Reacting to Change: After Technology, Culture Comes First

In the three-point relationship that defines every interaction within the independent insurance distribution channel, the agent is the bridge between the carrier and the end consumer.

With that pivotal role comes great responsibility on both sides of the equation: How can independent agencies streamline their connections with carriers while delivering the kind of data-driven digital experience customers expect in the age of Amazon, Netflix and Google?

The answer lies in process efficiency, according to Amy Zupon, CEO of Vertafore—and that means “anything from simply removing clicks from your daily life to something broader, like acquiring data and insights about your business,” she said when she kicked off NetVU’s Accelerate conference in Atlanta this morning.

This year’s event—rebranded to highlight Vertafore’s renewed commitment to velocity and momentum around product growth and investment—marks the 40th anniversary of the conference and welcomes more than 2,000 attendees, about 600 of whom are first-timers.

“When I joined Vertafore 20 months ago, one of the things that attracted me is that it’s a really interesting time to be in insurance,” Zupon said in her keynote address. “Change is all around us.”

Zupon outlined how Vertafore’s latest investments and product developments are responding to three key themes of change in the industry, starting with consolidation. “Mergers & acquisitions are happening all over the place,” she said. “They’re happening on the agency front and they’re happening on the carrier front.”

But according to Vertafore’s research with McKinsey, “the number of agencies is staying relatively flat,” Zupon said. “Newer startup agencies continue to emerge into the marketplace every day.”

As competition in the industry remains fierce, “the pressure is on” to improve productivity within the distribution channel, Zupon said—especially as direct writers and new InsurTech startups keep “popping up, trying to change the experience for the end consumer.”

Think about this: How much time does your staff spend visiting carrier portals and processing messages, attachments or downloads rather than pursuing revenue-generating activities? Where is work getting stuck? What time of year are your employees most overworked? Are you able to identify and clear bottlenecks in your agency workflow?

“For you to be better every day, you need to learn from your past performance,” Zupon said. “What’s the speed, what’s the productivity and what’s the digital experience you’re delivering to your end consumer? Is it the right digital experience? Whether you’re the carrier who doesn’t have a direct channel or you’re an independent agency, everyone in the industry is trying to figure out, ‘How do I deliver that impressive customer experience to achieve those things?’”

And that’s no small feat in the midst of a constantly evolving regulatory environment. “This is a constant conversation, and you have to think about it from a technology perspective,” Zupon said.

Zupon cited New York’s cybersecurity regulations as just the first of many similar challenges that agents are likely to face in the years ahead, with states like South Carolina and New Jersey already beginning to follow suit.

“There’s more of that to come,” Zupon cautioned. “We’re dealing with it right now with data privacy protection happening in the U.K., and that’s on its way here, too. We all need to acknowledge that trend, stay on top of it and make sure we’re ready for it.”

In addition to investing in the right technology products, Zupon suggested that succeeding through fast-paced change often boils down to culture. “Culture is a really powerful thing,” she said. “Clearly stating ours has been a bit of a unifying experience for our business this year.”

In her address, Zupon shared five key values Vertafore employees have agreed to focus on for 2018, dubbed “The Vertafore Way”—some of which could also have the power transform the culture and productivity among employees at your own agency:

1) Customer success is our success. Staff your agency with people who understand “if we make our customers successful, we will be successful as a business,” Zupon said.

2) Say it, do it. Does your agency have a reputation for keeping its promises to clients? Make sure not only that your customers can rely on you, but also that “teammates know they can rely on each other,” Zupon said.

3) Show up curious. “It’s no secret our industry is evolving,” Zupon said. “Showing up every day to listen, to learn, to ask questions, to seek to understand—that is absolutely a differentiator.”

4) Win together. This one’s all about collaboration, “with each other internally, with customers and partners, and with the industry at large,” Zupon said.

5) Bias to action. Thinking strategically is a crucial element of success for any business, Zupon said. But telling isn’t enough. You also have to show—and that means you have to “move quickly, deliver and execute.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.