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Slow Down to Speed Up: How to Turn Your Technology Corner

The insurance industry may not be moving as fast as some would like, but let's tap the brakes and think about why that is, where we should be going, and then assess our speed.
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slow down to speed up: how to turn your technology corner

Not too long ago, I was driving home after speaking at a Big “I" state association convention. It was a four-hour drive, and I was mostly in that zone of looking forward to getting home, but I did find my mind mulling over the industry trends that were discussed at the conference—efficiency, direct integration, hiring new talent, diversity, digital models, customer experience.

Then, somewhat prophetically, I noticed a billboard: “Buy a Car in As Little As 11 Minutes."

Interesting. Hmmm … 11 minutes? Who needs to buy a car in 11 minutes? Should we even be able to buy a car in 11 minutes? Is it even responsible to sell someone a car in 11 minutes?

I noodled on that for a few minutes and ultimately acknowledged the billboard was about setting the highest customer expectations and that few people would ever buy a car like that. Of course, the statement is hyperbole, but it does point to ways in which the customer experience could be significantly improved. It shouldn't have to take half a day or longer to purchase a car anymore. In fact, I was driving a vehicle that was bought just a few weeks prior—and that experience was ripe for updates.

Those five minutes or so turned into a couple of hours of thinking about how that billboard translates to our industry. And I've been thinking about it ever since, both in my prior role and as I transitioned to my role as executive director of the Big “I" Agents Council for Technology (ACT).

Just one billboard prompted thoughts about many similar conversations that we are having in the insurance industry on topics such as:

  • Improved customer expectations
  • Speed across seemingly endless transactions
  • Data collection and utilization
  • Direct integration
  • Transparency
  • Marketing accuracy
  • Integrity
  • Overall efficiency

These topics tend to be very popular with industry podcasts, webinars and conferences. While the day-long car-buying experience we've all undoubtedly encountered could be finessed, our industry has plenty of room for improvement across a number of fronts. In fact, the number of opportunities for improvement in our industry can feel daunting and, depending on what seat you occupy, the priority of these opportunities can differ—sometimes greatly.

This brings us back to speed. We talk about our industry being too slow—but too slow to get where? Speed is a function of distance over time. So, by default, you need a destination and a measurement of how long it takes to arrive to calculate speed. We may not be moving as fast as some would like, but let's think about why that is, where we should be going, and then assess our speed.

As an industry, do insurance customers need to buy the proverbial car in 11 minutes? How much better than the half-day experience is good enough today, tomorrow or in 10 years? We all agree on the need for improvement, but opinions on how much improvement is needed varies depending on the seat you occupy. Few would argue against the need to evolve, but agreeing on how much is less clear.

So, when an entire industry thinks it shouldn't take all day to buy a car, but disagrees on how much less time it should take, where do we want or need to go? Where do we even start?

Understand the Fundamentals

If you're a golfer, motorsports aficionado or student of major consulting principals, you've likely heard an expression along the lines of “slow down to speed up." On the surface, there is nothing intuitive about this statement. Even beyond intuition, it doesn't make sense from a physics or math perspective either—until you think about what the statement is implying.

Slowing down allows you to hit your marks, not overswing, control your braking, not roll your wrists, not overdrive a corner, get your hips through, maintain control, apply discipline and manage whatever requisite levels of intention are necessary to reach your goals. And what happens when we do those things well? We hit the ball further and straighter, racers make quicker lap times, and businesses begin to create alignment and hit their targets.

In our industry, most of the fundamentals have held true for decades—sound underwriting, adequate pricing, claims handling, compliance, clear appetite, accurate quoting and more. Admittedly, some of those are not overly romantic in a world where nearly all the stakeholders want more, and they want it done faster.

Those fundamentals and conflicting expectations apply to agents, carriers and consumers, as well as many new and existing companies that enable our industry. But, with relatively universal agreement that we can be quicker, more efficient and more effective, it is easy to be distracted by shiny new objects and technology that focuses on more romantic activities and new tools.

To be clear, the industry can and has benefitted from new tools, and it should embrace technology as a means to an end. But, as has been said before, we are not manufacturing and selling widgets. Transferring and assuming others' risk with a promise of financial indemnification in a state-by-state regulated industry most certainly requires different priorities and approaches than most other industries. Our processes are ripe for improvement, but it is important to keep our industry's unique constraints in mind as we explore, identify and prioritize where we focus resources on getting better, quicker and faster. At the same time, we must consider what steps can be eliminated, what data can be gathered or used as a proxy, how self-service tools are implemented and what activities can be fully automated.

To some, this can be construed or even dismissed as an industry's collective reluctance to change. Perhaps that's true for a few outliers, but the vast majority of industry stakeholders are aware of the need to change, intent on learning and evolving, and are open-minded about making needed changes to remain viable and add value to our mutual customers. Most insurance professionals are actively on the continuum of change in their organization. However, the challenge and opportunity depend on priority and capacity.

If we all agree that buying a car should not take your entire Saturday, but a small minority believe it should only take 11 minutes, how can we collectively make meaningful strides?

Shiny Object Syndrome

It's important to be really clear on your organization's competitive business strategy. Or, as Simon Sinek wrote, “Start with your why."

Given the overwhelming number of opportunities for change and the seemingly infinite number of approaches to get there, it is very easy to get caught up in what has been coined as the “shiny object syndrome" or, even worse, analysis paralysis. These decisions are hard, and even deciding to do nothing is a decision with its own outcomes.

In “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," Clark sets out to make the biggest and best light display in their town. But if you fill in the blanks, it's clear he bought every shiny object possible, installed them all with no strategy or planning beyond just wanting to be the biggest and brightest, and then plugged them all together in a tangled mess.

Well, we all know what happened when he plugged in the master cord—nothing. None of the lights came on. Not one piece of equipment worked as it was intended.

That scene always makes us laugh when we see the movie, but the idea of something similar in our business makes us cringe. It's easy to see how that could happen to a business owner today, because everywhere we turn we are inundated by new tools that promise to make our business the best and brightest on the block.

It can be easy to be influenced by the hype or fear of missing out. While it takes real discipline, it can be easier than you think to mitigate the chances of being Clark and approach integrating technology with intention and thought, significantly increasing the likelihood of a well-designed, executed and functional light display in your neighborhood—and your business. Of course, it's worth recognizing that there are some amazing opportunities out there that can be leveraged with the right homework, approach and clarity on your competitive business strategy.

We all know this intuitively, but it's easy to lose sight of it because there is no single answer, consultant, tech stack, tool, carrier appointment or key employee hire that is right for all agencies. There are certainly best practices and lessons to learn from one another, though. In fact, it is beneficial to do so. However, if there are more than 35,000 independent agencies in America, there are arguably just as many points of view on how to run one.

That is not to imply that all are growing, running the same margins, have comparable value, attract the same employee talent or customers, or are evolving with consumer demands in the same way or at the same pace. It simply supports the notion that all are independent businesses with unique “whys," each in varied positions on any number of agency technology continuums.

What's Your Why?

Understanding what's happening in the world is important. Being intentional about your approach is essential. Moving forward is crucial—moving faster is only important. The question is: How much faster?

Is there a right answer? If history has proven anything, projections are just that. It's easy to get lost in a moment in time and let excitement, fear or complacency govern our decisions. Things also tend to unfold differently and at a different pace than we expect. All of this continues to support the concept: Slow down to speed up.

Slowing down is analogous to taking a breath to ensure you have total clarity on your organization's strategy. To do that, it's critical to have answers to these questions before making significant changes:

  • What customers do you want to attract and retain?
  • What geography do you wish to serve?
  • How do you want to show up and differentiate in the marketplace and your community?
  • What types of employees do you wish to work with?

It's critical to have thought through these questions to understand how much change is needed. It's critical to slow down to speed up. It's critical to focus on fundamentals. This process will help you assess where your organization is and where you want to be on the continuum between buying a car in 11 minutes or offering the full-Saturday-at-a-dealership experience to your customers.

We all know we need to evolve and change. With a clear vision of our why, intentionality and a focus on delivering the fundamentals in new and meaningful ways, it can be done—and is being done. But it cannot be done haphazardly or without focus. Speed for the sake of speed is not sustainable and can be a recipe for bad outcomes, such as hitting the wall, slicing a drive or making less than ideal decisions that will cost you in the long run.

Clearly, there is no proverbial silver bullet, but you can greatly improve your chances for successful decision-making, effective change and sustainably improved business results by slowing down to speed up.

Chris Cline is executive director of the Big “I" Agents Council for Technology.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022