Your Clients Don’t Care About InsurTech Startups

Over the past three years, global investors have pumped about $6 billion into the InsurTech industry, according to data from CB Insights.

But only 23% of consumers would be comfortable sharing their personal data with an InsurTech startup in exchange for a cheaper rate, according to a new survey from Vertafore—and 78% would prefer to work with a real person when reporting an insurance claim, rather than submitting one online.

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. “You can never underestimate the value of having a human being when something goes wrong,” said BJ Schaknowski, chief sales and marketing officer at Vertafore, during a press event yesterday at the NetVU conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

“You may use WebMD to diagnose symptoms, but if your ankle’s twisted 90 degrees to the right, you go see a doctor,” Schaknowski continued. “There is a psychology associated with insurance. It’s inherently complicated, and that means you want the confidence of someone telling you what’s the right protection for your family and for your business.”

The Trust Factor

Vertafore’s data backs it up: Nearly 60% of consumers worry that artificial intelligence technologies may automatically deny them coverage that would otherwise be offered by a human agent, and 72% would be uncomfortable purchasing insurance through a chatbot. And despite all the hype surrounding peer-to-peer insurance startups like Lemonade, Vertafore found that more than half of consumers would be uncomfortable purchasing insurance that way—and three out of four don’t even understand what “peer-to-peer” means.

Why aren’t your prospects and clients clamoring for the types of purchasing models that industry disruptors are so certain consumers need? Schaknowski believes an independent agent will always fulfill a crucial psychological element in the insurance-buying process.

“It’s referred to a lot as being about ‘relationships,’ but I think that word is overplayed. I think the right word is ‘confidence,’” Schaknowski said. “The reason I call my agent is because I don’t know what I’m talking about. This isn’t selling diapers. It really comes down to a level of commoditization, and this isn’t a commoditized space.”

“Everything is fine when you buy—it’s not until you have a claim that you reconsider your relationship with who provides you insurance,” agreed Theo Beack, chief technology officer at Vertafore. “It’s a natural cycle where people initially say, ‘I go for price and I go for convenience.’ But when you become more informed as a buyer, you’re going to go to someone who can advise you in an intelligent way.”

It’s apparently true even for millennials—just because they feel empowered to do their own research doesn’t mean they’re too arrogant to recognize when it’s time to ask for help. Vertafore found that almost half of young adults ages 18-25 indicated a preference to purchase all forms of insurance through a human.

“By the nature of the technology that’s available now, consumers are more informed,” Schaknowski said. “You’re coming in and saying, ‘I read this online—is this the right policy?’ With that, then, the value an independent agent creates is instead of taking you from soup to nuts, they’re taking you from 60% to 100%.”

And don’t discount the other half of millennials who may currently dismiss the value of a human interaction as part of their insurance experience. “As you get older, your life gets more complicated,” said Tim Owen, vice president of product management at Vertafore. “Insurance is about risk communication. The more different types of risk you have, the more you need insurance.”

Competing with InsurTech

Consumers need you—that much is clear. But does that mean they’ll accept you slacking off when it comes to the customer experience? During a NetVU educational session called “Competing with Innovative Technology in the Independent Market,” insurance technology consultant Steve Anderson posed a question that answers that question: Are you Blockbuster, or are you Netflix?

As Blockbuster floundered, Netflix’s strength was always its willingness to embrace ongoing testing and experimentation, Anderson said. “Their early streaming was awful, but bandwidth got faster, so streaming got better. Then, when they started creating their own original programming, they did something no one had ever done before—every episode was released on the same day. And that’s because they had data on what consumers do, and consumers binge watch. Netflix understands what their customers want.”

“There’s a new generation coming in that’s buying insurance products, and they don’t like to do voice communications—they do texting, they do instant messaging, they expect a lot of communication electronically,” Beack said during the press event. “But they would also like more self-service, more information in real time, and that requires agencies to think differently about how they interact and how they provide that same high degree of service, just through electronic means.”

The solution for agencies is to find a way to offer the same kind of ease and convenience that InsurTech startups are promising—but wrapped up in a personal touch. From mobility to automation to self-service portals, “somewhere down the line, technology leapfrogged our imaginations,” said Bruce Winterburn, vice president of industry relations at Vertafore. “How do we fix all these problems no one could ever fix before? Odds are, there’s a technology out there today that can do it. The onus is on us to leverage it to solve these problems that have been coming into our business for decades.”

Consider social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram, where users can follow each other and interact based on mutual interests or a common sense of humor, rather than locale. “That’s still a relationship—that’s not a robot you’re interacting with,” Winterburn pointed out. “It’s just that what it means to build a relationship has drastically changed, to the point where your sense of community is no longer geographical.”

If you rewrite the definitions of words like “community” and “value,” you no longer have to think of technology as a disruptor. “Agents can either be killed by that technology, or they can utilize that technology,” Winterburn said. “I think we’re going to see a renaissance of click-and-order combined with brick-and-mortar Main Street America agencies.”

“This isn’t a crisis,” added Amy Zupon, Vertafore CEO. “The independent agent’s not going away. Everybody’s being asked to evolve their business, but that’s good. We have a real opportunity to make tactical changes.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.