Last year naturally saw little innovation due to providers focusing on regulatory changes. I’m hoping this year will prove to be much more exciting, and in particular, I hope to be impressed with some improvements in technology as well as product development.
I have helped many providers develop online propositions over the last decade, and while there have undeniably been improvements, restrictive budgets and cautious vision has meant there have only been two initiatives that have really impressed me; Friends Provident when they launched E-Select; and then when Ageas came to market, having taken inspiration from E-Select and improved upon it. Ageas’ launch was back in 2009, and I am eagerly waiting to be bowled over with some serious innovation again.
A sophisticated e-commerce proposition might not win business from IFAs in the same way that products and pricing will, but it should not be neglected. Margins are tight and IFAs will be attracted by systems that keep costs down. Providers of course will also benefit from cost savings which could be invested in other improvements.
I believe there are three key aspects to an online proposition; Quote & Apply, Pipeline Management and Existing Business. Most offer the first with varying degrees of success, a few offer the second and the third has been largely ignored.
Making it easy for intermediaries to submit business is vital and sophisticated underwriting systems that enable a large proportion of customers to be accepted immediately is what most will want. But not all. The key advice I give every provider is that systems should reflect that there are many different ways intermediaries do business, so must offer a variety of options to ensure firms are not alienated.
Currently, systems are primarily designed for intermediaries to key in the applications, but why not give intermediaries the option to get their customers to do it, by giving them a client-specific link to access the underwriting questions? It saves time, will help customers who might be reluctant to share health issues with their adviser and it reduces the risk of intermediaries accidentally mis-keying details.
Integrated pipeline management systems, which link in to the application where the intermediary can find all information in one place, where they can update the application during the underwriting process, and which send proactive messages when there has been a development is much better than the current, largely ineffective tracking systems, and Ageas stands out in this respect.
It’s the existing business side that need some real development. Let’s have systems that help intermediaries manage their existing book, showing policy details and claims, which send out notifications about missed premiums, and changes to contact details. It can also be used by intermediaries to update customer details for the provider’s benefit too. Systems that focus on existing customers will help intermediaries improve retention rates.
E-Commerce propositions need to move away from just focusing on new business and instead should help intermediaries manage their client’s cover from quote through to the policy’s end. Which providers are up for the challenge?
Emma Thomson is life office relationship director at Lifesearch