When we help client P&C carriers measure their agents’ ease-of-business experiences, technology rarely emerges as the primary reason agents place business with other carriers.
Yet many carrier executives allocate a great deal of their strategic focus and resources on transforming technology.
Technology is Just One Barrier to Ease of Business
Carrier executives are justifiably anxious about their technology capabilities. Most know their technology interfaces with agents and policyholders needs to be better.
However, it can take years and millions of dollars to work through a digital transformation. In the meantime, a strong focus on technology can easily distract carriers from other factors, such as more efficient underwriting and claims handling, that impact agents’ placement decisions to a much greater extent.
Ironically, management often justifies the time and expense of technology transformation with the expectation that technology will improve efficiency and decrease operating expenses. However, at the end of the day, technology itself does not always bring these benefits—especially when it is superimposed over inefficient processes and uninspired operating teams.
We are not suggesting that carriers delay digital transformation. Carriers and agents need increasingly efficient technology to remain competitive in the long term. We DO advise that technology not be viewed as the magic pill that will cure all ills.
Do Not Wait to Break Down Other Barriers
You can start improving your processes and agency relationships NOW—wherever you stand in the digital transformation cycle—by taking a hard look at your current performance in the eyes of your distribution network.
Your agents can help you identify your best opportunities to earn more business. They know the factors that are causing unnecessary barriers to successful transactions. Unnecessary barriers add time and expense. They demotivate your distribution network and operating teams.
Removing these obstacles now will give you immediate benefits by lowering your costs per transaction.
In addition to achieving immediate cost reduction, eliminating these barriers means that you won’t unwittingly institutionalize them within your new technology systems.
Four Examples of Other Ease-of-Business Barriers
Every carrier’s situation is different, so each needs to perform their own assessment. However, here are some common examples of unnecessary barriers.
1. Lack of Clear, Consistent Appetite
When the carrier’s operating team is not clear about the carrier’s appetite, they send mixed messages to their distribution network. The distribution network then wastes their time and resources—and the carrier’s time and resources —seeking and submitting business that will not be placed.
The most successful carriers work to ensure that their entire operating team knows what they want and goes after it.
Others take a “spray and pray” approach to underwriting. Worse, some carriers profess to want a type of business when they know they will not do a good job with underwriting and are unlikely to be successful for the agent.
Your agents can provide clarity on how your team performs in this critical area.
Here is a representative quote from an agent expressing frustration with inconsistent messaging:
“Make it evident what their business appetite is and communicate it throughout the company organization and agency force.”
2. Lack of Quick, Easy Access to Knowledgeable Underwriters
Nothing kills a deal faster than slow or incomplete response from an underwriter. What used to take weeks or months must now be done in hours or days.
Agents’ prospects and clients demand fast response, so agents value quick access to decision makers at the carrier. Yet feedback from agents indicates that this access is becoming increasingly difficult, hurting the agents’ ability to close deals. It is another inefficient time waster for agents and carriers.
Here are two examples of the problem as expressed by successful agents:
“Agents require quick access to an underwriter. This is the number one reason business is not placed with some carriers. We simply cannot wait days for an actual human to return our call/email when quoting.”
“Underwriters must be knowledgeable about companies’ coverages and WILLING TO SHARE this knowledge when asked.”
3. Overly Complicated Decision Process
Underwriting is an analytical job. Underwriters are expected to be thorough in their analysis and follow a logical decision-making process.
Unnecessary barriers arise when “thorough” is taken to an extreme. Carriers should continually reassess what data is needed to evaluate and price risk, and what data adds little value. The benefits of “thorough” analysis must be balanced against the cost of losing business to a competitor with a more streamlined decision process.
In the following comment, a successful agent identifies how they feel when this balance is lost:
“Less underwriting after the account is written or renewed. Stop with the requirements and questions from underwriting that constantly come up and are usually inconsequential. It creates too much work for everyone and annoys the customers and does not increase anyone’s bottom line.”
4. Inconsistent & Inefficient Transaction Processes
Carriers can decrease barriers by periodically reviewing their processes with an eye towards increased efficiency and accuracy.
When reviewing their processes, they should also consider how changes will impact their agents’ processes. Carriers and agents need to find greater efficiency together to avoid disruption to our industry.
Agents provided the following insights when describing inconsistent and inefficient transaction processes:
“We need processing to complete tasks in a timely manner. At times, it takes way too long to get an endorsement or endorsement quote request back.”
“Issue policies and endorsements accurately the first time instead of having to send them back multiple times for corrections.”
Key Take Away
Don’t wait to complete your digital transformation before you begin gaining the benefits of cost reduction and growth that comes from eliminating unnecessary barriers to successful transactions. In addition to gaining immediate returns, streamlining your processes now will help ensure that you don’t bake inefficiencies into your next-generation technology.