Tag Archives: e-signature

4 Myths About Independent Agents

While speaking at an insurance conference recently, I shared examples of how e-signatures are transformative because the technology now makes it possible to fully digitize the insurance sales and service process. “Imagine if tomorrow all your printers and filing cabinets disappeared,” I offered. Afterward, an agent approached me and said, “I don’t get what the big deal is with electronic signatures, anyway. My customers want to sit down with me and have me walk them through their policy.”

This isn’t the first time I have been challenged in this way. Evidently, some agents in the audience were left with the impression that digitization would replace personal service – an outdated fear among some seasoned insurance agents. This misconception often holds agents back from offering the best possible customer experience and become a roadblock to increasing their business.

Historically, the insurance business has been a personal one. Producers knew their customers well; knew their families, their businesses, their tolerance for risk. The entrance of direct writers onto the insurance scene has, indeed, removed some of that intimacy. But for independent agents, adding a modern, e-signing option to the buying experience doesn’t quash their personal touch.

Let’s debunk the four most common myths among independent agents:

Myth #1   Digital means “self-serve”

The goal of automation is not to remove human interaction; the goal is to provide a more efficient, error-free customer experience. E-signatures have been adopted across all channels in insurance, from remote call centers to face-to-face client meetings. Regardless of channel, we are still seeing customers continue to call advisers and meet with their agents; but at signature time, there is no printing, just an email invite with a link to e-sign.

Myth #2   Technology detracts from quality of service

Some agents believe that technology detracts from the quality, consultative and personalized service upon which they have built their business. The adoption of digital processes does not dilute the continuing value that independent agents provide; it simply modernizes the administration of paperwork. In fact, the time saved managing paperwork will be more time agents can spend offering specialized expertise. Trusted advice will continue to play an important role in the industry.

Myth #3   Consumers aren’t ready

This is simply not true. We track client preferences for e-signature automation across many mediated and unmediated channels. Mediated is when the client’s transaction is guided by a representative, offering the option for e-signature at the time of signing. Unmediated is when the consumer is online, in a self-serve situation.

In unmediated transactions, where e-signatures are offered 100% of the time, rather than being offered at the discretion of a sales agent, it is common to see adoption rates of more than 95% for e-signatures. Consumers are indeed ready and opting for the convenience and immediacy that e-signatures provide.

Myth #4   Digital signatures are risky

The fact is, electronic signatures are more secure than wet signatures. The identity of the signer – and the intent to sign – can both be authenticated and upheld in a court of law. Digitized audit trails of e-signing mean you not only get a log of document-level activity during the signing process, but everything the signer experiences during the signing ceremony can be captured, accessed and replayed as proof of signing.

Doing Digital Right

Independent agents who embrace digital upgrades to their processes will realize five key benefits:

  1. Improved customer experience: personalized yet modern nets better customer retention.
  2. Automated, expedited business process: requires less time to execute necessary paperwork.
  3. Efficiency: less time managing paperwork and fixing errors.
  4. Cost savings, by eliminating paper and having more time to spend with clients.
  5. Fewer errors, leading to less errors and omissions risk.

One of the most important benefits of modernizing business systems is the ability to attract clients. As generations shift, underinsured Millennials will open market opportunities. Progressive, independent agents will be viewed as service providers who have kept current with the times – yet still offer industry expertise with personalized attention.

“All business models must now rely heavily on digital tools; it’s what consumers want. What’s so exciting, however, is that consumers also hunger for a trusted adviser relationship with their insurance agent. Independent agents who marry the two will be big winners in the years ahead. That’s an opportunity direct writers can’t fully execute,” says Ron Berg, executive director, Agents Council for Technology.

E-Signatures: an Easy Tech Win

While industry analysts and thought leaders speculate on the adoption and impact of telematics, driverless cars and the Internet of Things on insurance, it is worth revisiting how we are doing with more mainstream technologies. Electronic signatures and e-apps have been around for years, yet paper-based applications remain the norm. A survey of 113 insurance professionals conducted late in 2014 by e-SignLive and PC360 revealed only 33% of respondents are using e-signatures.

Because insurance is a regulated industry, “paper” work is inevitably at the heart of all we do. For that reason, any effort to digitize the business of insurance needs to start by eliminating paper and manual signatures. From there, digital records and the data they contain can flow seamlessly through distribution, policy administration, ratings, billing, claims and other core systems. Digital insurance is not a theoretical, utopian concept. It is not only possible – it is being done with great success.

E-signatures are a relatively quick and easy technology to add to your existing core systems and workflows. Yes, it is possible to get started overnight, but don’t let the minimal investment of time and money fool you – the impact of going digital is significant for everyone involved.

BENEFITS FOR CARRIERS

Full Visibility

Digital transactions have unique advantages over paper. When your business mails out a paper package for a customer to sign, you have no control once the documents leave your hands. Similarly, if your business takes place through the agent channel, you have little control over the process. Were the proper procedures followed at every stage of the process?

The blind spot that exists with paper is eliminated online. Insurance companies gain real-time visibility into what is taking place at the time of signing. Overnight, you can monitor the status of in-progress transactions, track drop-offs and transactions about to expire and analyze trends in customer behavior.

NIGO Rates Bottom Out

In the digital world, customers go online, get quotes, choose coverage and complete an application through the channels and devices of their choice. They enter application data electronically, and workflow rules are enforced to ensure an error-free application.

Overnight, this eliminates the average 60% Not-in-Good-Order (NIGO) rate that occurs with paper-based new business applications. It saves the industry hundreds of millions of dollars, in hours that no longer have to be spent fixing documents. This is significant, considering that an error-free digital process costs a third to a fourth of what a process with errors costs.

Easily Demonstrated Compliance

Once your new business applications become completely digital, compliance teams will be one of the biggest winners. By automating, they gain the ability to:

  • Capture digital audit trails, including an active audit trail that allows you to replay any transaction exactly as the customer experienced it;
  • Minimize exposure to risk because of misplaced or lost documentation;
  • Make the process of demonstrating compliance less resource- and time-intensive.

Online transactions with strong audit trails provide a record of every action taken by customers. You know when they signed, how they signed, how much time they spent reading each page, what IP address they transacted from. Plus, audit trail data can be extracted for analytics purposes and even greater insight into your business.

Once your company has gone digital, you no longer spend weeks preparing for audits and market conduct exams, identifying paper files or getting them out of storage. How would your VP of compliance react if you told her that you could quickly pull any signed record from a database of millions of documents, guarantee it is in good order and replay the entire transaction to prove that your company followed all regulatory rules?

Virtually All Legal Disputes Defused

When carriers think about going digital, many have concerns over legal risk. Fortunately, the legal framework has been in place since 2000. Case law has shown that if the process is clear to the signer, and signer intent is properly established, the courts will accept e-signatures and e-records as evidence.

A top auto insurer can attest to the fact that e-signatures decrease the risk of legal disputes compared with paper signing. This carrier has been capturing customers’ signatures electronically for the last 10 years and has only seen one case involving e-signed records go to court – despite more than one million customer inquiries.

Costs Cut

Keeping transactions digital helps your bottom line. Gartner Research reported on a large carrier’s digital process, noting, “E-signatures saved $10 per transaction, with the potential of annual recurring savings of millions of dollars. This includes costs for mailing, postage, paper handling and processing.” There were 275 million life insurance policies in force in the U.S. in 2013. Multiply that by $10, and the potential industry-wide savings climb into the billions.

Immediacy

Across all channels, closing the deal when the customer is ready and engaged is critical. By offering e-signature capability on its website, one global insurer is able to convert visitors immediately and avoid dropoff rates that occur when the process falls to paper.

This is as advantageous for new business and renewals as it is for claims. Clearly, the immediacy of submitting a signed claim from a smartphone on the spot is a differentiator. For the customer, that means faster resolution in moments of stress – ultimately improving satisfaction and increasing retention.

BENEFITS FOR CUSTOMERS

Customers want convenience and speed and a company that is easy to do business with. McKinsey recently confirmed that, “more than 80% of insurance customers began their shopping process using direct channels. Online is increasingly the initial channel of choice even among customers who value the agent relationship.”

Clearly, expediting the process of buying insurance is important across all channels. Someone who starts insurance shopping on Google Compare may very well still appreciate having an informed agent talk him through the policy options, but not if that means dropping back to an antiquated, paper-ridden, offline process.

Keeping the transaction digital just makes it so much easier to purchase, renew or modify a policy. Carriers repeatedly find that e-signatures help lower NIGO rates, increase customer loyalty and boost referrals. In fact, one insurer experienced a 14% higher retention rate with customers who e-signed their new business policy.

BENEFITS FOR AGENTS

Both captive and independent agents spend too much time on administrative work. Insurance Journal reported that, “Only about one-third of producers spend more than half their time selling […] Instead, they are spending more time than they think they should on administration and client service.”

Even when using a modern agency management system or e-app, productivity is lost when you have to print to paper for signatures. Those applications must then be photocopied, shipped, faxed, chased down, corrected, scanned and archived. All of this creates a huge time and productivity drain. The good news is, e-signatures save as much as 90% of the time and cost of administrative labor.

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GOING DIGITAL MAKES SENSE FOR INSURANCE

Clearly, the insurance industry is moving down the path to digital. However, the pace of change is accelerating, and carriers and producers that don’t offer a fully digital process online and on mobile devices will be left behind. Analyst firm Novarica sums it up best: “The time for insurance carriers to take concerted action with an e-signature strategy is, in Novarica’s view, now. The technology, legal framework and customer expectations have all reached a point where carriers need to proceed in order to compete.”

How to Find Mobility Solutions (Part 2)

Before continuing from the “How to Find Mobility Solutions (Part 1)” post, I want to repeat my bias: I think that until insurers, and insurance agencies/brokers, can operate entirely using apps on smart device they can’t really call themselves “mobile-next.”

Potential insurance mobility solutions

Focus on enabling producers to use a smart device that has the requisite apps to:

  • Manage their day (and week and month) — seeing list of sales opportunities, setting up appointments, finding meeting locations and going to meetings, using the native calendar/GPS/mapping capabilities of the smart device
  • Get notices about traffic conditions and suggested alternative routes to take if the producer is driving to a meeting
  • Get alerts about severe weather
  • Pull information about the customer from an agency management system or a carrier’s customer relationship management (CRM) system before the meeting
  • Note comments about the progress of each sale after each meeting, whether by using the keyboard, stylus (if applicable) or voice entry
  • See charts showing progress-to-date or progress-to-goals
  • Pull all relevant forms into a “potential sale area” on the device — forms related to the sale of a specific line of insurance and required by the insurance company or regulators
  • View the status of each sale in process and see the steps the carrier still needs to complete, with time estimates of each step
  • Get a quote for any insurance products the producer is allowed to sell
  • Walk a prospect through a policy application form either on the producer’s device or by sending it to the prospect’s smart device
  • Coordinate a 3-way video session with a subject-matter expert, the prospective client and the producer to answer questions the prospect or producer might have about the insurance product
  • Start a video session with a customer-service representative (CSR) or other colleague in the agency or in the carrier to ask questions or collaborate on an issue – from campaign management to new products to new requirements triggered by new regulations
  • Complete the policy application form, including getting the prospect’s e-signature if that can be done at the moment. If completion isn’t possible at the time of the meeting with the prospect, then enable the producer to store the policy application and filled-in data on the producer’s smart device and also upload the information to the relevant agency or carrier systems
  • Get alerts about any of the producer’s customers filing a claim, including the “when, where and why” of the claim
  • See how much time until the next meeting takes place (this is specifically for a smart watch) and get an alert (sound or haptic touch on the wrist) when the producer is close to or at a meeting location.

I realize this is only a starter list of mobile applications for a producer. What would you add?

How to Find Mobility Solutions (Part 1)

Please consider this post to be a sort of noodlin’ around the ways insurers could apply mobility solutions. I do have a bias: I think that until insurers, and insurance agencies/brokers, can operate entirely using apps on smart devices they can’t really call themselves “mobile-next.”

To find potential insurance mobility solutions, focus on the customer (you know, the rascal who pays the premiums) and enable him to:

  • Access the insurance company/insurance agency web site using a smart device. This means that the insurance firm (carrier or agency) has to have the ability to push requested information to the customer’s smart device in a manner that fits the smart device. Fit for purpose, as it were.
  • Request and consume service on a smart device. This includes getting served in the manner the customer wants, whether text, voice or video and preferably in real time. This means the insurance firm must have the business operational service systems in the “state” necessary to provide effective and efficient service to the customer in the desired manner.
  • Self-serve by using a smart device. This would include accessing and downloading documents stored in the insurance firm or perhaps in a private cloud set up for the customer (whether COI, policy forms, claim forms or loan forms).
  • Begin and preferably finish a policy application entirely on the smart device using e-signatures (which were approved way back during President Clinton’s administration). I realize that quotes/rates and underwriting decisions could very well mean that it is not a “sign on and get it done in one shot” kind of situation. However, whatever stops and starts happen, the policy application process should stay in the mobile realm and never require the customer, anyone in the agency or anyone in the carrier to have to re-enter information.
  • File the first notice of a loss and track the entire journey of the claim adjudication from beginning to end, including getting an alert when the claim check is deposited in the customer’s requested banking account.
  • Use the smart device to pay a premium by taking a picture of a check rather than mailing in a check or even using a payment service to pay the premium amount.
  • Collaborate with claim managers, customer service representatives or others in the insurance firm (carrier or agency) using only the smart device.

Next post, I’ll discuss potential mobility solutions for producers. Being wildly creative about blog titles, I’ll call the post “How to Find Mobility Solutions (Part 2).”

But sticking with the insurance customer, what mobility applications would you add to the list above?