you prefer text support. It’s fast, easy and non-intrusive. With all the options available today, you should be able to engage your premium finance company on your terms and on your time (during business hours, of course).
Mobile, mobile, mobile (and more mobile). Our world today has gone mobile, and with good reason. We’re all carrying around a ton of tech power in our pockets. Apps are quick to access and easy to use. For the most part, anything you can do on your computer you can also do on your phone. Now, in theory, you could pull out your phone, launch a browser and access any premium finance platform by typing in a URL, and technically that would be considered a mobile experience. That might work, but is it efficient? Is the experience pleasant and simple?
In today’s app economy, agents and insureds should be able to use a dedicated premium finance app to accomplish anything on their phones in a matter of seconds—just as easily as they can on their computer or tablet. The experience should parallel the full-blown software program but in simple, intuitive fashion. Think about your favorite airline; it’s just as easy to book a flight on their app as it is on their website, but the experience is not the same. If they forced us to use the full website on our phones, we’d be much more likely to put the phone down (or find a new favorite airline).
There you have it, a simple blueprint for how we can use tools readily available today to improve the premium finance experience for everyone.
Russ Goldstein founded Agile Premium Finance, a division of Valley National Bank, in 2017 and has served as the company’s CEO since its inception. Prior to leading Agile, Russ led sales and operations for high-growth premium finance companies for 20-plus years and served in senior roles at Baytree and First Insurance Funding.