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.   

The new customer experience – or how so many carriers are getting journey mapping wrong

Journey mapping, the process of defining the customer experience, is an activity that has been gaining in popularity over the last two years.  Carriers are using this technique to document the existing customer experience in order to identify areas to improve.  The underlying assumption is that a superior customer experience will drive retention and perhaps improve new business.  Which makes sense.  After all, it’s pretty evident that customers are demanding a different relationship model from their insurers.  They are looking for more transparency and simplicity. They are increasingly self-directed and financially literate.  And they are demanding increasing participation. 

Their expectations are increasingly driven by experience in non-insurance categories.   I can see where my uber car is real-time – why can’t I tell if my claim check has been issued.   I can custom assemble a new pc online with instant knowledge of all the options available and the price associated with them – why can’t I tell what additional insurance options are available and what they cost.   I can get recommendations from Amazon on what I might like and what others like me are purchasing – why can’t I get  good recommendation from a carrier to help me compile the best package of coverages, terms and conditions to suit my profile. 

While efforts have been made to drive effectiveness for insurance processes from an internal perspective, there are still many areas where improvements are possible from a customer perspective. So carriers are working to define an extraordinary experience for customers. They’re defining personas, mapping the new business acquisition process, the billing process, claims, complaint handling, customer inquiries, and all the major processes that occur when customers interact with carriers. 

But that’s the problem. Carriers are focusing on optimizing all those places where the customer and the carrier interact.  Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with this.  Carriers should make sure that interactions are optimized.  Focusing on automating decisions, automating correspondence, and using workflow to assure tasks are completed in a timely manner can have a dramatic effect on delivering a consistently good experience.  Omni channel, real time, digitization – all those trendy words – are very relevant here. But it’s not enough.

If you really want to build loyalty, think about the customer experience when they aren’t interacting with you. Let me give you an example. 

Allstate has a target market of motorcycle riders, and has a mobile app for them called GoodRide.  The app is available for both Allstate customers and non Allstate customers.  It helps riders keep track of all repairs and maintenance.  They can plan a ride –  checking weather, locate gas, and even find others to ride with as it is integrated to social media. They can track their ride by adding notes, adding photos and tracking miles ridden. There’s even a gamification element that awards badges.   And by the way, they can report a claim, check proof of insurance and pay their bill.  So this application really looks at what motorcycle riders are looking to do outside of the insurance interaction and embeds the insurance interactions within the full context of the customer’s life and where insurance itself plays a role rather than simply looking at the interactions discreetly.

In the commercial lines world, a similar application could be industry based and provide tailored risk management materials, an “Ask an Expert” corner where customers can check in with risk management consultants,   create a Facebook-like collaboration mechanism for customers to talk to each other,  arrange discounts on products relevant to the industry.  and of course, access their policy online, pay a bill, pull a loss run or handle other interactions. 

Expanding the customer experience beyond the pure insurance interactions makes a carrier more relevant to a customer by engaging in their everyday lives and looking for ways of adding value within context.  And it creates a way to have an ongoing conversation with a customer – building personal loyalty. 

So – is customer journey mapping a good idea?  Of course.  Are carriers thinking big enough? That is a different question.

What I will say, is exactly what I told a carrier earlier today –  The secret to organic growth?  Deliver a customer experience that your competitors can’t match. 

The Best Advice is Personal

Much discussion has happened in the industry portending the inevitable elimination of the insurance agent as consumers move to purchasing insurance direct and online. Disruption of the agency model seems to be a foregone conclusion judging by the amount of recent investment in InsureTech startups focused on transforming the distribution model. The increase in insurers offering commercial insurance direct may be seen as an inflection point not just in terms of commercial lines sold direct, but in terms of a shift in momentum from the agent to technology, across lines of business. It’s not surprising that both insurers and consumers are interested in a shift in channels. It promises to be less expensive for an insurer to go direct, and consumers are clearly showing a shift in preferences for accessing coverage

However, consumers use agents for very good reasons. Prior to direct purchase on the internet, consumers needed agents to access different markets. There was no mechanism for a consumer to purchase directly from an insurer. With the advent of digital agents, aggregators, and direct-to-consumer insurance insurers, this reason is less important than it used to be. However, replacing an agent isn’t as simple as simply automating access to markets.

One of the primary points of value provided by an agent is personalized advice. Although access to markets is more readily available, consumers still need advice and guidance. Insurance is a complicated product. Understanding which coverages they should purchase, what limits and deductibles are appropriate, and whether additional terms or endorsements are relevant is one of the key points of value that an agent offers.

Consumers are more financially literate than ever before given all the information available on the internet, yet still want transparency in the choices available, and value guidance and advice as to what options are appropriate and why they are appropriate. 58% of consumers surveyed say that when choosing a financial services provider, they are looking for a personalized offer, tailored to the individual firm or person.

Until an insurer can accurately and appropriately provide advice it is unlikely we’ll see a wholesale shift of the channel. Some insurers focus on giving consumers choices by providing price comparisons with other insurers. Others have tried to provide choice by labeling side by side choices with titles such as “less coverage”, “standard coverage”, and “more coverage”. But these choices don't usually have any relationship to the actual risk profile of the prospect and don’t offer any suggestion as to why one option is better than another. Consequently, consumers aren’t confident enough to make a decision.

Want to know how to improve online conversion? Provide actual advice to a prospect with an explanation as to why a particular limit, deductible or coverage is relevant. Anecdotal conversations with companies who have implemented a feature like this indicate potential conversion improvements of 20-30% or more.

Automated advice comes in a variety of permutations that vary depending on how much automation is utilized and how much personalization is provided. Insurers can assess their capabilities and determine how to proceed down the path. Even small amounts of advice seem to have an impact on conversion.

Automated advice can range from very simple parameter driven advice, to incredibly sophisticated advice-for-one backed up with sophisticated analytics. It can be delivered via simple online suggestions, or through a guided journey using a chat bot. Each successive generation of advice engine seems to bring increasing benefits when it comes to conversion.

Yet automated advice also carries potentially significant risks. The customer is relying on the technology – including the assumptions and methodologies that underlie it. For example – did the system ask the right questions; did the prospect understand the questions adequately to answer accurately; did the algorithms act as intended, were the underlying business rules appropriate?

Using third party data can mitigate some of these risks, but raises other issues including the accuracy of that data. On the one hand, consumers are more financially literate, are looking for more transparency and control, and expect insurers to utilize technology in an online environment. However, insurers also have to be careful not to be creepy when using third party data.

Insurers can overcome creepiness by not overreaching, and by clearly communicating how they arrived at their conclusions. In this transparent world, the path to the recommendation becomes nearly as important as the outcome.

Interested in learning more about automated advice engines? Check out my newest report “The Best Advice is Personal: Robo-Advisors v. Agents”.  

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.

  

 

Changing the Landscape of Customer Experience with Advanced Analytics

That timeless principle – “Know Your Customer” – has never been more relevant than today. Customer expectations are escalating rapidly. They want transparency in products and pricing; personalization of options and choices; and control throughout their interactions.

For an insurance company, the path to success is to offer those products, choices, and interactions that are relevant to an individual at the time that they are needed. These offerings extend well beyond product needs and pricing options. Customers expect that easy, relevant experiences and interactions will be offered across multiple channels. After all, they get tailored recommendations from Amazon and Netflix – why not from their insurance company?

Carriers have significant amounts of data necessary to know the customer deeply. It’s there in the public data showing the purchase of a new house or a marriage. It’s there on Facebook and LinkedIn as customers clearly talk about their life changes and new jobs.


One of the newest trends is dynamic segmentation. Carriers are pulling in massive amounts of data from multiple sources creating finely grained segments and then using focused models to dynamically segment customers based on changing behaviors.

This goes well beyond conventional predictive analytics. The new dimension to this is the dynamic nature of segmentation. A traditional segmentation model uses demographics to segment a customer into a broad tier and leaves them there. But with cognitive computing and machine learning an institution can create finely grained segments and can rapidly change that segmentation as customer behaviors change.

To pull off this level of intervention at scale, a carrier needs technology that works simply and easily, pulling in data from a wide variety of sources – both structured and unstructured.

The technology needs to be able to handle the scale of real-time analysis of that data and run the data through predictive and dynamic models. Models need to continuously learn and more accurately predict behaviors using cognitive computing.

Doing this well allows an carrier to humanize a digital interaction and in a live channel, to augment the human so they can scale, allowing the human to focus on what they do best – build relationships with customers and exercise judgment around the relationship.

Sophisticated carriers are using advanced analytics and machine learning as a powerful tool to find unexpected opportunities to improve sales, marketing and redefine the customer experience. These powerful tools are allowing carriers to go well beyond simple number crunching and reporting and improve their ability to listen and anticipate the needs of customers.

The Great Pokemon Experiment

Nintendo's latest mobile phone (and mobile) game just keeps smashing records – it's already the biggest mobile game in the US and is looking set to become a worldwide phenomenon.

It's not relevant to insurance though is it? Well it is sort of introducing new risks with players being mugged and wandering into dangerous places including Downing Street in London apparently.

What's more interesting to me though is the mix of gamification, rewards for movement and the way it is making people meet up in novel locations.

Two opportunities sprang to mind for the industry:

  • What's most interesting to me is that if we were to measure health app's impacts by how far they get people to walk Pokemon Go could be the biggest health app of 2016, despite only launching in July. I'm curious how the Vitality and similar propositions rewarding customers for healthy behaviour will respond to the sudden uptick in activity. 
  • From an advertising point of view and ability to drive foot traffic to say, an agents office, Pokemon Go has huge potential – potential not missed on the developers as hidden code in the game already points to a hook up with McDonalds. For now though, if you have a Pokemon gym at your office location it might be a great time to do a little advertising or push that recruitment drive you've been thinking about.

As a technologist the photos springing up around the world of "Squirtle" being found in toilets (be careful where you point the camera) also goes to show how augmented reality has become mainstream as well, along with the threats AR and virtual reality could pose in at least distracted walking. I love that the digital and physical world are coming together and it's actually bringing families together too.

Whilst some will marvel at this latest craze, for those insurers with investments in the real world like agencies, offices, billboards – and for those that are agile enough – this surprise trend could serve as a great marketing route to catching all the customers, as well as all the Pokemon.

The secret to profitable organic growth? Deliver a customer experience that your competitors can’t match

Maintaining growth and relevance is more challenging than ever for carriers. It is a hyper-competitive market with new entrants, a poor investment market, and rapidly changing customer expectations.  
  • Customers are demanding a different relationship model from their insurers. They are increasingly demanding transparency and simplicity with simpler contracts, clearer pricing disclosures and tailored recommendations with extraordinary service.
  • They are more and more self-directed and using non-traditional third party advice. Clients are more financially literate and are increasingly relying on aggregation and comparison tools. They look more for concepts than for entities – diminishing the value of advertising.
  • They are demanding collaboration and participation in product choices, claims, and risk management. They expect proactive communications that demonstrate knowledge of the customer. They expect customer service to be fast, excellent, and available through any channel they choose.
  Whether you define your customer as a policyholder or an agent, (it’s a matter of religion in this industry), expectations are being driven by innovations by non-insurance players. Uber provides instant information availability without long waits on the phone, which gives control and transparency to the customer. Amazon recognizes their customers and provides product and service recommendations that come to the customers without any additional work. Apple provides variations on their products that allow customers to choose among the different value propositions and the flexibility to change those purchases with minimal hassle.   But limited customer interactions in insurance have pushed incremental innovation to focus on products rather than customer experience.   As ardent incrementalists, most players in the insurance industry look at the customer experience from the inside out by thinking about all the points where WE touch a customer. However, being good at the discipline of focusing on customer experience requires taking a broader view of customers’ lives and the context in which they are interacting with the brand. Those who excel at customer service are masters at looking from the outside in, understanding what is going on in a customer’s life when THEY touch us and then delivering unexpected signature moments across a broader expanse of experiences.   Certainly efforts have been made to drive effectiveness for insurance processes, nevertheless, there are still many areas where improvements are possible. The way forward requires a comprehensive digital view that goes well beyond process automation. By recognizing that customer experience is about more than designing a clean and friendly user interface (UI), insurers can move beyond the superficial and achieve real results.   The technology is there to support this. But what keeps us from moving forward? Surprisingly, few carriers have anyone who owns the entire customer experience. Customer experience is usually owned by organizational silos. When no one owns the experience, it becomes a low priority. If there are limited metrics, or metrics which don’t focus on the quality of service from a customer viewpoint, then there are too many competing priorities to drive investments here.   Digital makes possible a level of engagement that was never possible before. But beware – the democratization of digital technology is eroding competitive barriers. And to meet customer expectations in an increasingly digital world, carriers will be required to make both cultural and physical shifts to incorporate new systems and processes while harnessing data and using real time analytics.   Like it or not, customer and distribution partner behaviors and expectations are changing the business model. It is not just about reducing expenses and writing more business. Carriers have to look at new distribution models, new product types well beyond pure indemnification products, and revolutionizing the customer experience.

Well sir, we’re not Amazon: online support lessons for insurers

I just got off the phone from a 40 minute phone call with an insurer that provides benefits to my family. I won’t name the company, as that is not the point of this blog post, but I thought I would share my experience. I am certainly hopeful that this could not happen at any of the companies for which our readers work. The same insurer handles my Group life and Dental coverages. It is a well-known company. I had previously registered for their website, so I logged on to print my new dental card, so I could get all seven of us to the dentist. When I logged on, it only showed my Life coverage, but not dental. Nothing on the site let me add it, so I resorted to the next best thing. I called. The wait was about what I expect – about 10 minutes – before they actually connected me to a person. After providing my entire life history (or at least it felt that way), to validate I am who I am, the customer service rep banged away at her keyboard for a solid 5 minutes before declaring that she could not send me id cards – that my account did not allow it. Getting beyond the fact that this is simply silly, she transferred me to web support. Back in the queue for another 10 minute wait, I finally spoke to a helpful gentleman who could set me up to access my dental account. Except he couldn’t. First, he explained that I had to have a second web account to view Dental. Apparently the siloed nature of their organization spilled over to their customers (Strike one). Then after being on hold for another 5 minutes, he came back to let me know that he could not set me up because my employer did not allow us to have an online account. Even when assured that my colleague DID have allow web accounts, he stuck with his guns. I tried, repeatedly, to convince him that my company would not have made that decision (Strike two). I finally gave up, ended the call and emailed our internal benefits coordinator. She responded that all I had to do was register for the site again, using a second email address. Naturally, this worked, contrary to what the insurer repeatedly told me (Strike three). Now, why did I title the blog as I did? Because my experiences with my insurer are not unique. I recently had trouble returning an online order from a major big box home improvement store. They wanted everything short of my first born to allow me to return a defective product. I had to jump through many hoops and take the product back to their local store. To make it worse, they wouldn’t be able to replace it. I’d have to order it again, and, by the way, the price went up $120. During that call, I commented that their service was complicated and poor and paled in comparison to Amazon. To which he replied: “Well sir, we’re not Amazon.” No, no you’re not. And I haven’t ordered anything else from them either, but Amazon gets my business regularly. The moral of the story? Oh there are so many:
  • Don’t show your organizational weaknesses to the customer. You may be siloed, but that shouldn’t make it difficult for the customer.
  • Make sure your support people actually know what they’re doing. The solution set should not include “making something up so the customer will go away.”
  • Customers expect your service to equal those of other providers. Admitting that you’re not Amazon just reinforces this notion.
I could go on and on, but it is a lesson the insurance industry needs to learn. We lag behind virtually every other industry in online support. Now I don’t want to leave on a negative note, because there are insurers in our industry that excel at online support. My auto insurer is wonderful. What’s a bit ironic is that once I got setup on the two almost identical websites for this insurer, the web experience is wonderful.

Pushing beyond apps

It struck me while I was driving this morning: First-gen mobile apps are fine, but virtually everyone is missing high-volume opportunities to engage with their customers. Allow me to back up a step. I was stuck in traffic. Not surprisingly, that gave me some time to ponder my driving experience. I found myself thinking: Why can’t I give my car’s navigation system deep personalizations to help it think the way I do? And how do I get around its singular focus on getting from Point A to Point B? I explored the system while at a red light. It had jammed me onto yet another “Fastest Route,” disguised as a parking lot. My tweaks to the system didn’t seem to help. I decided what I’d really like is a Creativity slider so I could tell my nav how far out there to be in determining my route. Suburban side streets, public transportation, going north to eventually head south, and even well-connected parking lots are all nominally on the table when I’m at the helm. So why can’t I tell my nav to think like me? I’d also like a more personal, periodic verbal update on my likely arrival time, which over the course of my trip this morning went from 38 minutes to almost twice that due to traffic. The time element is important, of course. But maybe my nav system should sense when I’m agitated (a combination of wearables and telematics would be a strong indicator) and do something to keep me from going off the deep end. Jokes? Soothing music? Directions to highly-rated nearby bakeries? Words of serenity? More configurability is required, obviously, or some really clever automated customization. Then an even more radical thought struck. Why couldn’t my nav help me navigate not only my trip but my morning as well? “Mr. Weber, you will be in heavy traffic for the next 20 minutes. Shall I read through your unopened emails for you while you wait?” Or, “Your calendar indicates that you have an appointment before your anticipated arrival time. Shall I email the participants to let them know you’re running late?” Or (perhaps if I’m not that agitated), “While you have a few minutes would you like to check your bank balances, or talk to someone about your auto insurance renewal which is due in 10 days?” What I’m describing here is a level of engagement between me and my mobile devices which is difficult to foster, for both technical and psychological reasons. And it doesn’t work if a nav system is simply a nav system that doesn’t have contextual information about the user. But imagine the benefits if the navigation company, a financial institution, and other consumer-focused firms thought through the consumer experience more holistically. By sensibly injecting themselves into consumers’ daily routines—even when those routines are stressful—companies will have a powerful connection to their customers that will be almost impossible to dislodge. Firms like Google have started down this path, but financial institutions need to push their way into the conversation as well.

The first step of customer experience transformation

The easiest way to grow your book of business is to keep your customers happy. Retention goes up, cross sell goes up, and you will get referrals. This isn’t a big revelation. Carriers know this. The key to keeping customers happy is to create a top-notch customer experience. But insurance is complex. Consumers have a greater number of choices today than ever before and consumers are accessing carriers through more channels than were ever available in the past. This complicates the picture at the same time that expectations are increasing. Customers expect that the carrier knows the details of every prior interaction they have had. That is hard to do when customer data is fragmented across multiple systems. Customer experience includes many facets – advertising, the acquisition process, claims and of course, the quality of customer care. Carriers are looking for tools to help them provide a superior customer experience regardless of the channel the customer chooses to use at the time. That is probably why we are seeing a huge increase in the interest in Customer Relationship Management tools especially by small and midsize carriers who haven’t invested in this type of software before. Customer relationship management systems are one of the components in many insurers’ application maps. Although CRM solutions are not unique to the insurance industry like policy administration or claims systems, they are still key technologies used to manage relationships with customers, whether customers are defined as agents/distributors, claimants, end policyholders, or prospects. There are literally hundreds of CRM solutions available today from firms large and small, well-known and obscure. I’ve just published a report focused on enterprise solutions for larger-scale organizations similar to most US insurance firms. The report does not include CRM solutions that are appropriate for small organizations such as independent agencies or advisors. It also does not address horizontal solutions that are not specifically targeting the insurance industry with tailored capabilities. There are a wide range of CRM solutions on the market for insurers to choose from. A wide range of features and functionality are available. These systems are used in various capabilities within insurance carriers — from producer management, to call center support, to managing leads and campaigns. Integration with other systems will be needed to provide the most value to a carrier. There is no single best CRM solution for all insurers. There are a number of good choices for an insurer with almost any set of requirements. The right solution for a carrier depends on how the carrier plans to use the solution. Some carriers use CRM solutions as a front end to all the core applications. It is the entry point for a call center representative to access all data for those who are calling. Other carriers use CRM solutions to manage interactions with the distribution channel. Still others use it primarily to manage outbound marketing campaigns and may extend this capability to the external distributors. System selection also may be driven by how the carrier defines “customer.” Some carriers define the customer as their agency or broker-dealer firms. Others define the customer as the final purchasers of the insurance policies and annuities. Some solutions may be better at handling some business models than others (e.g., 20 million end user clients vs. 200 agencies), though most would claim to be able to handle all levels of “customers.” Therefore, the ability to build and maintain appropriate hierarchies (agency or broker-dealer, agent or advisor, household or individual) within CRM solutions is an important aspect to examine. An insurer seeking a new CRM solution should begin the process by looking inward. Every insurer has its own unique mix of distribution channels, geography, staff capabilities, business objectives, and financial resources. This unique combination, along with the organization’s risk appetite, will influence the list of vendors for consideration. Some vendors are a better fit for an insurance company with a large IT group that is deeply proficient with the most modern platforms and tools. Other vendors are a better fit for an insurance company that has a small IT group and wants a vendor to take a leading role in maintaining and supporting its applications. We recommend that insurers that are looking for a CRM system create narrow their choices by focusing on four areas:
  • The functionality needed and available out of the box for the way the carrier plans to use the system and the customer types desired. Check to see what is actually in production.
  • The technology — both the overall architecture and the configuration tools and environment.
  • The vendor stability, knowledge, and investment in the solution.
  • Implementation and support capabilities and experience.