The Costs of Hiding From Vendors

The Costs of Hiding From Vendors

“Bob” is not the real name of the person in this story. But the rest of the story is true.

“Good afternoon, Bob [last name]’s office.”

“Hi, this is Craig Weber from Celent. Is Bob in?”

“Uh, yes, he is. May I ask who is calling?”

“Uh, Craig Weber?”

“Oh, right. And you’re with?”

“Celent. [pause] We’re an analyst firm, and you all are clients.”

“I’m sorry, how do you spell that?”

“Celent. C-E-L-E-N-T. Celent.”

“Right. And you say we are clients of yours?”

“Yes, Bob has engaged us for our subscription-based research service.”

“Bob did? Are you sure? Did he, like, sign the contract? I don’t remember seeing that.”

“Well, I don’t know offhand who signed the contract. But he sure brought us in. We’ve known Bob a long time. We’ve done a lot of work for him through the years.”

“OK, well what’s this call about?”

“I need to talk to Bob about a consulting project that he emailed me about.”

“OK, well, that’s fine. Sorry for all the questions. I just can’t put anyone through to Bob without making sure who they are.”

As vendors, we get this reception from executive assistants a lot, from insurer clients and non-clients alike. It seems that the vendor community must be hounding the heck out of insurance execs, so much so that there are virtual bouncers protecting email accounts and very inquisitive personal bouncers (EAs) guarding the phones.

It is understandable, for sure. Out of 100 vendor calls to an insurance exec, how many would prove to be immediately valuable if the connection were made? Two? Five? It’s a low number, even on the best of days. But the first problem is that it’s definitely not zero.

There are two other problems with this arrangement. First, it is a minor inconvenience for the people within related entities, like Celent and Bob’s company. But more importantly, it has created a mindset where if Bob doesn’t go exploring—and he is probably so busy in his day to day that he will not go exploring often, if ever—then Bob doesn’t maintain a good feel for new and interesting things that are going on in the industry. A world view that is completely inward facing is a real issue.

I don’t have a great solution at the ready. Issuing secret verbal passwords to business partners? Having execs use fake names on the company’s automated switchboard? No, life is complicated enough already, so adding another layer seems like a bad idea. But there is clearly a cost when every conversation begins with a game of 20 Questions. In this, the age of information overload, we all need to find a way to stay in the flow.

Japanese Insurers Poised for Technology (r)evolution

Japanese Insurers Poised for Technology (r)evolution

In Japan, Internet banking and online brokerage have been around for some time. The Internet revolution is taking a bit longer to come to the Japanese insurance industry. Currently, most insurers’ web sites are limited to providing information and some online tools, such as premium calculators or financial planning simulators. Customers who want to actually buy some insurance are directed to call a contact center, which will then mail application materials to the customer. In 2008, though, two firms–SBI AXA Life Insurance, a joint venture between Softbank Investment and AXA; and Lifenet Insurance, a greenfield firm– began to offer fully online insurance sales for the first time in Japan.

But for the most part, the insurance industry here has yet to realize the benefits of Internet-era communications in reducing processing cycles, supporting agents, or improving customer service. Here and there some new technologies have been adopted—some firms have built basic agent extranets and offer some online policy and claims information to their customers. The basic building blocks for a more integrated insurance infrastructure, however, are not in place. SOA is in its infancy in Japan, and the use of standards is limited. “Business intelligence” software generally takes the form of embedded Excel spreadsheets used by analysts and underwriters in lieu of more efficient assisted workflow solutions.

Change is on the horizon, however. Japanese insurers have seen foreign entrants succeed in taking large chunks of their market share, particularly in new product areas like retirement and health products. This has focused their attention on some of the techniques used by the foreign entrants, such as the BI used to support direct marketing, and more flexible core systems.

Due to a long-term trend towards declining market size—a result of the country’s shrinking population–Japanese insurers are also under intense pressure to reduce costs. This is driving even large domestic insurers for the first time to consider international vendor solutions and even outsourcing. As insurers move towards more modern, flexible PAS and claims systems, they will look to update their infrastructures, introducing more remote channel capabilities for their salesforce and agents as well as their customers. We expect the technology landscape at Japanese insurers will be transformed steadily, and in the end significantly, over the next few years.