Digital Insurance – The Myth of the Online Buyer

The insurance industry is currently dealing with digital disruption, and by disruption I’m talking about the change in the consumer and the consumer habits, what I call The New Face of Insurance.

The myth that the insurance consumer is not ready for the digital world must be dispelled. According to The surprising facts about who shops online and on mobile (Business Insider 2015):

  • One in four shoppers is actually over the age of 55
  • Millennials make up the largest portion of online shoppers in terms of dollars spent and yet they earn the least

According to Gartner, 43% of our industry revenue will come directly from digital markets by 2020. Now think about that in our current captive and broker world.

LIMRA says that:

  • 74% of insurance customers want to do research online, educate themselves before they even think about talking to an agent
  • 25% of those people will even buy online, right there and then
  • Sadly, that’s really not available in our industry

We went from captive agents to independent agents and now we’re moving to more of a I-want-to-be-my-own-agent.

An example of this would be a UK company by the name of Beagle Street. They’re attacking the old ways that we do things, attacking the old financial advisers. And what they’re saying is “come and buy online.” So how do we go with this?

Digital Strategy and Digital Footprint website redesign. It’s way more than that. It’s about continually evolving to make it easier for consumers to do business with you. You need to go where your consumers are – you can no longer expect your consumers to come to you.

It’s looking at multi-channel distribution; embracing your agents, embracing online, and embracing the education that people are looking for. Just think about the customer service improvements t by being able to reach out to them through social media when there is a catastrophe.

We’ve been invited to speak on this topic at insurance conferences a lot recently, and we’ve done a short video as well. If you’d like to learn more, contact us.

BPO hosting: Has the dark side finally been destroyed?

luke yodaWhen Luke Skywalker was being trained by Yoda did he ever think about Hosting vs BPO – well maybe he should have. Maybe there where bigger fish to fry than cutting his own Dad’s hand off, which felt a little cheesy.

So what are we talking about? Well, for years Carriers have sought a way not to spend multi-million dollars on infrastructure and to host or process outsource their core. Now if you have no CSR staff and do not wish to hire them, then process outsource was the only avenue, if you had CSRs but your enterprise infrastructure was poor you looked to a BPO to provide hosting. Breaking it down though, no BPO firm wants to host your policies, it is not in their business plan. Sure, they will but why do you think they will? Because their sales guy will constantly be trying to drip bleed you dry and move over to BPO “let us handle the excess claim volume next month”, “wow billing is such a simple area, we could take that off your hands and your valued staff could be moving into bigger things” – it is all the “camel’s nose under the tent” – you do not notice the nose and soon enough, the whole camel is in.

So where is this going, seeing as there are limited offerings… the world has changed and at last large Policy Admin vendors are looking to the Cloud. With harnessing new models in a way to offer their products the costing and security can seem great benefit, to the big and the small alike. Only last week I sat with a PAS vendor who took me through how they could, cost effectively, host several small carriers on one hosted instance, spreading the cost and achieving a way for everyone to access the latest and greatest software out there. Of course, people have laid claim to this before but no one has ever seemed to make it a realistic business model, until now.

The good news is, it is out there – finally we can see costing and hardware sizing where they should be — which is the best of what you want, when you need it. No longer do you need to size for your month-aversary and no longer does the end of year CPU crunch need to worry you…you can have the best of the Admin Systems and you can strap on power when you need it. I, for one, finally feel that really Insurance Admin in the Cloud is here and it is here to stay.

Admin vendors can worry about their product enhancements; Cloud providers focus solely on the security and fail over (they are the best at it after all); carriers can focus on customer service and product. Amen, we are all where we should be. And what about us integrators? Well that is simple, with any move like this comes a need to not only have your Cloud strategy in place but also the ideal time to review your Enterprise Architecture as a whole. PAS is just one thing, what about Office 365 in the Cloud? The list goes on and on – it is time to see if the Cloud has an avenue for your organization and time to stop letting others control your destiny. Cloud vs BPO hosting /services – a no brainer decision.

Product Innovation vs Product Complication: The “one minute strategy” syndrome

When is product innovation a hindrance?

jackalopeWhen it is innovation for innovation sake?

Let’s look at a company known for innovation and great products –Google; they have it right – or do they? It seems to me that product companies have teams that create wonderful new products, (Gmail, Google Maps) and you eagerly await the next one…what is the issue with that you say? The issue is these teams seem to stay with a product and tweak it and tweak it and feature enrich it until it ends up worse with each release. The age old maintainability and reliability over complication leads to poor usability.

These days, more often than not your hear the street complaining about the latest version-“Why did they remove select all?”; ”The search on the new version is awful, where is my old search?”; “Why are they auto filtering my email? If I wanted it in that folder I would have set a rule up…” – all complaints due to playing with the old rather than innovating the new.

Let’s look for a moment to the Insurance market – remember years ago when “time to market” was big? What did they do? Tweak the PAS systems to the point you can set up a new product in three days – to what gain? You cannot create and file a product in that time so why be able to get the PAS updated so fast? And why do they continue to invest in that feature?

Tweaking an old PAS leads to less reliability and increased maintenance; shortening the lifespan and forcing large injections of capital to replace – Why? Why not invest the short term dollars in enabling your enterprise to grow, facilitate change. The new breed of PAS systems are built on real components, with disconnected services and messaging – the Component Architecture.

More and more vendors are building tools based on such an architecture, removing the heavy integration and allowing the evolution of an enterprise component by component. No more breaking the old by adding the new, instead a simpler, proven method of extending or replacing the old without the integration and conversion nightmares of the past.

Why do I say product extension and feature tweaking is a “one minute strategy”? Because just like most Enterprise Roadmaps we see today, this development and innovation model lack thought and lacks a strategic vision. Instead of taking a moment to right the ship and steer a course into calmer water, these strategies propagate tactical solutions that never reach to the nub of the issue. We do not all have $50M to spend to keep replacing so we need an alternative, a different mode and that mode is to embrace the new architecture, get ready for it and then be able to accelerate change.

So next time you look at your product or your enterprise, try to think out of the box and stop trying to make a steering wheel better – it is round and it works…..look for ways to integrate it better….allowing future growth and expansion without the growing pains.

Why do Carriers feel the need to turn to Analysts for key decisions such as PAS replacement?

I have been pondering this more and more – I mean the sell prop seems so good at the onset. An Analyst firm is agnostic, so we are lead to believe, they spend every waking moment researching the exact topic, they do countless rfps and they promise to be right by your side all the way to….that’s the nub isn’t it, to the end of the selection. So let’s not even think about the fact they do not have to live with the decision let us really focus on the value prop.

So we look to an analyst because all they do is research topics like PAS replacement or legacy moderization, and that seems to me to be yet another problem — if you never actually go through the whole process how can you truly have a full understanding? I am not talking about asking carriers and CIOs about lessons learned; I am talking about learning them for yourself and having the key knowledge to really know how the “theory” reacts in the “real world”.Let’s take a fun example – if you decided one morning to reenact William Tell with modern weapons, who would you want to take the shot……shall we review the candidates?

Candidate 1) A man that analyzes weapons every second of every day, he knows every single moving part, the exact interactions, the kick, the muzzle velocities, heck he even talks to sharp shooters about the guns longevity, it’s reliability and confidence….seems to be the perfect candidate – he knows everything with the one exception of ever actually aiming and pulling a trigger.

Candidate 2) A US Army Ranger sharp shooter, he knows all he needs to know about the weapon, he may not know the exact rifling pattern but he does not need to he has something different; he knows exactly how the weapon reacts, the wind, the elevation and air pressure, the distance and drop of flight – he knows where the bullet will end up in the real world, not on paper.

So forget the original question – let’s have a new one – you are an Insurance CIO with an apple on your head and a lot to lose, who takes the shot at the apple? Who do you choose? Interesting thought…….

Star Trek: The Next Generation Policy Administration Insight from Scottie

Cheese Log Star Date 9/14/2011…..

“She cannae take any more, Captain, that’s all she’s got. The core cannae take any more stress.”

The Cheeseship Enterprise Crew

This is the ever-present line when Captain Kirk would yet again request Scottie to do the unimaginable and provide more power from the warp core. Believe it or not, this is the guide to Policy Administration for all Comic-Con attendees and other extreme fans who like to dress in Star Trek costumes for their weekend barbecues.

However, where is this all leading? Well, why did Kirk always call upon Scottie? Because Scottie had nothing else to do in the show and was supposed to be a main character?   Or more likely, because it’s common to look to the very core of the Enterprise to solve all of our issues?

In hundreds of years, when the USS Enterprise exists, will we always look to the core of our enterprise for the only solution? It has dawned on me that over time, Policy Administration systems and the need for additional functionality or performance have caused people to rush the conclusion that the PAS must be replaced. Most often these decisions are made without the proper planning and expertise to consider the entire enterprise, nay even the universe of solutions outside your enterprise that may either avert the need for such a project or indeed “buy significant time.”

Enterprise planning and the must-do precursor to a successful PAS project is oft overlooked with two major issues arising

  • The Policy Admin replacement may not be the best idea for your enterprise at this time
  • If Policy Admin replacement is the correct path then considerable Enterprise modernization and improvements abound as “low hanging fruit” to the project, oft overlooked and left to rot

So before you call on Scottie and shout at him for more and more or before you decide to buy the new Romulan warp core, I suggest you take a step back to see if, in fact, the Enterprise has other solutions to get you where you need to go. If not, make sure you take full advantage of the upgrade.
Cheese Out.

He said, She Said” – An excellent Dating game perhaps but not a strategy for Policy Admin Replacement

Yes I realize it may actually not be the best dating game concept; while it does provide some hilarious moments the last thing we need is a repeat of some 70’s concept that shows us how some couples know so little about each other. However, all too often it seems that the “relationship” between Carrier and Vendor can fall quickly into this mold.

More than any other question, I am asked:

“Why have so many of these complex projects have failed, and what are the main reasons to plan against?”

Most people have the industry standard answers but let’s cut through that and get to the nub of it – relationship.

Now do not get me wrong, fabulous planning and clear well defined requirements are a must but without a doubt, in a multi-year project it is the relationship that buys us more value.

So, what does that make me right about now? I guess I could be the “Hitch” of the Insurance world; just here to try and assist in the art of keeping a relationship healthy – okay so we may not see wedding bells but we will see success stories abound with future reference clients and projects coming in on time.

Let’s talk frankly about what I mean; it is about expectations and reactions to the bumps in the road that inevitably WILL occur. There is no way to avoid them and anyone saying they have a proven turn-key solution should be shown the door. For some reason most vendors refuse to discuss the reality of the situation – my take, let’s set out with the knowledge we will hit issues and work out how we will manage them, not just via a Change Control process or clear management but through good communication channels and openness.

Communication is so critical and both Carrier and Vendor are guilty of “hiding” the truths – for example, Vendors behind on delivery seem to wait until the last second when there is no mitigation approach to raise the hand to the issue. Why would anyone think that is the right approach? It is because over the years we have all shot the messenger. The reaction to such a delay or issue should be one of resolution and joint effort, asking the question “Can we find a way to not increase costs and timeline? Is there a creative solution?” Putting the shoe on the other foot we so often see Carriers resources get pulled in several directions, with current production issues or indeed new product development that trumps the project but more often than not, the resource constraints are not adequately communicated to the vendor. This can cause the vendor to hit hold ups and delivery constraints which circle back around to the first point until there is the cataclysmic “He said, She Said” blame game.

Every issue has a resolution, and if raised early we can normally find a creative method of shifting work phases, re-prioritizing deliverable or targeting additional resource allocation in the short-term – whatever it may be there are ways to solve most of the hurdles we will face if we do not stand there throwing the wedding china around.

Just like any relationship it is all about give and take; everyone has to be willing to bend and “eat a little” – when an issue arises, do not shoot the messenger, work together and find the best way to resolve it. No one and I mean no one wins the war, if you try to “win” the battle.

So next time you hit that point, instead of wondering how to bury it or how to find an “out”, think what “hitch” would advise you to do……and communicate.

Agency Website Revitalization

An Agency Website with a polished, rich design and robust functionality OR  an Agency Website with a basic design and moderate functionality – which would your Agents choose?

I can state with certainty they would choose the robust, functional, polished agency website!  How do I know this? Experience.  Client’s I work with that have invested the time and dollars to re-architect, re-brand and add advanced functionality (aka, “Website Trilogy”) to their out-dated agency websites are reaping the benefits:

Satisfied agents that Sell their products.

 So, if your asking what I mean by the Website Trilogy and what is involved, I have two comments:

  • First, continue to read;
  •  Second, maybe it’s time to realign your agency website to support the growth in your business, get on track with the latest technology, and remain competitive. 

website trilogy

Website Trilogy is a term that I use with my client’s to design, develop, and revitalize their out-dated, agency website.  This process has three (3) components associated with it:

  1. Architecture
  2. Branding
  3. Functionality

Each component of this trilogy is explained below. 

When Insurance carriers began developing agency websites, the technology available had limitations.  Technology and technology platforms have advanced considerably from those days.  Insurance carriers may not be utilizing today’s latest and greatest technology platforms as the foundation for their agency websites.  One reason may be the age old thinking – “if its not broken then don’t fix it”.  I disagree and pose this – “if its out-dated and doesn’t support your business, re-build”!

Technology platforms utilized today to develop and maintain websites offer many benefits over their older counterparts.  These more sophisticated platforms are the foundation for re-architecting your current agency website.  Advantages associated with these platforms include:  

  • Content Management Systems (“CMS”) – End-users can update content on the site without IT support.
  • Greater interface capabilities with back office systems – allows for information from back office systems to reside on the agency website.
  • Usability/GUI – Easier for the agent/agency to navigate through the site to obtain the information they need.
  • Security –more effective security allows only certain groups of users to see data on the agency website.
  • Rapid development – shorter development cycles for adding new functions and features.
  • Remote access support — Greater capability to support WAN and LAN communications.

Technology platforms are abundant in today’s market. Prior to selecting a platform, complete your in-house due diligence by determining: 

  • What the agency website needs to do,
  • How it will be accomplished,
  • What functionality is required,
  • Who will own the site content.

Having the answers to these important questions will guide the technology platform evaluation and selection.

As the platform is integrated into your environment, re-branding of the site should be undertaken.  Older sites tend to have a monochromatic (a single color schema) or a  “mainframe green screens” look and feel.

Bring your agency website into the 21st century by re-branding.  This means:

  • New graphic design: color, logo’s, images, etc,
  • New content design: pages designed for readability, functionality, and content relation,
  • more efficient navigation throughout the site,
  • menu options that are understandable and meaningful,
  • help sections

Don’t be afraid to audit your competitors’ websites and see how they’ve updated their design.

Don’t make the mistake of overlooking this critical step – The presentation of your new site is just as important as the functionality you will build into it. 

Working with your internal staff and some key agents, you must strategically plan what functionality should be included on the new site.  Review your current functionality, but consider new services that will make your agents’ lives easier. Figure 1 below represents some of the key functions to consider.


Figure 1

It has been my experience that sites that have not been upgraded in the last 3-5 years lack some of the key functionality noted in Figure 1.  Today’s agents are technology savvy.  They want websites that give them the information and the tools that will make them successful in performing their jobs.  Give your agents the ability to login to your agency website and:

  • View Commissions –View their own commission statements online as frequently as they choose.
  • Access e-Enrollment –Process and submit applications electronically to the insurance carrier.
  • Inquire About Claims – View and track the status of all claims they have outstanding with their policyholders.
  • Pay Bills – Pay the bills or process the billing for your policyholders, give the agency the ability to process this transaction via the website. 
  •  Develop Quote –Provide quotes for some of your simplified products.
  • Check Policy Status –See what requirements remain outstanding for pended policies.
  • Access Sales and Marketing Material –Pull the latest brochures and other materials and print on demand, without having to order from the home office.
  • Run Reports –Run any and all agent reports whenever they need them.

These are just a few key functions that that I have helped our clients develop for their new upgraded agency websites. 

Built into the agency website is a tight security model, to protect all agent data from those who should not see or have access to it. 

If you’re serious about advancing your agency website, then consider the Agency Website Trilogy. You want to cover all three phases  in-depth.  Omitting just one could jeopardize the success of your revitalization project.

I’ve had clients say that they believe the cost and time commitment for undertaking such a project is more than they can afford during this economic downturn.  After spending a few weeks with a client to strategically plan a project such as this, the cost and time commitments are  far less than what they  anticipated.  In addition, completing a project like this in iterations can help to alleviate the impact of a financial “big bang” or a long-term deployment.

So what is stopping you from revitalizing your agency website?  Could I be right that you are still thinking, “Jeff – it’s not broken”?

Empowering Your Policyholders

You’ve worked hard developing  your Company Public site and Agency site.  You’ve added all the right features and functionality while utilizing the latest technology.  You’ve been successful — the public is driven to your site to “check you out” and your agents/agencies are trained and using their site.  All the benefits you had hoped for are being measured and realized.  Now you’re in maintenance mode for both sites.  Additional features and functionality are being added to keep the sites aligned with your business.  You’re moving along the maintenance cycle without any obstacles. 

Then it happens!  You get a call from the Executive Vice President of Product Development who happens to have a Universal Life policy with the company.  She asks “Do I use the public site or the agency site to check the cash value on my UL policy?”  You’re stumped, so answer “NEITHER”. She is stumped as well and states “I have an annuity product with AnnuityGeneric Insurance Company and I just went out to their Policyholder site and reviewed my cash value and changed my mailing address – all within a matter of minutes.  Where is our Policyholder site?”

This situation is not unique. I find that a majority of my clients have awesome Public and Agency sites, yet few have Policyholder sites.  Of course I always ask “WHY?”  Why not have a Policyholder site?  Are your Policyholders not as important to you as the general public?

As we know, Consumers today (all of us) are technology savvy.  We use our computers and laptops to shop, communicate, BLOG, read newspapers, etc.   Basically, we use our computers to do almost everything except maybe check our insurance policies.  It’s not that we choose not to, it’s that we don’t have the opportunity because your company does not have the site in place. What a lost opportunity this is for both your customers and, most importantly, your company.  

Over the last 3-5 years larger insurance carriers have started to develop very sophisticated Policyholder sites. Yet I still see many middle tier carriers who have not made the investment.  Again let me ask –

“Are your Policyholders not as important to you as the public or your agents?”

If you’ve answered, “YES they are just as important” – then where is their site?

Prior to starting analysis and design, I sit with my clients and we decide on the functions/services that can be provided via the web that are most important to policyholders.  Figure 1 below depicts some of the common yet most important functions.

Policy holder functions

Figure 1

Some of these functions help to alleviate the number of calls coming into your call centers.  This frees up your Customer Service Reps (“CSR”) to concentrate on the more complex and challenging transactions and calls.  Other benefits as noted:

  • Pay bills online
  • Communicate using email
  • Policy inquiry
  • Claim inquiry
  • Research other products offered
  • Simple quote capability

 As the analysis and design of the site starts, the game plan begins with identifying the most important features and functions for site.  From there, development and deployment is completed in iterations.  This gets the initial site up and running with the most critical features and functionality, while maintaining the ability to add and deploy additional features later.   Figure 2 below depicts this strategic approach (“play”).

Policy holder playFigure 2

What is preventing you from developing that much needed Policyholder site?  Realize one thing – not having one places you behind your competitors.  Jump on board now.  Wait too long and you eventually miss the “Policyholder” game.


Some great feedback on my previous post – “Straight Through Processing & Underwriting  –  The Starting Point”.

Many thanks to those who responded with your comments and feedback.

In that post I stated: “STP helps to drive efficiency and consistency” throughout the life cycle of all policies and that insurers need to start with their underwriting process.  Many of you posed the question “What about the new business process as well as workflow processing — why are these not part of the starting point well?”  A+ – Congratulations – THEY ARE!!

Fact: Underwriting is a set of guidelines that determines the eligibility of a client to receive an insurer’s product. New business rules determine if the client meets the product’s prerequisites as defined by the insurer.   One differs from the other, yet both compliment each other in the final decision process.

Fact: New business coming in the door for an insurance carrier starts the business process for new policies.  It only makes sense then that this starting point for building a solid STP business models resides in both underwriting and new business processing.  They support and complement each other hence the need for both to be worked concurrently.  Supporting these two functions is a much needed workflow management process/system.  All three business functions forms the foundation you need to continue to build your STP process.

Working extensively with our clients to forge a path to a full fledged STP business model, we begin building this foundation by reviewing and dissecting both their underwriting and new business processes.  We also begin the much needed workflow analysis and build process.

Underwriting Guideline Review

The focus here is to concentrate on the underwriting guidelines that support each product within a given product portfolio.  We review manual and automation processes.  We determine what guidelines are consistent within the portfolio and what guidelines are unique to a specific product within the portfolio.  Once we have a clear understanding and have the details we DOCUMENT!  Documenting this process is no easy task and is often what prevents insurers from this review process.

New Business Rules Review

As with the underwriting guidelines, the focus here is on the new business rule sets that support each product within the portfolio.  This tends to be more grueling since each product in the portfolio is unique.  We look first for common business rules across all products in the portfolio, then determine what rules are unique by product.   Again once we have a clear understanding and the details we DOCUMENT!

Workflow Review

Often overlooked in the early stage by insurers is the need for a detailed review and possible re-alignment of workflow procedures.  Workflow is what moves your policies through the new business and underwriting process and is critical to the success of your STP initiative.  This step must occur concurrently with the underwriting and new business reviews.

Figure 1 below depicts the business process model that can be followed to develop that solid core foundation needed for your STP.

stp workflow


With that stated I hope this helps to address the questions and comments from my previous post.  Now I must end with asking this question – if you have your core foundation what is your next step in the STP process?  From my perspective the next step that I take with my clients is ……. to be continued….

Straight Through Processing & Underwriting ~ THE STARTING POINT

Over the past several years, insurance carriers have engaged more and more in Straight Through Processing (STP) initiatives.  I see many different areas where STP can play a significant role for carriers:

  • Underwriting
  • New Business
  • Billing and Collections
  • Policyholder Services

Early adopters honed in on the imaging of paper documents as the starting point for STP automation.  The focus should be less about imaging of documents and more about capturing data in electronic format, then using the data in the life cycle of a policy from underwriting through the claims process. 

As I work more and more with our clients on these initiatives I often hear the following:

“Our STP initiative is focused on the  automation of our new business process, utilizing electronic policy data from our agents/agencies to feed directly into our Policy Administration System”. 

I am not in complete disagree with this statement, in fact I am in favor of it.  But, I do not believe that this is the best starting point.  The underwriting business process and the underwriters are where STP needs to start in order to drive efficiency and consistency throughout organization.

Why do I believe this?

For one key reason – the ultimate objective of STP is the ease of doing business with agents and policyholders.  This starts with new business, which is rooted in the underwriting process.  New business cannot exist without underwriting, so why start with new business?  You must start with the foundation of new business – Underwriting.

The goal for carriers then, is the optimization of the underwriting process, because it sets the foundation for the issuing or declining of policies.  Key objectives of insurance carriers is to consistently work with their agents and brokers to give them the products they need, AND streamline the issuing process to be more efficient and cost effective. 

Too often in my analysis of current underwriting practices at P&C and LH&A carriers I see underwriters handling every policy that an agent or agency submits.  I often ask “Are you adding any value when you touch it?”  If the answer is “NO”, then I say automate!  If you start with a goal of automating 25% of the underwriting process and an average underwriter handles 50 policies a day, that equates to 12 policies taken off the hands of the underwriter.  These policies go through the process with little or no human intervention – the ultimate goal of STP. 

Now, you maybe asking “What do I automate and when?”

Great question and one that has been asked many times over.  You begin with four developmental points:

  1. Develop or purchase a “Business Rules Engine” to add and support your underwriting rules.  Start small, with a select group of easy to automate products, such as Term Life or Auto insurance;
  2. Incorporate the ease of electronic submission;
  3. Establish or improve your agent or agency interfaces for faster and more efficient uploads and downloads of electronic data and;
  4. Create a real-time policy decision process, and put it in the hands of the agents (accept, pend or decline).

Figure 1 below depicts the process of using an Underwriting Rules Engine as the driver for the new business STP process.  


Figure 1

The underwriting engine houses all the underwriting rules for those products you have selected.  The engine then impacts 4 critical areas in your STP process:

  1. Supports on-site policy issue by allowing underwriting rules to be downloaded to an agent or business rep’s laptop;
  2. Utilized by your administration system for further evaluation of a policy;
  3. Supports one central location where underwriting rules are stored, and;
  4. Allows the business owners and not IT to update the rules engine in a fast and efficient way, leading to a quicker turnaround on new or updated products.

In helping clients move forward with their STP initiatives I will consistently start with a detailed analysis of their underwriting process and build the foundation from the underwriting perspective. 

Where are YOU in your STP process and is underwriting part of it?