Enhancing insurance agent relationships by creating impactful digital experiences

Published: February 25, 2018

The insurance industry has traditionally been built upon the relationships established within the ecosystem of insurers, their external independent and exclusive agent networks, their internal agent employees, and most of all-customers. Creating a marketplace environment that agents and their managers can easily personalize to access information and establish personal connections is paramount for the long-term profitability of insurers.

Agents, agencies and insurers are all going through multiple changes that are interlinked, making the agent experience more critical than ever. First, insurers today are challenged on a number of fronts driven by changing consumer behaviors. Some of the challenges are the rise of online channels, dynamic product configurations, just-in-time service, and flexible (any time, anywhere, any device) sales and service. Beyond these consumer-driven changes, the agent sector is also experiencing rising attrition rates-with some conservative estimates as high as 20% per year (Source: Doherty Employment Benchmark).

Typically, agents have been the conduit for longer-lasting, loyal customers. The cost of agent turnover is expensive and eventually leads to loss of policyholders and their valuable business. Finally, the dichotomy between the retiring agent population (baby boomers) and the millennials joining the workforce calls for digitization without alienating traditional agents.

The key is to capitalize on the advent of innovative digital technologies and big data analytics that provide a powerful advantage to those insurers who can help their agents exploit them effectively and reduce the time they spend fumbling around for information. This presents its own challenge given the demographic make-up of insurance agents. Baby boomers with established insurance careers possess a deep understanding of how the insurance business works and how to maintain personal relationships. However, they tend to lack advanced skills when it comes to utilizing all the latest mobile and collaboration technologies.

Conversely, millennials (who are just starting their careers) have grown up on the latest technologies, have learned to master mobile and collaboration tools at an early age. They seek efficient digital tools" such as social media"to help them quickly learn the basics of how the insurance industry operates and to communicate instantly with prospects and customers about their insurance needs. Millennials also desire to work within a business environment that helps them close business very quickly so they can reap the financial rewards as soon as possible.

This white paper from Virtusa examines the challenges that insurers face in empowering their traditional and millennial agents through a digital platform while still retaining the individual strengths of their agent segments. We also present an overview of the Virtusa solution that responds to the rising consumer demands while empowering agents through an enhanced agent experience.

The Criticality of Maintaining Agent Relationships

For traditional insurers, their independent and exclusive insurance agent networks, as well as their internal agent employees, are the driving forces behind revenue generation. Providing an environment that saves precious face time for agents with their prospects and clients is imperative. This is especially true given that agent attrition rates typically run high. By giving agents productive digital tools that allow them to efficiently transact business, insurers can actually increase their agent retention rates.

Across the insurance industry customer lifecycle, agents rely heavily on technology to streamline processes relating to three key customer touch points so they can build strong relationships:

  • Conducting marketing and pre-sales activities to identify and qualify prospects.
  • Executing on underwriting activities when opening new policies for customers.
  • Providing services when customers need assistance with a claim and to open new policies or adjust existing policies.

Emerging technologies and a diverse workforce bring rapid changes to the systems that manage agent activity across these three touch points. To maintain agent networks and to keep business flowing smoothly, developing a system that caters to the habits of millennials while still meeting the needs of baby boomers is key. However, striking the necessary balance can be tricky‚ given that millennials have grown up on social media, smart devices, and advanced collaboration tools, whereas baby boomers are more accustomed to legacy technologies.

Factoring in Current Technology Trends

Current technology trends'such as mobility, analytics, social media, the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT)-can drive greater business-process efficiencies for the insurance industry. This includes self-service channels (straight-through processing), call center automation, omnichannel integration, digital content management, and single views of clients/prospects and/or households. The access to behavioral and social data along with proven analytics and machine learning provide informed decisions. All of these can be combined by insurers to dramatically transform agent experiences in relation to completing business-function workflows.

In terms of indoctrinating agents into the new technologies, both the millennial and the baby boomer groups present different obstacles and opportunities. Essentially, the key mission for insurers is to provide quick, easy and personalized access to information that makes it easy to sell insurance products when combined with each agent's skills and knowledge. The insurance company then needs to make it just as easy for agents to close business, create new policies, and respond to customer service inquiries.

If the environment in which the insurance company and its agents conduct business does not facilitate operational processes, external agents will likely take their book of business to another insurance provider. While internal agents may not have the same level of freedom, they will find it more difficult to close on new business "thus negatively impacting the insurance company" bottom line.

At the same time, insurers need to manage agents efficiently. This includes monitoring their sales activities as well as their insurance licensing, certification and education. After all, it's a two-way street: just as agents need to find the insurance company easy to do business with, the insurance company needs to find it easy to do business with the agents.

The Challenges of Conducting Insurance Business Online

Selling insurance products requires an in-depth knowledge and understanding of how to leverage and personalize current technologies. Insurers also need to focus on balancing their online agent portals to cater to both baby boomers and millennials. Millennials often prove the most challenging because they typically do not want to work through complicated processes. They just want quick access to information- the processes to complete business transactions must work quickly.

Some insurers have implemented online portal solutions to try to take on the challenge. However, the back-office systems that the portals connect with function in isolation; agents typically have to click back-and-forth between screens to access information and to process policies. They spend too much time searching for data and have less time for customers and prospects.

In addition to increasing the amount of time to provide information to a customer, manual processes are also more prone to human error. With hundreds of links to applications to navigate, it's easy for agents to become confused and then deliver the wrong information to their customers. And when agents are forced to function in an environment that is not user-friendly, it tends to degrade their customer interactions and their ability to eventually close on sales.

Creating a productive digital environment that offers a single view of customers and their households is all the more difficult for insurers that have gone through multiple mergers and acquisitions. These firms often find themselves managing thousands of external agents and agency employees as well as a multitude of insurance products that have not yet been consolidated.

Going beyond the challenges of technologies and complying with the needs of baby boomers and millennial, insurers also have to contend with the fact that many products such as variable annuities are quite complex for agents to present to customers. When meeting with customers, it's not easy for agents to access all the information that's needed to conduct an analysis. It can also be challenging for agents to show customers all their various options as well as the benefits and risks in a way that's customized for each customer.

This is where customers depend heavily on their agent relationship to steer them in the right direction. It thus compels insurers to make the presentation of the information as easy a process as possible. Customers have traditionally bought insurance in face-to-face situations, so when interacting online, agents need a sophisticated digital system in order to present the information in a professional, personalized manner. This requires easy-to-interpret illustrations and data that make customers feel as though they actually are meeting face-to-face. With the current digital technologies, it is possible to create an effective digital experience for the agent using mobile, social, analytics, cloud and the IoT as shown in the below illustration of "A Day in the Life" of an agent creating a new business:

Creating an Effective Digital Experience

Solving the challenge of creating an effective digital experience for independent agents and employee agents requires insurers to build an online portal that features the following key attributes:

  • Presents up-to-date product information in a way that's easy for agents to consume.
  • Generates and executes business-process flows that make it easy to sell and process new policies.
  • Allows agents to customize the business processes.
  • Helps insurers manage agent requirements such as licensing, certification and training.
  • Uses historical data to guide business decisions such as customer lifetime value and product recommendations.
  • Enables managers to monitor agent profiles and sales performance.
  • Brings back-office product, policy, business-process and agent information all together into one consolidated platform.
  • Integrates with third-party data sources and social media.
  • Factors in the demographics of agents and the demographics of prospects/customers when assigning agents to prospects/customers.
  • Motivates and rewards agents by creating a gamified environment.
  • Takes proactive security strategies for data integrity in a digital infrastructure.

The leading insurance agent portal platforms address these needs by providing all the basic elements required by insurers, their agents and agent managers with ample flexibility to customize product presentations and business-process execution according to the company's particular way of doing business. This approach delivers a smooth agent experience and increases their efficiency by enabling straight-through processing, thus helping them manage client and policy information while also providing communication tools for agent and underwriter collaboration. To make the agent portal more manageable, it is recommended that a holistic view of the interaction between business functions and insurance products is made available as illustrated below:

With such an online portal, agents can quickly find all the business functions they need to close sales and quickly open policies for new customers as well as service existing policyholders in order to retain more customers:

A consolidated online portal also supports all the business functions required by agents and facilitates agent management for the insurance company. Ideally, the system should leverage the latest technology trends that sync with the new technology skills of millennials but also conforms to the technology requirements of baby boomers. This balanced approach makes it easy for all agents to conduct business.

The Virtusa Agent Portal

When creating an effective digital experience that baby boomer and millennial insurance agents can personalize according to their individual preferences, the Virtusa Agent Portal‚"a customer-centric, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform",actually allows insurers to generate revenue from their agent portal. The SaaS platform can be offered to external insurance agencies that pay a monthly fee based on the number of agents in their company. The same platform can also be made available to internal agents that work as employees of the insurer.

Because the platform is accessed via the Web, it's easy to deploy to agencies and insurer agents in remote offices, and the software is just as easy to update. It's also appealing to independent agencies since SaaS platform usage can be scaled up and down on a monthly basis as they expand and contract their staff.

Insurance solutions built upon the Virtusa Agent Portal help insurers manage and organize electronic content so that agents can immediately locate and access product information and policy forms. The platform also provides agents with access to social media and analytics to streamline market analysis and efficiently match insurance products to customer profiles.

Because the platform is conducive for use on mobile devices, agents on-the-go can immediately access information and forms when visiting with customers and while on the road. This allows them to deliver information and to close on business-when critical customer moments occur and doing business or losing the deal hangs in the balance, depending on how quickly the agent responds.

Key Components of the Virtusa Agent Portal: In addition to bringing workflows and content management together, the Virtusa Agent Portal adds intelligent analytics and collaboration capabilities so agents know the best actions to take and can facilitate communications with customers and internal experts:

Another key feature of the Virtusa Agent Portal is that it integrates enterprise data with social media data. This helps drive analytics that allows agents to identify sales opportunities and customer trends. They can also see which insurance products have worked well for existing customers that match to a prospect's demographic, financial and insurance profile.

When talking to prospects, agents can also quickly and easily access all the relevant tools they need for product information and connect with support staff. They can thus offer insurance products on the fly in real time-during critical decision-making moments. The Virtusa Agent Portal collaboration tools even make it possible to pull experts into customer conversations to clarify product features via online conferences and video meetings.

Together these features empower agents, making their experience holistic and productive. In Virtusa's experience, it is also important to sequence these features reap the maximum benefit. Omnichannel stands out as the feature that delivers the most immediate value.

Re-imagining the Insurance Industry to Embrace the Digital Future

With multiple challenges-including changing consumer behaviors, rising agent attrition and the shift in the agent workforce with millennials replacing retiring baby boomers‚the insurance industry is undergoing an unprecedented scale of transformation. The key to building a customer-centric platform amidst these changes is to leverage technological advancements. However, the question still remains, "Which feature of the customer-centric platform should be implemented first to reap the maximum business benefit?"

The answer is to establish a digital plan that prioritizes and sequences requirements. Virtusa's consulting approach and accelerators achieve this and fit very well with the Virtusa Agent Portal, which is designed with such components in mind. The objective of the Virtusa Agent Portal is to empower insurers to take a holistic, proactive and assertive approach towards conducting business with their customers. Success in this endeavor will benefit the entire insurance ecosystem including insurers, agents, and most importantly- customers.

And as the insurance industry's digital journey unfolds, we at Virtusa believe that building customer-centric portals for redefining the agent experience is only the first step. Thinking algorithms will be the insurance agents of the future, and we are bracing ourselves to drive results well into that digital future.

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