4 Ways Insurance Carriers Can Help Digitize Their Independent Agency Channel

Long Intro

Before I entered into the insurance industry, I was a software engineer working for a tech startup in the clinical research space. Working in tech, you get used to using some of the best technology the world has to offer. This software made us faster, more effective, and helped us provide a great experience to our customers. When one of my best friends, now co-founder, and I started looking into how we could help improve his insurance agency, I quickly realized how outdated his business was. Clients were acquired mainly by referral, the customer experience wasn’t a thought, digital presence was a pipe dream and the software they were using was slowing them down, not making them faster. Once we started raising capital to fund XILO, we noticed how many investors were sold on the idea of insurance agencies being disrupted over the next 10 years. I’d say 50% of the investors we spoke to would have rather funded a company trying to eliminate agencies as opposed to helping them. $7.1B was raised in 2020 by InsurTechs, with a lot of the deals focused solely on D2C (direct-to-consumer) insurTech businesses. If you haven’t done your research on the industry, it’s understandable as to why VCs would believe this. The world is going digital and a lot of agencies are moving slowly to adapt to it. But there are also a lot who are moving quickly to try and take advantage of the opportunities this presents. 

The short story is, insurance agencies are under attack by large venture capital firms and the insurTech startups they’re funding to disrupt them. 75% of the workforce will be millennials by 2025 and these insurTechs are setting the standard for this generation's expectations on how insurance should be bought and serviced. Insurance agencies are struggling to meet buyer expectations because they: 

  1. Have low budgets for digital transformation
  2. Have low technical skills to make digital improvements to customer experiences
  3. Have low operational efficiency to write faster than insurTechs
  4. Have little understanding of digital experiences and customer journeys

They are in need of help from the organizations and the software they work with. If agencies could figure out how to digitize their businesses to drive a consistent, compelling and simple insurance shopping and servicing experience, they’d bring in more business and retain more customers over the next 10 years than the insurTechs. Insurance agencies (both Captive and Independent) wrote 89% of the P&C market (with similar results on the Life side) back in 2019. The opportunity for agencies to dominate the industry is great, if they could just evolve with the market. 

If you’re an insurance carrier and you write a majority of your business with captive or independent insurance agencies, you need to be focused on helping them digitize their businesses. That is the only way your company will be able to see the premium growth and combined ratio numbers you need to beat out the up and coming insurTech providers. 

In this article, I’m going to cover 4 ways insurance carriers can help digitize their agency channels. This includes: 

  1. Hosting webinars on automation and digital transformation
  2. Investing in better technology for the agencies
  3. Helping agencies drive better customer experience
  4. Opening up your APIs to agencies and their vendors

Carriers who invest the time and money into digitizing their agency channels using tactics like above will see more premium growth and better combined ratios over the next 10 years. 


1. Hosting webinars on automation and digital transformation

Imagine a newly married couple who recently purchased a new home and is looking for home insurance late at night after a long day of work. They start googling home insurance, only to see all the agencies near them are closed, so they land on Kin Insurance instead. Kin quotes the policy in minutes automatically and then has automated follow up systems to keep the couple in communication until someone can finalize their policy. Lets also envision a business owner who just started an e-commerce store who’s looking for insurance. He or she can get quoted with Next Insurance in minutes vs the hours it could take a traditional agency. The larger the commercial policy, the more human hours traditional agencies have to put in, only making the experience worse for the customer. Insurance agencies have a lot to compete with and they need guidance on where to start. This is why we believe holding automation workshops would be beneficial to insurance agencies. Insurance carriers have the staff and resources to conduct the research or pull in the people needed to provide the right guidance to agencies. We recommend creating large amounts of content on topics like, sales automation, digital marketing, digital transformation, customer experience, and more. Did you know that “insurance sales automation” and insurance agency marketing” are being googled thousands of times per year? Agencies are looking for content to help them automate their businesses and transform digitally. Carriers who help provide this content will be helping their agencies quote customers faster and start digitally transforming their businesses. Here are a few topics you can create content on: 

  1. Eliminating double data entry in their businesses
  2. Automating follow up on new business inquires 
  3. Proposal and Acord/Supplemental app generation
  4. Automating service requests
  5. Getting to the top of Google through 5 star reviews

For more information, read our article on How to automate insurance sales and service requests.


2. Investing in better technology for insurance agencies

Over the past few years, more and more insurance carriers have started opening venture arms or partnering with venture capitalists to help stimulate innovation in the insurance industry. Even more have started innovation departments, focused on proactively improving their businesses and keeping them safe as the market evolves. If you write a majority of your business through agencies and are not investing in helping your agencies through better technology, you’re missing out on helping them succeed in the market. Here are a few ways you can invest in better technology for insurance agencies: 

  1. Invest in their technology partners literally
  2. We’ve come across about a dozen venture arms that either are directly related to or are partnered with insurance carriers. Investing in better technology for the agencies increases the chances of startups like XILO, who have the same mission to keep agencies at the forefront of the market, of succeeding in that mission. Over $7B was invested in insurTech in 2020 but how much went to insurance agency technology? My best guess is not enough. 
  3. Provide technology spend to cover software that automates their workflows
  4. Carriers will sometimes provide marketing dollars to insurance agencies to help them boost their presences and win business. What if they also helped cover some of the technology spend? Right now, there is no single system that works well enough to help agencies with their entire business. For this reason, agencies are working with a lot of different software companies. This is no different than other industries. Here at XILO we probably use 10-15 softwares to handle operations. For insurance agencies this can get expensive. If insurance carriers allocated funds to help agencies pay for software, agencies would be able to subscribe to the software faster and would move faster in improving their businesses. 
  5. Invest time into helping agency technology companies
  6. If your business’s success is dependent on insurance agencies, you should be investing a lot of time into helping the technology companies who are focused on helping your agencies. Due to the size of your company, you naturally will move slower. If you work with independent agents, you also have a hard time building technology for your agencies because they work with other carriers. Invest time into fast moving organizations that wake up everyday thinking about how to help your agency partners through software. One of our most recent carrier partners found us on Linkedin. They reached out, set up a call, took a demo, gave us API access, and had a product manager make sure we were set up for success. Now, everyone of their agencies has access to technology that will dramatically improve their quoting processes overnight. 


3. Helping insurance agencies drive better customer experience

Custom experience seems to be the buzz word of the decade. Long gone are the days that businesses can get away with poorly designed customer experiences tailored to an older generation of buyers. In 2018, 74% of insurance shoppers started their buying journey online. Even though most had bought offline through an agent, that’s 3/4th of the market that is looking to do business with any provider who gives them a good buying experience. It’s easy for an insurance carrier to enhance their own customer experience but what happens when it's your agency partner they’re going through? You have little control over the experience each agency can provide. Here are a few ways you can help drive a better customer experience through your agency: 

  1. Invest in customer facing technologies
  2. 95% of the technology created for insurance agencies over the last 30 years are internal tools the agency can use. Very little has been built to help agencies better their customer experiences. When investing time or money into technology for agencies, we recommend adding customer-facing technology into the mix. Web forms, chat bots, websites, mobile apps; Anything that can actually touch the customer is worth your investment. As these customer-facing technologies improve their customer experiences, you can be guaranteed that your agencies are providing an insurTech-level experience just by having them using these technologies. 
  3. Provide brand guidelines for agencies
  4. Agencies are not designers and do not pretend to be. A lot of times when an agency needs to get out customer-facing assets as a website, logo, or marketing material, they’re going to go with quick and cheap solutions that further diminish your brand. Here’s a new idea, send them some brand guidelines that they can forward to their marketers and developers so the contractor has guidelines to go off of. Customers want a consistent and compelling experience. By providing that in your brand guidelines, you can guarantee that agencies will be providing a better customer experience. 
  5. Build free WordPress websites for agencies
  6. Websites will not guarantee your agencies are successful for years to come, but it will help better their customer experience. We suggest building a free plug-n-play website agencies can use when being appointed with your company. This is a low budget investment that can pay off well. We’ve actually done this ourselves, building the website at xilo-website-demo.com. If you’re interested in sending this website to your agencies for free, please reach out to us at [email protected] 

Whether it’s continually investing time and money or building assets once like a WordPress website or branding guidelines, we highly recommend helping agencies drive a better customer experience. You have very little control over the experience your agencies are providing and it's essential to drive business now and in the future. XILO offers web forms with experiences comparable to insurTechs like Lemonade or Hippo. If you’re interested in this for your agencies, reach out to [email protected]


4. Open your APIs

Open Insurance as well as Embedded Insurance are “hot” terms in the insurance industry. Simply put, both involve insurance carriers investing in API technology that can digitally enable their partners and customers. Did you know that 41% of Insureds responded that they wanted to switch their insurance providers during COVID due to a lack of digital capabilities? That’s a lot of unhappy customers telling you where the market needs to go. But what can you do as an insurance carrier when the business representing your services is an independent organization? And what can insurance agencies do if you’re not enabling them to connect to your systems so they can provide those digital services? Let's look at some API services you could provide to agencies and how that could impact their businesses: 

  1. Quoting API
  2. Agencies who could quote via an API could reduce the time it takes to quote by 30 minutes to hours depending on the line of business. That’s hundreds of hours of work per month for some of the smaller agencies. 
  3. Application Submissions API
  4. For policies that do not qualify for automatic underwriting, allowing agencies to automatically submit Acord forms and Supplemental applications streamlines the process of writing new business. This means more operational efficiency and more time to sell other policies.
  5. Binding API
  6. For policies that this is possible for, binding would allow an agency to service fully online. A majority of customers would not qualify for this, but for those who do who’d most likely be shopping elsewhere, this is more premium and faster sales for your agencies. 
  7. Policy Renewal API
  8. The larger the agency gets, the more renewals they have to handle. How can agencies invest in growing when they have to invest time and money into handling renewals? And if the renewal process wasn’t handled well, you could lose that customer. Allowing agencies to handle renewing policies via an API would increase retention and increase operational efficiency. 
  9. Data Pull API
  10. If agencies could pull insights into customers they have with your company and the policies they hold, they could cross-sell more easily than using a traditional AMS. Startups like XILO have the ability to use that data to help agencies drive more business across single accounts. Customers who have multiple policies with a single agency are less likely to churn. This means more premium written and increased retention. 
  11. Endorsements API
  12. Claims API

Although insurance agencies have a hard time working with API technology, companies like XILO make it easy for them to consume those APIs. At XILO, we can set it up right now so agencies can Quote, Bind, Submit Applications, handle Renewals and Service requests easily. Our team takes all the burden of connecting to your APIs and making sure it works well for the agency. If you’re interested in giving access to your agencies, shoot me an email at [email protected]


Conclusion

Insurance agencies are under attack, and with billions being invested in their disruption, it’s time for everyone they are partnered with to start rolling your sleeves up and helping. If we can help agencies provide a consistent, compelling, and simple experience to their customers while automating their businesses, they will continue to dominate the industry for years to come. If we can’t, well …. Let’s just focus on option #1. 



Credits: 

CBInsights - InurTech investments 2020

Deloitte - Millennial workforce by 2025

Big I - Insurance agency premium written 2019


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