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E-business experience

Scottish Equitable Protect head of marketing Rod McKie says electronic submission of new business needs to take account of the customer experience

P roduct providers initially introduced e-business services with an aim to reduce their operating costs. Then, after feedback from IFAs suggesting this was a bit self-centred, the message changed to one of what such services could do for the IFA business model.

Fortunately, it turned out that there are benefits whichever way you slice it, for the provider, the adviser and ultimately the customer. Submitting protection business electronically will save time and money.

One area which has been underestimated is the impact that adopting e-business services can have on the customer experience.

Given the public image of the protection market at present, we could all do with making the customer experience of buying protection as painless as possible. How does switching from paper to electronic applications help to improve the customer experience?

Most of us are time-poor and becoming increasingly so. We expect to be able to buy everything quicker and easier than before.

The financial services industry is buying into this concept, with banks competing to see who can grant loans and deliver the money into customers’ bank accounts the fastest. This is creating increased expectations within customers of what good service is and should be.

Data capture form should be used to collect personal and health questions up front. removing the need in most cases, for the adviser to visit the customer for more information. This creates time for the adviser to work on securing more business and service existing clients. Saving the client time, effort and inconvenience is becoming increasingly important to the success of any transaction.

Given that no one disclosure is the same, the variety of customer responses provides challenges to the adviser in getting the information that will maximise the chances of an immediate underwriting decision. In the paper world, it has long been the frustration of underwriters that, with a small amount of additional information from the customer at point of sale, a large number of proposals could be accepted immediately without the need for further medical evidence and the time this would take.

E-business submission is greatly easing this problem with advances in client data capture and intelligent underwriting engines.

One significant and often understated benefit is that e-submission ensures the proposal is fully completed. The industry often reports that one in three paper proposals have various information missing which often results in delays while the missing data is obtained. The fact that full completion is mandatory ensures benefits to all parties.

An electronic submission gives the adviser the ideal opportunity to gain an acceptance at point of sale, asking the underwriting questions either face to face or by phone. Where live interviewing cannot take place, the information required can be obtained at point of sale by a data-capture form and submitted electronically later.

Where a disclosure or a high sum assured generates automatic evidence the whole process can be speeded up by an automated evidence request process.

Experience has shown us that in order to maximise the chances of online acceptance on cases where there has been a disclosure, the electronic underwriting system must be fully integrated with back-office systems and vitally, must be interactive. The underwriting-based questions should be clear and concise, with the interactive questioning focusing on dealing with those cases where the information required by the underwriters is readily known by the client. A good example of this is asthma. On the other hand, most clients are not aware of the information required to assess cancer risks. This results in more questions being asked about asthma than cancer, which invariably requires information from the GP or specialist.

We have developed our interactive underwriting system with the intention of maximising the opportunity for automated acceptances and evidence requests, minimising the time to on risk for all e-cases. However, we believe we have done so without compromising our underwriting philosophy.

Product providers should aim to provide cover to customers wherever possible and not simply to cherrypick the cleanest lives.

This highlights one of the potential dangers of comparing the effectiveness of different underwriting engines through publicly quoted straight-through processing rates. These rates can be significantly affected by the type of business and the age of customer they are asked to deal with. It is possible for different providers to have largely different STP rates mainly due to the different business mix and customer characteristics that they attract.

Many insurers which offer electronic submission now get well over half of their proposals electronically but most will also offer the choice of paper as well as an online facility because an underwriting engine will never be able to replace fully the need for manual underwriting.

The personal touch can add value to some customer proposals. An area that is often overlooked when assessing the relative merits of providers’ e-business services is the admin support devoted to those cases that cannot be given a decision immediately by the underwriting engine.

Providers need to demonstrate they understand the importance of a back-up admin service if they are to realise fully the potential of e-new business for themselves, advisers and customers.

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