Distribution Management – New Tools for Strategic Growth

Distribution Management – New  Tools for Strategic Growth

Growth and retention continue to be the top business goals affecting IT investments. Many insurers are focusing on improving their distribution practices as a key technique for driving growth.  Designing, developing, maintaining and managing productive channel relationships can create a sustainable competitive advantage.

Almost every insurer we talk to is focusing on how to grow their book of business.  Some are using underwriting strategies, some are focusing on improving customer service, and others are looking at acquisition.  Virtually every insurer we talk to is also focusing on distribution management.  They’re looking at expanding channels, adding distributors, moving into new territories and working to expand their existing channel in order to improve customer acquisition and retention. 

These multiple channels are effective at targeting different aspects of the market, but add complexity when it comes to channel management. Additionally, the explosion of InsureTech startups carries with it the potential for channel disruption. However, a wide variety of issues creates difficulties for insurers when it comes to effectively managing the distribution channel.

As an insurer begins to focus on managing their distributors more strategically, many put resources towards managing their distributors more effectively in order to extract more revenue from them. Some insurers are focused on managing the compliance aspects of distribution management – assuring the distributors have the right licenses and that state appointments are made in a timely manner.  Others are focusing on using compensation tools and techniques to more effectively stimulate production. Still others are placing their priority on servicing high priority distribution channels and improving service to distributors.  They are utilizing increasingly complex segmentation schemes and tailored programs for preferred producers as a way to retain and grow business.

But in doing so, they often run into a common set of issues.   Standard processes and automation were designed for an environment that has long since passed, one that was much more stable and predictable. In a typical insurance environment today, multiple departments perform separate tasks in the cycle making coordination of activities and integration of information difficult. This is especially problematic since producer management involves large numbers of distributors, different types of distributors, a substantial volume of transactions and data from multiple sources. As insurers expand the number and types of distributors they work with, hierarchies become more complex to manage. This is compounded by multiple jurisdictions, multiple policy admin systems, and limited reporting and analytic tools.

These conditions result in multiple issues including poor service, a lack of insight into producer performance, unreliable data, and high support costs. The inability to link information means that distributors are managed on transactions instead of strategically. Compliance issues continue to plague insurers who find it difficult to monitor licenses and process appointments in a timely manner.

Distribution management systems provide tools and technologies to help insurers with the administrative aspects of distribution management. They are most typically used by insurers with a mixed distribution channel, multiple policy admin systems, multiple jurisdictions, complex compensation programs, or some combination of these factors.  These systems encompass a wide variety of administrative functions that are focused on operational issues such as registering and licensing producers, configuring compensation plans, administering payment and reconciliation, and tracking performance.  They provide tools and technologies to help insurers with the administrative aspects of distribution management.  They are most typically used by insurers with a mixed distribution channel, multiple policy admin systems, multiple jurisdictions, complex compensation programs, or some combination of these factors.

I’ve just published a new report Distribution Management System Vendors: North American Insurance 2017.   It describes what these solutions do and profiles 16 distribution management solutions that are relevant for property casualty and/or life and annuities.  There’s another report that covers all the global vendors as well.  Check it out – or send me a note if you’d like to talk about the report.  And keep your eyes on this space for an upcoming report – Reinventing Distribution – which will give tons of examples of cool stuff that insurers are doing to manage, enable, and shift their distribution channels. 

How to grow your book of business

How to grow your book of business
Most carriers in North America work with independent agents. Although the majority of premium for personal lines is written direct, that is largely concentrated in a few large carriers. Carriers who use independent agents know that high production from agents is correlated with strong relationships. However, beyond encouraging a strong personal relationship with an underwriter, what else can a carrier do to systematically build a stronger connection with an agent and grow their book? Celent surveyed a group of agents to understand those areas most likely to make a carrier the agents’ top choice. The report addressed the following key research questions:
  1. When it comes to placing business with carriers, what criteria are most important to an agent?
  2. How are top carriers performing on those criteria?
  3. Where should carriers prioritize their investments in order to drive growth?
Key Findings
  • It is easy to think that price is the most important factor when it comes to where an agency chooses to place business. Competitive products and price certainly are important; however, even more important than products and price is the responsiveness of the underwriter. A fast underwriting decision is also quite important with over 60% of agents stating this is a must-have.
  • Money matters to agents although the specific components are not essential to all agents. The most important component is commissions. Interestingly enough, 40% stated that the commission rate does not necessarily have to be competitive. Only 30% said incentive compensation programs were must-haves – and 40% said they were nice to have or didn’t matter at all
  • Beyond that, agents also look for support in other areas. A strong brand is important, as it is easier to sell a company where the prospect already has an emotional connection. Marketing, training, and consulting support is seen as important by more than half the agents and especially younger agents who may benefit more from these types of services than older established agents may.
  • Mobile tools and social media support are generally not seen as important items to most agents – but there is a significant generational difference here. 25% of younger agents see mobile as a must-have compared to 4% of those over 60. Generational differences will become more important to carriers as baby boomer agents increase their rate of retirement and are replaced by GenX and Millennial agents.
  • Agents want carriers to invest in those tools that are most important in helping them perform their job of writing business and providing customer service to the policyholder. Most important to agents is continuing to build out both the integration with the Agency Management System and expanding the functionality of the Portal. Least important to agents are features such as mobile apps, online certificates of insurance, online commission statements, and access to marketing materials.
Looking ahead, the industry is likely to continue to experience increasing channel complexity and increasing regulation, which means there are opportunities both to improve the agent experience and to reduce costs along the way.  Carriers who are looking to drive growth by improving the agent experience should start by looking at their technology offerings and make sure they are delivering the functionality that is most important to their agents. This report presents the results of an online survey conducted during May 2015 of independent insurance agents. It contains 13 figures and 1 table. You can find it here: Driving Growth by Optimizing the Agent Experience