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2018: 5 Predictions for Agents

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  

3 Technology Trends Worth Watching

At a time when many insurers believe that 20% of their business could be soon lost to insurtech startups and when roughly one third of insurance industry CIOs said that, if given an extra $5 million to spend, they would spend it on big data or increased data collection, understanding technology trends is critical to gaining an edge.

So, let’s look at three of the emerging technologies affecting the insurance sector.

1. Sensors and other data-tracking technologies

In the past, insurance companies and actuaries based their pricing on aggregated data from large numbers of customers. Today, innovations in internet-connected devices such as wearables, auto devices and smart homes are giving insurance companies meaningful data that is specific to individual policyholders.

For example, Progressive Insurance created Snapshot, a device a policyholder can install in his or her car that allows Progressive to monitor certain data about the customer’s driving habits and to adjust pricing accordingly. Progressive claims to have distributed $600 million in discounts to its policyholders, largely because of data from Snapshot.

See also: 10 Trends at Heart of Insurtech Revolution  

Snapshot is just one example of how sensors and data-tracking technology can generate savings for policyholders while, at the same time, making insurers more efficient. As this technology continues to gain adoption, many more sensors will be available to monitor policyholder data on health, autos, homes and more.

2. Drones

Drone technology is a rapidly growing niche in the insurance industry, with some predicting it will reach a yearly value of $6.8 billion in the coming years. This growing interest in drone technology was a driving force behind a recent panel discussion on drones at the Contractor Connection conference in St. Louis. WeGoLook’s COO, Kenneth Knoll, participated in this panel, which was attended by more than 3,000 industry professionals.

Knoll noted that drone technology applies to a wide range of insurance services — roof inspections, underwriting, disaster relief, crop inspections, and much more. Consider an order recently received by WeGoLook requesting a scene inspection at a commercial location where an injury occurred. As compared with photos taken from the ground, aerial imagery captured by one of WeGoLook’s licensed drone operators offered the insurer client a much more effective representation of the scene in question.

3. Paperless solutions

Evolving technology also makes it possible for insurers to onboard new clients, handle claims and send notifications in a completely paperless manner. The increased digitization of insurance solutions has the potential to dramatically improve the speed and efficiency with which insurance companies operate. For example, Lemonade, an insurtech company, allows clients to sign up for policies and file claims in less than three minutes, using only a mobile device.

Mobile is the new paper as millennials have an extremely high percentage of smartphone use (97%). Carriers that can
best cater to paperless, mobile solutions will gain a strong competitive advantage.

See also: The Story Behind the Lemonade Hype  

Final Thoughts

Some have argued that we are currently experiencing a fourth industrial revolution powered, in part, by the developments noted above. Sensors, drones and paperless solutions are just a few of the technologies driving this revolution.

Carriers must make these types of innovations a priority because they are fundamentally changing the expectations of clients. It’s time for all insurance professionals to acknowledge and embrace this digital transformation.

Traditional Insurance Is Dying

Finance. Taxis. Television. Medicine. What do these have in common?

They’re all on the long–and growing–list of industries being turned upside down by disruptive technology. 

The examples are legion. Once-sure-bet investments like taxicab medallions are at risk of going underwater. Bitcoin is giving consumers the power to bypass banks. Traditional television is at risk from online streaming.

Insurance Is No Different

In fact, innovative players have been disrupting the insurance market since before “disruption” was the buzzword it is today. 

Look at Esurance, which in 1999 rode the dot-com wave to success as the first insurance company to operate exclusively online. No forms, no policy mailers–it didn’t even mail paper bills.

By going paperless, Esurance told customers that it was the kind of company that cared about their preferences–and established itself as a unique player in an industry that places a premium on tradition. Insurance isn’t known for being innovative. 

Most insurance leaders operate under the assumption that if it ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it. And in a heavily regulated industry, that’s not totally unreasonable. 

But you only have to look at the scrappy start-ups that are taking down long-established players to understand what awaits the companies that aren’t willing to innovate.

Thinking Outside the Box

Take Time Warner–profit fell 7.2% last quarter as industry analysts foretold “the death of TV.” Meanwhile, Netflix’s profits are soaring beyond expectations–even as the risks it takes don’t always pan out. 

Remember the “Marco Polo” series that cost a reported $90 million? Neither does anyone else. But for every “Marco Polo” there’s an “Orange Is the New Black.” Highly successful programs on a subscription model show that Netflix’s willingness to take risks is carrying it past industry juggernauts.

The market is changing–and if you want to stay competitive, you need to use every weapon in your arsenal. Millennials aren’t buying insurance at the rate their parents did

To a consumer population weaned on technology like Uber and Venmo, the insurance industry seems positively antiquated. Facebook can advertise to you the brand of shoes you like–so your insurance company should be able to offer a product that you actually want.

The Information Importance

According to Accenture, “Regulated industries are especially vulnerable” to incumbents. When there are barriers to entry based on licensing requirements or fees, competition is lower. Decreased competition, in turn, leads to less incentive to innovate. This can leave regulated industries, such as insurance, healthcare and finance, in a highly vulnerable position when another company figures out a way to improve their offerings.

Other attributes that can make an industry vulnerable, per Accenture’s findings, can include:

  • Narrow focus: If a brand focuses entirely on cost savings, convenience or innovation, it isn’t effectively covering its bases. A disruptor that manages to offer two or three of these factors instead of just one has a near-immediate advantage.
  • Small scope or targets: Failing to expand offerings to all demographics can mean that industries or service providers aren’t able to replicate the broad reach of disruptors.
  • Failing to innovate: Disruptors don’t always get their product right on the very first try. Companies must innovate continuously and figure out ways to build continuous improvement into their business model.

Tech start-ups use information as an asset. How can you tell if information is a valuable weapon in the battle you’re fighting? 

“Big data” isn’t just a buzzword; industry analysts are calling it the wave of the future. At Citi, they’re talking about “the feed”: a real-time data stream that leverages the Internet of Things to reshape risk management. 

Auto insurers are turning to connected cars to let them reward safe drivers. Some life insurers are even offering discounts to customers who wear activity trackers.

It Can Happen to You

For most insurance companies, incorporating an unknown element into the way they operate is daunting. 

But talk to any cab driver, grocery store clerk or travel agent, and they’ll tell you that the only way to survive in a technology-driven world is to innovate.

Look at the insurance technology market to see what improvements you can incorporate into your organization, and think expansively about how you can use information: for agency management, to attract new customers and retain old ones, to expand your profit margins or to streamline operating costs. 

Your survival depends on it.

Easy Predictions on Future of Work

The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.”
– Ambrose Paul Valery – 1937

The Exaggerated Research Institute conducted a study to identify key trends that will be affecting the workforce in coming years. The research was based on interviews with leading psychics, astrologists, clairvoyants, precognitors, telepathics and other reliable sources.

FINDINGS

Future Workforce Demographics

  • The Rise of the Contingent Workforce. The future workforce will be largely composed of contingent workers, including temps, contractors, leased employees and consultants. Most of them will be kept cryogenically frozen in storage and thawed when needed.

There will be two primary categories of contingent workers:

  • Generalists will increasingly know less and less about more and more, until they know practically nothing about almost everything.
  • Specialists will know more and more about less and less until they know practically everything about nothing.
  • Workforce Diversity. By the year 2050, four generational cohorts of employees will be working together -Millennials, Centennials, Antennials and Perennials. Designing workplaces to meet all of their diverse needs will be a major challenge. For example:
    • The ideal Millennial workplace: Ping-pong tables, meditation booths, squash courts, refrigerators, nursing rooms, food courts with healthy food options.
    • The ideal perennial workplace: Mah jong tables, medication booths, shuffleboard courts, defibrillators, napping rooms, cafeterias with early bird specials.

The Future of Management Practices

  • Workforce Reduction. Companies will continue to release employees whose skills are considered unnecessary, only to end up contracting with them as consultants at greater expense. This practice will be known as dumb-sizing.
  • Workforce Terminology. The term human capital, an endearing euphemism for “people,” will evolve to primate widget.

Workforce Technology of the Future

  • The Rise of Intelligent Machines. Increasingly, automatons such as droids, robots or drones will do nearly all work currently done by human beings. Human beings will handle some work tasks that automatons consider too boring or dangerous. This shift will be fraught with controversy.
    • Humans will argue that automatons are heartless and soulless, and therefore inferior.
    • Automatons will point out that they don’t require compensation or benefits, breaks, food, vacation time, sick days or positive feedback, and that they work faster and less expensively without complaining or making mistakes. And with the right algorithms, they can fake empathy.
  • Manufacturing Technology. 3-D printers will eventually produce nearly everything, from engines to food to human body parts. Older employees will be able to print younger versions of themselves and have their brains transplanted to their reprinted bodies. Health insurance will not cover these procedures.
  • Industrial Technology. Advances in automation and software will revolutionize every industry. For instance:
    • Trucking companies will switch to driverless trucks. Truckers will be allowed to ride along, having complete control of the horn.
    • Most packages will be delivered via drones. Human employees will be used to crush and mutilate packages before shipping.
  • Communications Technology. Email will be replaced with Tmail, a system by which messages are sent telepathically into employees’ minds via tiny implanted devices. To reduce confusion with employees’ own thoughts, T-messages will be preceded by a voice announcing, “I’ve got mail!”
  • Office Technology. The typical office of the future will have only one machine, which will be a combination PC-speakerphone/vacuum cleaner/printer/scanner/fax/floor polisher/power stapler/beverage dispenser. This machine will frequently jam and run out of magenta ink. No one will know how to fix it or whom to call.
  • The Virtual Office. Many offices and factories will be completely virtual. Virtual employees will sit at virtual workstations, work in virtual teams, report to virtual managers and get virtually nothing done. Virtual managers above a certain pay grade will have virtual windows.
  • Computing Technology. The cloud will soon reach its storage capacity. From that point on, employees will store their data somewhere over the rainbow. Video goggles will replace desktop and laptop computer screens. Healthcare costs will escalate as goggled employees obliviously walk into traffic, fall down stairs and crash into furniture.
  • Commuting Technology. Inspired by George Jetson, many employees will commute to their workplaces in flying cars that transform into briefcases. GM’s flying cars will be recalled after several transform prematurely during flight.
  • The Paperless Office. By the mid 2040s, companies will realize that they have stocked millions of file cabinets containing unidentifiable documents and obsolete office supplies. To comply with auditing and risk management policies, all file cabinets will be permanently warehoused.

The Future of Learning and Development

  • Preparation for the Working World. Trivial elementary school courses such as social studies, history, art and literature will be replaced with practical content on designing e-commerce apps, managing technology start-ups, seeking venture capital and launching successful IPOs.
  • Virtual Reality Training. All employee training will be delivered via fully integrated virtual-reality helmets that will simulate the real work environment. For example, in a realistic job preview, trainees’ virtual avatars will lose all of their self-esteem by being ignored, criticized, overlooked, disregarded, misunderstood, unappreciated, excluded, undercompensated and unrecognized.

The Future of Performance Management

  • Performance Reviews. Because of its inherent inaccuracies and biases, the dreaded annual performance review process will fall by the wayside. Instead, 360-degree feedback processes will be expanded to include feedback from employees’ relatives. Subsequently, employees will petition for the return of annual performance reviews.

The Future of Rewards

  • Most future companies will pay their employees with Bit-coin, a virtual currency. Most employees will find Bit-coins virtually impossible to understand, cash or spend, even though they will be accepted at virtually all new-age coffee shops. As a result, workers will collaborate to create a bartering economy in which, for example, groceries are traded for sheep.
  • The gap between top executive pay and average employee pay will continue to escalate from the current “You can’t be serious” to “You’re f****** kidding me.”
  • In a cost-saving measure, most companies will eliminate nearly all existing employee benefits. From that point on, benefits will refer to carpeting, windows, air conditioning and chairs.

The Future of Innovation

  • The Quality Movement will devolve into a mediocrity movement when it is discovered that mediocrity can be delivered consistently at lower expense. Companies that previously had mottos like “Quality is Job 1” will switch to slogans like “Feh, that’ll do.”
  • Change Management. Companies will stop the expense associated with continual change and institute change-avoidance initiatives. Employees will receive incentives for not trying anything new or different.

The Future of Employee Engagement

  • Employee engagement surveys, which will automatically import each worker’s employee ID, race, gender, age, level, job code, manager name, work location and tenure, will remain “anonymous.”
  • Employee engagement survey reporting will become continually faster. This will make it possible for managers to ignore employee feedback more frequently, and in real time.
  • Through Six Sigma improvement efforts, many companies will successfully reduce the time it takes for post-survey action plans to be ignored, forgotten and abandoned.

The Future Work Environment

  • Flexible Work Arrangements. The work from home (WFH) movement will evolve into a work from bed (WFB) movement, as WFH employees continue to try to further reduce their commuting time. Sleepworking will be a constant challenge for management, as will safety procedures for certain jobs, such as those that involve welding.
  • Workplace Design. To optimize workspace and reduce cost, most work cubicles will be double-deckered and sized based on each worker’s height and girth. Floors will be covered with torn newspaper and partitions replaced with chicken wire. Each cubicle will include a water tube and, in larger cubicles, a running wheel.

CONCLUSION

By the year 2050, the vision of the people-less office will become a reality, as automatons make all human employees redundant. Most former workers and their families will move to Western states, where they will live in log cabins, tents, abandoned vehicles, trailers and caves. They will live off the electrical grid, subsist on fishing and farming and have perfect work/life balance. They will practice the art of storytelling, spend endless time with their families and discover true happiness.