Can Google Save Us From Bad Interfaces?

Apr 26th, 2010 | Posted by

As often happens, a recent conversation with an insurance CIO produced an “ah ha!” moment for me. Why is it that we, as an industry, are so slow to recognize technology user behaviors that have become commonplace? If everybody Googles, why don’t insurance applications?

The topic of discussion was the difficulties that technology execs face in supporting the polarized needs of users. For example, some agents still prefer to take new applications via their trusty yellow legal pads and ballpoint pens, while others take a laptop-centric view of the world and prefer electronic applications. Those two streams may converge at some point (probably on the desk of a field office or underwriting assistant), but there are critical implications for processes and technology.

Even within the subset of agents that is technologically savvy, there are differences. For example, most agents are comfortable generating an illustration using traditional desktop software, which presents a series of data entry fields and spits out compliant presentation materials in about 10 minutes. But what about the agent who is a Google power user, who thinks in terms of a command-line interface to do things more quickly and more directly? Could a Google-based comparative illustration application work?

On a goof, I tried entering the following in Google: “male 44 year old non-smoker 20 year YRT.” What the heck, I thought, go with the I’m Feeling Lucky button. (For the uninitiated, this slightly irreverent option in Google takes you directly to the top search hit based on the other terms entered, rather than presenting you with a list of all hits.)

I’m Feeling Lucky produced no result. Shocking! Apparently, there are no carriers leveraging a pure online illustration package with a Google interface. A regular Google search wasn’t much better—it turned up lots of articles on mortality and insurance, but not what my hypothetical agent was looking for.

The lesson for me is that if the insurance industry truly designed technology to meet user needs and expectations, this application or something similar would exist. The technology is proven, and commercially available.

Is insurance more complex than searching for a JPG of a common house wren? No question. Are there difficult issues with designing a business model around this approach? Absolutely! But technology exists to solve problems, and sometimes to enable radical shifts in how businesses and customers interact. We could avoid a lot of pain and effort by leveraging existing user behaviors, rather than forcing users down the paths that are most convenient for us.

  1. Eddie
    May 3rd, 2010 at 18:25
    Reply | Quote | #1

    Thank you for this fresh perspective. It will be very interesting to see not if, but when “Google” culture converges with the culture of insurance and financial services firms. The reality is that most of Gen X and all of Gen Y understand the concept of search and the possibilities it engenders. This is a major transformation in the way we do things as knowledge workers. And there are obviously legions of knowledge workers in these industries.

    But today, there remains a major gap between the tech culture within the large financial enterprise, and the tech culture its knowledge workers “go home to.” Many corporate intranets don’t even have a search field. At some point this gap will close, but I don’t think it will be because knowledge workers give up their personal tech savvy.