Technology companies have historically had a bit of a reputation for taking themselves too seriously and not speaking the same language as the rest of the world. But it is increasingly important that technology and business works hand in hand, since a large proportion of sales take place online.
In the protection market, recent research from Pacific Life Re found 45 per cent of people would prefer to buy life insurance online and that improving online access and processes were the two areas consumers wanted us to focus on the most.
Since the introduction of electronic application forms in the late-1990s, insurers’ online capabilities have been honed and refined in order to make the buying and selling process as smooth as possible.
But the age of the insurer-specific online application is nearing its end, with technology allowing distributors to design their own process with which insurers are asked to comply.
In the past, large intermediaries such as banks worked with an insurer to create a branded version of their online application, often with a distinct question set. Once implemented, alterations and adaptations were possible but costly and time consuming to effect.
The modern solution will see buying processes which flex, depending on the type of customer and product, offering anything from a short, simplified journey to a full “IFA”-style application. Areas not giving optimal performance can be changed, tested and implemented immediately without huge IT resource from either party.
The new age will also empower large IFA firms and networks, whose reviews and tenders with insurers now often focus on the ability to give a bespoke service, designed by the broker to mesh with their other business areas and minimise repetitive, clunky transitions between systems.
Insurers now see IT as close to the core of their offering – capable of releasing some of the system constraints felt by underwriters and product designers, as opposed to simply a department within it – and are collaborating with partners and specialist solutions to ensure their digital capabilities are up to speed. As such, techies are losing their out-of-touch reputation.
To be clear, we are no longer talking about technology replacing the human interaction with the customer. Just as 45 per cent in that PLRe survey wanted to buy online, 55 per cent wanted to phone, go face-to-face or even use a paper pack to talk protection. It is about the process being easily adaptable to serve whichever route needs to be taken.
In fact, more adaptable technology gives greater power to the sharp minds our industry already has, helping them underwrite, price and sell more effectively.
This is how we grow the market: by delivering what our customers – be they banks, networks, IFAs or customers – tell us they want and by being responsive and agile when it is recognised something is not working the way we had hoped. It is an old joke but the principle stands: if at first you don’t succeed, call it version 1.0.
Phil Jeynes is head of sales and marketing at UnderwriteMe