The Key to Agent Automation: Knowing What Your Agent Needs

Keith Raymond

Keith Raymond

Automation that enhances the agent experience and ultimately their selling and service capabilities is fundamental to enabling their success. But with so many potential areas to focus on, from portals to licensing and contracting to mobile, it can be challenging to know what to prioritize. Here are some best practices to help CIOs and business partners focus attention on the most value-added elements of agent automation:

  • Know your agent: A successful agent is someone who puts the needs of their clients first, has a positive impact on the people and community in which they serve, and takes pride in being counted on by their clients. Knowing the motivations of an agent provides a good base for understanding where you can get the most value from your investments.
  • Create an inventory of opportunity: Given the complex array of systems that provide support for the agent, a significant step is creating an inventory. There are a mountain of touch points that leave a lasting impression for an agent.To fully realize areas of opportunity, CIOs and their teams should develop a process map covering the agent interactions with all the touch points during the course of a business day.
  • Define metrics for success: The measures of success are likely to be a combination of things like improving the efficiency of submission to commission process, straight-through processing, aggregating access via single sign-on, and reducing agent onboarding times. Whatever the ultimate metrics may be, the process of working with agents and business partners to develop the metrics helps bring all parties together.
  • Understand mobile use cases and value: Mobility for agents has grown beyond calendar and contacts to more of a full agent “mobile office.” Depending on the use case, agents may be looking to access all of their data and applications from any device from anywhere at any time. A well thought-out and well executed IT strategy can support mobile applications by leveraging an open, service-oriented architecture.
  • Consider the impact of emerging technology: For most carriers, using today’s widely available digital technology and approaches will have the most immediate value in agent automation. But there are several emerging technologies, like gamification and wearables, whose potential values should be considered for inclusion on carriers’ roadmaps for the next few years.

Agents are heavily dependent on automation for every aspect of the engagement and service functions that support the ability and sell and service a client. The more CIOs can enable them through technology and process simplicity, the easier it is for them to do what they do best: develop relationships and provide peace of mind.

For more on this topic, see my recent CIO Checklist report: http://novarica.com/agent-automation/

CIOs Should Not Underestimate the Potential of XaaS

Chris Eberly

Chris Eberly

Some technology trends are just that: trends. Others have the potential to change the landscape of the IT industry landscape. A deep review and understanding of XaaS (“Anything as a Service”) puts the practice on a parallel with similar industry sea changes of the past, like the PC movement of the 80s, the web movement of the 90s, and the sourcing movement in the 00s. Here are our thoughts on what the best practices are for CIOs moving forward with XaaS implementation:

    • Review current business processes with a critical eye: Whenever a CIO embarks on replacing any major platform, the first caution is not to recreate what already exists into another system, unless the business is completely satisfied with the current platform which quickly begs the question; why move? Assuming there is a need to move because the existing platform is complex, not scaling appropriately, doesn’t support current compliance requirements, lacking modern security
      capabilities, costing too much to maintain, or any other similar reason, the first step should be to review what functions are being supported, what value is behind these functions, and are these functions generic to the industry.
    • Define value add processes and align to benefit targets: It is important to define value-add processes and take the step to align benefit targets to each of these processes. This analysis will need to start with a top-level agreement between CIO and COO on value benefits, cost of non-standard process, and success metrics before moving into discussions and process planning.
    • Implement Rent vs Buy vs Build model: A very old question that is outlined in just about every IT strategy is the philosophy direction of Buy versus Build. XaaS adds a new dimension of whether the function or service should be rented? In other words, can the company pay per user, pay per customer or pay per policy instead of making the significant investment, to buy or build a platform?
    • Prepare for organizational shift, not just technology shift: There is clearly a technology shift in moving to XaaS which includes all the challenges and opportunities with implementing a new platform. One aspect that isn’t as apparent is the need to make an organizational shift from a focus on development and application maintenance to vendor and product management. Specific consideration might include QA focus more on regression testing using business use cases instead of feature testing focus, a shift from focus on intra data center design to inter data center design, and architecture with greater focus on data, data management instead of interconnecting applications within data center.
    • Shift primary focus to data and analytics capabilities: Many IT shops spend most their time and resource maintaining, developing, and servicing existing platforms, which leaves little ability to address the huge data frontier. By fully taking advantage of XaaS, IT shops can reallocate resources to focus on unleashing the power of data into the whole enterprise.

Lessons learned and experience from previous sea changes lead us to review XaaS as part of the IT strategy roadmap. XaaS is not simply a new technology but rather a clear move and opportunity that requires a full assimilation into IT shops. At a minimum, adopting XaaS should create the opportunity to bring IT and business teams closer together.

 

For more on this topic, see my recent CIO Checklist report: http://novarica.com/best-practices-for-xaas-strategy/

Revenge of the Mutuals?

Rob McIsaac

An interesting article came out over the weekend that delves into the consolidation that has taken place among publicly traded life insurance companies, and contrasts this trend with the relatively stable number of mutual carriers that are in the market today. We are now the better part of two decades past the period when there was a significant demutualization effort which included notable, name-brand, national carriers. In that period, we have weathered multiple recessions, one of them the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, and emerged into a world that has experienced persistent low interest rates. Taken as a whole, these factors have produced a series of economic outcomes which were outside of the planning corridors that many carriers executed against. As the article suggests, carriers face some very interesting challenges going forward. For those with long tail liabilities such as life and annuity contracts, the conflicts associated with quarterly earnings reports and maximizing shareholder value appear to be particularly daunting.

There is more to this story, however, which may suggest some additional advantages for mutual carriers. Almost without exception, life carriers are grappling with aging technology platforms which may date as far back as the Kennedy administration. The blocks of business on these platforms are themselves old, and may be closed to new business. But because they were at the heart of these businesses over multiple decades they have become, through the magic of cost accounting, blocks of business which absorb significant overhead for carriers. For many companies, these platforms represent a significant drag in terms of being able to implement new products and services effectively. At the same time, however, these platforms, if they are walled off, can become quite stable and relatively inexpensive to operate. This can meaningfully influence both operational and financial outcomes for carriers.

We recently unearthed a 1995 chronicle from MIT which provides a fascinating view of the first 35 years of policy administration utilization in North America. The fact that many of the systems that were deemed to be aging in that 22-year-old report are still being used by carriers should give cause for concern to some!

In any case, as carriers plot their technology strategy for the future, addressing these old systems and blocks of business running on them will become increasingly critical. The investments and planning horizon required to make them successful may be easier for mutually owned companies to execute than it will be for their publicly traded competitors given their respective focus on long- versus short-term results.

Even as market competitive threats loom large, it is not just a technology challenge that many life insurance carriers face. There is an accounting and a reporting issue which carriers would be well advised to consider as they put their strategic plans in place.

News and Views Roundup: DOL Updates, Industrial IoT, Autonomous Vehicle Strategy, MetLife’s Spin-off

Rob McIsaac

Rob McIsaac on MetLife spinning off its retail unit.





Tom Benton

Tom Benton on HSB’s recent acquisition of industrial IoT startup Meshify.





Chuck Ruzicka

Chuck Ruzicka on the recent autonomous vehicle partnership between Allianz, Toyota, and BMW.





Rob McIsaac

Rob McIsaac on Merrill Lynch cutting commissions for IRAs in order to comply with the “client best interest” provision of the DOL ruling.





Mitch Wein

Mitch Wein on the potential for increased federal oversight of state workers’ compensation in light of a recent DOL report.

Hartford Steam Boiler Acquired Industrial IoT Startup Meshify

Tom Benton

As Internet of Things (IoT) devices and data become increasingly important for smart homes, smart buildings and smart facilities, insurers are considering how to leverage IoT for underwriting, loss prevention and claims. However, they face several challenges, among them the lack of standards for interfacing with IoT devices and platforms to take in the data and integrating the large volumes of data into analytics platforms to leverage the data. Hartford Steam Boiler (HSB) remains on the leading edge of IoT through their acquisition of Meshify this week, along with their investment in IoT startup Waygum last year. Meshify provides a cloud-based platform that “makes any device smart” along with tools for real-time monitoring, alerting and access to information through mobile applications. HSB and parent Munich Re consider the acquisition as a strengthening of their technical capabilities for providing innovation to their customers. Meshify’s capabilities will help HSB’s customers collect important data for risk reduction, but should also enable HSB to go beyond a value-added service for customers to better analyzing customer risk for underwriting and product pricing.

Talking to the Board, Talking to Millennials (and How the Two are Related)

Matthew Josefowicz

As insurers increasingly become tech companies that sell insurance, ensuring that the highest levels of management understand that technology is a source of competitive advantage rather than a risk should be on every CIO’s list of priorities for 2016.

Our annual Quick IT Benchmarks report provides Insurer CIOs with data on the state of IT spending and initiatives at their operational peers. These benchmarks are designed to provide both an opportunity for self-assessment and a tool to help CIOs communicate with senior management at their companies. In a recent report on Technology and Corporate Governance in Insurance (check out the webinar here), we found that few corporate boards have the experience to manage IT in a strategic way, yet that’s precisely what will be required over the next few years as boomers retire and millennials take their place in society.

This generational change, and the change in mindset it will necessitate in insurers, is the real theme of our recent report on the Internet of Things. While the IoT is not exactly pervasive yet, the larger point is that it’s symptomatic of a change in the expectations consumers, agents, and employees have of technology. Proactive, usability driven, smart – how many insurer’s systems currently measure up to these expectations?

Related Research

To Move Forward, Insurer CIOs Must Look Outward

Chuck Ruzicka

In our recent report on IT Budgets and Projects for 2016, CIOs cited their top challenges as IT operations, talent availability, and budgetary restrictions. How can you address, i.e. move forward on these issues? CIOs indicate that are looking outward and that they will be increasingly using cloud-based services and outsourcing to address these challenges.

Larger carriers project only modest increases in outsourcing. We have noticed over the course of the past few years that insurers are moving to embrace the use of blended/variable staffing rather than expanding traditional Application Development and Maintenance contracts. Outsourced infrastructure management and support services are waning in popularity as more insurers move applications to the cloud. Midsize carriers indicate that they are increasing their use of outsourcing. While these arrangements may seem challenging or uninitiated, services have matured and are not just for pioneers.

Carriers need to find the optimal level of outsourcing for themselves. Balancing cost and capacity benefits against their own abilities to manage external providers is crucial. Insurers who require more flexible cost structures may also consider moving towards variable or blended staffing models. This transfers some risk to the services provider but can reduce administrative overhead for both parties and establish more effective strategic partnerships.

Carriers should be evaluating strategic sourcing and outsourcing services on a regular basis. Remember to look outside for best practices and lessons learned to ease the transition.

Related Research:

Update from Orlando: Themes for 2016

Rob McIsaac

I had the opportunity to participate in the revamped CSC user conference recently, which was a terrific opportunity to visit with both the issues … and the challenges … facing carriers as they move into the final stages of 2015’s Budget Season. With technology developments moving quickly and the reality of raised expectations around what “good experiences” should really be like, carriers face some important prioritization decisions in the near future.

Legacy

For carriers we see continued efforts to push toward the concurrent addressing of legacy technology issues while trying to improve capabilities related to product deployments and improved end user experiences for consumers and producers. Time to market continues to be a recurring theme for carriers although in the session I had a chance to facilitate there was a clear distinction raised by some CIOs who, armed with process metrics, were able to confirm that the IT group was no longer the “long pole” in that tent. This was but one manifestation of how better analytics can help organizations be more effective and efficient … while potentially helping build greater trust between IT teams and their “other business unit” customers.

Budgets

That said, one of the laments of the CIOs in the session was the overwhelming percentage of their spending annually that goes to “keeping the lights on”. For the vast majority of carriers this continues to hover at or above 75% (equal to the “Run” plus “Grow” spending in our new Insurer IT Budgets and Projects 2016 report), leaving limited headroom for transformational efforts and innovation.

To that end, there was considerable discussion across the conference events related to both BPO services (as a mechanism for addressing legacy products and platforms) and increased interest in the role cloud solutions can play in the future. This is certainly consistent with other research Novarica has done and positive cloud experiences with SFDC and Office365 seem to be confirming that key workloads can effectively be handled for carriers. Both of these capabilities can ultimately allow CIOs to respond to what we are seeing in the 2016 budget surveys for carriers: a continuation of a theme that requires “doing more … without much more money.”

Data and Digital

Analytics and expanded digital capabilities are also top of mind for many carriers. The need to think about distribution system issues, highlighted by the average agent age now riding to 59 in the U.S. should be impacting more investment decisions than it is at the moment. The realization that Millennials now (and forever more) outnumber Baby Boomers does not yet seem to have sunk in for many organizations.

Innovation, in varying forms, was a topic that emerged in almost every conversation at this event. In addition to the M&A activity that a number of carriers (and solution providers) embarked on in 2015 to build their own set of capabilities, there was considerable interest in the investment funds that a number of carriers have very publicly deployed over the course of the past year. For some small carriers, this raised a concern about the best way forward to competing in a rapidly evolving space. To that end, discussions about the Global Insurance Incubator (Des Moines, IA) and other local shared sourcing events proved interesting. Further, approaches that carriers have made to create innovation centers from Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley were very much on the minds of carriers in the sessions we facilitated.

Talent and IT Organizations

Another area of considerable interest related to some of the challenges carriers face with both managing an aging IT workforce to address their current needs, exacerbated by some of the challenges carriers have experienced with attracting and retaining a younger generation of associates to support their technical needs. Recent research we’ve done at Novarica both highlights the “Silver Tsunami” issue and offers insights into actionable steps CIOs can take now to address the concerns.

The Future

We have repeatedly said that 2015 has been, in many ways, the year that the future arrived. Competition among solution and service providers heightens their “game” for delivering the functionality carriers will need in their own battles to stay competitive (and relevant) in that future. The transformational journeys for L&A and P&C carriers are evolving along somewhat unique pathways, no doubt tied to the length of the tails associated with their primary product offerings. Irrespective of the lines of business, however, the realization that legacy solutions can’t provide the horsepower needed to address the future state needs of the carriers they support is increasingly clear for CIOs and their senior teams. Armed with a range of solutions for both technical capabilities and hosting options, the future promises to be dynamic. And yes, the insurance industry has clearly entered a period of interesting times.

3.5%? Really?

Frank Petersmark

Having just returned from the annual PCI Technology Conference, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on some of the macro trends discussed. As is usually the case, it was packed with interesting and actionable content. It’s also one of the few conferences where the networking and perspectives exchanges amongst participants is as valuable as the sessions themselves. This year, among the usual pledges to do more with data and analytics, and to keep powering through those core systems transformations, there was one other theme that is worth noting.

In his annual update, Matt Josefowicz of Novarica provided some interesting data and perspectives on the forces propelling IT initiatives and their corresponding spend in the industry. However, the one that really caught my attention was a slide that Matt noted had not changed much, if at all, in at least the past ten years, and perhaps longer. And that was a graphic illustrating the amount of money insurance companies were spending on technology, as a percentage of direct written premium. That percentage was, is, and if you were an actuarial reviewing the trend line, will be, 3.5%.

Novarica PCI Tech Presentation 2015 Slide IT Budgets

Wait a minute. Based on the many discussions over the strategic importance of IT and technology to insurers, at this conference and over the past several years, it does not seem plausible that the investment amount has not increased. In fact, PCI featured a couple of excellent sessions wherein CIOs and their bosses – in this case a CEO and a COO – extolled the strategic import of technology in everything they were doing, and were planning on doing. They were preaching to the choir of course, but it doesn’t seem to align well with 3.5% investment statistic. Why should this be the case?

There may be many external factors, including macro market conditions, investment returns for insurers, underwriting profitability, etc. But I can’t help but believe that there may be another factor at play, as incongruous as it may sound, and that is that IT leaders, when it comes right down to it, still struggle at some level to effectively communicate the strategic value of IT that would justify additional strategic investments in technology and IT. It’s difficult to believe that would still be the case, but it’s also difficult to believe that the investment amount has not changed across this long time frame. If one didn’t know better, or hear the conversations in the PCI technology conference, one might simply look at that 3.5% investment over time as just another budget line item, like for real estate or office supplies. But that’s not the case, and it’s certainly not how some of those who make these investment decisions view the importance of technology, based on the many conference conversations over the past few years.

It seems for the 3.5% number to increase, IT leaders are going to have to become much better at communicating what they’re bringing to the table, and what that can do for the organization over the short and long term. That can be done, but it requires a different communications approach for many IT leaders when they meet with their executive steering committees and their boards. We have written recently on the importance of finding a common communications language that will resonate with an organization’s top decision makers. If the needle is ever going to move on the 3.5% investment number, this is the place to start.

I’ll be presenting my work in this are in a free webinar on Thursday, September 24, at 2:00pm EDT. Pre-register here .

Trends in Claims

Mitch Wein

According to Novarica’s 2015 US Insurer IT Budgets and Projects report, approximately 20-30% of insurers are replacing claims systems.

On Wednesday, May 28th at 2 pm (ET) I will be hosting a webinar, which will examine trends and issues in claims management systems, as well as review highlights from our Market Navigator report on leading claims vendors. Attendees of this webinar will also learn about:

  • Current market overview
  • Present state of claims system technologies
  • Advanced capabilities in claims
  • And more
Investments in Insurance Claims Technology 2015

Investments in Insurance Claims Technology 2015

Claims technology continues to play a crucial role in a carrier’s ability to differentiate, control costs, and deliver a consistent level of high service. Insurers continue to replace claims systems at a heavy pace. With the impact of mobile and social media starting to be felt as well, modern claims capabilities are a must for insurers.

To pre-register for this event, visit: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/120108826