Colleen Risk

About Colleen Risk

Colleen Risk is a senior analyst in Celent’s Insurance practice. Her research focuses on life insurance business architecture, new business acquisition and underwriting, and large transformation program change management.

Closing the deal with e-signature

Closing the deal with e-signature

E-signature has become such a part of my life that I am surprised when I am asked to provide a wet signature. I sign for credit card purchases, deliveries and legal documents, even my tax returns (!), using a click or a digital signature pad. But, if I want to change my beneficiary for my life insurance, I have to download a .pdf, sign the document with a pen, and mail it to the insurer. Insurance has been a slow adopter of e-signature. However, as the process of buying life insurance and receiving post-issue service is becoming increasingly more digitized, insurers are working to remove paper from everyday processes.

The adoption of e-applications, web portals, and mobile technology is helping to drive the change, but it is my belief that it is primarily driven by customer expectations set by other industries offering easy-to-use digital processes. Consumers expect companies to be easy to do business with and will choose the company they purchase goods or services from based on the ease of use. E-signatures provide a way to offer a digital experience that is easy to use, fast, and secure.

In our new report, Putting a Lock on Straight Through Processing, my colleague Karen Monks and I profile 11 providers of e-signature technology for insurance. This is the final report in a series that began last year.  During the year, we looked extensively at new business acquisition and the technologies that power it. We wrote reports on solution providers for illustrations, e-application, and new business and underwriting in addition to e-signature. Along with the vendor reports, the series included two benchmarking reports and a report in which insurers compared their level of automation to Celent's automation capability matrix to determine if they are minimally, moderately, or highly automated.  

With the increased emphasis on cycle time and cost, e-signature is being increasingly being adopted as a way to check the box on making processes fast, flexible, and efficient. E-signature software frequently integrates with other solutions to support new business acquisition as well as post-sale service.

The ability to collect an electronic signature for a new application at the time of sale providing the legal authorization to obtain underwriting requirements and evidence from third party providers has enabled straight-through processing and the ability to provide a decision to the applicant within minutes, instead of weeks.

Common e-signature use cases for life insurance:

  • New policy application
  • Disclosure delivery
  • Agent licensing and appointment
  • E-delivery of policies
  • Beneficiary change and other policy servicing
  • Premium payments

Life insurers that investigate e-signatures will be pleasantly surprised by how quickly and relatively inexpensively e-signature can be implemented as well as how easily and securely a paper signature process can be automated. I am a big fan, as I’m sure you are, of less paper and more automation!

 

A cautionary tale of legacy technology or how to avoid a major meltdown in your organization

A cautionary tale of legacy technology or how to avoid a major meltdown in your organization

Were any of you flying Delta from April 5 to April 9?  If so, this story will be no surprise to you.  For the rest of you, you may remember it was spring break and terrible weather pounded Atlanta. The severe weather caused a five–day meltdown across Delta’s flight network and over 4,000 flights were cancelled. During those five days, Delta struggled mightily with two basic functions of its business – flying airplanes and accommodating passengers. The weather is, of course, out of Delta’s control, but the response and the ensuing chaos was amplified by something insurers understand all too well — the lack of modern technology. 

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the root of the problem was a telephone busy signal. An internal investigation found the biggest problem was that Delta’s 13,000 pilots and 20,000 flight attendants calling in for a new assignment couldn’t get through to the people in Atlanta who were rebuilding the airline schedule. Computers told gate agents rescheduled crews would be there, but the flights would end up canceled for lack of a crew member who was lost in Delta’s communication fiasco and unaware of the assignment.

I have to confess, my first thought when I read this article was to wonder how on earth a major company like Delta can be so lacking in modern technology. My next thought was wow, this is true for the insurance industry as well. While life insurance companies don’t have the challenges of rescheduling thousands of flights, a negative change in the stock market can create thousands of customer calls. And when a major catastrophe occurs, property casualty insurers can also be inundated by phone calls.

Delta’s response was to double the size of the crew-tracking team, dramatically increase the number of phone lines by June; and hope to have a system which will be able to send crews information about their trips electronically by August.

Rather than relying on hope, following are suggestions for insurers so that they can avoid the type of meltdown experienced by Delta:

  • Self-service portals or apps where customers can check their balances, make changes to their policies, and communicate with their insurer.
  • Chatbots that can provide answers to questions without human interaction.
  • Text messages to keep insureds informed.
  • Webchat to allow communication via the website.
  • Omni-channel support to allow seamless switching between devices.

We can’t control the weather or the stock market.  Unexpected events will happen.  But, how an insurer responds to them can have a significant impact on the customer experience and the customer long term relationship with the insurer.  In a hyper-competitive market, customer experience is a key differentiator.

If you are interested in building a better customer experience, here is a report you may find interesting, Standing Out in a Bland World: Global Life Insurance Customer Service Strategies.

Would you spot the warning signs of a failing project?

Would you spot the warning signs of a failing project?

Every large project I have been involved with began with enthusiasm and high hopes. The go decision concludes a sizable project of its own — creating and receiving approval for the business case. The initiative begins in a celebratory fashion. The project sponsors are overrun with volunteers for the project. There are numerous kick-off meetings with a festive tone. Communication about the project occurs often promoting the merits of the project. It is sunshine and roses ahead!

Flash forward, the project communication may have slowed down to a trickle. The project team members have lost their enthusiasm, and the project has become mundane. Many times there have been as many failures as successes. It is not unusual to lose a key sponsor. At times, it may become necessary to revise the goals of the project, or, in the direst situations, abandon the future phases.

I am sure that readers are thinking, “This will not happen to my project.” I certainly hope that is true! But, if your project is on a downhill slide, there are steps that can be taken to get back on course. An important first step is a project health check.

A project health check is designed to provide an independent and impartial evaluation of a program or project. The health check evaluates the overall health or risk profile, assesses stakeholder satisfaction, and provides practical recommendations that the team can use for reducing risk and in extreme situations, for project audit, recovery, or rescue. The health check covers all levels of the project from the business executives and sponsors to the technical team members to provide a comprehensive view. It focuses on:

• Business objectives, scope, and requirements assessment.
• Contracting and financials.
• All processes, deliverables, and communications quality.
• Exception management that includes issues, changes, and risks.
• Project data and plan assessment.
• People assessment.
• Best practices effectiveness.
• Evaluation of the technology and its feasibility and compatibility with the current and/or planned environment.

Very often, those closest to a project are the ones that have difficulty in seeing the progress. Health checks are best undertaken by third party assessors, who can provide an unbiased and balanced view and opinion.

My new report,  Staying on Track when the Transformation Road Changes, has more information on project health checks as well as the do’s and don’ts of running a successful project. I hope all of your projects are success ones!
 

Learning from the Best: Operational Excellence from a Model Insurer Viewpoint

Learning from the Best:  Operational Excellence from a Model Insurer Viewpoint

I am privileged again this year to be part of the team that judged the Celent Model Insurer nominations. My focus is on the nominations in the Operational Excellence theme. In reality, every nomination demonstrates a high degree of operational excellence. It is a tough job to choose only three winners in the category. 

You may wonder how Celent decides which nominations are the best of the best. We look at the disciples included in successful operational outcomes. Achieving operational excellence, requires transforming processes and systems into competitive advantages by making them leaner, faster, more flexible and of higher quality.

It’s not just what is done, but how it’s done. The project should have lasting effects and transform the organization in multiple aspects: Processes, Technology, Culture and Business Model

This year’s operational excellence nominations run the gamut from project methodology to straight through processing to infrastructure outsourcing.  Following are examples of a few of the nominations: 

  • A P&C insurer in the Cayman Islands moved to a virtual business. Instead of replacing their on premise infrastructure, they transitioned to a cloud environment for all systems including: core insurance operations, human resources, and call center. By moving to a third-party cloud provider, the insurer could go global to support local operations with consistent technology expertise to host and maintain the applications.
  • One of India’s leading life insurance companies which had experienced tremendous growth of 380% in the last financial year required a simple, streamlined and cost effective system to service their growing customer base and extend the enterprise for continued growth and market penetration. The company implemented a document management solution for processing new business and claims. The solution is designed so that it requires no or minimal manual intervention for the end-to-end document life cycle process.
  • An innovative testing solution created in collaboration between a North American P&C insurer and its vendor was implemented after it was found that the existing testing environment, approach and methodology was causing delays and quality assurance problems for the transformation program. The solution is a cloud based, open-source testing environment that has reduced both risk and cost by improving the quality of the testing. 
  • A North America supplemental benefits insurer adopted an Agile project methodology in response to its need of modernization and in recognition that it will undergo more change as the industry continues to capitalize on social, mobile, wearables, etc. The change brought about increased accountability, efficiency and organization that have allowed the company to be poised and ready for all opportunities, producing results at record speed.
  • A reinsurer based in Europe implemented artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to allow automatic verification of clauses in contracts and matching of official comments stored in a large database.  This allows experts to focus their attention on parts of the contract that have not been seen before and will allow back searching thought any collection of documents for clauses containing issues of interest as well as comparing contracts on a clause level with calculated accuracy scores.   

As you can see from this sampling of nominations, choosing the winners was hard.  However, it is easy for you to be on hand to network with and learn from the insurers and vendors who submitted the winning projects.  Please join Celent in Boston on April 4 for Innovation and Insight Day where the winners of the 2017 Model Insurer awards will be announced.  You can register here.   

Have Electronic Applications Come of Age?

Have Electronic Applications Come of Age?

My first experience with an electronic application was in 2002.  I was working with a major credit card company who included a flyer along with the billing statement that provided information about how to apply on-line for their term life insurance product. We didn't know how many applications to expect; but based on the wide distribution, we planned on a high number.  Many months of effort went into developing the eApplication on the website and creating an interface for the collected data into the new business and underwriting system. This was cutting edge technology at the time. The electronic application collected the Part 1 – demographic information – of the application. The Part 2 – medical information – was collected by a third party. A whopping 523 applications were received from the first mailing. The campaign continued on an intermittent basis for a year with a few over 2,000 applications received. At the end of the year, we threw in the towel and quietly closed down the campaign.  

Why did the campaign fail? There was nothing wrong with the process and the technology, while primitive compared to today, worked well.  The problem was that the idea was ahead of its time.  People were not ready to buy insurance on the internet. In fact, most of the applications received were declined or heavily rated.  The people who applied were driven to do so by a less than stellar health history and had few other options available to them.   

Flash forward to today; digitization of life insurance new business is a hot topic. Consumers are buying everything from mutual funds to groceries on the internet.  However, based on Celent’s recent new business and underwriting benchmarking report, Resetting the Bar: Key Metrics in Life Insurance New Business and Underwriting, nearly 52% of all insurance applications received are still in paper form.

There are a number of problems associated with paper applications, from missing forms to illegible writing, which creates a tremendous impact on an insurer’s ability to process an application quickly and/or accurately. Industry benchmarks have placed NIGO (not in good order) rates at greater than 50%. Electronic applications essentially eliminate NIGO.

Our research shows a significant reduction in new business cycle time for insurers between 2007 and 2016. For high face amount writers, the average cycle time decreased from 52 days to 44 days and from 42 days to 33 days for moderate face amount writers. When asked how the better results were obtained, the majority of insurers had seen a reduction in cycle time due to the use of technology. Some responses included “increase in eApp adoption and increased use of an automated UW engine,” “eApp, more skilled staff, cross-training with 60% automated underwriting, so huge reduction,” and “increase in auto-issue rate.” Obviously, the new business process is ripe for automation.

In Karen Monks’ and my new report, The Doorway to Straight-Through Processing: Life Insurance Electronic Applications 2016, we profile nine software vendors and their 10 electronic applications marketed to life insurance. The report focuses only on stand-alone solutions in North America. For each vendor the solution is described using the customer base, data sources supported, functionality, and technology, as well as implementation and costs.

In 2002, the buying public wasn’t ready to shop for insurance on-line.  That attitude is changing.  An electronic application, along with an underwriting rules engines and electronic contract delivery, to enable straight-through processing will soon be the norm. The time for eApplications has arrived.  An electronic application opens the door to transform the insurance buying experience, increase agent and customer satisfaction, and potentially sell more insurance.

  

 

Life Insurance Automated Underwriting – A 25 Year Journey

Life Insurance Automated Underwriting – A 25 Year Journey

Automated underwriting has come a long way in the last 25 years. It may be surprising that there was automated underwriting 25 years ago. At that time, it was called ‘expert’ underwriting. The idea was right, but the timing was wrong. The underwriting engines were black box algorithms; there was no user interface; data was fed from a file to the system; programming was required to write rules; and specialized hardware was necessary to run the systems. Not surprisingly, this attempt at automating underwriting was dead on arrival.

The next major iteration occurred about ten years later. Automated underwriting systems included a user interface; rules were exposed (some programming was still required to change the rules); data interfaces were introduced to collect evidence from labs and the medical inquiry board; underwriting decisions could be overridden by the human underwriter; and workflow was provided. Some insurers chose to take a chance on this new technology, but it was not widely adopted. There were two strikes against it: cost and trust. The systems were expensive to purchase, and the time and costs involved in integrating and tailoring the systems to a specific company’s underwriting practice could not be outweighed by the benefits. The lack of benefits was partially because the underwriters did not trust the results. Many times this caused double work for the underwriters. The underwriters reviewed the automated underwriting results and then evaluated the case using manual procedures to ensure the automated risk class matched the manual results.

Moving ahead fifteen years to today, changes in the underwriting environment place greater demands on staff and management. Staff members are working from home, and contractors are floating in and out of the landscape, all while reinsurers are knocking on the insurer’s door. There are now state-of-the-art new business and underwriting (NBUW) systems that address the challenges associated with the new demands. The solutions do not just assess the risk but provide workflow, audit, and analytics capabilities that aid in the management process. Rules can be added and modified by the business users; evidence is provided as data so that the rules engine can evaluate the results and provide the exceptions for human review. Subjective manual random audits of hundreds of cases evolve into objective, data-driven perspectives from thousands of cases. Analytics provide insights on specific conditions and impairments over the spectrum of underwritten cases to provide a portfolio view of risk management. Underwriting inconsistencies become easy to find and specific training can be provided to improve quality.

.In our report, Underwriting Investments that Pay Off, Karen Monks and I found that the differences between insurers who are minimally automated and those that are moderately to highly automated are substantial.  For minimally automated insurers, the not in good order (NIGO) rates are four times higher, the cycle times are 30% longer, and the case manager to underwriter ratio is almost double compared to the metrics for the moderately to highly automated insurers. This outcome may not reflect your specific circumstances, but it is worth preparing a business case to understand the benefits. With the advances in the systems and the advantages provided for new business acquistion, there are few justifications for any company not to seek greater automation in their underwriting.  

To learn more about the adoption of current NBUW systems and the functionality offered in them, please read our new report, What’s Hot and What’s Not, Deal and Functionality Trends and Projections in the Life NBUW Market or join our webinar on this topic on Thursday, September 29.  You can sign up here.

 

 

Predicting the Future – Illustration Systems to the Rescue

Predicting the Future – Illustration Systems to the Rescue

Life insurers continue to strive to increase growth and point of sale tools used by producers continue to evolve. Illustrations are becoming a key factor in keeping producers happy by improving the probability of the life insurance sale. Modern illustration systems provide the ability for agents to illustrate a variety of “what if” life events such as college education, retirement or purchasing a home to show how life insurance can be used to plan for the future events. Quality illustrations can move a “nice-to- have” to a “must-have” for a prospective client.

Functionality changes such as more emphasis on the illustration output, the use of mobile devices, user-level configuration, and full integration with other point of sale tools are just a few of the changes Celent has seen in vendor based illustrations solutions.

In Celent’s new report, Predicting the Future, 2016 North American Illustration Solution Spectrum, 11 vendors providing illustration systems to North American insurers are profiled.  The following trends in North American illustration systems were observed:

• Regulatory changes including NAIC model regulation and Department of Labor fiduciary rule driving increased transparency.
• Disconnected mode of operating with automatic synchronization upon reconnection.
• Increased security with role-based authentication and single sign-on capability.
• Ability to limit the products displayed to those that the agent is licensed to sell and the potential insured is eligible to purchase.
• Configuration has replaced coding for calculation engines but still requires IT involvement.
• Standardization of transactions for third party interfaces.
• Improved user experience with prefilled data, fewer forms, and conversational English-like labels for data entry. Output provides graphs and charts in addition to tabular data.
• Omnidevice support for phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop. An agent can start the quote or illustration on one device and complete it on another.

Today, an insurer can manage what used to be myriad of POS tools that included needs analysis, advanced sales support, suitability, illustrations, and e-applications, which were provided by a combination of vendors and in-house systems, through one interoperable, integrated vendor system.

Insurers also have the choice in the level of system development and maintenance in which they want to partake. Today’s vendor systems offer a spectrum from full vendor maintenance to user-level tools for the insurer to maintain its own systems.

Although homegrown illustration systems are still being developed and used, Celent believes that most carriers looking to invest in a new illustration system should consider vendor systems for core functionality and tools that can help them produce illustration systems more quickly and at a lower cost.

A companion report of 14 illustration vendors selling in EMEA, APAC and LATAM is coming soon!

How can Insurers provide better service to their female clients?

How can Insurers provide better service to their female clients?

Despite women’s rising workforce participation and escalating income, it appears that American women still have major gaps and unmet needs when it comes to achieving comfort and confidence with money. Whether by circumstance or by choice, women are finding themselves in roles where they must be responsible for long-term financial needs and security.

Female financial services clients are a substantial and overlooked segment of the market despite controlling a significant portion of the world’s wealth. A shift in demographics of women clients, including the significant wave of next-gen millennial clients, and the exponential growth in technological innovations across society and within the financial services industry present challenges and opportunities for insurers and the financial services industry. Surveys of affluent women show that they are dissatisfied with the services they receive from an advisor or the financial services industry as a whole.

In my report, Women, Money and  Realizing  Financial  Goals, I examine women’s attitudes  and aspirations for making  financial decisions.    Given the size and diversity of female clients across the generations in terms of behavioral characteristics, financial goals, technological aptitude, and product and service needs, insurers should increase their understanding of and investment in this particular section of the market, including thoughtful client segmentation, marketing efforts, and application of technology.

According to LIMRA, the number of women who are the sole or primary earner for their family with a child under the age of 18 continues to increase. However, their amount of life insurance coverage averages only 69% of men’s. Additionally, women with high personal incomes (more than $100,000) are less likely to have individual life insurance or group life insurance than men with similar personal incomes.

As insurance professionals, we should endeavor to better understand and better respond to the financial needs of women. The relationship between insurers and their female clients has improved, but there is more progress to be made in meeting women’s financial goals and needs. What plans do you have in place to better reach women insurance buyers?

How life insurers can make underwriting investments that pay off

How life insurers can make underwriting investments that pay off

There is much to automate in the new business process but where should automation dollars be spent to provide the best returns? The new Celent report, Making Life Insurance Underwriting Investments That Pay Off, provides a framework for answering this question. Celent’s analysis divides the new business and underwriting process into 22 logical components of work. Each component is subdivided into potential levels of automation ranging from minimal automation to highly automated. Through an online survey insurers graded themselves in each of the processes according to their level of automation.  The results were not surprising; however they highlighted how far behind the life insurance industry lags in this area.

Automation blog graphic

Automated new business and underwriting processes carry the promise of improved results, but can come at a significant cost, including the hard costs of purchasing technology as well as the softer costs of implementing it and changing processes.  Celent’s analysis showed that automation does indeed improve key measures related to productivity, accuracy and time which can help offset the costs.

One of the keys to reaping the rewards of the investment is to define the strategic goals prior to the automation. Some life insurers have a strategy to be a low cost provider and may achieve low cost through significant investment in rules automation. Others want to provide a high level of service and may focus on the customer experience by automating the customer-facing processes. 

Key questions to ask when deciding where to automate:

  • What is the strategic focus?
  • What tasks are being done, and by whom? Does that actor have to do them?
  • Where can automation create capacity to grow the book of business?
  • Where can automation create a better decision?
  • Where can automation create a better customer experience?
  • Which level of automation will result in the best key metric results?

Are your investments paying off? Insurers can use Celent’s latest report to compare their level of automation to the underwriting capabilities framework and their peers to ascertain if they are making the most of their underwriting automation investments.

Who has the best life insurance new business and underwriting system?

Who has the best life insurance new business and underwriting system?

Celent has published a new report, North American LHA New Business and Underwriting Systems: 2016 ABCD Vendor View, in which Celent profiles fourteen providers of new business and underwriting systems. Each vendor responded to a request for information. Seven vendors met the criteria for inclusion as a potential Xcelent winner. The seven vendors eligible for the awards provided a demonstration and briefing of their billing solution.

Due to the ongoing economic conditions that continue to have an adverse impact on life insurance application volumes, insurers have strong interest in reducing the cost of acquisition, processing and issuing life insurance applications. Automating the new business and underwriting functions are critical components in reaching a level of straight-through processing (STP) for new business. Insurers hope that these systems will help reduce unit costs and improve margins. Celent believes that these initiatives are necessary to help the insurers address growth, service, and distribution mandates, in addition to reducing the cost per policy issued.

After years of development that started almost 30 years ago, automated underwriting systems have become highly flexible in allowing insurers to define and configure underwriting rules and workflow. Most systems include or integrate into eApplications. Data from the applications drive reflexive questioning and identify risk classes associated with application data. They offer high levels of automation when gathering third party medical requirements and flag risks when the third party data results are outside of the ranges set by the rules. They also can deliver decisions to the point of data entry or to an underwriter.

New business image

The interest in new business and underwriting systems is on the upswing. Deciding the best new business and underwriting system is unique to each insurer. The goal of the report is to provide detailed information so that an insurer will be able to make an informed decision on which systems may be the best for them.