This year, agents are really starting to benefit from technology. But with powerful tools available to fill so many needs, brokers face a challenge to know where to deploy their limited technology capital to get the best return--marketing, internal effectiveness or stronger carrier relationships.
"I think there's been a realization that using technology to gain an advantage has moved from 'nice to do' to 'necessary to do' to be in your strongest competitive position," said Jeffrey Yates, executive director of the Agents Council on Technology (ACT), part of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA).
"We're watching very closely the growing need for agents and brokers to be more customer-service oriented," said Kim Harris-Ferrante, vice president at technology researcher Gartner Inc.'s North Carolina location. Carriers are exposing more information through self-service Internet sites and intermediaries are assuming the role of a complex customer service administrator for requests that don't require face-to-face interaction.
Real-time download offers huge benefits to agents and their carrier partners. A major industry effort by ACT, ACORD, ACORD-User Groups Information Exchange (AUGIE) and other industry groups continues to encourage agents to use it and carriers to build out consistent functionality to make it a more powerful tool, Yates said.
Beyond the bottom line, technology has changed the whole concept of how and where work is done, and that requires continuous upgrading of technology to allow for a mobile workforce. Smart phones can work remotely, enabling agents to handle questions anywhere. Mobile applications allow work to be done in an airport or a client's office.