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Using Catastrophes to Rethink Claims (Part 2)

Digital technologies have the power to re-design insurance. A host of benefits lie within the front-end customer experience, but insurers stand to gain just as much from the digitalization of the back-end operations, including the claims process.

  • According to the Insurance Information Institute, 64% of insurance premiums (nearly 2/3 of every dollar) are used to pay claims and adjustment expenses.
  • Digital answers to loss reduction and loss prevention stand to yield the greatest profit for insurers.

This is critically important in an era where catastrophic claims seem to be more important and subsequently have the potential to do significant damage to an insurer’s bottom line.

In our last blog, we looked at the impact of digital technologies on the claims value chain. The hurricanes, hail storms, tornadoes and fires of 2017 have given all insurers a wake-up call to claims preparedness. We listed out many of the ways that technology has the potential to improve catastrophe management and claims experience.

In this blog, we’ll look more closely at operations. How can operations look at catastrophic events differently? How can it prepare for both internal and external impact? Can our redesigned claims experience create real value?

A holistic approach to catastrophic claims

From Aug. 12-23, Hurricane Harvey was tracked and classified between a tropical storm and a tropical wave. It suddenly started gaining strength as a tropical storm on Aug. 24. Overnight, it rapidly became a Category 4 hurricane, making landfall at Rockport, TX, on the 25th.

In the days prior, NASA and many U.S. insurers shared a concern. What would happen to the city of Houston? Hurricane Harvey was not only going to do catastrophic damage, displace thousands of people and potentially disrupt many businesses, it was going to hit the Johnson Space Center, home to the operations for the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS receives as many as 50,000 different commands from Houston in any one month, making corrective maneuvers and steering the station away from harmful debris. Systems could not go down without safety concerns for the ISS.

See also: Using Catastrophes to Rethink Claims  

NASA is adept at preparing for anything. When they aren’t launching rockets, monitoring rovers and steering the space station, they are running through scenarios to improve their ability to handle any situation. In this case, they did have a plan. They remained vigilant, and they rode out the storm.

Insurers now have NASA-like capabilities to use data and digital technologies to their advantage. They, too, can look at the entire sphere of a catastrophic event and find ways to protect themselves and their insureds while optimizing every asset.

Pre-Crisis Efforts

Insurers are known for standing by their clients in the aftermath, but what about standing by their clients before crisis hits?

Last month, in one of the biggest evacuations ever ordered in the U.S., roughly 6.3 million people in Florida — more than one-quarter of the state’s population — were told to clear out from areas threatened by Hurricane Irma. Another 540,000 were directed to move away from the Georgia coast.

Insurers can wait for the government to issue general warnings, but they can take control of communications with their customers by adding digital capabilities. Insurers are armed with ever-improving risk models. They have unprecedented access to customer-specific, property-specific and economic-related data as well as other types of valuable data, including climate and location data, traffic data and telematics data. Insurers are increasingly pulling this big data together for real-time analysis, cognitive learning, insight and decision-making … including to minimize or eliminate claims.

Insurers are also in a better position to help properly categorize storms and crises, leveraging digital technologies such as analytics and artificial intelligence. Using this data, insurers can personalize communications through digital channels that can reach the people that are in the risk zones with highly specific loss and risk prevention measures. Texts, e-mails, automated phone calls with clear directives can greatly help customers who are often panicking, lack detailed information or can be indecisive. This is the trending wave of insurance transformation at its best. Preventive communications can be targeted individually, giving insureds all of the vital information they need to protect themselves and their property, an area of increasing interest and expectation by customers we identified in The Rise of the New Insurance Customer and The Rise of the New Small Medium Business Customer research.

In Majesco’s recent white paper, Changing Insurance for the Digital Age, we discuss how the future is not only becoming more foreseeable, but it is also becoming more volatile. The result is that insurers will be shifting from risk coverage to risk prevention. The most sought-after portion of the claims value chain may be the network of data and technologies that prevent or reduce claims. These prevention services will soon be new sources of revenue.

 During the Catastrophe

During the 2016 Ft. McMurray wildfires in Alberta, Canada, an estimated 88,000 people were displaced from their homes. Most had no idea where to go, and many refugees found themselves without adequate short-term housing. The digitally enabled insurer can help direct insureds to likely locations of refuge and even offer housing discounts or pre-paid lodging to those who are displaced. This kind of communication and service will build strong loyalty among insureds, while providing marketing with a host of compelling stories with happy endings.

What happens, however, when the insurance organization itself is in the same line of storms, fires or earthquakes?

NASA, during Hurricane Harvey, had contingency plans in place. Should ground teams need to be evacuated, they would be moved temporarily to Round Rock, TX, then for a longer term to the space center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Many insurers had their claims adjuster crews prepared, and drone capabilities in place, but were less prepared if their systems and operations were affected, primarily due to their large on-premise operations.  While many insurers have disaster recovery plans, they must ask themselves if their operations can scale rapidly to handle the onslaught of calls, claims and needs. How will operations be managed remotely if staff are unable to get access? Which customer service centers may need to be relocated, and how will they handle the potential of consecutive catastrophic events … like what we saw in Houston and then Florida?

See also: Catastrophes and ‘Do Little’ Syndrome  

Cloud business platforms are perfect for handling claims operational requirements. They are always on, most often are located off-site, are easily scalable and often are managed by someone outside the organization … providing access to critical resources. While systems are attempting to handle hundreds of adjusters at once, customer service may also be handling thousands of customer inquiries. Insurers need the capacity and stability that a cloud platform can supply. Cloud platforms are the perfect foundation for constructing a catastrophe-proof claims value chain.

Post-Crisis Restoration

In addition, the right cloud platforms can handle the plug-and-play technologies that are increasingly used by claims departments for post-claim services. They can handle images and video from drones, photos from mobile phones and tablets, simulation data, cognitive computing decisions (with speed) and a high volume of communications — automated, human and chatbot.

These same technologies will aid in adjuster mobilization, prioritization and routing. In the next blog in this series, we will look specifically at how digital technologies will help claims to build relationships with customers. Where are the effective touchpoints in the claims process? How can an insurer “take control” in the relationship and gently guide policyholders into best practices and safer circumstances? What can insurers do to stand by their policyholders during the restoration or rebuilding process? At the same time, we will look at how insurers in the future will use data and AI to spot fraud and cut costs.

For a deeper look into the data strategies and predictive analytics that are having an impact on the complete insurance value chain, be sure to read Majesco’s report, Winning in a New Age of Insurance: Insurance Moneyball.

The Right Way to Think About Bundling

Insurers are shooting themselves in the foot – and sparking a race to the bottom when it comes to price. How? By thinking they can earn customer loyalty and sell existing customers new types of insurance by offering discounted bundles of products, such as a package containing home, auto and personal umbrella insurance.

Instead, this bundling is encouraging consumers to buy insurance based on price – rather than on what should be the real goal: shielding a home or other valuable asset from loss. The upshot: Consumers are focusing on the minimum amount of insurance they may be required to hold, say, to secure a mortgage or own a car. It’s a situation that ultimately doesn’t benefit the consumer – or the insurer’s bottom line.

Insurers can change this so that bundling is a win both for themselves and for their customers. To begin, insurers must help guide consumers to think more about protecting themselves and their assets. Companies could then recalibrate their own business model and focus more on providing advice to customers on what insurance meets their actual needs.

Some companies – including Allstate and Progressive – are taking steps in the right direction. But they’re doing so for narrower tactical reasons. Instead, they must act strategically and become genuine partners that provide customers with the coverage they truly need to safeguard their financial security. Such an approach would set these companies apart from rivals – and arrest the downward price spiral that has turned their bundled offerings into a commoditized product.

Insurers don’t need to discard the concept of bundling to achieve this. The thinking that goes into unbundling can actually help, because it forces companies to break products down to the granular level. Those pieces can then be reassembled into packages customized to the needs of each customer.

Does discounting reflect the true value of product bundling?

Currently, insurers offer a bundling discount, also known as a cross-product discount, and position the value to the customer as “saving money.” The approach may look like a no-brainer, thanks to the marked success of the current model of selling two products together as a bundle, with the “discount” as the differentiator. Consider the following:

–          Insurers selling two products together have long seen customer retention improve. Customer retention rates are higher among renters who bundle an auto policy: 91% among those who bundle vs. 67% among those who do not, according to J.D. Power.

–          The perceived value of a bundle is reflected in the fact that a greater proportion of customers buy multiple products from the same insurer. According to J.D. Power, 77% of customers bundle auto policies with additional policies, and 58% bundle their auto and home insurance policies with their existing insurers.

But when we analyze the factors that go into premium calculation, real savings for insurers depend on many factors that vary greatly between insurers, states, individual customers’ own situations, etc.  Those factors can produce inconsistent savings calculations for bundles, varying from 5% to 20%.  Consequently, customers need to shop around thoroughly, comparing prices (both for the individual product and the bundle) and choosing the right combination from the right insurer. The various factors can work together so differently that a customer may sometimes save by buying products from two different insurers – rather than a bundle from one.

For insurers, the incremental value in all this translates into higher customer retention. There is no real incremental value realized from the product itself, which is core risk management.

How is the industry responding?

Insurers have been responding to the emerging need to serve as risk managers for their customers. And they’ve been fine tuning their bundling strategy accordingly. Some insurers, for example, have crafted their bundling strategy to make it easier for customers to manage their risk profile through a single insurer; this also consolidates billing and payment. While this is rudimentary, it still provides an easier way to serve the customer – and to increase loyalty.

The following insurers approach bundling by advising customers as well as crafting suitable packages that allow their customers to manage risk:

–          Allstate provides an “all-in-one” product through its Encompass unit, which covers homes, cars and home-based business. It’s aimed at wealthier customers. For more mass-market customers, Allstate provides “Bumper to Bumper Basics,” based on states’ minimum requirements for auto insurance.

–          GEICO offers an advisory tool allowing customers to build a customized policy based on their individual circumstances.

–          Progressive provides a “Name Your Price” feature for its auto coverage, under which the customer states her budget, and Progressive sorts the options based on cost. The plan closest to the customer’s budget is shown first. Progressive states on its website: “Once you fine tune your price, we highlight any areas where you might have too little or too much coverage, so you can get your entire package just right.” The insurer also gives customers the option of bundling both auto and property insurance.

–          MetLife Auto & Home’s “GrandProtect” program allows consumers who purchase multiple policies – such as home and auto – to pay one deductible in the event that several of their insured assets are damaged by one event, such as a storm or hurricane.

These examples underscore that while insurers are shifting toward an advisory-led coverage bundling within a product, they’re still beginning from a tactical standpoint. This narrower approach remains limited to customizing coverage within a product and tactically bundling other products with it. Though insurers have been slow to adopt product bundling on a more strategic basis – i.e., being an end-to-end risk portfolio manager – they are actively pursuing the goal of leveraging cutting-edge technical capabilities.

So, where does the potential value reside?

The real value of bundling – for both customers and insurers – lies in the individual insurance products.  Every form of coverage within the bundle covers a specific risk, and so is a “mini product” on its own.

However, insurance products have become commoditized as products have become more unified so they can be sold easily to customers over the Internet. There, many customers simply select the desired coverage amount and deductible. “Save Money” and “Discount” marketing diverts customers toward an affordable premium and, often, the wrong coverage – people opt only for those policies mandated by law (like automobile liability insurance) or, in the case of a home mortgage, a lender. The deductibles chosen often are high, which can prove disastrous for a customer if calamity strikes.

Insurers can deliver real value for themselves and their customers by:

  • Gathering customers’ relevant information
  • Assessing their risk
  • Building the right coverage mix to mesh with customers’ needs
  • Suggesting customized products based on a customer’s risk profile

How might this work? Say a customer’s car is more than two years old. The insurer could recommend the customer get an extended warranty as well as a roadside assistance plan. The insurer, in short, could deliver real value by acting as the customer’s risk manager. This approach also would help the insurer to select the right customers for the right risk portfolio – and to weigh the moral hazards when a customer opts for a different package or coverage combination.

Once the individual insurance products are de-commoditized and customized to fit the customer’s risk profile, this advice-based approach can be extended to multi-line product bundling. Customers will move from a mindset of, “I’m required to have homeowners insurance to get a mortgage,” to a mindset more in line with, “I need to cover my risks and ensure a financially secure future.”

Customer retention and satisfaction will go up – along with the insurer’s revenue.

How to unlock the true potential of product bundling?

The goal of achieving strategic bundling hinges on insurers’ building their advisory capabilities and customizing coverage and products based on a customer’s risk portfolio. The core building blocks of coverage and pricing will not change – but the superstructure could be anything from a chapel to a cathedral, based on a customer’s risk profile.

Cutting-edge technical capabilities such as mobile communications, sophisticated analytical tools and so-called “big data” are among the options insurers can tap to build their customization and advisory capabilities. Extensive use of external data (e.g., credit scores and medical data) as well as internal data (e.g., loan delinquency rates) along with analytics will help insurers predict a customer’s risk portfolio with fair accuracy.  Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are other evolving (though not always reliable) generators of external data that insurers can use to gather customer profile, risk and behavior data.

Strategic bundling from a risk portfolio management perspective also requires customers to share personal information outright. Customers, especially millennials, seem willing to their share personal information in return for personal advice. This offers the potential for insurers to accelerate strategic product bundling.

Insurers can thus capitalize on customers’ need for advice-based risk portfolio management leveraging leading-edge technology to deliver what customers want. Insurers that show agility and speed in building these capabilities can succeed in achieving strategic bundling – and attain the coveted status of a preferred risk portfolio manager.

‘Interactive Finance’: Meshing with Google

The insurance industry is poised to enhance its power, burnish its prestige and increase its income in the 21st century by developing interactive finance to mesh with Internet enterprises. By interactive finance, I mean rewarding institutions and individuals with financial or strategic advantage for revealing information that details risk.

Insurance industry success requires recognizing information as this century’s distinct commodity, analogous to steam in the 19th and oil in the 20th. Information also needs to be seen as an indispensable element in fresh, emerging digital currencies.

Information technologies are adequately mature, and mobile and broadband communications networks sufficiently widespread, that digital currencies like Bitcoin are beginning to emerge. Cognitive computing, big data, parallelization, search, capture, curation, storage, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualization are commonplace; three-quarters of American households enjoy broadband access; and nine in 10 Americans carry mobile telephones. User-generated information now is everywhere.

Insurance industry leaders would be wise to cultivate interactive finance. It could be used to manage institutional investments with less risk and more liquidity. Interactive finance could also be used with retail consumers to create experiences, incentives and products to help manage what promises to be massive, new wealth.

A key part of interactive finance — navigating crowds and matching parties — is up and running. For instance, with Airbnb and accommodation or Uber and ride sharing, individuals reveal information voluntarily to enable counter party matching. Both are emerging as phenomenally successful simply by using information in new ways to create efficient markets.

The glimmerings of these potential gold mines are now eliciting insightful commentaries about how insurers might aggregate and parse information gathered through “crowd-sourcing.” Sharing portions of the reward with institutions and individuals through protected communications channels — also known as interactive finance — will provide the broad avenues and fastest expressways to 21st century wealth among insurers.

In two, insightful articles published here on ITL, Denise Garth discerns the key value of information. “Consider the explosion of new data that will be available and valuable in understanding the customers better so as to personalize their experience, provide insights, uncover new needs and identify new products and services that they may be unaware of,” she observes of the strategic alliance betweenFacebook and AXA. “For insurers, the coming years promise unparalleled opportunity to increase their value to their customers. Those that are best able to capitalize on the key technology influencers will reap the most in rewards,” Garth notes in an earlier article on Google.

Indeed, Facebook is poised to offer a money-transfer service in Europe. Pending regulatory approval in Ireland, Facebook would be permitted to employ user deposits in fiat currencies to become a payment services powerhouse with what seems tantalizingly close to a virtual currency. “Authorization from the central bank to become an ‘e-money’ institution would allow Facebook to issue units of stored monetary value that represent a claim against the company,” the Irish Times reported.

The company will use its acquisition of WhatsApp for access and traffic and will build on its 30% participation in revenue with Candy Crush Saga and Farmville games. Facebook will also take advantage of “‘passporting,’ which allows digital payments to be used across EU member states without having to gain regulatory approval from each one,” according to a news report.

Should Facebook succeed, AXA’s partnership with Facebook would put it well ahead of its competition in employing mobile markets to acquire and retain clients.

In an article on ITL on how Amazon could get into insurance, Sathyanarayanan Sethuraman enumerates “the convenience of on-demand buying. . . personalization of product and service delivery.” Crucially, he notes the importance of “building trust through transparency in pricing,” which provides impelling “reasons for insurers and Amazon to create a distribution model to match ever-evolving customer demands.”

Brian Cohen indicates in a thoughtful commentary on ITL that companies can collect customer feedback that is volunteered on social media and can also use new channels to provide new types of information. For instance, he says that, when inclement weather approaches, agents can caution readers to secure objects that may cause damage to their property, as a means toward generating webpage traffic and strengthening client relationships.

Joseph Sebbag cautions that technological mismatches can threaten insurance industry value. “Insurers’ numerous intricate reinsurance contracts and special pool arrangements, countless policies and arrays of transactions create a massive risk of having unintended exposure,” he notes in an intriguing essay evaluating information technology and reinsurance.

Focusing on a company with which I am very familiar, former Comptroller General David Walker says Marketcore has transformative IP in interactive finance that could provide pathways to phenomenal growth for the insurance industry and, in general, finance. The mechanism is incentives for “truth, transparency and transformation” that will make risk vehicles and markets perform more efficiently and reliably. (Walker is honorary chairman of Marketcore; I am an adviser.)

Marketcore generates liquidity by rewarding individuals and institutions for sharing information, such as the history of individual loans being bundled into residential mortgage-backed securities. The reward could be a financial advantage, say a discount on the next interval of a policy for individuals purchasing retail products. The reward could also be a strategic advantage, say foreknowledge of risk exposure for institutions dealing in structured risks like residential mortgage-backed securities or bonds, contracts, insurance policies, lines of credit, loans or securities.

Through interactive finance, Marketcore creates efficient markets for insurers and reinsurers. All do well as each does good. Risk determination permits insureds, brokers and carriers to update risks through “a transparency index. . . based. . . on the quality and quantity of the risk data records.” Component analysis of pooled securities facilitates drilling down in structured risk vehicles so insurers and reinsurers can address complex reinsurance contracts and special pool arrangements with foreknowledge of risk. Real time revaluation of contracts clarifies “the risk factors and valuation of [an] instrument” and, in so doing, “increases liquidity and tracks risks’ associated values even as derivative instruments are created.”

These interactive finance capabilities are at tipping points for insurers and reinsurers, as outlined so thoughtfully by Garth, Sethuraman and Cohen.

As those thought leaders say, large Internet enterprises like Google, Amazon and Facebook are striving for market reach and domination. Because of distributed wire line and wireless networks and the Internet, experts project that global trade will grow to $45 trillion from $6.5 trillion in less than 10 years. Global mobile transactions are projected to show more than 33% average annual growth, with 450 million users in a $720 billion market by 2017.

Only if Amazon, Facebook and Google offer new services can they exert market power in global electronic commerce analogous to late 19th century railroads, energy and steel industries. Each of them needs services like insurance no less than railroads required passengers and freight; than coal and oil required factories, homes, offices and motor vehicles; than steel required cities, railroads, trollies and cars. These Internet enterprises must have insurance, among other services associated with their brands, to remain dominant. All seek to create voluntary, de facto, walled gardens for their brands, and what better way to do so than to get users to rely on their brands to manage risks and pay bills?

None of these Internet search-and-connect giants can recoup its investments in mobile applications, drones and data centers unless it has voluminous, recurrent transactions and traffic engaging its mobile capabilities. For instance, Derek Thompson reports that the iPhone drives 60% of Apple revenue and that mobile advertising accounts for 60% of Facebook advertising revenue. John Greathousespells out the implications for advertising in a thoughtful essay on conversion rates and mobile formats. A service like insurance brings in users and encourages stickiness. In this way, insurance is the correlative to apps, drones and data centers. All these Internet giants are less without it.

Similarly, consumers and institutions are keen to participate in the value that they create with their participation in information technology and communications networks. Citizens and consumers, while resenting unremitting spying, shrug off the constant sale of metrics about their data to advertisers as inescapable and would love to turn tables on all these massive, intrusive public- and private-sector forces. People would willingly patronize a firm rewarding them for revealing risk information that they are comfortable sharing.

By rewarding institutions and individuals with financial or strategic advantage for voluntarily revealing risk-detailing information, interactive finance expressly rewards users for what they forego voluntarily with daily Internet use.

At this stage, the Internet firms have first-mover advantage when it comes to gathering and using people’s information. When I recently watched streaming video of Masterpiece Theatre’s “Mr. Selfridge,” there was the anomalous propinquity of an advertisement for an Internet tire seller in the bottom right portion of my display – within a day or so of my searching Google for motor vehicle tires. Clearly, Google, Internet ad placers and, in my case, the tire vendor are selling and purchasing access to user experiences. The sole party excluded from the value chain is the person who creates value in the information.

Earlier loyalty programs prefigure some of the notions of interactive finance. In mid-20th century America, supermarkets, gasoline stations and retailers often rewarded customer loyalty with S&H Green Stamps. Airlines, grocery chains and hotels employ loyalty programs and provide reward cards to provide incentives for recurrent patronage. In keeping with the times, Bellycard supports customer retention with a scannable card and mobile application. Each time I buy Italian bread and scan the card at the local bakery, I earn points toward a pastry.

What of insurance brokers, who reward consumers with incentives on forthcoming purchases for revealing risk information that they are comfortable sharing? Or insurer carriers, which protect asset values and boost shareholder confidence through enhanced capacities for risk detection and real-time valuation of risk exposures?

From here on out, the emphasis needs to be on rewarding customers and institutions by enabling them to create wealth with the information they are willing to reveal and by commanding information as a commodity and as the cornerstone component of emerging digital currencies. Insurers that can tap Internet industry demands for users, provide rewards for information and equip themselves to manage their risks more effectively can position themselves to dominate their sector well into the second quarter of the 21st century.

“Insurance is above all a relationship,” remarks Elise Manzi, account manager with Biddle & Company Insurance Brokers, based in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. “We’re devoted to continuing to provide our clients with the exceptional services they have come to expect of us through these new communications capabilities. Interactive finance sounds like a great relationship builder.”

Ernest Tedesco, head of Philadelphia-based Webesco, says, “For brokers, web services support client retention and communication. For large retail carriers like Progressive and Geico, web services enable them to reach consumers directly with service and product offerings. Anything kludgy on one of these sites will send customers scurrying to competitors.” He adds that if Google and other Internet giants get into the retail insurance space, current industry leaders need to be ready to respond aggressively with technology or will be disintermediated. “Back-office executives managing trillions in risk will find themselves at competitive disadvantage without real-time and near-real-time risk detection, which web services visualize.”

By meshing with Internet industry firms on interactive finance terms, the insurance industry will have all the strength of the Internet yet sustain more discretion to manage institutional and customer experiences on terms much more favorable than those that musicians and publishers experience with Apple.

As Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McAfee point out in The Second Machine Age, digitization both spawns vast new bounty and stimulates an increasingly drastic spread between the small fraction of winners and everyone else.

How better to build crowds and grow volumes than to provide incentives to customers by rewarding them for sharing information they are willing to reveal and to serve institutional clients with foreknowledge of oncoming risks to sustain competitive advantage and protect liquidity.

It is as straightforward as that.

For my part, I am optimistic about Marketcore because its IP enables insurance industry adopters to organize, channel and reward rich, diverse crowds of capital accumulation through interactive finance. Large, incumbent Internet firms like Amazon, Facebook and Google may still prosper from first-mover advantages based, in part, on recognition that information is the distinct commodity of the 21stcentury. But each and all now must offer more to maximize return on investments in capital-intensive operations. And that’s where any insurers, deploying Marketcore IP as sword and shield, stand most to gain for themselves and the people and institutions whose trust they hold.

 

Dare to Be Different: New Ways to Communicate With Customers

Two insurance industry surveys for 2014, released by J.D. Powers (Auto Purchase and Property Claims), conclude that timely and relevant communication is the dominant factor in customer satisfaction. The studies show the intrinsic value of communication in building trust with customers, resulting in retention and in growth.Roughly 45% of insurers cited customer-experience levers as top business goals in research on customer communication released by Forrester in November 2012. So we would expect insurers to tap into the opportunity to engage customers in ways that drive renewals, deepening relationships and brand affinity. Obvious, right?The reality is a far cry from this.Instead, insurers have been focusing on the very obvious savings from the reduced need to print and mail the communication documents, by pushing the customers to digital channels.Here comes the second paradox.You would hope that customers are now far more engaged through the digital platform. But a survey conducted by Nationwide Insurance reveals that 60% of customers have not read their policy in full in a year, and only one in five customers believed that they completely understood their policy. The top two reasons cited are that documents are too long and too complicated.

The Consumer Bill of Rights in Texas is nine pages long — even those who receive it won’t read the full document. For most, buying insurance is like buying a car without knowing if it will accommodate your two wonderful kids, wife, the bags from your normal shopping trips and a stroller.

Nearly 85% of communications with a customer after a sale are in categories covered by regulation: contracts, endorsements, notices, amendments, bills and statements, notifications, follow up notices, reminders, etc. According to the Forrester study, two out of three insurers are worried about avoiding noncompliance rather than focusing on communications that can deliver far more measurable returns from better customer engagement.

Meanwhile, more than half of customers who file a claim don’t understand how to do so and can have a bad and emotional experience, while those who don’t file a claim are never given a way to visualize the protection they enjoy.

Are insurers too focused on regulatory issues and not engaged enough with the customers whose hard-earned money they hope to keep receiving? Can insurers build trust with customers and sell more and faster?

Our research suggests that some insurers have taken the lead and have implemented communication capabilities that are delivering benefits in silos. But the industry as a whole has not yet unlocked the value of service communication to generate lower-cost relationships and build trust faster, replacing expensive strategies led by marketing. We believe the starting point is to have a good understanding of contact strategy and its nuances, mapped to what customer value at different stages.

Here is what insurers can do to go from Regulation to ROI.

  • Produce a blueprint of customer communication touch-points across the product lifecycle. The important factors are: business process, event, frequency, emotion, customer segment, channel and interaction sequence. It’s crucial to define the right performance indicators and establish a tracking mechanism. The blueprint will unlock the value of relationship through continuous engagement. Today, communications operations mainly take a “stay out of jail” approach.
  • Make communication proactive, not reactive. Several surveys show that timely communication can limit escalation to 6% of customer issues, whereas delays and unclear communications increase complains by as much as a factor of three. Billing presents the best opportunity to engage customers, through snippets of communication before and after the billing transaction. The same approach can be used to prepare customers for changes in premiums, rather than going through several painful calls around renewals that erode trust. For example, Allstate communicates “reason for premium change,” which reduced the call volume and cost of contact drastically.
  • Make a meaningful channel shift — Of the increasing number of customers who own a smartphone, 90% want the option of buying and obtaining service through mobile apps. The importance of mobile is demonstrated by the fact that 95% of text messages are opened within seven minutes of being received; insurers should look into using push notification through this low-cost channel. To avoid customer pushback about SMS cost, insurers should look for free-to-end-user (FTEU) SMS, which is cheaper than print-and-mail. An integrated communication center should be developed that spans across digital channels and other communication options, including paper. Investigate the possibilities of social media. Include capabilities for e-signatures.
  • Provide a digital policy with intuitive drilldown into all features. Mobile policy download, catastrophe alerts, billing alerts, claims alerts, mobile ID cards and a digital locker all drive up channel adoption and communication effectiveness, and there is opportunity to go much further in treating a policy as a mobile app.
  • Produce creative content. AT&T’s smart video bill directly addresses the population that wants information on-the-go. Smart video is customized for individual customers and helps in visualization of benefits. Allstate’s “Mayhem” advertisement provides this sort of visualization, albeit from a marketing perspective. The same investment can easily be used to address the accessibility requirements for ADA (Americans with Disability Act). GEICO’s coverage coach is an animated tool used for educating the customers as to what coverage can be right for them. Imagine if this visual approach was applied to claims, at the filing stage; it would help customers understand their coverage and reduce complaints. Progressive, GEICO and USAA send periodic news through print and emails that are relevant to the season; for example, something explaining ways to protect a boat or motorcycle during winter. This communication improves customer engagement across the life cycle.
  • Leverage emerging approaches, such as in-car-entertainment, wearable media and the “connected home.” Gamification — using techniques like those for Angry Birds, rather than like a traditional insurance policy — is another emerging approach that can be used. The customer can also be provided virtual assistance to simulate an accident scene, which will help with an assessment while greatly reducing fraud. Gamification should be used to provide customers a visualization of the claims process and the roles they play, which will improve the experience and increase retention.
  • Understand the customers better – Most insurers deliver marketing messages often but do not see a corresponding lift in their results. This is simply because they aren’t taking advantage of today’s data and analytic technology to understand customers as well as they could and to deliver more-individualized, relevant messages. Effective use of all available information about the customer is the cornerstone of this approach. Retailers tend to lead the pack here; insurers can learn from them. Try to sell when the customer is happy; if he is not happy, then create happiness in him and sell. This approach has delivered proven results.

With evolving customer needs and emerging channel and content technologies, insurers have a great opportunity to improve their communication to build trust with their customers, deliver much better returns on their sales efforts and contain most preventable costs, while providing an experience that customers value. Are you up for the challenge?

Can Amazon Dominate in Insurance, Too?

In January 2013, LIMRA reported that 90% of industry executives it had surveyed believe that insurance companies will continue to form strategic alliances with “non-traditional organizations” to expand distribution. The example cited was MetLife’s trial alliance with 200 Wal-Mart stores. Then Accenture’s “Customer-Driven Innovation Survey” found that more than two-thirds of customers would consider purchasing home, auto and life insurance from businesses other than insurers—23% were open to purchasing from online service providers like Amazon or Google (which acquired auto insurance aggregator BeatThatQuote.com way back in 2011 in the UK).Amazon has proven leadership as an e-commerce distributor, while Google is seen primarily as an information organization, so I would like to elaborate exclusively on the compelling reasons for insurers and Amazon to create a distribution model to match ever-evolving customer demands.

Customer demands

Every information source and every analyst report on insurance in the recent past points to changes in customer’s preferences. Generation X, Generation Y and Millennials prefer doing business with companies that provide:

  • Convenience of on-demand buying and self-service, predominantly through digital channels such as web and mobile.
  • Personalization of product and service delivery, including helping the customer choose the right product.
  • Building trust through transparency in pricing, simplified products and clear articulation of benefits.

So, insurers must innovate in personalizing products, providing transparency in the value of products and services and demonstrating excellence in on-demand distribution. Innovation must also touch “moments of truth” such as claims and policy changes. It is also critical that the distribution lifecycle should be an iterative process to consistently review the value of benefits and help customers fine tune the products and services they purchase.

Insurers are lagging

Insurers have been consistently lagging in product innovation and trying to catch up through distribution. In P&C, all the personal product lines are commoditized. In life insurance, term-based products are commoditized. It is true some product personalization has been in the market for some time, such as pay-as-you-driving with telematics in auto insurance (led by Progressive, which saw a boost in profitability). Yet personalization has not reached its potential because of multiple inhibiting factors both internal (lack of aggregated information on risk, etc.) and external (privacy concern, etc.). The lack of product innovation shifts the responsibility of differentiation to distribution.

Manufacturing and retail have been pioneers in showing how boring commodity products can be differentiated through aspects of distribution such as packaging and channel selection.  A recent example is Coca Cola, which has been managing differentiation based on targeted customer segment and channel (Wal-Mart vs. Walgreens vs. Costco, etc.) and has moved one step closer to the customer by signing a 10-year agreement with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters to bring vending machines into kitchens.

In the past, insurance has learned from retail about channels. GEICO, which was known for selling online, has set up brick-and-mortar agency centers by responding to the fact that customers want to shop online but buy from agents. Allstate, where agents lead distribution, not only built online sales support but went one step further, acquiring Esurance to become a multi-channel insurer.

Now, with retail defining and moving toward omni-channel selling, through what is known as “device-independent e-commerce,” it is time for insurers to piggyback on Amazon, which is on the leading-edge of the emerging distribution model.

Amazon ready to sell insurance

Currently, Amazon merely sells books on insurance, has a limited selection of extended warranties for electronics and provides sponsored links for insurers. But to start selling insurance much more seriously would be easy for Amazon. It could expand its extended warranties and offer valuable personal property (VPP) insurance, as it sells the products that are insurable under VPP. It would also be logical for Amazon to extend and be an aggregator for auto, renters, homeowners and life insurance.

The critical question is: “Will customers want to buy from Amazon when there are other aggregators available?” For customers, having reusable information reduces effort, so VPP insurance would be a natural for Amazon. It gets more complex (and interesting) when analyzing the success factors involved in selling complex products such as auto, renters, homeowners and life insurance.

Few insurers can share data and process across products. Still fewer can share across channels. Aggregators are set up as silos. But Amazon’s shopping cart can provide ease of buying, plus reusability of data across channels (web and mobile) and products. The shopping cart actually can resolve the commodity dilemma of insurers through bundling. It can take the customers’ experience to the next level.

Amazon’s analytics-driven capabilities, such as detailed product features and comparisons (price to value of benefits), product reviews, questions and answers, “customers who bought this also bought,” “customers who viewed this also viewed” and offers for the week can be customized for insurance to offer suitable product advice to customers. Insurers do not have such an integrated view because of internal challenges in the effective use of data.

Amazon’s comparisons on features and pricing could improve transparency for customers. The reviews, Q&A and “similar customers” features would provide advice. “Weekly offers” would help customers continually review and tweak their insurance coverage. Hence, Amazon could become the channel of choice for all consumer insurance needs.

Sacred relationship, and not the competition, is the way to go

While Amazon could become consumers’ “trusted advisor,” Amazon also provides a jump start to insurance companies that want to build on the ready availability of its technology infrastructure, reducing their investment and time to market. Amazon might cooperate with innovative insurers to be an aggregator because that would provide immediate and direct profits from its platform.

Amazon would also generate synergies among its various product lines—for instance, when someone starts buying baby products, Amazon might offer life insurance. For existing homeowners policyholders, it could offer products, such as power generators, to help them get prepared and avoid loss during natural disasters such as hurricanes and ice storms. The customer’s engagement with Amazon would increase, leading to greater share of wallet through cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.

So, an insurer that provides coverage through Amazon would be creating a win-win-win—for Amazon, for customers and, of course, for itself.