This is the seventh of eight every-other-week blog posts excerpts from my book: “Stone Tablets to Satellites: The Continual Intimate but Awkward Relationship Between the Insurance Industry and Technology”. The publication date for this seventh post is June 1, 2022. The sixth blog post excerpted from my book was posted May 18, 2022. The last blog post of excerpted content will be June 15, 2022. Wells Media will publish the book on June 28, 2022 as a hard cover, paperback, ebook (Kindle), and audio book.
The excerpt of this 7th post is from the Insurance Commerce Section of the book. This section includes seven chapters which encompass a discussion of risk landscape perspectives; of customer perspectives; of carrier perspectives; of product development perspectives; of channel management perspectives; of producer productivity perspectives; and of claim management perspectives.
Let’s get to the excerpt …
Insurance channels writ large are the ‘first face’ that a prospective customer meets on the journey to conduct insurance commerce. Whether the first meeting is with an insurance agent or broker, receiving a physical artifact sent in the postal mail, or seeing a digital artifact on the web, the initial channel interaction represents an encounter that sets the tone of what is to come throughout the entire customer experience of purchasing insurance.
Subsequent interactions throughout the insurance commerce journey with insurance agents or brokers, physical artifacts, digital artifacts, and associated processes with concomitant required back-and-forth information flows serve to positively reinforce or negatively redefine the initial tone of the ‘first face’ meeting.
Is a (completely) digital insurance agency emerging soon?
It is impossible to not see the many articles in the insurance trade press asking the question: Is a ‘digital insurance agency or broker firm’ emerging anytime soon? My answer: Doubtful.
Whether an insurance agency, broker firm, or other type of producer firm will be comprised of people working only with digital artifacts – with absolutely no physical artifacts – to support producers and keep the firm running in the Fifth Technology Era is a rhetorical question. Insurance channel firms are mired somewhere between Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the Five Technology Eras I discussed earlier in this book. (See visual of the four phases of insurance agency structure below.)
My assumption is that more agencies are closer to the Phase 2 component of the pictured evolution below.
I suggest that if an agency is in Phase 3 but the carriers it conducts commerce with are in Phase 2 the resulting interactions between the agency and the carriers will be detrimental to the quick and easy fulfillment of a customer’s purchase (or service) objectives. Similarly with any other mismatch between agencies and carriers – realizing that even within a phase there is a gradient of potential digital artifacts used to support customer purchase and service objectives.
The too-often not discussed – and not necessarily effectively managed – reality is that insurance agencies and carriers are interdependent in their quest to fulfill customer objectives.
The intimacy – awkwardness dynamic exists in the insurance channel environment
Notwithstanding if or when a digital insurance agency emerges in the marketplace, it is important to note that the intimacy – awkward dynamic is as much at play in the insurance channel environment as it is in the carrier environment. The portfolio of producers, regardless of type and regardless of the channel they work for, are customers of digital services in their own right as individuals and consumers of products and services from various industries. They use mobile, digital apps to search, shop, stream, and socialize. As such, they should feel more intimacy than awkwardness using similar web-accessible, cloud-enabled technology apps interacting with clients and collaborating with colleagues whether in the agency or carrier to support insurance commerce.
Whatever awkwardness producers do feel, particularly the ‘digital natives’ among them, is felt working with agency / broker firm processes that require paper and other physical artifacts. Unfortunately, the opposite holds true: producers who are not ‘digital natives’ possibly feel more awkwardness using mobile, digital apps whether in their personal lives or conducting insurance commerce with clients or collaborating with colleagues.
Also at play, beyond the seemingly never-ending intimacy-awkwardness insurance industry dynamic, is the impact of COVID-19 on the insurance channel environment. Similarly to its impact on the insurance carrier environment, the pandemic is keeping insurance channel professionals and producers working at home instead of in agency or broker offices. This is creating significantly more of a productivity shock to insurance channel professionals used to working in an office than to the producers who are used to working remotely. Obviously, the producers’ clients are also working from home during the COVID global pandemic and expect to conduct insurance commerce using a mixture of physical artifacts (i.e. telephone calls) and digital distancing solutions (i.e. web conferencing) to preclude face-to-face meetings.
Insurance channels cannot quickly and easily fulfill customer expectations
Putting the pandemic aside, there is a glaring disconnect between the Fifth Technology Era’s mobile, web-accessible, cloud-enabled apps used by consumers to search, socialize, shop, and stream and the nature of the enterprise applications used by insurance channels and carriers to conduct commerce. I’m not saying the disconnect does not exist between insurance carriers and customers because it obviously does exist and needs to be eliminated. However, the feeling of the disconnect is more palpable during the ‘first face’ meeting and subsequent interactions between a prospective customer and an insurance professional working in an insurance channel.
I want to revisit a fundamental point that I have repeated throughout this book: customers, whether retail consumers of personal lines P&C insurance or corporations purchasing commercial lines P&C insurance, expect to purchase insurance or consume insurance services quickly and easily. Companies in a variety of industries using the technology apps of the Fifth Technology Era are increasingly satisfying that expectation. Prospective insurance customers expect the same quickness and ease of purchase.
Readers of the book will find that I discuss three reasons that purchasing insurance is not as simple as clicking a mobile device app as well as other issues in this chapter of channel management perspectives.
The next blog post will be the last post of excerpts from the book. It will published on June 15, 2022. I will excerpt content from one of the other chapters within the Insurance Commerce Section. Specifically, I will excerpt some content from the chapter titled Claim Management Perspectives. The book will be published on June 28, 2022.