As a new year approaches, independent insurance agencies are looking at how they can improve their businesses. A major focus will be agency technology.
The heart of most agencies’ technology programs is the agency management system. Ron Berg, executive director for the independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America’s Agents Council for Technology, expects to see system vendors make incremental changes and buy software vendors to add capabilities. Applied Systems’ recent acquisition of Indio Technologies is an example of the latter approach. Chris Burand of Burand Associates says the major system vendors are at a decision point. “They’re going to have to decide whether to open access to other vendors’ modular enhancements or to buy vendors.”
Industry technology consultant Steve Anderson thinks the Applied purchase of Indio is a sign of things to come. “It’s an indicator that vendors are being more intentional in rounding out their products,” he says. “The emphasis is on plugging holes.”
In the meantime, Burand advises agencies not to wait for their systems to integrate all the enhancements they need. He hosted an insurtech summit meeting last summer. The key point he got from it: “You must be willing to adopt modular technology because none of the agency management systems can adopt everything you need.”
Will more agencies adopt advanced technologies such as chatbots and artificial intelligence? Burand says adoption will get faster “because it can’t go any slower.” Berg thinks 2020 will be a pivotal year for adoption, noting that only 7% of agencies use chatbots now. “It won’t ramp straight up,” he says, “but it will increase. There has never been a better, easier, more cost-effective time to implement these technologies.”
Anderson believes adoption will rise as the costs drop and the tools become easier to use. He also points to new agencies spinning off of mergers. These agencies have young leaders who are pushing technology.
Burand says, “Agents need to move forward (with these technologies) more quickly, but my heart goes out to them on choosing the right ones.” His company is offering a new service that will vet technology providers for agencies.
As more people regularly access the internet through smartphones and tablets, Berg expects more agencies to make their websites mobile-friendly or to offer mobile apps. Studies show that two-thirds of insurance buyers who start their searches on mobile devices will leave a site that is not mobile-friendly. “All the tools are there,” he says. “There is less of an excuse now for not having mobile-friendly sites.”
Agencies are growing more comfortable with using social media to reach customers, and that trend is likely to continue. LinkedIn appears to be the platform giving them the best results, according to Anderson. Burand agrees, saying LinkedIn is “far and away” where his clients go because of its better reputation and the quality of connections.
The other platforms are a mixed bag, however. Berg says some agencies who have “static” websites are very active on Facebook, posting announcements and alerts. Anderson thinks many agencies still struggle with how to use Facebook. Burand sees errors and omissions risks from using Facebook and Twitter, as staff may post statements that can hurt the agency. Regardless of the chosen platforms, Anderson recommends that agencies be on several for increased visibility.
While insurtech companies that sell insurance directly to consumers tend to get most of the media attention, firms that make products for agencies may be the ones to watch. Burand mentioned companies like Smart Harbor, which provides chat and other technologies, and Exdion, which provides artificial intelligence solutions, as some of the notable players. Anderson and Berg cite companies like Bold Penguin, which connects businesses, agents and carriers, and DAIS Technologies, which eliminates repetitive work and helps agencies use their own data for decision-making, as companies to watch.
“Smaller organizations are having new ideas and actually implementing them,” Anderson says. Among these are Total CSR, which helps agencies train new staff that have no insurance experience. It starts by training employees on tasks, such as completing applications, then adds coverage training later.
Technology is constantly changing, and it’s forcing the insurance industry to change along with it. The agencies of tomorrow are adapting to these changes today.