"There's a great quote from Steve Jobs," says Judy DeLaRosa, vice president of online platforms and solutions at Warren, N.J.-based carrier Chubb & Son. "He said, 'You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology—not the other way around.'"

No one has ever accused the insurance industry of being technology pioneers. However, the tech that sophisticated companies such as Apple provides has informed how consumers expect to interact with their insurance agents, brokers and carriers.

According to a report from the insurance and technology analysts Market Insight Group, "Adaptability: The Insurance Customer Experience Imperative in an Online Digital Mobile Society," sponsored by Applied Systems, four factors drive customer expectations: A shift in location of commerce from place to space; an expanding set of online information, search engines and review sites; a continual increase in the number of mobile and smart devices; and social media.

DeLaRosa, who also co-chairs the Customer Experience and Strategic Future Issues work groups for the Agents Council for Technology (ACT), points out that the consumer goes through six stages in his or her insurance journey: discover, evaluate, buy, experience, renew/leave, and advocacy choice. Through each of these stages, agents, brokers and carriers have an opportunity to interact with potential and current insureds through multiple touchpoints.

For example, in "discovery," a consumer interacts with the insurance industry through Google or Bing, social media, TrustedChoice.com or other "find an agent" searches, as well as producer or carrier websites. In the "buy" stage, a consumer wants online chat, quick and easy applications, e-signature and online billing. In the "advocacy" phase, a client agrees to write a web-based review, she says.

Make no mistake: Underwriting, claims execution and investment management will continue to be the fundamental keys to success for carriers, just as customer service, risk management solutions and education will continue to differentiate successful agencies and brokerages from their competition. But the most successful firms in the digital era will be those who combine their strengths with digital tools.

Technology as a Collaboration Tool

As carriers implement technology that enables them to take a more active role in the customer journey, it's of interest to not disrupt the typical agent/broker distribution channel and ensure that it remains viable.

Chubb's digital strategy recognizes today's consumer journey is an omni-channel one involving both digital and non-digital interactions. It considers both, and that the consumer may engage directly with the carrier or through its appointed agents, DeLaRosa says. The carrier provides information on its website and through social media, and also has an agent portal that contains information and solutions to support sales such as educational content regarding how to manage certain risk exposures, loss scenarios, access to electronic applications and online quoting solutions as well as account servicing solutions.

"It comes down to external and internal collaboration," says DeLaRosa. "Through the work done by the ACT Customer Experience workgroup, we all have an improved understanding of the consumer journey, including connectivity among the various touch-points, and as a carrier, how we can better support that journey and help position our appointed agents to do the same." 

Adam Edelstein, chief operating officer at Hiscox USA, echoes the need for carriers to consider their distribution channels when implementing technology upgrades. Hiscox's client base—typically a business owner with up to 10 employees—makes purchasing decisions similar to those of a traditional consumer, "and we wanted to support that. But we had to figure out how to do that without disenfranchising the traditional brokerage side of our business, which is still the largest," he says.

To approach that challenge, Hiscox built an environment around its small business direct and partnership team—a website to initiate, complete and purchase insurance; a call center staffed with licensed agents to help with transactions; and a platform to select wholesale broker partners to distribute to retail agents.

Sean Allen, U.S. vice president for business processing, technology and procurement services provider Xchanging Insurance Services (which provides premium, policy and claims processing services to Lloyd's of London and the London Insurance Market), emphasizes that carriers must have a complete picture of their demographics when formulating a digital strategy. "Are you positioning yourself to the agents? To the policyholders? Is the policyholder under 30? Over 30? If you are selling through your agent, how much control do you give?" he asks.

Carriers also must factor in their ease of business and relationships with risk managers when implementing new technology.

At ACE Group, which hosts operations in 54 countries, risk managers and brokers are supplied with the policy management program ACE Worldview (see images). It launched five years ago for multinational accounts and has expanded to include ACE Construction, Risk Management, Global Casualty and clients of ESIS, the carrier's third-party claims administrator.

The idea of Worldview is simple: If you are a risk manager of a large program with global accounts, you want to buy a policy that will achieve local regulatory compliance. The program guides risk managers and brokers through bound program notices, implementation, policy invoicing, policy issuance, premium payment and reinsurance payment. "This gives contract certainty and a clear transparency to your program at any given time," says Gary Kramer, senior vice president at ACE Global Accounts.

Through Worldview, brokers can access the document library ACE Accelerator, which electronically signs multiple applications. "If you are a client with vehicles in all 50 states, and some states have multiple forms, this would take all day. It's worse that signing a mortgage," says Kramer. But Accelerator drops the process down to five minutes.

In fact, in one year of using Worldview for ACE risk management, he says, the company saved the equivalent of paper stacked as high as the Empire State Building. "Our clients have hundreds of thousands of employees. We can issue a Workers' Comp policy and it will be 1,000 pages," Kramer says. "So that's something we feel good about—that we didn't have to chop down a forest to issue a policy."

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