Tag Archives: Applied Systems

Google and Applied Systems: 6 Months In

The insurance world was caught by surprise last October when Google’s Capital G investment arm announced a substantial investment in Applied Systems (north of $100 million). It was seen by many as an endorsement of the independent agent (IA) channel. If Google believes it will make a nice return on investment in a company serving the IA channel, then it must believe the channel will survive and grow. From the Applied Systems viewpoint, in addition to the extra capital to invest in the platform, it was anticipating access to world-class technology and expertise from Google. So now that the investment/partnership is six months in, what can we say about the progress?

Recently, I was fortunate to witness some of the activity first-hand, as Applied invited me to join them at the Google Cloud Next event in San Francisco. For me, it was a chance to “experience” Google and meet some of the players in the Applied/Google partnership. I’ve come away with several observations about Google and Applied Systems.

  1. Deep partnership: As originally promised, the Google investment was more than money looking for a return. Applied and Google are collaborating at the development level, with dozens of Applied developers being trained and exposed to Google tech.
  2. Future promise: It is still early in terms of how Google tech and expertise will influence Applied/IVANS systems, but there are indications that the first fruits will be visible this summer, and more enhancements and capabilities will be built into the product road map over the next several years.
  3. New era of computing: The shift to a new era of computing is well underway. The event was focused on developers, and the entire event was filled with sessions and discussions about containers, connectors, Kubernetes, APIs, big data, cloud, edge computing security, AI/machine learning and other technologies and approaches that are transforming how computing systems are designed, built and managed.

See also: Whole New World for Customer Contact  

My one disappointment at the event was that insurance was not very visible. There were hundreds of speakers and dozens of use cases, but nothing for insurance. Banking, retail and healthcare use cases and solutions were prominent (as were those from many other industries), but insurance only received a passing mention. Let’s hope the Applied/Google relationship will change that, and that more technology harnessed to address specific insurance use cases will be in evidence by next year’s event.

3 Ways to Boost Agency Productivity

In the not too distant past, consumers went to independent agents for all of their insurance needs – whether simple or complex – because insurance was often an elusive concept to the man on the street. At the same time, insurance coverage was considered something everyone must have, so when insurance-related questions came up, many consumers’ initial instinct was, “I have to talk to my agent.”

Over the past few years, this paradigm has shifted toward consumers being much more willing and able to build an understanding of their needs. This trend is broadly seen across nearly every industry and is accelerating in insurance. While the trusted relationship with an agent is often still crucial, insurance consumers today are researching, purchasing and interacting with the insurance industry in new ways, and increasingly on their own terms. In working with agencies and end consumers around the industry, we think the shifting behavior of consumers can be summarized in two key ways:

  • The Knowledgeable Consumer
    This consumer actively researches insurance online and consults his peer network prior to purchasing policies – either online or in person. How can you quickly and effectively service these consumers before they research other options or take their business elsewhere?
  • The Always-On Consumer
    This consumer wants information anytime, anywhere via any device, be it smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. These consumers don’t want to stop by your office for an auto ID card or certificate of insurance. How can you give them access to their insurance information when and where they want it?

One thing these two types of consumers have in common is the expectation for instant access to information. From an agent’s perspective, providing a mechanism for online service allows for an improved experience by allowing consumers the flexibility to interact with your agency when and how they want. And while there may still be a window of opportunity for this to be considered as a differentiator for the agency, the day is approaching where nearly every consumer will expect and demand it of the agency. Consumers who don’t get this immediate accessibility and flexibility will take their business elsewhere. Further, by pushing common transactions online, agencies can free resources to focus on higher-value service interactions with consumers.

As seen across nearly every industry, advanced technology should be a key element of the agency strategy to meet these business objectives and the evolving expectations of insurance consumers. Agencies and brokerages are able to become more productive with relative ease thanks to enhanced data, mobility, better communication and increased adoption of third-party apps and other tools.

As an agency considers its business strategy, I’ll suggest there are three key considerations when it comes to the role technology solutions can play:

  1. Standardize and Dissect Your Data
  • Standardized Workflows
    To the extent it makes sense for your business, workflow consistency can yield real productivity gains and help capture comprehensive and better customer risk and demographic information your agency can use to better market, account round and engage customers. By leveraging standardized workflows, agency owners are ensuring data entry is consistent across an agency – regardless of location. Additionally, standardized workflows reduce the number of workarounds conducted by staff – increasing productivity at the outset and reducing any potential time spent rectifying workarounds at the back-end. The result will be improved quality and completeness of the underlying data.
  • Business Intelligence
    Over time, agencies and brokerages generate an immense amount of data – yet it can be difficult to access, analyze and understand that data in meaningful ways. Business intelligence (BI) solutions are one way to help turn all of that data into information. For example, principals can identify which producers are using their time most efficiently and driving the most revenue for the business. Principals can also evaluate how effectively their business is cross-selling and quickly identify new market opportunities. While traditional reporting can take hours if not days, BI solutions present your information in immediate and visual ways that drive new insights, enabling you to make more effective decisions to improve productivity and business growth.
  1. Think Easy Access
  • Mobile Technology
    New mobile technology affords producers all of the benefits associated with management system access within an office, without having producers tethered to a desk. This allows them to be more productive and to respond to clients and prospects more quickly and in the manner that current and prospective customers want and expect. For smaller agencies, where employees wear multiple hats within the organization, giving your employees access to tools when they’re away from the office is critical.
  • Online Access
    Consider how your business can leverage the cloud to drive productivity gains. The ability for service staff to work from home via the cloud, when needed, supports work-life balance and allows business to go on regardless of unexpected events. 
  1. Time Is Money
  • Paper No More
    Evaluate ways to become an all-digital agency and eliminate paper. Agencies and brokerages should leverage electronic signature and delivery of client documents, which reduces the time and expense of mailing paper copies.
  • Carrier Information Exchange
    Productivity gains have increased over the years as carriers improved their interface and as agencies better understood how and where to enter data in carrier systems. The vast majority of agencies use personal lines policy detail download to reduce rekeying of data, saving, on average, 81 minutes a day per employee. In addition to download, using real-time for service and rating saves agency employees as much as an hour per day. Policy download yields daily time-savings of nearly an hour and a half per department employee for personal lines and nearly an hour for commercial lines. Take the time to automate communications with your carrier on the front end to save more time over the long term.
  • Online Client Self-Service
    As mentioned, today’s insurance consumer increasingly expects information anytime, anywhere. Agencies need to provide clients the ability to access policy and billing information on their terms, which helps strengthen relationships, ensures high retention rates and drives revenue gains. Self-service capability can increase staff productivity and decrease costs in commercial lines, as well as personal.

Technology will allow you to work faster and, in turn, will redefine the products and services you offer to your clients. While working faster is one thing, using technology to provide mobile access, enhanced communication and streamlined procedures to more quickly serve clients will also drive new business and customer retention.

For additional insights on how to use technology to bolster agency productivity, check out our eBook, “Working Smarter: Finding Agency Productivity Gains.”

How to Maintain a Competitive Edge

The recent speculation about Google entering the U.S. insurance market adds to the growing list of non-traditional competitors turning their attention to insurance — a list that already includes Overstock, Facebook, IKEA and Walmart. While personal auto remains the popular entry point for these outside competitors, the impact is more far-reaching for property and casualty insurers. The question is no longer “if” outside competition will affect the insurance industry, but rather “how” agents and insurers can maintain a competitive edge and protect their businesses.

Agents need to adjust their customer service approach to reflect the reality that younger consumers are not as loyal as their predecessors, while at the same time facing the increased threat of a direct sales channel. Insurers must grapple with the reality that tech companies will be relentless in finding ways to lower costs for consumers and circumvent agents.

Insurers like Progressive, Geico and State Farm are already playing in the digital arena and are better positioned than mid-sized and small insurers, because they understand how the online game is played. The same is true for large national agents vs. regional or local agents. The big question is: Will the industry as a whole take a step back, identify its distinct advantages in today’s rapidly changing insurance market and start a wave of unprecedented innovation? Or, will the industry go the way of those that have come before (i.e., Blockbuster, credit card lenders in the ’80s, travel agents, Yellow Pages, taxicabs, etc.)?

The New-Entrant Advantage

Before we discuss agents, let’s look at the advantages of the non-traditional competitor. It should come as no surprise that major tech companies and e-commerce giants have an interest in insurance. It’s one of the last remaining industries to not reach full digitization and root the business in analytics — a weakness that can be exploited by the data-rich competitors with deep pockets.  Additionally, with the lack of customer loyalty, the struggle will boil down to who will win the customer: the agent or a company like Google.

At the forefront of customers willing to jump ship are Millennials, who have surpassed the Baby Boomers to become the largest population in the country at 76.6 million strong. If insurance doesn’t take the extra steps to innovate and entice this generation, Millennials will more than likely gravitate toward a well-known tech company that already understands what they are searching for and what they are buying. Most Millennials were raised on Google — whether it be for research, directions or email — so why wouldn’t they feel more comfortable purchasing insurance from Google?

For this reason, it’s no surprise that the top three priority areas for agents this year are found in retaining and servicing customers, as opposed to growing their business. The opportunity for agents is that this disruption from new competitors is forcing an urgency to evolve the customer engagement model to better serve Millennials, who have grown up using technology. This needed to happen regardless, and the sooner the industry modernizes its customer acquisition and retention strategies, the better.

The Agent Advantage

Though there is increased pressure for agents to stay relevant in this quickly evolving insurance industry, agents who leverage their distinct advantages for both customers and insurers will thrive. According to an Accenture consumer survey, customers value the insights they gain from face-to-face interactions with their insurance agent more than any other method, yet agents themselves often downplay the importance of their expertise as a competitive advantage. This is a mistake.

When you consider that insurance enters our lives at times of personal turmoil, agents serve as a trusted adviser during critical moments. Agents help both the consumer and the insurer navigate the process of making the consumers’ lives whole again when tragedy strikes. Agents who adopt digital technologies and analytics will gain greater customer insights and will bring insurers the right business at the right price.

According to a recent Applied Systems survey, 48% of participants listed competition as a top factor driving agency technology investments. Agents who allow a disparity in analytically driven risk management between themselves and their insurers will begin to lose their foothold in the industry.

The Insurer Advantage

There’s only one place where mass adoption of data-driven decision making, product innovation and modern customer engagement strategies can all take off at the same time. Insurers alone yield the largest ability to transform the industry in better service of their customers and fight back against the pure commoditization of insurance. There’s likely no stopping this trend, but there is a lot of opportunity to provide innovative solutions so that traditional insurance players maintain ownership of the customer.

There is no time to waste, however. Just because the early focus is on personal auto, it should not drive a “wait and see” mentality for the property and casualty industry. Learn from industries that have gone before us in the digital revolution and suffered from technology disruption. Once the trend takes hold, the ripple effect of change industry-wide happens very quickly.

The Bottom Line

The best chance for agents to stay competitive and relevant is to work together with insurers, utilize data-driven strategies and engage consumers on a more personal level using technology as an enabler. The face-to-face interaction with clients is still extremely important, and analytics can effectively collect and store invaluable insights so you can make the best connection between insurer and consumer. Remaining a relevant and trusted adviser is the name of the customer relationship game.