This week, Applied Systems® hosted the annual Applied Net conference, the world’s largest gathering of independent agents, brokers, insurers and MGAs, at the ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
The yearly conference explored how consumer expectations, competition and changing market dynamics are creating a new age of insurance and injecting more technology into the industry.
On Tuesday morning, Taylor Rhodes, Applied Systems’ new CEO, made his speaking debut at the conference. In his address, he outlined his vision for the digital agency and the unprecedented opportunities to improve the customer experience in the digital revolution of insurance.
“We’re entering an interesting time of change in the insurance industry,” Rhodes said. “The industry is on the brink of digitally driven change, which brings opportunities. In the digital revolution, we should all be thinking about transforming our approach to how insurance is marketed, distributed and sold in ways that really put the customer first.”
Applied defines the digital agency as one that has omnichannel digital connectivity with a trinity of stakeholders—the insured, internal staff and insurers—to drive intelligent interactions throughout the insurance lifecycle.
Agencies that fully commit to being digital agencies, such as those that use a foundational management system, operate in the cloud, extend self-service to customers and staff in portals and apps, and who connect directly with the insured, experience 158% more revenue per employee than agencies that aren’t digital, according to Applied.
Applied’s objective is to help agents and brokers “adopt and implement the right technology” to revolutionize the way they do business. But “deciding how and when to adopt new technologies can feel overwhelming and very stressful for agencies and insurers,” Rhodes said. “We at Applied are here to make it simpler.”
A key aspect that’s driving the digital revolution in insurance are changes in “expectations from customers about the experience they want to have,” Rhodes explained. “The goal of investing in customer experience technology is not to replace personal customer interactions, but to use digital to elevate these interactions to delight the customer.”
Moreover, putting the customer front and center of digital investments is integral to revolutionizing an agency. “It’s all about servicing your customers,” Rhodes said at a media event later that day. “What’s the experience they have with you? How do you make it seamless for them to actually do business with you and buy your product and get service when they need it?” In addition, in an industry where public trust is generally low, insurance professionals can use positive customer experiences to “build trust and transparency,” Rhodes said.
Meeting customer expectations, whether it be through an app, online portal or improved claims experience, is “the goal to building trust,” says Michael Howe, senior vice president of Product Management, Applied Systems. “There’s an art to continue to earn trust, provide advice and build relationships but [agents] need to modernize because the way the customer is expecting to interact with you is changing.”
Greater connectivity with customers is also helping insurance agents provide greater transparency to their insured, which helps build more trust. “From the customer’s perspective, they want to know that they’re getting a fair deal,” Howe says. “If the agent can easily and efficiently get at a broader swath of the market, to get not just the rates but also the fine print about how policies compare, an agent now has much better information to turn around to and insured and say, ‘Here are three choices. They’re different prices. They’re different prices for these reasons. And based on your circumstances, I recommend you go with this one.”
“It seems obvious but having that information across a bunch of carriers—immediately—based on whatever the person on the phone is saying, the agent is going to be in a better position because of that transparency and trust,” Howe continues. “That’s what the agent’s core value proposition is and always has been.”
Last year, Applied announced a nine-figure minority investment from CapitalG, the growth equity investment fund of Google parent company Alphabet, Inc. This commitment supports Applied’s focus on accelerated growth through innovative technology for the global insurance market and will bring Applied access to Google's people, expertise and culture.
In particular, artificial intelligence and machine learning are “massive opportunities in insurance” but “aren’t designed to replace the human element of insurance. Rather, they aim to arm you with better insights to make better decisions and identify better opportunities to sell insurance to customers the way they want,” Rhodes said during his keynote. “The truth is, putting these powerful technologies to work in the right way, will create really tangible benefits.”
Will Jones is IA senior editor.