2018 the Year of Agent Evolution: From Accelerated Digital Adoption to New Agent-Carrier Partnerships
Insurance Trends for 2018
By: Jason Walker, Smart Harbor
The insurance industry has been talking about technological evolution for a long time. From the rise of insurtechs to implementing tools like client portals and e-signature, the need for digital transformation has been top-of-mind for all insurance professionals. But in 2018, the barriers have been removed and this talk will finally evolve into significant action. The combination of competitive conditions, availability of cost effective technology and numbers of independent agents striving for growth and better service creates the perfect storm to drive agent digital transformation.
While embracing digital is integral to competing in the market, consumers still heavily rely on the human, one-on-one service that only agents are able to provide. Great customer service is foundational for all agents. Providing the ideal mix of technology solutions and personal interaction should be at the center of an agency's planning process as they prepare to meet customer demands and increase growth and retention metrics.
As the year comes to a close, we analyzed current trends and patterns in the insurance industry and developed five predictions for independent agents in 2018:
1. All about the infrastructure: Insureds expect on-demand service. They want their agencies to be always-on and to be able to conduct insurance business whenever and wherever they like. Agencies need systems and processes that can efficiently handle their workload. They have to have strong and flexible digital infrastructure in order to grow and expand. This includes interactive websites with online chat and quoting capabilities, client portals and mobile apps, next generation agency management systems and integrated call centers for 24/7 service. In the new year, agents will be evaluating their infrastructures and expanding capabilities and services for clients.
2. Move from closed loop to open access: Agents operate in many environments. They regularly visit multiple carrier websites, manage their workload in their agency management system, and pursue prospects that are gathered in their customer relationship management system. Most of these applications are closed, meaning that information put into one system, won't automatically populate into another system. This forces agents to spend time on manual workarounds and double data entry. Agents will seek to partner with companies and implement tools that can bridge the gap between various systems, and choose applications that are built on open structures, meaning they "talk" to one another.
3. Pursuit of the paperless agency: E-signature is nothing new, it has been around the industry for 20 years. However, many agents still don't utilize it. But in 2018, a large number of agencies will take the plunge and finally implement e-signature and other e-document tools. With a desire to not only be more efficient but also to improve the sustainability of their operation, more agencies will shift to an all-digital mentality when it comes to sending, receiving and signing documents. But this can't be done in a vacuum. Agencies will also collaborate with carriers and be informed by regulators to help make the shift to all-digital documentation.
4. Synergistic partnerships increasing access to sales analytics: The carrier/agent partnership is about to go beyond a provider/seller framework. Agents and carriers both have access to unique information that when shared can help both organizations grow. Agents gather sales data such as target market behaviors, web preferences, and specific product interest that can help carriers improve sales and marketing efforts. Meanwhile, carriers have the technological infrastructure and expertise enabling them to provide education, training, and best practice programs that can help agencies improve their digital capabilities. These two entities will develop stronger partnerships that will enable both of them to improve sales.
5. Agents embrace artificial intelligence (AI): For agents who are still trying to find ways to implement interactive websites, e-signature, or client portals, technologies such as machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence seem way outside of their current capabilities. But these tools are beginning to become more commonplace, and agents will appreciate their ease and benefits and might even realize they have already been using some sort of AI. From automatic fill on certain forms to using machine learning to move key prospects to the top of the workflow to installing chatbots on websites that can resolve claims and answer clients' simple questions, agencies will convert from trepidation to the implementation of AI that will drive key processes.
2018 will be a transformative year for independent agents with many taking significant steps towards digital adoption. But even as agents embrace technology they cannot forget the human element. As more agents adopt these digital solutions, they will have to find balance between technological evolution and the one-on-one personal customer service.