3 Essentials for Your 2021 Digital Toolkit
If the business challenges of the past 15 months have a silver lining, it may be that the pandemic struck in 2020 instead of 1980.
Without widespread internet connectivity, cloud software and videoconferencing, many industries—including insurance—would not have been able to continue to serve customers while observing health mandates and stay-at-home orders. Instead, in 2020 many independent agents were able to leverage technology to maintain and even grow their businesses.
However, many agents continue to struggle with paperless processes, remote relationship building, and digital communications. The good news: it is never too late to modernize. Three insurtech trends are critical to meeting the challenges of today and thriving in the future.
1. Client Self-Service Tools
Just as bank customers don’t want to wait until 9 a.m. to call a teller for their account balance, many insurance clients (especially digital natives) expect options to do some things for themselves and on their own time. Meeting those expectations makes client self-service tools a must-have for independent agents.
Self-service tools provide a modern experience for clients, which ultimately translates into business health for agencies. For example, United Western Insurance Brokers (UWIB), a Seattle-based agency, expected new business to fall off a cliff last spring. Instead, UWIB wrote more new premiums compared to the same time in 2019. Why? UWIB had self-service client portals, e-signatures and e-payments in place before the pandemic—making them attractive to both existing and new clients. UWIB’s major commercial clients immediately began leveraging the self-service portals to obtain and adjust coverage.
Contrary to what agents sometimes fear, self-service tools don’t diminish the value of independent agents. Clients still want personalized expertise when they are facing a problem or need advice. By providing a digital option for routine tasks, agents find they have more time for the personal service clients really need.
2. Automated Client Engagement
As many of us know from experience, automated emails are often impersonal. They fill in “Dear Doug” but send the same (often irrelevant) message to each recipient. But marketing automation—the lingo for automated emails and mass communications—can work well in insurance, provided it is integrated with an agency’s management system (AMS) and backed by an agent’s understanding of clients’ industries and content needs.
For example, a Florida-based trucking company concerned about hurricane exposure might not want a primer on New England’s next ice storm—unless it operates there or competes with firms based in New England.
Marketing platforms with access to up-to-date AMS data can automatically deliver this kind of tailored risk management content to clients, as well as send renewal reminders, solicit reviews from happy clients and more. These technologies are enabling agencies to send personalized communications at scale—providing the right information to the right client at the right time (and winning their business and loyalty along the way).
3. E-Signatures and Electronic Payments
Electronic signatures and payments were gamechangers for independent agents even before the pandemic. Clients are more timely when they can click a few buttons to approve a document rather than print, sign, and scan (or mail) dozens of pages. End-insureds are also more likely to pay premiums on time when they can use a credit card or set up automated ACH payments.
The numbers show that COVID-19 converted these solutions from “nice-to-haves” to essentials. Some insurtech providers saw a 20% uptick in e-signature adoption—a pace unheard of in our industry. The same opportunity exists in digital payments. CB Insights, a technology analyst firm, reports that, in 2019, paper checks accounted for 52% of disbursements in the insurance industry compared to just 22% on average in other industries. ACH payments, which made up less than 25% of insurance disbursements that same year, are 10 times less expensive than cutting a check, CB Insights claims. Although credit cards, mobile wallets (e.g., Apple Pay and PayPal) and pay-by-text services may impose higher fees than checks or ACH, the improvement in customer experience is more than worth it.
No Turning Back
During COVID-19, technology didn’t erode relationships. If anything, it gave agents more options in how they engage with their clients.
Independent agents who have adopted self-service tools, marketing automation and e-signatures and digital payments are already equipped to thrive and grow in 2021. Agencies that continue to lag behind will be at a disadvantage to meet the expectations of a business landscape and clientele that has permanently changed.
The takeaway for agents is to never settle and to continue looking for technology investments that offer an outsized return. There are still numerous opportunities for agencies to modernize, strengthen relationships and remind clients of the value they bring to the table.
Doug Mohr is vice president, industry relations and partnerships at Vertafore.