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Digital Survival Tools for Agents

Whether the majority of your business is online or in-office, it is crucial for you to have the right tools to help you capitalize on the insurance market and get ahead of the competition in a changing landscape.

It does not matter what type of insurance you are selling, whether it’s employee benefits, life insurance, group insurance, voluntary benefits or property and casualty. While your role may not be directly affected by things like legacy system transformation, robotics and big data, there will be ripple effects. Besides obtaining new clients, presenting renewals and marketing, changes in regulation and advances in technology are all things that agents will have to contend with.

Here are three elements that savvy agents and brokers will want to consider.

Multi-generational marketing

Global populations are now categorized (albeit loosely) into four categories: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z. Although Baby Boomers are still the largest population, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts Millennials will outnumber Boomers by 2019.

These differentiated markets make targeting sales much more difficult. Fortunately, there are online tools that can support you. The trick here is diversifying your presence. Ensure that you have a presence on multiple channels so that you are able to meet your customers where they are.

See also: 10 Essential Actions for Digital Success  

Update your agency website with a live chat feature, and ensure it is easy to contact you online. Examine whether it makes sense to use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. If you do, you’ll need a strong content strategy that provides real value to pull in visiting prospects.

Don’t just surf the web, observe the web. Set up Google alerts and analytics and Hootsuite streams to follow partners and competitors. Watching for trends will keep you ahead of the game.

Administration tools

A strong agency management system can provide you with everything you need to support your customer lifecycle. When looking for the right one for you, think about CRM and marketing automation. Determine what will make it easier for you to track leads, nurture prospects, close deals and obtain commissions.

Once you’ve sold a policy, a high-quality microphone and webcam will enhance consistent communication with customers remotely on Skype, WebEx, GooglePlus Hangouts or even Facebook.

Get comfortable with automation

As you get comfortable with a new and diversified way of connecting with your customers, you’ll want to consider that insurance carriers are doing the same thing. Accenture’s Technology Vision 2018 report revealed 82% of insurance carriers agreed that their organizations must innovate faster just to stay competitive.

In a world where customers are shopping around for options and prices all the time, retention itself becomes a valuable commodity. Help carriers help you by learning what tools their new systems have to offer so you tap into all the resources available.

Do your insurance companies offer broker portals? Do they offer online quoting capability for immediate results? Can you generate a proposal or immediately sell a policy? Can you offer that functionality on your own website? The carriers that invest in your success by improving sales, underwriting and admin functions for quicker turnarounds and smooth renewals are doing themselves a favor, too.

See also: Agents Must Become ‘Discussion Partners’  

Think strategy

As you determine the best way to move forward, sit down with others on your team, start a Google doc and plan your strategy for the year ahead. As Yogi Berra wisely said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

What free tools will you use? Which ones will you invest money in? How will you track progress to determine ROI? What tools are working for you?

The best agents and brokers will be nimble enough to exploit the tools available to them and prepare for new ones as they arrive. The sooner you start, the more likely you’ll find yourself ahead of the digital curve.

11 Ways to Use Tech Better With Clients

Technology can enhance a strong, trust-based relationship with your clients, but it’s no substitution for face-to-face time. Here are 11 tips that will help you use high-tech tools in a smart and meaningful way.

Technology does a lot, but it can’t do everything. Sometimes, we forget that. We can get so dependent on email and social media that we lose sight of what people really need from us—especially in business. Yes, clients expect to connect with us in various high-tech ways, but they also crave the deep and meaningful connections that can only come from face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) connections. It can be tricky to walk the line.

Too little tech, and you’ll seem out of touch; too much, and you’ll lose the personal touch that keeps customers loyal and engaged. As you’re trying to find the right balance, just remember this: Your client relationships are built on emotions and trust, so use technology in a way that maintains and enhances relationships and propels them to the next level.

I attribute my career journey to my ability to build strong personal relationships. Following early success in the clothing industry, I experienced a devastating bankruptcy that forced me to rebuild my life from scratch. I went on to join Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., where I created an impressive financial portfolio and won multiple “Top Agent” awards.

Human needs don’t change. Relationships mattered in the days of pencil, paper and snail mail, and they still matter in the days of Facebook and Skype.

Ideally, you would meet with all of your clients in person, but of course that’s not always practical. Still, you should invest in at least one face-to-face meeting with your top clients. Then, use a carefully balanced mix of technology to maintain the relationship. Here are a few tips for using tech the right way.

Don’t let “faceless” and “voiceless” technology become your primary communication tool. Nothing can replace the effectiveness of a face-to-face encounter (even if it’s by Skype), especially in the early phases of your client relationship. And meaningful phone conversations can be great, too. It’s fine to use less powerful tech solutions like email, texting and e-blasts to stay in close contact with your clients. These can enhance and strengthen a well-established relationship. But they should only be supplemental.

Skype important meetings if you can’t be there in person. Ideally, “in person” interactions are best for relationship building—especially with your top clients—but, of course, they can’t always happen. Video conferencing is second-best. Make sure you’re using this tech tool often. It’s a great way to read body language and facial expressions—crucial for building trust and establishing positive and productive relationships.

Pick up the phone regularly. Many people dislike the phone. Conversations can be long and meandering, and we’re all busy. But you must overcome your phone phobia. In terms of relationship building (not to mention problem solving), there is no substitute for the give and take that happens voice-to-voice. Schedule actual phone conversations with clients to catch up and find out how they are doing. Keep that human connection alive!

See also: How Technology Drives a ‘New Normal’  

Pay attention to how the client communicates. If a client seems to prefer phone, text or in-person communication, note it and honor the preferred style while maintaining your own dedication to person-to-person contact. This shows clients you care about and respect their preferences. Find a happy balance between the client’s style, yours and the demands of the day.

Match the medium to the message. If you want to distinguish yourself and have something very important to say, write a letter! If you are trying to book an appointment with a busy person, figure out something complex or discuss a potentially sensitive issue, pick up the phone. If you only want confirmation of a small piece of information and you’ve recently spoken with a client, feel free to use email. Let your instinct be your guide.

Be thoughtful and deliberate with social media. Your competition is taking advantage of these platforms, and so should you. But make sure your online presence is well-planned and -executed. Your Facebook or LinkedIn posts should meaningfully connect back to your brand and mission and provide value to clients and other readers. Don’t bombard your followers with inane content. This negates your credibility. Post less, and make sure your content is good.

Keep your website young and agile. Is your website in alignment with your business image and your mission? Make sure it’s as professional and sleek as your own personal appearance when meeting a client for the first time. Successful companies have streamlined, up-to-date websites with modern fonts, colors and layouts. If it’s been a while since you’ve changed your design, your website is due for a tune-up and a facelift.

Use email to send links to articles you think your client might enjoy. Trusting relationships thrive on frequent contact. To solidify your connection to clients (especially when you haven’t talked in a while), send them little links and articles you know they will enjoy. This gesture shows you are thinking about them and know where their interests lie. Just keep these communications in balance. Bombarding clients with superficial links and articles may actually weaken the value of your contact with them and undermine your relationship.

Send e-newsletters to all your clients. This a good way to engage regularly with clients and stay on their minds. Create compelling content that connects with the various lines of services you are currently offering and craft interesting articles for your clients around related topics.

Personalize your high-tech communication. Sometimes e-blasts make sense, but, whenever possible, include a small personal note at the top that lets clients see they matter to you.

See also: 5 Ways to Enhance Client Engagement  

Allow clients to log in and access their information. Whenever possible, empower clients by putting information at their fingertips. This not only saves time for your clients when they need to get a small piece of information, but also goes a long way toward building mutual trust.

If you harness the power of technology correctly, it can do wonderful things for your business. But remember that it is only one tool in your toolbox. Use technology to enhance business, but don’t let it overshadow your mission to keep trust-based client relationships at the center of everything you do.

Facebook, WhatsApp Are Dangerous

Facebook’s woes are spreading globally, first from the U.S. to Europe and now in Asia.

A landmark study by researchers at the University of Warwick in the U.K. has established that Facebook has been fanning the flames of hatred in Germany. The study found that the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, and those living in large cities and those in small towns were alike susceptible to online hate speech on refugees and its incitement to violence, with incidence of hate crimes relating directly to per-capita Facebook use.

And during Germany-wide Facebook outages, which resulted from programming or server problems at Facebook, anti-refugee hate crimes practically vanished — within weeks.

As the New York Times explains, Facebook’s  algorithms reshape a user’s reality: “These are built around a core mission: promote content that will maximize user engagement. Posts that tap into negative, primal emotions like anger or fear, studies have found, perform best and so proliferate.”

Facebook started out as a benign open social-media platform to bring friends and family together. Increasingly obsessed with making money, and unhindered by regulation or control, it began selling to anybody who would pay for its advertising access to its users. It focused on gathering all of the data it could about them and keeping them hooked to its platform. More sensational Facebook posts attracted more views, a win-win for Facebook and its hatemongers.

See also: Too Much Tech Is Ruining Lives  

India

In countries such as India, WhatsApp is the dominant form of communication. And sadly, it is causing even greater carnage than Facebook is in Germany; there have already been dozens of deaths.

WhatsApp was created to send text messages between mobile phones. Voice calling, group chat and end-to-end encryption were features that were bolted on to its platform much later. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014 and started making it as addictive as its web platform — and capturing data from it.

The problem is that WhatsApp was never designed to be a social-media platform. It doesn’t allow even the most basic independent monitoring. For this reason, it has become an uncontrolled platform for spreading fake news and hate speech. It also poses serious privacy concerns due to its roots as a text-messaging tool: Users’ primary identification being a mobile number, people are susceptible everywhere and at all times to anonymous harassment by other chat-group members.

On Facebook, when you see a posting, you can, with a click, learn about the person who posted it and judge whether the source is credible. With no more than a phone number and possibly a name, there is no way to know the source or intent of a message. Moreover, anyone can contact users and use special tools to track them. Imagine the dangers to children who happen to post messages in WhatsApp groups, where it isn’t apparent who the other members are; or the risks to people being targeted by hate groups.

Facebook faced a severe backlash when it was revealed that it was seeking banking information to boost user engagement in the U.S. In India, it is taking a different tack, adding mobile-payment features to WhatsApp. This will dramatically increase the dangers. All those with whom a user has ever transacted can harass them, because they have their mobile number. People will be tracked in new ways.

Facebook is a flawed product, but its flaws pale in comparison with WhatsApp’s. If these were cars, Facebook would be the one without safety belts — and WhatsApp the one without brakes.

That is why India’s technology minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, was right to demand that WhatsApp “find solutions to these challenges which are downright criminal and violation of Indian laws.” The demands he made, however, don’t go far enough.

Prasad asked WhatsApp to operate in India under an Indian corporate entity; to store Indian data in India; to appoint a grievance officer; and to trace the origins of fake messages. The problems with WhatsApp, though, are more fundamental. You can’t have public meeting spaces without any safety and security measures for unsuspecting citizens. WhatsApp’s group-chat feature needs to be disabled until it is completely redesigned with safety and security in mind. This on its own could halt the carnage that is happening across the country.

Lesson from Germany

India — and the rest of the world — also need to take a page from Germany, which last year approved a law against online hate speech, with fines of of as much as 50 million euros for platforms such as Facebook that fail to delete “criminal” content. The E.U. is considering taking this one step further and requiring content flagged by law enforcement to be removed within an hour.

The issue of where data are being stored may be a red herring. The problem with Facebook isn’t the location of its data storage; it is, rather, the uses the company makes of the data. Facebook requires its users to grant it “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content” they post to the site. It assumes the right to use family photos and videos — and financial transactions — for marketing purposes and to resell them to anybody.

See also: The World Doesn’t Need Silicon Valley  

Every country needs to have laws that explicitly grant their citizens ownership of their own data. Then, if a company wants to use their data, it must tell them what is being collected and how it is being used, and seek permission to use it in exchange for a licensing fee.

The problems arising through faceless corporate pillage are soluble only through enforcement of respect for individual rights and legal answerability.

How Tech Is Eating the Insurance World

Amazons and Apples and Googles. Oh my…

What do these companies have in common? Devout brand loyalty from the modern consumer coupled with world-leading technology. This poses a massive threat to insurance companies that value ownership of the customer above all else and are seriously lagging on tech. In a post-financial crisis world where financial brands are reflexively distrusted by modern consumers that have incredibly high digital UX standards, technology brands and emerging insurtech startups have a considerable advantage in winning future insurance business.

Amazon, Apple, Google and other tech giants don’t do anything small. It would be foolish for insurers to think that these disruptors will enter the industry to play nice and simply serve as their brokers or lead generators. They have capital in spades, massive captive audiences, piles of valuable data and are perfectly comfortable navigating complicated regulatory landscapes. Insurers like to hide behind this regulatory complexity as a reason to dismiss new market entrants, but this is simply a speed bump for those who want to make insurance a point of focus – not an insurmountable barrier to entry.

The Google Experience

Google dipped its toe in the industry in 2015 with Google Compare and then quickly withdrew in 2016. Insurers like to point to this as the shining example of how technology companies “don’t understand insurance” or how they “underestimate the complexity of the industry.” What they forget (or simply don’t mention) is Google’s core business model – advertising. What is the sixth most expensive word on Google AdWords? Insurance ($48.41 per CLICK!). Who buys that word and drives significant revenue to Google? Insurers. Google’s exit was not the result of execution failure or naivete; it was a consequence of rocking the boat with some of their highest-value advertising customers. The rest of the companies listed above, among countless other tech giants and well-funded startups, do not have that same conflict. Insurers are not immune to disruption from them.

Shifting Consumer Behavior

The modern consumer is a digital native and does not want to speak to people on the phone or fill out piles of paperwork. Consumers want to be offered insurance when it’s top of mind – how they want it, when they want it, from brands they trust, instantly.

One of the biggest problems we see with tech-insurance partnerships is insurers’ insistence on controlling the underwriting and sales process, which creates massive friction with technology companies that offer far superior digital experiences. Consumers don’t want to leave Amazon to start a separate purchasing process on an insurer’s website, and Amazon doesn’t want them to leave its site, either. This is something that is easily solved through API-driven technology systems and programmatic underwriting – words that often give insurers heart palpitations.

See also: What if Amazon Entered Insurance?  

Consumers don’t want to shop around for insurance on quote comparison sites. They don’t want to engage with insurance companies more than necessary or share troves of personal data through an insurance app. They want to purchase insurance when they need it, pay for what they use and never think about it again. Insurance incumbents have responded by building their own apps, offering discounts for more shared data and doubling down on advertisement spending.

Insurance in the Background

Insurance is an important feature, but not always the star product. It’s sold well to the modern consumer either purely digitally or as part of a broader offering – typically at the point of purchase for a non-insurance product or service. That’s an unpleasant thought for insurers that take a tremendous amount of pride in their history, processes and brands. However, letting pride and status quo dictate your business strategy is a good way to get your business killed.

Why not offer homeowners insurance in 15 seconds (not minutes) through fully digital workflow like Kin does? Why not combine cyber protection software and cyber insurance like Paladin Cyber does, so risk is reduced even further in the event of a cyber incident? Why not offer white-labeled SMB insurance to the millions of third-party retailers currently selling on Amazon? Or episodic renter’s coverage directly through Airbnb at the point of booking?

Here are a few reasons why insurers aren’t being more innovative:

  • insurers’ technology simply can’t support seamless distribution through digital platforms
  • insurers/agents/brokers insist on owning the customer
  • insurers don’t want to alienate their traditional distribution network of brokers and agents
  • insurers want full underwriting control through traditional, and often analog, methods
  • insurers don’t want to share data with tech companies but expect tech companies to open their proprietary analytics models to insurers.

This simply will not work.

The Everything Store

Apple already disrupted the warranty space by owning the whole AppleCare stack for themselves. Google has the conflicts discussed earlier. Facebook has the same. As a result, I believe Amazon is the most likely tech giant to make a big splash in the insurance industry as they continue to build their “Everything Store.”

We already see what they’re doing in healthcare, their investment in Acko in India, and rumors about an imminent play in banking. They recently acquired Ring, which has obvious insurance applications, for a reported $1 billion. The writing is on the wall. While I’m not entirely convinced that consumers will search Amazon.com for auto or home insurance, having millions of third-party seller merchants, adding 300,000 in the U.S. in 2017 alone, is a good starting point as far as addressable commercial insurance markets are concerned.

See also: 11 Ways Amazon Could Transform Care  

I am a huge admirer of what Jeff Bezos has built at Amazon, and I’m modeling Boost after what they did in the data storage and hosting space with AWS. It would be foolish for anyone to underestimate the impact a company like Amazon can have on any industry – no matter how old, established or huge the insurance incumbents’ businesses may be. Just ask Barnes & Noble, Walmart, media companies or any grocery store right now.

Social Media and Suicide Prevention

In 2017, a 15-year-old girl from Bedford, PA, was trying to live an ordinary teenage life until her classmates began bullying her. They attacked her on social media sites like Facebook and Kik about her red hair and braces, some going as far as telling her that she should kill herself. Her mother remembers finding the young girl sobbing for hours because of what people were saying about her in school and online. Even though her mother took her phone and tried to comfort the girl, less than a week later she would die by suicide.

While the rate of death by suicide among teenage girls is at an all-time high, they’re not the highest risk demographic of the more than 40,000 people who die by suicide in the U.S. each year. According to the CDC, seven of 10 suicides in 2015 were men, making men 3.5x more likely than women to die by suicide. Now the third-leading cause of death among adults age 15-44 worldwide, the global rate of suicide will hit 1.53 million per year by 2020, which constitutes one death by suicide every 20 seconds, according to the World Health Organization.

Children as young as 11 are dying by suicide as a result of experiences on social media, and we know of at least three examples of children broadcasting their own death to live audiences using social media tools such as Facebook live, Twitter and YouTube.

How are leaders responding?

In response to these disturbing trends, Facebook has partnered with organizations like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to develop a set of tools intended to help individuals find resources and support who are considered “at risk” for self-harm.

The first of these tools is a new suicide-prevention feature on Facebook that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify posts indicating suicidal or harmful thoughts. The AI scans the posts and their associated comments, compares them with others that merited intervention and, in some cases, passes them along to its community team for review. The company plans to reach out to users it believes are at risk, showing them a screen with suicide-prevention resources including options to contact a helpline or contact a friend.

While in some cases the artificial intelligence software will notify the Facebook community if it flags a situation as “very likely urgent,” in most cases it will simply work in the background to offer messaging and advice to the friends and family of a person in need.

See also: Blueprint for Suicide Prevention  

Dr. John Draper, of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, said that he feels that the software sounds promising. “If a person is in the process of hurting themselves and this is a way to get to them faster, all the better,” he told BuzzFeed News. “In suicide prevention, sometimes timing is everything.”

Facebook is also making certain suicide prevention organizations available via Facebook Messenger, its instant messaging app. Facebook users will be able to flag posts that they feel indicate “at risk behavior,” which Facebook will respond to with an on-screen option to receive suicide-prevention resources.

Can we use social media to predict suicide?

New research out of Korea suggests that we might be able to begin using social media to predict suicidal behavior.

The three-year study looks at the social and environmental factors that contribute to suicidal behavior and describes correlations between public mood and suicide and how data from social media sources and weblogs (blogs) might be used to predict that behavior; their primary hypothesis being that social media variables are meaningfully associated with nationwide suicide numbers.

At the end of the study, the research team concluded that, “We found a significant association of social media data with national suicide rate, resulting in a robust, proof-of-principle predictive model,” and the team suggests social media data be used in future predictive modeling.

How suicide prevention advocates are using social media.

Sites like the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado, the Mighty and To Write Love on Her Arms are also using social media to engage audiences with messages of help and hope.

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado, an organization of which the author of this article is a member, uses Facebook, Twitter and email newsletters as educational and communications tools to promote events, raise awareness of mental health legislation and bridge the gap between service providers across the state of Colorado that might not have the resources they need as solo practitioners.

To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) is a site that offers hope and help to those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

With a Facebook following of more than 1.5 million and a Twitter following of nearly 300,000, they share individual stories of hope and recovery and work to destigmatize suicide and self-harm.

The Mighty is a blog with more than 5,000 contributors and 150 million readers that also gives people suffering from mental health disabilities a place to find resources, encouragement and support.

This site, like TWLOHA, focuses on shared experiences. Individuals struggling with disability, disease and mental illness write in and share their stories of hope and recovery.

Bell Canada, a telephone company in Canada, is running a “Let’s Talk” campaign dedicated to raising $100 million for mental health programs by 2020 and encouraging people to find the strength to come out and talk to someone if they find themselves struggling with thoughts of self-harm.

See also: 6 Things to Do to Prevent Suicides  

What you can do to get involved today.

Twitter is a wonderful conversation tool where you can do a search for keywords like #SuicidePrevention and become a part of the conversation with leaders, educators, individuals struggling and those with experience. A continued effort to destigmatize mental health issues helps those struggling realize that there is help.

You can use social media to interact with your legislature. Most politicians today are active on social media, and some even have live events on social media, giving us the opportunity to ask them where they stand on issues such as mental healthcare as well as share our opinions on the issues.

You can share resources on social media, especially around the death of a celebrity, to help further the conversation online and help someone find resources who might not have the strength to ask for help.

Finally, if you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide and need to talk to someone right away, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit online at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/.

If you need support for suicide grief or suicidal thoughts but are not in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers resources on how to help either yourself or a loved one.