The State of Thought
Given this month’s focus on technology I hereby present my annual State of the Union (of agency technology):
Friends, agency leaders, Council members, the state of the union (of agency technology) is … not bad, actually. While we still exist in a world of limited system options, we have seen signs of a brighter future. Across the industry, support for a digital business model is stronger than ever. From broker-carrier connectivity to fully paperless transactions to true digital signatures, parties to the insurance transaction are working on collaborative solutions that will fundamentally change the way our business is conducted.
The most noticeable improvement over the past year has been the number of agencies actively engaging in strategic technology discussions. While there are still agencies that prefer to think of technology as email and telephones, this is rapidly becoming the old way of thinking. Through vehicles like The Council’s CIO Working Group, many agencies are elevating their use of technology, moving away from the narrow focus of computers and networks into the world of customer-facing technology and data-driven insight.
This shift in philosophy will translate into enormous success for those firms on the leading edge. By engaging with customers in a way that is convenient, timely and intensely human, agents and brokers will solidify the very reason for our existence. There is no better way to transfer risk than with the trusted counsel and expert guidance of a quality broker, and soon our enhanced interaction with customers will provide an even more satisfying experience for them.
The needs of agencies are changing because our customers’ expectations are changing. Processing quotes and bind orders and hand-delivering paper policies is no longer enough. To thrive in the next generation of business, agencies need to provide round-the-clock access to meaningful information in ways we’ve never dreamed. Dedicated apps? Yes, please. Inquiry to bind in minutes? Only if you actually want me to bind coverage. Easier access to my information? You had me at hello.
We can’t do it alone. We are agents and brokers, not software companies. But there are a few who are listening.
Agency Management Systems
Often the subject of furious debate, agency management systems hold enormous sway over the success of our agencies. While none of the agency system vendors have launched a significantly retooled version of their products lately, the space is definitely getting more interesting.
How so? The vendors are listening, adapting and committing resources to updating the way their systems handle our business model. Let’s face it: Most of the available systems were developed decades ago. While there have been improvements and technological advances, they still operate on a model designed to make the manual procurement of insurance more efficient. This is no longer enough. We’re changing the model and they are taking notice. Customer experience is vitally important to the future of agencies. Through both acquisition and new development, agency system vendors are incrementally improving our ability to provide a better customer experience. We aren’t there yet, but we are on our way.
Added features are just the tip of the iceberg. Where agency systems were once built like impenetrable towers, these systems are now more open and connectable than ever, providing the ability to integrate with a variety of systems both inside and outside of our industry. We’re no longer forced solely to beg for new features. Our agencies can now buy and build third-party software that can interact with our customer data and internal workflows. This is a major improvement over the agency systems of just a decade ago.
While the LexisNexis Insurance Exchange ultimately failed to reach escape velocity, the concept of a common agent-carrier collaboration space has become even more ingrained in our collective conscience. When it comes to innovation, some attempts will not survive, but the lessons learned will drive the next attempt. When we do finally land on a digital agent-carrier collaboration space, the impact will be dramatic.
Both Vertafore and Applied Systems have demonstrated their desire to work on the digital divide separating agencies and carriers. Whether through a product approach or acquiring and retooling aging connectivity models, there is a flurry of activity, and agencies will ultimately be the primary beneficiaries.
These vendors can’t succeed alone. This is an industrywide problem that will require an industrywide solution. More parties are joining the cause, and each successive attempt brings us one step closer to a lasting solution.
Stay the Course
Other industries have already realized incredible success in the dual effort of making business digital and focusing on customer experience. We have a long road ahead, but this path does not require enormous amounts of risk. It’s been travelled before. By listening to our customers, demanding more from our vendors and elevating the role of technology at our firms, we can all share in this brighter future.