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January 24, 2018

2018: 5 Predictions for Agents

Summary:

Barriers that once prevented agents from implementing digital technologies have been removed.

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In 2018, agents will accelerate their adoption of digital tools and will enter into stronger partnerships to share critical data and analytics to grow.

As an industry, we have been talking about technological evolution for a long time. But in 2018, the combination of competitive conditions, availability of cost-effective technology and numbers of independent agents striving for growth and better client service creates the perfect storm to drive significant acceleration in agent digital transformation. Barriers that once prevented agents from implementing digital technologies have been removed.

See also: 5 Accelerating Trends in Digital Marketing  

Here are five key predictions for 2018:

  1. All about the infrastructure: Insureds’ expectations for the always-on agency are real, and to serve clients any time, anywhere, agencies need systems and processes that can efficiently handle business. Whether the agency is looking to grow, expand or even exit, having a strong and flexible digital infrastructure is critical. This includes interactive websites with online chat and quoting capabilities, client portals and mobile apps, next-generation agency management systems and integrated call centers for 24/7 services. Agents will be evaluating their infrastructures and expanding capabilities and services for clients.
  2. Move from closed loop to open access: In the insurance ecosystem, agents operate in many environments, including regularly accessing multiple carrier websites, agency management systems and customer relationship management systems. Many of these applications are closed, meaning they don’t allow the free exchange of data, forcing agents to spend time on manual workarounds and double data entry. Agents will seek to partner with companies and implement tools that can bridge the gap between various systems and choose applications that are built on open structures, meaning they “talk” to one another.
  3. Pursuit of the paperless agency: Though e-signature is nothing new—it has been around the industry for 20 years—a large number of agencies will finally implement e-signature and other e-document tools in 2018. To improve productivity and increase sustainability, more agencies will transition to an all-digital mentality when it comes to sending, receiving and signing documents. But they can’t do it alone. Removing all paper from insurance transactions will require collaboration with carriers and be informed by regulators.
  4. Synergistic partnerships increasing access to sales analytics: The carrier/agent partnership is about to go beyond a provider/seller framework. Agents gather unique sales data such as target market behaviors, web preferences and specific product interest that can help carriers improve sales and marketing efforts. Meanwhile, carriers have the technological infrastructure and expertise enabling them to provide education, training and best practice programs that can help agencies improve their digital capabilities. These two entities will foster deeper and stronger partnerships that will enable both the carrier and the agency to improve sales and grow their businesses.
  5. Agents embrace artificial intelligence (AI): Machine learning, robotics, artificial intelligence – these tools may seem daunting and beyond the capabilities of agents who are just beginning to adapt digital solutions. But as they become more commonplace, agents will appreciate the ease and benefit of using these technologies and even realize they might have been using some form of AI already. From automatic fill on certain forms to using machine learning to move key prospects to top of the workflow to installing chatbots on websites that can resolve claims and answer clients’ simple questions, agencies will convert from trepidation to the implementation of AI  that will drive key processes.

See also: Global Trend Map No. 1: Industry Challenges  

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About the Author

Jason Walker is managing partner of Smart Harbor, focused on two goals: helping independent insurance agents realize growth using digital technologies and enabling carriers to develop deeper partnerships and greater insights into the performance of their agent distribution channels.

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