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Enablement in a Post-Disruption World

The phrase “digital disruption” describes an event in insurance — once a prediction, it’s now a present reality. Yet while digital disruption became a useful term to explain the transition insurance companies, agents and customers faced, it did very little to prepare insurers for the work of matching digital tools and opportunities to the goals they needed to meet.

Now that disruption has transformed insurance, insurers and agents are faced with another question: How do we use the now-ubiquitous digital tools at our disposal to improve our work and meet business goals?

Distribution has faced significant disruption in recent years and emerged as a site of stability in the digital realm. Focusing on simple, streamlined enablement thus offers a starting point for insurers seeking to optimize the use of “new normal” technologies.

Disruption Is Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

Discussions of digital disruption frequently predict what will happen or describe what is happening. Rarely, however, do they provide advice for how insurers can integrate the described disruptions into their business models or how agents can use it to tackle day to day challenges. Instead, insurers and agents are left to ask: Now that digital disruption is a daily reality, how do we make it work for us?

One way to start exploring the value of digital disruption in day to day insurance work is to review the position of the industry as a whole, as well as the insurer’s role within it. Alasdair Trotter and Bill Greene at Huron Consulting Group recommend asking five questions to evaluate the post-disruption insurance landscape:

  • What will the competitive environment look like in the next five years?
  • In this future state, who are the target customers and what are their “jobs to be done”?
  • How do we need to evolve our business model to meet the needs of the future world?
  • What are our internal stakeholders’ jobs to be done?
  • What are the implications of these jobs to be done? How can we best serve our internal customers in this future state?

Thinking in terms of “jobs to be done” means taking the customer’s or stakeholder’s perspective and asking what problem they seek to solve. As marketing scholar Ted Levitt famously noted, “people don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” An insurance customer, in other words, wants to meet the legal requirements to drive their vehicle in their state or wants to know that they’ll be able to replace their roof if it is damaged in a hailstorm. These are the jobs that the insurance policy does for the customer.

Understanding customer and stakeholder goals in this way can help insurers take a new perspective on digital tools. When the question is “What job needs to be done?,” insurers can more easily choose the right tool for the work.

The Promises of Post-Disruption Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of new technologies in every industry, and insurance is no exception. As the pandemic continues to pose challenges, a digital-first approach continues to offer ways to address these challenges and improve insurance distribution, write Matthew Hutchins and Steven Haasz at technology and management consultancy Capco.

New technologies offer a wealth of ways to streamline underwriting and distribution, often through automating once-tedious tasks. Insurers are already using artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation to take some back-office tasks off the plates of human employees and agents, write Krish Kirshnakanthan and fellow researchers at McKinsey. Automation frees these professionals to focus on details that computers cannot handle.

Because digital tools are often flexible, one tool can do several jobs at once if it is put to work in the right way. The right tools can meet several essential goals at once.

Gartner analysts Kimberly Harris-Ferrante and Juergen Weiss recommend that insurers focusing on their digital investments and innovation attend to several different goals at once. These include:

  • Building a digital business platform that addresses all the organization’s key goals.
  • Using that platform to build ecosystem relationships that diversify the organization’s business portfolio.
  • Taking advantage of the scalability of digital platforms to experiment with new products, services and partnerships.

All of these goals involve the use of a common tool, the digital platform. The platform itself is malleable, adapting to the needs of the organization, the goals to be met, and the customers, agents and employees who use the software. While the platform alone cannot solve every problem automatically, it can be used as a versatile context for reaching goals in various ways — such as by streamlining the quote-gathering process for agents or connecting customers to embedded insurance products that meet their needs in the moment.

In the past, many insurance problems were seen as separate from one another. Helping agents create quote comparisons took one set of tools and skills; reaching customers at the moment they needed to buy auto or home insurance took another set. While these skill sets remain distinct, the tools available to reach the goal now overlap. Insurers who define goals clearly are better able to find digital tools that meet several goals at once.

How To Think About Enablement in a Post-Disruption World

To think about enablement in a post-disruption world, insurers can start by putting themselves in the customer’s shoes.

To turn the potential posed by digital disruption into a reality, “we need to examine the insurer relationship to distributors in light of the customer mindset,” writes Denise Garth at Majesco.

Garth suggests asking several questions in order to adopt the customer’s point of view, including:

  • How are customer expectations and points of view changing?
  • How do customers gather and process information? How have digital channels changed this process?
  • How can carriers and agents adapt to these changes? What gaps can carriers and agents fill for customers in this process?

Brokers and agents provide a particularly promising avenue for improved distribution in a digital world, writes Garth. Their ability to provide the information and relationship-building that customers want makes them a prime means of connection with customers — and new technologies make it easier for brokers and agents to understand customers and provide necessary information on the spot, without wasting time on tasks like filling out forms.

Agents and brokers are also a rich source of information on customers’ jobs to be done, or what it is customers seek to achieve by acquiring an insurance policy. As a result, their perspective can enrich the process of adopting digital tools to streamline insurance, enabling simpler distribution and underwriting.

Embracing the digital present will require insurers to reimagine insurance through the lens of new digital tools, writes Shefali Sonpar, insurance domain lead at IBM. While established insurers may lack the nimble, digital-first qualities of insurtech startups, they have deep knowledge of insurance, armies of experienced agents and brokers to consult, and a vast understanding of customer needs and behavior. These assets will find new meaning in a digital-focused world and can be put to use in new ways through the application of artificial intelligence and other technologies.

Boosting broker and agent efforts to enable simpler distribution is one of many ways in which insurance technology in a post-disruption world can improve the insurance experience for carriers, agents and customers. As insurers think about simplifying and streamlining various processes, they will find new ways to put today’s digital tools to work.

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