Mobile First: Tech Trends Affecting Independent Agents

If you want to know one trend that influences all others in terms of how your agency will do business in the coming years, all you have to do is look down at your phone.

In 2015, the Strategic Future Issues (SFI) Work Group of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) began the process of reviewing, evaluating and updating its 2013 hard tech trends to reflect the major technological developments that will impact the insurance industry over the next few years. One trend that affects all others? Mobile.

These hard trends will provide the foundation for developing the industry’s must-do recommendations, actions and responses to these challenges and opportunities:

Hard Trends

Mobility

Mobile, along with impacts from social and cloud computing, has enabled some of the other hard trends coming your way. Mobile cuts across everything and will change insurance products dramatically, affecting quotes, account management and claims while creating a new infrastructure for communications in disaster situations. It is also changing the way the customer interacts with agents and carriers, and how agents and carriers communicate with each other.

Mobile solutions that connect insureds to both the agency and carrier are as important as mobile solutions that connect agents to their carrier or management system data. All solutions must enable clients to connect when, where and how they want. Mobile also plays a big role in omni-channel communication—a multichannel approach that provides the customer with a seamless experience whether they are online via a desktop or mobile device, calling in via telephone or walking into a brick-and-mortar store.

Today, consumers expect mobility with integrated data that’s available anytime, anywhere and any way the customer wants. Insurance-specific examples include:

  • Giving consumers the ability to scan or take a picture of a VIN, which could then compile data on that vehicle for pre-fill during the quote process.
  • Providing GPS capability to identify windshield repair shops in the area, scanning a VIN and feeding data to a shop to make an appointment and determine the price and availability of a compatible windshield.

'Internet of Me'

This expansive strategic trend has grown out of social Web tools and digital technology, demanding that organizations not only “do” social but become social and digitally transformed businesses that bring human value back into core business roles, processes and outcomes.

In this new environment, consumers have taken social interaction to a whole new level, communicating virtually with much larger groups of people while simultaneously becoming increasingly interconnected and empowered using social media, mobile devices and other digital technologies. Consumers are employing these new tools to become better informed, make buying decisions and express their opinions to their followers about the products, businesses and events of interest to them.

In response, businesses must reinvent their business models to properly leverage the opportunities the social Web presents in the following ways:

  • Think about what the consumer wants to know vs. what you want to tell them. Simply having an online presence is no longer enough—you must provide value through educating, informing and engaging clients and prospects.
  • Focus on education and training that accelerates learning by using advanced simulations and skill-based learning systems that are self-diagnostic, interactive, game-like and competitive.
  • Get an Advantage subscription on TrustedChoice.com to take full advantage of content marketing opportunities.

Connected Society

Connectivity is expanding from consumers to businesses and even things as all aspects of the physical world become increasingly linked. Connected consumers are empowered through changing technology to find, share and communicate information differently from the “traditional” consumer. They live on smartphones and tablets and network with friends and businesses through social, mobile and digital technologies.

Reaching this consumer requires different marketing and communication strategies in order to create relevant connections:

  • Develop a responsive website that adapts its appearance and functionality to the device the consumer is using to view information.
  • Prepare for wearable technology to infiltrate the insurance market.
  • Communicate with prospects and clients via live streaming services like Google Hangouts and Periscope.

Diversity

Demographic segmentation and personalization is a hard trend that will affect the way agents serve clients. Age, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, digital ability—diversity in every sense of the word—will continue to change the way insurance agents do business. Many agencies now face the challenge of offering clients a personalized customer experience that is tailored to their segmented group, whether that’s determined by language, age, ethnicity or something else.

Here are a few ways diversity could be important for your agency:

  • Workplace reimagined through flexible work hours, remote work options and more
  • Customer service personalized to an individual’s unique needs, such as non-English languages
  • Generational differences as the exit of Baby Boomers from the workforce prompts changes in business ownership, wealth transfer, loss of expertise and industry knowledge
  • Visual communications on phones, tablets and home televisions, including free programs like Skype, FaceTime and more

Big Data and Actionable Business Intelligence

New technologies and techniques are making possible the capture and analysis of more and more big data, as well as the creation of more useful business intelligence from it. Agencies and carriers can integrate this business intelligence into their decision making in real time, enabling them to understand their consumers and operations better.

These data analytic capabilities have significantly changed how insurance carriers make underwriting, servicing and marketing decisions and create major opportunities for independent agencies to enhance their prospecting, marketing, sales, servicing and management processes—such as using business intelligence and analytics to know when a client is likely to need something, rather than waiting for them to reach out or making a cold call.

Changing Nature of Insurance Risk

In addition to every trend outlined here, changing social norms, applications of technology, climate change and more are changing the types of risks that consumers and businesses face—creating new opportunities for insurance carriers and agents to design coverages and advise their clients more effectively about risks.

Examples include the “sharing society,” information security exposures, cyber liability and the increase in the number and severity natural catastrophic events. And thanks to technology, these changes are occurring at a speed the industry has not previously seen. Additional examples:

  • Mass customization: customized and individually targeted marketing, product creation and delivery
  • Robotics and artificial life
  • Crash avoidance technology in vehicles
  • 3D printers: disaster recovery and inventory
  • Drones
  • Virtualization of hardware and software

Information Security and Privacy Regulation

Federal and state regulators will increasingly target businesses that have not implemented statutorily required security plans and procedures, and the costs of data breaches will continue to become more expensive.

Criminal elements will continue to exploit the system security vulnerabilities of businesses and individuals using more and more sophisticated technologies, and employees will make mistakes—both resulting in the breach of protected health information (PHI) and personally identifiable information (PII).

And many of these trends, in addition to increasing accessibility to private information, also increase the potential for cyber terrorism. For example, the “Internet of Things” opens up the potential for cyber terrorists to hack into any connected person or device. These growing risks also create opportunities for carriers and agents to provide coverage and risk management guidance to clients.

The Industry’s ‘Must-Dos’

Here are ACT’s “must-do” items in face of these trends:

INCREASED EDUCATION. Agents and carriers alike will benefit from a better understanding of each trend and its implications for the industry. ACT’s Communications Work Group plans to create a comprehensive multimedia communication and education plan.

RELEVANT RESOURCES. ACT’s SFI Work Group members plan to research and provide relevant resources—including articles, TED talks, webinars and blogs—that speak to these trends.

CONTINUED DISCUSSION FORUM. ACT would like to see an ongoing industry-wide discussion forum focused on these hard trends and suggests sharing them with associations, vendors, carriers and industry consultants to solicit their input.

CUSTOMER JOURNEY. ACT feels it is important to view each trend through the lens of the customer journey. Its Customer Experience Work Group will map the various trends, indicators and issues to the customer journey, and also create a new interactive resource agents can use to plan. This might include, for example, updating the tools in the “buy” phase to address new payment methodologies such as PayPal and Square.

RESPONSE TO MOBILE. The industry needs to respond to the mobile trend. ACT’s Mobile Work Group will re-engage on this issue.

COLLABORATIVE INDUSTRY RESPONSE. The SFI Work Group will evaluate each trend to determine other industry resources for collaboration. Possible groups include:

  • ACT Work Groups
  • AUGIE
  • ACORD Innovation Initiative
  • TrustedChoice.com
  • Agency management system vendors and user groups
  • New ACT work groups
  • Big “I” Diversity Task Force
  • Big “I” Young Agents
  • Big “I” Best Practices

It goes without saying that these trends will be disruptive for the insurance industry. Our ability to anticipate and adapt in innovative ways to the new business environment these trends create will determine and define not only our future success, but our relevance as an industry.

Ron Berg is the executive director of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT). Rick Morgan is the chair of ACT’s Strategic Future Issues Work Group.