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

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

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?

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

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?

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.

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.

You’ve got email, but not from your life insurance company

When was the last time you received email communications from your life insurance company? For most of us, the answer is never. Contrast that with the last time you received email communication from your bank, your financial advisor or your favorite retailer. Life insurance is so far behind that it is not even in the e-delivery race. E-delivery allows the customer to elect to receive documents such as contracts, letters, account statements, and billing notices via email rather than paper mail. Generally, a notification is sent that a document has been posted to a secure website, or, in the case of general notifications, mailed directly to the policy owner’s email address. Areas of opportunity for e-delivery in insurance span all processes, from field administration to customer acquisition to claims. The benefits of using e-delivery are typically derived from reducing scanning, mailing, and printing, lessening process complexity, and increasing automation and systems integration. These drivers lower costs, reduce cycle times, and increase customer and agent satisfaction. I recently published a report titled, You’ve Got Mail Two Decades Later, Why Are We Still Talking About E-Delivery Rather Than Doing It, where I interviewed 17 life insurers about their current and future e-delivery plans. Although e-delivery can bring multiple benefits to life insurers, it has been poorly adopted. In fact, only 25% of the surveyed insurance companies are using e-delivery. Areas of focus within the report include: • Progress of e-delivery. • Targeted documents for e-delivery. • Benefits and challenges associated with e-delivery. There are a number of challenges life insurers face when it comes to e-delivery, including legacy systems, policy holder adoption, and agent engagement. However, other industries have found a way to overcome these challenges. It’s time for life insurers to set aside the excuses and find a solution. Life insurers have been left in the e-delivery dust and need to run with haste to catch-up.

Voice recognition access means one less password

If you are like me, you have at least 15 passwords or PINs that you must remember. Passwords are a necessary evil of the digital world. I have a user ID and password for everything from accessing my child’s homework assignment to checking my bank balance. Most annoyingly, the passwords never have the same expiry date so they are never synchronized. I, like many others, ironically keep my passwords in an app that requires a password.   One financial services company, Manulife Financial, has come to the rescue by providing the ability to access your accounts by using only your voice. I say ‘hallelujah’!   Celent is often asked by insurers about voice recognition IVR and will now be able to point to a working model. Nuance Communications is providing the voice recognition technology. The software stores the customer’s unique voice patterns and characteristics. When accessing the account through the call center, the caller repeats a passphrase and access is granted when the voice is matched to their stored ‘voiceprint.” This is an optional service, but I am sure everyone will want to take advantage of having one less password to remember.   Insurers continue to look for ways to increase customer loyalty, improve the overall customer experience and reduce call center costs. With the introduction of the voice recognition IVR, Manulife has addressed all three salient points. New uses for biometrics will continue to lead the insurance world into the future one innovation at a time.

Next step in the Internet of Things for life insurance

The last seven days have been exciting for the next wave in Life insurance (and Health). Last week we saw John Hancock introduce the Vitality program into the US. This week we have a collaboration between IBM, Apple and Medtronic, the huge maker of medical devices. Just yesterday we had an inquiry from a major Life insurance company asking about a service that consolidates data from multiple users of wearables. We were not aware of a major player offering the service, but that same afternoon, this partnership was announced. As the use of wearables increases, particularly for use beyond an individual’s fitness, it will be critical for standards and services to emerge to bring this data to multiple users. Including Life insurance companies. Of course, we still have the obvious challenge of competition in the industry. This is great for users of Apple and Medtronic’s products, but what about people wearing a Moto 360 or Fitbit? We are not quite there yet, but everything happens with a first step. I commented the other day to a colleague that this is the most excitement we have had in Life insurance since the introduction of Universal Life in the 1980s. The pace will only increase.