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November 30, 2018

Using Technology to Enhance Your Agency

Summary:

While there is an almost endless selection of service offerings available to agencies, a select few – like workflow management – are crucial.

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Today’s insurance marketplace is crowded – and for good reason. Global investment in insurtech surged in 2017, with North America accounting for $1.24 billion in deals. Innovative solution providers with dollar signs in their eyes have emerged in every category of the industry, from health insurance to cybercrime. Furthermore, according to McKinsey, 61% of insurtechs surveyed said they focus on enabling the current value chain, demonstrating their desire to enhance efficiency of product delivery and streamline redundant processes. This proves that, despite the proliferation of insurtechs today, the independent insurance channel isn’t going away – it’s simply evolving.

Establishing a foundation with internal processes

With all the considerations an agency owner has to think about, it can be a daunting task to get started making changes to your current processes. To be successful, it’s imperative agencies build a strong foundation and implement the right software solutions from the beginning to set their workforce up for success.

Agencies with inadequate tools suffer from high absence rates, excessive overtime costs, low retention, poor employee satisfaction, high labor costs and more, which ultimately costs them money. When looking to evaluate whether an agency staff is set up for success, agency owners should consider the following questions – and if the answer to any is “no,” evaluate service offerings to address these fundamental needs:

  • Does your team have the tools they need to maximize profitability?
  • Do your customer service reps complain about repetitive tasks and manual data entry?
  • Do your current processes help your producers and CSRs work efficiently, or get in the way?
  • If you closed a huge deal and needed to hire 10 new producers, could your current system meet that demand?
  • Can your staff quickly and accurately respond to agent or policyholder questions?

While there is an almost endless selection of service offerings available to agencies, there are a select few – like workflow management – that are crucial to building an agency’s foundation. Because many of the agencies we work with are small businesses, they may overlook establishing procedures and processes that take into consideration the flow of information with the fewest touchpoints. Opportunity exists for agencies that implement best-practice workflows, which can cut processing time in half.

A basic example of an agency workflow can be seen through the lens of the renewal process. When an agency looks at the renewal process with a fresh set of eyes, what it typically discovers is there’s usually commonality between the way it renews a certain piece of business across different customers. The agency that thinks every renewal Is unique usually spends a lot of time on duplicate tasks that can be streamlined when it brings different parties together to discuss process improvements. While this seems like an arduous task, it’ll drive agency value in the long run.

See also: Embrace Tech Before It Replaces You  

“The most-effective brands are fixated and intentional about seemingly mundane things like internal processes,” says Kitty Ambers, CEO of NetVU. “Why? Because process ultimately impacts the customer experience. Can you imagine your favorite restaurant delivering on its menu if the staff used a unique way of prepping or cooking every order?

“But that concept is not so obvious in service industries such as insurance, where the ‘menu offerings’ can be so varied,” Ambers adds. “Agency leaders should pay close attention to internal processes so that production, service and back-office workers aren’t freelancing with individual workflows, which steals minutes and hours of time each day across the organization.”

Fortunately, there are a wide array of solutions that make it easier for agencies to manage both internal and external processes leading to increased overall efficiency.

Creating a more efficient workplace

Technology, when used correctly, can increase the efficiency of internal and external processes. From speeding up tasks through the ability to seamlessly hand off information across multiple parties that participate in a common process to reducing duplicate data entry, one of the most fundamental roles of technology is to make life easier for those who are using it – the employees in an agency.

An agency is not only looking to make employees’ lives easier – they also look to incorporate technology to streamline operations and increase efficiency. While a workforce is one of an agency’s greatest assets, it’s also one of the biggest expenses to scale. For example, a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours per week clarifying communication, resulting in an annual cost of over $500,000. That means getting the right tasks to the right employees is crucial.

Furthermore, when agency personnel don’t have to waste time logging into multiple carrier websites and entering duplicate information, agencies can instead focus time on providing the best possible customer experience – after all, insurance is an industry that thrives on relationships.

One of the most effective ways for an agency to free employees’ time is to embrace innovative technology offerings, but too often agencies are hesitant to adopt new technology or simply don’t know where to start.

With each passing day, technology is evolving to provide employees with the tools they need to do their job more efficiently, so they can focus on building and fostering customer relationships. Whether it’s streamlining carrier connections with e-docs integration, which automates the download and filing of policies and messages, or increasing accuracy and productivity by eliminating the manual processes of indexing incoming structured documents, there is most likely a service offering that will save your company time and money.

Instead of fearing technology, agencies should focus on how it can enable relationships — whether through eliminating non-value-adding tasks via automation or simplifying communication. Being able to evaluate and analyze how effective an automated workflow process is working helps to see just how efficient your servicing teams are and if there are changes you can make to improve the throughput of the process. In addition to providing real-time data, workflow reporting tools provide insights into historical data that better equips agencies to deal with business cycles and allocate resources accordingly.

Without visibility into workloads and with no objective way of balancing work among support staff, it can be hard to focus on servicing customers. In fact, agencies that implement process management technology see an average increase of 25% in their books of business. With the right tools in place, agents can remove bottlenecks and improve profitability without adding additional staff.

See also: The Future of the Agency Channel 

While each of the aforementioned examples has it own unique value proposition, they share one common thread: the ability to streamline the user experience and strengthen customer relationships.

The future of the industry

Insurance is a critical Industry that services consumers and businesses alike, and, while many have embraced technology at a rapid pace, many still stand to benefit from its adoption. Whether leveraging systems to increase internal efficiency like renewal management or incorporating solutions to streamline the communications with the companies you write with, agencies must learn to embrace technology to their advantage.

According to Ambers, “There is a reason why investors from both outside and inside the insurance industry are targeting agents and brokers.” “This is a rock solid, steady-Eddy business built on relationships. It’s proven over a long period of time to be a smart solution for families and businesses. Well-run agencies generate returns above many other industries. For better or worse, insurance is the last big industry to be undergoing change brought on by new technology. I say: Bring it on. I don’t see disruption; I see agents and brokers being enabled by these new interests. We are confident we’re the best solution for consumers.”

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About the Author

Doug Mohr is the vice president of industry relations and partnerships at Vertafore.

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