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November 5, 2015

2 Key Tools for Innovation in P&C

Summary:

The tools can improve communication between insurers and agents, removing problems holding the industry back for decades.

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Imagine this: two separate kingdoms, the kingdom of P&C insurers and the kingdom of agencies and brokers. Within each kingdom, each insurer and agency is represented by its own little house, and every little house has a door. Each door can open both ways and represents a way to communicate and share data – and these kingdoms need to share lots of data.

The only way to send data between houses is to build deep trenches. Building a trench is difficult, expensive and time-consuming. And the P&C insurer must dig the trench to each agent or broker, then knock on every agency’s and broker’s door to see if they will open it and allow data to be shared.

In the world I have described, insurers are very busy building these trenches to the agencies and brokers. Insurers spend a great deal of time, money and resources. Yet, when the insurers finally get to knocking on all the doors, they find that some agencies have their doors wide open and are ready; that some will open their doors eventually; but that others have no desire to ever open their doors.

What’s more, many insurers won’t fund the trench digging, so agencies may want a connection but are left without the trench.

For the kingdoms of the insurers and of the agents and brokers, the system is not built for success.

What I just described is reality. Insurers and agencies have to share data for policies, billing and claims. But the cost, risk and payback are deterrents. Even the will to communicate is not always there.

The formalities and costs to share data are what I described as trenches. Missing or incomplete “trenches” result in missed opportunities, inefficiencies, misinformation and misunderstandings. For example, what an insurer might view as a small book of business not worth investment might be a huge book for some agencies. Sometimes, the lack of understanding between the two “kingdoms” can be astounding.

Yet we continue to go down this path, just as we have for many, many years.

We have an opportunity to rethink our situation. Two key tools of innovation can bridge the gap between insurers and agents: ideation and crowd sourcing. These may sound like buzz words, but, by allowing varied groups to have a voice in solving challenges, ideation and crowd sourcing can allow decision makers to see data trends across segments of organizations. More importantly, ideation and crowd sourcing can offer solutions to challenges for little to no investment through the ideas of people who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily have “a seat at the table.”

We know what we hear from agents: that, as we described in the “two kingdoms,” sometimes there are agent houses with no trenches even being built to them. We also know that insurers sometimes find that, even after all the work of establishing trenches, some agents keep their doors closed. Utilizing innovation tools to communicate these pain points and search for a better method of business is a great step forward.

But what can insurers do right now to solve the challenge of the two kingdoms?

In the short term, insurers can demand that all leading vendors of agency management systems and policy administration, billing and claims management systems have adapters built in and ready for plug and play for all lines of business and transactions. This would improve implementation time, reduce investments and essentially remove the “closed doors” problem facing insurers.

In the long term, invest in ideation and crowd sourcing to redesign the connections between insurers and agencies. Listen to the pain points and notice trends. Crowd sourcing will offer powerful data to build a better system. Start posing questions to your own organization like, “How do we leverage the cloud and big data concept to rethink the 40-year-old point-to-point integrations?”

You’ll be surprised at the results and how meaningful making small changes can be. Let’s do it.

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About the Author

Deb Smallwood, the founder of Strategy Meets Action, is highly respected throughout the insurance industry for strategic thinking, thought-provoking research and advisory skills. Insurers and solution providers turn to Smallwood for insight and guidance on business and IT linkage, IT strategy, IT architecture and e-business.

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