Historically, most independent insurance agencies have been slow to adopt new technologies, instead relying on their personal service to clients to differentiate themselves in the market. While it’s true that trusting an agent who has your security, protection and best interests at heart is a huge part of what makes the independent agent extremely valuable, customer expectations are shifting.
Modern consumers embrace a digital-first environment. They expect high-end technology and automation to support their shopping, entertainment and banking needs, and insurance quickly joined that list. About five years ago, buoyed by strong capital investment and a surge in insurtech startups, direct-to-consumer personal lines disrupted the industry by bypassing the advisory and guidance upon which the independent agent model was built. Now, it’s the commercial industry’s turn, as we begin to see similar evolution in distribution models on that side.
To remain relevant, independent agents must keep pace with the changing landscape of consumer behavior and the technological demand. Customer experience is more important than ever. When it comes to attracting and retaining clients, and delivering on expectations for speed, it’s critical to be efficient and digital.
API solution integration has become one of the most crucial components of digitization, enabling smoother workflows and increased efficiency and allowing agents to meet customer expectations for real-time, personalized service. By providing a framework for connectivity, application programming interface (API) protocols allow various pieces of software to interact, to share data, and to move data and tasks from one step of a process to the next. For independent agents and the entire value chain that supports them, APIs are game-changing. They give agents the combination of the digital-first approach customers expect, with personal attention and dependable service.
Here’s why APIs are transforming the industry for agencies, customers and insurtech providers.
APIs improve office workflow. As in every business, productivity and efficiency are critical in any agency. The ability to complete tasks faster, to save time and effort, not only means less work but also frees up more time for agents and customer service reps to spend collaborating with clients to better understand their needs. With something as simple as writing an auto policy, an agent may start and end the process in two pieces of software — first in the agency management system (AMS) and then in the underwriting system. This requires the agent to toggle back and forth, rekey data and perhaps even hand off the process to another individual. With API integration, the data is entered once, moves through the entire process with an electronic handoff from one system to the next, and can even be picked up by a second individual seamlessly. By cutting down on time and frustration, employees can spend their time on more productive, revenue-generating efforts.
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APIs reduce data entry burden. The problem with lack of integration in most agencies is that it requires redundant data entry. And, each time customer data is entered increases the risk of error and inconsistency. For example, if a CSR enters client Amy Smith Jones’ name into the AMS with no hyphen, but the agent enters it into another system with a hyphen, there are two separate records for the same customer. Now, it’s impossible to see the client’s entire account, and there may be duplicate mailings and other communication breakdowns. With API integration, data is entered once — eliminating the time wasted in redundancy, reducing the risk of data entry errors and ensuring data consistency.
APIs improve customer relations and retention. Insurance customers expect personalized service and attention. So, when they call the agency for help, they expect that their agent is familiar with their policies and situation. But, in many agencies, simply handling an incoming call is a lengthy process. An operator answers the phone and determines how to route the call, and then the agent must ask some questions to find out how he or she can be of service. With an API integration between the phone system and the AMS, the handoff happens seamlessly. When the customer dials in, the system uses reverse phone number lookup to identify the caller and pops up the customer’s policies on the operator’s computer screen and which agent handles them. Now, the operator can greet the client personally and transfer the call quickly. When the agent answers, they already have information about the client’s account and can immediately ask whether the call is regarding the homeowners or auto policy. This is just one example of how an API-enabled, streamlined system not only eliminates extra steps but also provides the personalized customer experience that clients expect from their agency.
APIs demonstrate your digital prowess. As we’ve already established, consumers expect a certain level of modern, digital automation in practically every aspect of their lives. Using APIs to connect digital technologies gives your agency the forward-thinking image that attracts customers who value that quality. For example, even something as simple as mobile document signing technology that integrates directly with your agency management and underwriting solutions can streamline the process for clients. They can log in from wherever and whenever on their mobile device, sign as required and keep the process moving. Even with the personal service an independent agency strives to provide, there will still be clients who prefer less human interaction and a more digital approach, and APIs allow agencies to retain those clients while still addressing their automation expectations.
APIs allow tech providers to remain relevant. There are many solutions in the insurtech industry that solve a niche problem — fillable forms for commercial line submissions, for example, or digital signature solutions. Even some of the larger AMS platforms don’t address every aspect of agency workflow, and many depend on complementary software to fill those gaps. API integrations allow the entire insurtech industry, especially point solutions, to thrive by continuing to provide value in the larger scheme. For the larger platform providers, this saves time and money in developing those features and allows the smaller niche players to remain relevant.
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API integrations clearly benefit the entire insurance value chain, from carriers, underwriters and agencies to insurtech providers and consumers. The alternative — continuing to operate with proprietary systems that don’t adhere to industry standards, perpetuating inefficiencies and detracting from the customer experience — will keep the industry stuck in the dark ages and ripe for disruption by new solutions that radically transform the process and the customer experience.
Programs such as Vertafore’s Orange Partner Program are just one example of API programs creating a new model for the industry, enabling rich integrations that empower independent agencies to leverage a broad spectrum of solutions, not only within the platform’s ecosystem but also with a wide range of third-party providers. This type of open API approach ensures both technological consistency through integration standards and allows the entire industry to evolve and grow, while providing a more satisfactory experience for customers.