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

Celent Predictions for 2014

It’s clear that my colleagues and I see 2014 as something of a tipping point, a water shed for established and new technologies  to take hold in the insurance industry. I’ll try to summarise them succinctly here. Expect to see reports on these topics in the near future. Celent’s 2014 prediction focus on:
  • The increasing importance and evolution of digital
  • The rise of the robots, the sensor swarm and the Internet of Things
  • An eye to the basics
The first topic area is labelled digital but encompasses novel use of technology, user interfaces, evolving interaction, social interaction (enabled by technology) and ye olde customer centricity. Celent predicts vendors would market core systems as customer centric again, but this time meaning digital customer centricity. Celent expects to see core system user interfaces to acquire more social features along with a deeper investment in user interfaces leveraging voice, gesture, expression and eye movements. A specific digital UI example was the wide spread adjustment of auto damage claims (almost) entirely done through photos. In addition, gamification use for both policyholders and brokers will be adopted or increase in use for those early adopters. Celent further predicts greater investment in digital and that comprehensive digitisation projects would start to drive most of the attention and budgets of IT. The second topic I’ve called Robots and Sensors, while digital there is a significant amount of attention and specificity. The merger or evolution of the Internet with the Internet of Things accelerates with devices contributing ever more data. Celent predicts this rise of the Internet of Things or the sensor swarm, will push usage based insurance policies to other lines of business, not just telematics based auto policies that UBI is currently synonymous with. Celent further predicts that the quantified self movement and humans with sensors will in 2014 yield the first potentially disruptive business model for health insurance using this data. As an aside the increasing use of automation, robotics and AI will see broader adoption in the insurance industry. For those reading my tweets, Celent predicts 2014 will see drones used for commercial purposes. I hope we won’t have the need, but wonder if we’ll see drones rather helicopters capturing information about crisis stricken regions in 2014. The final topic I’ve called the basics. Celent predicts insurers will continue to focus heavily on improving performance of the core business – a good counterbalance to the hype around digital and a good pointer to where to focus digitisation efforts. At Celent we have noted a pragmatic interest in the cloud from insurers and we predict increasing complexity in hybrid cloud models, to the benefit of the industry. A little tongue in cheek but finally, Celent suggests that industry will finally find a business case for insurers adopting big data outside of UBI. Avid readers of the blog will be happy to see we haven’t predicted an apocalypse for 2014.   A special thanks to Jamie Macgregor, Juan Mazzini, Donald Light and Jamie Bisker for their contributions.  

Technology, innovation and insight in insurance

Last week we held the innovation and insight event in Boston where we discussed creative disruption and emerging technologies and their effects on the insurance industry. Since coming back to the UK a few press releases and blog posts have caught my eye that feed well into this discussion. The first is from Robert Scoble, among other things a technology commentator and blogger. His post, 2012 brings a pause in the disruption sounds contradictory to our view but a quick read of his post provides a great view of the level of change we’ve seen in the last 8 years. Think back 8 years, to the phone you had, the way you interacted with the Internet – with the TV even. In the last 8 short years we’ve seen the birth of the social web, the rise of the smart phone, of apps (and their stores and markets), of gesture based interactions (the Wii and then Kinect were launched in this timescale) and now the IPO of facebook which launched in 2004. The pause in disruption points to a lack of jaw-dropping disruptive technology at the start of 2012 and a consolidation in the industry, a refining of these hugely disruptive themes into concrete business models and a maturing therein. I have to agree. CES 2012 saw bigger TV’s, TV’s with gesture control and further merging of mobile, tablet and laptop devices. Even Apple, the great innovator, presented the iPhone 4S as something they could ship in huge numbers rather than go for massive change. One technology I would watch is 3D printers, which are still gaining ground slowly but mostly in geek and maker communities – given another decade and cheaper prices I think this will seriously disrupt insurance and retail models. For now, we may be waving phones to make payments and having screens we can bend and see through – but consumer electronic developments in the last 12 months lack the technological disruption of past years. This pause is good news for the insurance industry in that makes this the perfect time to step back, take a look at the opportunities and possibilities these great waves of change have on our business models, our products and the way we interact with customers. Insurers across the globe have already made great strides in interacting with customers through social networks and understanding how to leverage them. Insurers are also experimenting with apps, mobile and connected devices. Telematics looks set to enter the mainstream in many markets, where the question is less how should we do it but now which method. It was interesting also to see these articles regarding AXA, repositioning it’s brand as innovative within the UK, making use of social technology and games to educate businesses on the value of insurance. Perhaps not the first insurer, but the articles are indicative of recent and continued investment in this theme from the insurance industry. The recent past – whether you call that 8 years, a decade, two decades – this short time has been an incredible period of change, insurers are already disrupting their industry and Celent contends there is no better time to review how the industry can leverage adoption of emerging technologies to creatively disrupt not only their internal perceptions and process, but the entire market.

Does Private Mean Secret?

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a very interesting decision which identifies, but does not resolve, the complicated issues of privacy in the digital age (U.S. v. Jones, opinion found at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1259.pdf ). The case deals with the use of a GPS monitoring device to gather information about a suspect. A concurring opinion issued by Justice Sotomayor foreshadows the work that will eventually need to be done regarding the privacy conundrum in the age of smartphones, blogs, and big data mining. She recognizes that, in the past, the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure has assumed “secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy.” She points out that, in today’s society, we all provide data in public exchanges of emails, social network postings, etc., when we engage in commerce, communication, or for convenience. However, her opinion is that persons providing data in this manner may not want the data used for broader purposes. The current law of the land as interpreted through past judicial decisions does not limit the use of the data if it was voluntarily (eg. not secretly) given / obtained. She, and other justices on the court, use the Jones decision to highlight the need to bring clarity to privacy issues in the digital / mobile age.

These decisions will directly impact the use of data in insurance transactions such as claims investigations and underwriting. Not being a lawyer, I cannot weigh in with an informed prediction about which way the court will rule, but my intuition is that it is going to be difficult to establish a standard of privacy that can be applied based on the intent of the person offering the information. When and where we can expect privacy is very different in this age of digital communication and I can tell that the issue will be difficult to resolve.

The big unanswered social media question – where’s the money?

With the Facebook IPO looming thoughts are returning to how social websites will actually generate money. Sure, Facebook is used globally, has an extraordinary number of users and is the top social network in a growing number of countries – but how is it likely to make revenue? Advertising revenue has always been the principle answer here, whether it’s Twitter, MySpace or any other social network. It worked for Google and it could work here too – couldn’t it? I think it’s interesting that the revenue model for LinkedIn is quite different. There is advertising there but the main focus is around recruiting people and getting recruited. Those people who want to find the best talent pay a little extra to access features that make it easier to do just that – find the best talent. For Facebook however, people use the site for lots of different purposes so it’s harder to hold back such targeted functionality. Actually I think Facebook could learn from Apple and Blizzard – the games company behind World of Warcraft. Blizzard made $1 million in 1 hour by selling a flying horse in their game. The horse was actually no better than ones you could find in the game, and you already had to be able to ride one (so probably had something similar already) in order to buy. It was kind of pretty and just a few dollars so, despite offering no value or advantage in the game millions of players bought it for real world dollars. Zynga and a number of other social game developers have taken this further with the possibility of playing games for free, but paying a little cash to be able to play the game faster or have that one extra thing that looks quite pretty. Virtual goods available at a low price are now a huge market. What does this mean for Facebook? There’s a scam going around on Facebook at the moment promising to be able to turn your Facebook page pink rather than the usual blue. People are clicking on it because they want it – I have little doubt that if Facebook charged $0.10 to change the colour of Facebook profiles we would see them make $1m in less than an hour. Actually though, that’s not even the sweet spot here. If Facebook were able to control the payment method as Apple does in the App store then they could take a little revenue from everyone using their platform, from all the virtual purchases (again, as Apple does on all those little purchases through apps and in the app store). Facebook is starting to do this already – this is what Facebook credits are about. In my view it’s not in Facebook’s interest to offer Facebook branded products (save except for caps or t-shirts possibly), but rather to corner social commerce, to create a platform where it’s easier and more convenient to purchase items in Facebook credits – all the while seamlessly sharing the purchases and implicitly recommending products to their friends. What does this mean for insurers? One is do the virtual goods need insurance? Personally I’m not sure about digital equine & aviation insurance in World of Warcraft or virtual farm insurance in Farmville, but Eve Online did have space ship insurance built in. Does anyone remember Second Life and the virtual businesses operating in it? The second and more important one is that Facebook will become a platform for doing business. The infrastructure is already in place, the opportunity is too great and the current client base too large for this to be ignored. Today Facebook credits are just for games, tomorrow why wouldn’t young drivers top-up their pay-as-you-go car insurance on Facebook? All the while sharing the product and provider with their friends as they do it. Facebook isn’t going to be the next virtual shop on the high street, it will be a new high street on which established brands and new brands build their shops.

A holiday gift from Celent – Top 10 searched for terms and links to reports

Last year we offered a Christmas Carol themed post summarising some thoughts on the past, present and future. This time around I figured I’d go for one of the end of year top ten style posts that pop up as folks take a moment to look back at the year. So here I present a view on the top 10 searches insurance folks made on the Celent web site. 10. Model Insurer (Click on the words to do the search) In at number 10 are explicit searches for the model insurer series of reports. We’re still working hard on this years but here’s some links to last years and the one the year before. This year we’ll be holding the Model Insurer event in Boston along with our insight and innovation day. The model insurer reports can’t be beaten for offering a view of successful investment in change and technology across the insurance industry. Also take a look at the Model Insurer Asia report and 2012 event. 9. Fraud Sadly as pressure increases on the financial system, on wallets everywhere then the propensity for fraud increases. 2011 has seen an unprecedented rise in ill-feeling towards the financial services sector as a whole so it’s no wonder that fraud is on everyone’s agenda. Look out for work by Donald Light and Nicolas Michellod in 2012 on modern fraud systems across the globe.   8. CRM or Customer Relationship Management Insurers have made great strides in moving from policy and agreement centric thinking to a more rounded view of the customer. With ever increasing ways of reaching customers and intermediaries, of simply transacting business this focus on technology to support the customer relationship is clearly still a focus. 7. Claims Clearly a key focus for any insurer, from the systems supporting claims to the latest trends in claims analysis. In 2011 Celent examined the impact social media was having on claims and how insurers are interacting with claimants. We also looked at location intelligence solutions and below are just some of the reports looking at various angles of this key function. Look out in 2012 for the XCelent reports on claims system vendors.   6. Outsourcing 2011 has seen a more pragmatic approach to outsourcing in the insurance industry globally. Strategic outsourcing is still a key tool for any large organisation and this is reflected in the term appearing in our top ten. The CIO survey series of reports (which will be refreshed in the new year) offer insight into CIO’s views on outsourcing globally.   5. Policy Administration Ah the big core system question. What was interesting to me was this wasn’t number one, still number 5 is pretty high up the list. Searches in this area were looking for advice on the core systems themselves, building a case for them as well as general trends. This year we published the 2011 reports on policy administration systems around the globe, each offering a different perspective on what’s available as well as what’s required.   4. IT Spending In at number 4 is IT Spending – how are folks splitting their hard earned currency between projects? A key question on the minds of CIOs and others. A key insight into this is offered in the CIO interview series of reports as well as our emerging technology report – aimed at identifying technology gaining interest and investment from the insurance industry – take a look.   3. Asia – or rather searches for India, China and Japan A significant number of searches were for specific countries, the three top countries were India, China and Japan. Asia is a very diverse market and there is a great deal of opportunity in the region, not only financially but also in learning how insurance problems are being solved in these very different markets. Personally, I find one of the great things about working for a global company like Celent is the breadth of view it affords.   2. Social Number two in our list is social, social media and social networks. Technology is helping people to interact and changing the way they communicate. Customers, agents and members of insurers staff all expect very different things from an organisation now in a Twitter and Facebook world than just 10 short years ago. In addition, the relationship between the insurance industry and the vendors and service providers supporting it is changing. In all this newly collected and aggregated information there lies privacy and brand-busting dragons but also great opportunity for those intrepid enough to sail the social seas.   1. Mobile I recently tried going around London for the day without my phone – it was hell! The debacle this year regarding the Blackberry outage created a wave of such feelings, although raised some counter blog posts as journalists recounted how they spent more quality time with their family without answer emails. Regardless of for better or worse, humankind has wed itself firmly to being constantly connected through mobile devices. This is a global phenomenon from geeks seeking the latest 4G android handset, executives and music lovers with their iphones or Kenyan farmers with simpler phones, mobile has changed the we communicate, interact with technology and each other and will continue to do so – the insurance industry is still feeling the impact and in many cases still leading the charge in changing peoples lives for the better through mobile technology.   So there it is, a top 10 for you. I haven’t included links to the webinars, peer networking events and other events through the year but the links to each of the search terms will provide you with those. It’s been a phenomenal year of challenges, change and interesting times. Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year or indeed just a great season – depending on what you’re celebrating this Winter. We look forward to working with you in the new year and beyond. Oo, look, I wrote an end of 2011 post without mentioning the Euro crisis – oops…

“Did I just Tweet my account number?”

As if financial institutions don’t already have enough to do to keep up with developments in social media! They must clearly outline company policy to employees concerning what should and should not be posted, inform agents of the regulatory do’s and don’ts, and continually scan the internet to respond to comments about their brand. Now, it is clear that they must also guide customers about the appropriate and inappropriate use of social networking when dealing with fiduciary transactions.

As usage grows, requests to employ social tools as the main communication tool between customers and their financial providers will also increase. For example, Bank of America now offers a Twitter feed to their customers as a first point of contact. Customers tweet their inquiries, complaints, solutions, etc. and these are transferred to the BOA customer resolution system at a call center. A customer service professional asked me about this recently, “How does the bank prevent customers from tweeting their account number?” My reply? “They can’t.” Last week, I was speaking with one of the largest disability insurers in the U.S. and found that their claimants are asking them to track their recovery on Facebook. To paraphrase the question received from a client: “I am keeping my family and friends updated on my progress by posting on Facebook. Can’t you just follow along?”

These are only two data points, but I suspect there are many more. Customers need their awareness raised about what information should be protected when communicating with a bank or insurer. These institutions have been dealing with privacy and confidentiality protection for decades, but usually in a context where the conversation is more controlled and private. With the broadening use of social networking for operational processes, companies must explain and remind their customers of the sensitivity of data.

I took a look at the Facebook walls of ten U.S. financial institutions and noted that there was no mention of do’s and don’ts or reminders to safeguard information on these front pages. There were plenty of contests I could enter, and a few postings on positive service experiences, but no tips on how to keep financial data safe. There were mentions of confidentiality and privacy on some Info and Guideline pages, but these are the domains of attorneys and dedicated research analysts – not likely where John/Jane Q. Customer is going be.

As social sites become more “operational” in nature, highlighting this issue in high profile places such as the main wall will be necessary, but not sufficient to protect customers from themselves. Look for leading companies to aggressively coach their customers and prospects on how best to use social tools when posting/tweeting/blogging on the same valuable real estate that they now reserve for marketing messages.

(Thanks to Jacob Jegher for an assist on this post.)

Hey Facebook and Google, why I'm Liking it and looking forward to +1ing it

Perhaps it’s because I like technology, because I was born into an age of unprecedented technological advancement, because I’m curious or simply because I’m too lazy to keep in touch with folk but I have to say I love social networks. For me they’re a tool that allow me to keep folks up to date and to keep track of what friends and acquaintances are up to. The whole thing was brought home to me recently when I was tinkering with ancestry.com and talking to my family about my extended family. On a whim I had a quick look in Facebook for my Mum’s cousin and found her, alive and well in Australia. A few messages on Facebook later and I discovered she’d had a few children and there were grandkids dotted around Australia and the US. The real value of Facebook came home to me when I was able to sit down with my 3 year old boy and show him the pictures distant family members had shared and show him where they lived. All this and I can keep them up to date without doing more than i do today – got to love Facebook for that fire and forget, status update to everyone feature. So why use the Facebook Like button? I think about the Facebook Like button in a similar way to Amazon’s suggest feature. Every now and again I go on Amazon and tell it things I would like to get, things I’ve purchased and even rate some of the things. This investment pays dividends in relevant suggestions from Amazon on books and other items genuinely of interest to me. Facebook Like allows me to share likes with my friends and allows Facebook to suggest things I might like, so recently it suggested a bunch of my friends like Terry Pratchett’s Facebook page (I’m a fan of the UK’s most prolific author) and I happily discovered a new book is due out shortly and some of the other activities Terry is up to. For me Tweeting, Updating, Liking, Following, Friending – it’s all about filtering the wealth of information out there to find the bits I’m interested in quicker. I make investments by creating content and sharing it – like this blog post, and for my very small effort I am typically rewarded ten fold. This appeals to the lazy efficient part of me. This is how many (though not all) of my friends are using social networks today. There are issues with all this though. Different groups of people are interested in different things – I know colleagues, ex-colleagues, friends, family, folks who live in my village, people from university, school – people interested in games, technology, mobile phones, insurance technology and wierdoes as Craig Weber described them. Oddly enough I don’t know anyone who is all of these things yet these networks treat them all the same. To some degree using Facebook for some things, Linkedin for others, twitter, skype, etc. kind of works but this presentation on a version 2 of a social network really spoke to me. Google have just announced Google+ – something I’m looking forward to trying out because of a few key features:
  • circles – group friends in different ways so you can share content but only send it to those who’ll be interested. I’m looking forward to creating the wierdoes circle
  • sparks – a feature that claims to go and find content for your interests and pull them together – awesome – why search when the relevant web content can come to me?
  • hangouts – 10-way video chat! Need I say more.
Google+ is in it’s infancy and the literature lacks some of the business focus but I’m sure Google+ will find it’s way into Google Apps for Enterprise in due course. What should an insurer take away from this? The hidden subtlety here, and the reason Google has been forced to respond to Facebook with Google+ lies in sparks, or Facebook like suggestions or Amazon suggest. Internet users are moving away from searching. Brands focussing solely on search engine optimisation will lose out, as will company’s focussed on search. In the future systems will suggest content, reviews, products, brands and insurers to customers based on their behaviour and social circles. Whilst today’s drive to get Likes and reviews seems shallow and immature, it points to a fundamental shift in the role of the Internet in driving the acquisition of new business. It’s hard to say where all this will fall but a few things are clear:
  1. Whether we like them or not facebook and social networks in various guises are here to stay
  2. Google has re-entered the social network space, even if it’s not successful (like orkut?) the new features will change other social networks
  3. Social networks and they’re features are changing the way we interact with the world, each other and with insurers. Like Google, the insurance industry will be forced to respond
For more look at our coverage of social, read why Craig Weber isn’t using Facebook and look out for more on the value of Facebook pages and the social internet for the insurance industry in future posts and research. I’m off to tweet, like, post and +1 this blog post.