Don't Fear the Cloud

As professional risk assessors, agents already know the cloud comes with a host of challenges. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

The cloud makes it easy to access corporate data on mobile devices, but that introduces new potential exposures for the sensitive information entrusted to an agent. Forget working on the go—what about losing said devices or accidentally sharing information meant for your eyes only?

User mistakes that lead to exposed information are rampant and far more likely than the risk of hacking. Disclosing confidential information to the wrong viewers carries stiff fines, not to mention potential damage to an agent’s reputation. And with regulators stepping up their oversight, it’s more important than ever to handle sensitive information with care. Even standards like HIPAA are suddenly applicable to an independent agent thanks to a broadened definition of “business associate.”

But new technologies are making it easier than ever to swiftly handle problems and remain compliant. Some solutions enable completely blocking a user or a device from accessing sensitive files in real time—making everything from a lost device to employee separation scenarios instantly pain-free. Others provide a full picture of how a file has been accessed over its life. The cloud’s risks become manageable with strong passwords, encryption, tracking and remote wipe functionality.

And the best defense against potential cloud-related exposures? Agents who embrace the cloud may find it’s the best way to properly control it. Practicality and probability are huge components of assessing risk, and like it or not, agents are already using unsafe personal devices all the time to squeeze efficiency out of their days. Developing a robust mobile policy gives agents the ability to control and audit exactly how sensitive information will be used by partners and colleagues. The cloud actually eliminates broader business risks, too: The risk of being out-competed, or, worse, inviting problems in through your back door by relying on outdated computer systems.

The cloud helps address some of the challenges that have lingered in the insurance agency for half a decade—contending with everything from changing customer and workforce expectations to increasingly burdensome regulatory requirements, according to a recent study from Accenture, “How Cloud Computing will Transform Insurance.” And in that time, cloud solutions have only gotten more useful, while cloud partner technologies have made the cloud ever more secure.

As consumers grow accustomed to technologies resolving administrative tasks, they want more from their agent. They now place a premium on personal service by showing their loyalty to those who deliver service on their terms, according to Ernst & Young’s 2014 Global Customer Insurance Survey. Today’s consumers have grown less patient. Consider something as routine as contract signing: Consumers are no longer willing to deal with opening, printing, signing, scanning and sending documents, since they perceive the number of steps and effort to greatly outweigh the simplicity of the task.

Cloud solutions are not only good for your consumers—they can also help you streamline and coordinate many day-to-day workflows. You might be in the field assessing damages, estimating the nitty-gritty of certain risks, awaiting responses from carriers, collaborating with colleagues, navigating customer inquiries—all daily logistics that hamper your ability to focus on relationships because you don’t have the information or context you need at your fingertips. And that introduces the possibility that you’ll be ill-prepared for client inquiries. The power of cloud technologies can prevent these day-to-day logistical nightmares. Cutting-edge products exist solely to enhance productivity while mitigating risk.

In this environment, independent agents and boutique firms should have the edge—they’re already free of bureaucracy. They’re also much more in tune with their consumers. But smaller firms risk squandering their competitive advantage by fearing the very tools that would make them even more competitive. For an industry that’s all about assessing risk, the benefits of the cloud far outweigh the fears.

Asaf Cidon is the co-founder and CEO of cloud security startup Sookasa, which provides HIPAA-compliant Dropbox encryption and enables professionals like insurance agents to control their data securely via the cloud.