The responsibility of insurance professionals is clear-advise clients to make decisions based on their own circumstances and means. Agents have a responsibility to share their knowledge of a complex and evolving industry with their clients, and the tools they use are critical to making their clients feel comfortable with the sales process.
Agents have access to a vast array of technology tools: some of these tools work well-others not so well. The critical path is to understand the pain points and leverage new technologies to help agents be successful.
Life Insurance and Annuity Form Tools are a Big Success!
The life insurance and annuity industries have mastered forms repository tools for packaging forms for new business, licensing/contracting and in-force services. This is true both for single carrier producer portals and multi-carrier form tools hosted on a brokerage general agency’s website. These form tools are easy to navigate, packaging forms by state, product and business need.
Some platforms have intelligent forms with rules and even eSignature functionality. The forms in the package are fillable and easily emailed or printed. Vendors such as iPipeline, LaserApp Software and Paperless Solutions Group offer multi-carrier form tools. Most carriers offer forms on their producer portals. Online accessibility to forms has grown significantly since being introduced over 15 years ago-online forms are literally everywhere.
Struggles with eApp
For life insurance, annuities and long term care insurance (LTCI), adoption of submitting new business electronically using eApp has lagged.
For annuities, the annuity order entry (AOE) platforms became available to large wire houses and broker/dealers in 2006. Today, fixed annuities and index annuities are the production leaders for the independent broker/dealer and brokerage general agency (BGA) distribution channels, but AOE tools generally have been too complex and expensive for these distribution channels to use. In the last 18 months, longstanding AOE vendors have been trying to penetrate these markets with simplified and more cost effective versions of their AOE tools. New vendors have entered the space. Carrier portal or multi-carrier AOE solutions have not moved the needle yet, and agents are using paper to submit most of their annuity applications.
In the life insurance space, drop tickets for term life insurance have been successful because of the simplicity, market awareness and carrier mandates. On the other hand, eApp for life insurance has struggled, primarily because it is inconsistently available across life insurance carriers and products, as well as the fact that most eApp solutions do not offer an automated way for an agent to order a paramed exam. In addition, vendors do not push the life insurance application data to the BGA’s agency management system. Consequently, when an agent is confronted in a multi-carrier experience with options from forms to drop tickets to eApp depending on the carrier and product, confusion results. Until there is consistency in the agent experience and more critical features are added to help promote life eApp, it may continue to lag behind paper applications and drop tickets.
LTCI differs from life insurance and annuities in that there are far fewer carriers offering the product. There is no multi-carrier platform available. Many LTCI carriers have proprietary eApp platforms, resulting in the need for more standardization in the agent’s experience as suggested by feedback from the Intercompany Long Term Care Insurance (ILTCI) conference in March, 2015. LTCI eApp adoption remains relatively low.
According to LIMRA, the average age of an insurance agent is 551. In 2013, the Pew Research Center released figures on internet usage. Internet usage was increasing-98 percent of adults under 35 years were going online, with the largest increases in usage coming from three age groups: 25-34 (98 percent, up from 92 percent in 2012), 45-54 (91 percent, up from 84 percent), and, most notably, 65+ (60 percent going online). You can also find more up to date and different internet usage facts using this source here or similar online material regarding internet stats.
The smartphone and tablet usage numbers in 2014 are staggering. In 2015, 57 percent of users across all age groups do online banking with their smartphones per the Pew Research Center. This trend tells us that over the next five years more agents may be carrying smartphones and tablets than laptops and writing pads.
Several carriers today offer the agent mobile apps for quoting and product information. The agent can browse marketing resources for the latest sales ideas, flyers, brochures, product guides, presentations and videos. Some BGAs offer agents mobile apps focused on life insurance, including multi-carrier term life insurance quoting and drop ticket, universal life (UL) insurance quote request, pending case status, exam ordering and product news from multiple carriers.
On the annuity side, the BGAs often include a multi-carrier rate information tool for fixed and indexed annuities in their mobile apps. In addition, website tools are being optimized to work on tablets such as an iPad.
The need for mobile apps is growing as more people move to mobile devices and away from websites. Moreover, as you can tell from some of the apps that are available on the Fileproto website, this trend is showing no signs of slowing down and it will therefore be intriguing to see what else the future holds for this revolutionary use of software. Rita Northen, director of Global Insurance Solutions Group, explains why agents might prefer the simplicity and ease offered by mobile apps: “One of the biggest technology challenges we face as a BGA is the proliferation of carrier-specific platforms that do not serve the ultimate goal of technology: to make our jobs easier,” said Northen. “Agents deal with numerous carriers on a daily basis and are resistant to spending the time and effort required to learn multiple processes that basically perform the same function for different carriers.” Northen added, “On a more positive note, I am excited to learn more about a new customizable mobile app called MobileBGA, which is designed to provide agents with the essential marketing tools to close the deal when out on client appointments. I believe that carriers, BGA’s and vendors should focus our efforts at innovation that will simplify, rather than complicate, our important mission of selling insurance.”
Other Agent Tools like Sales Illustrations and Email Security
Tony Kravitz, president of New Generations Insurance Marketing, Inc., has found some technology tools that are working for his agents, and some that are just starting to get traction.
“The obvious things working for agents in technology are online forms and illustrations,” says Kravitz. “They have been around for a while and have been ingrained as part of the business model.” Kravitz adds: “Email security is beginning to catch on with agents. We are beginning to see more agents concerned about sending and receiving securely. Many have started using encryption software and quite a few are starting to upload documents directly to us through links on our website and in our emails.
“We have started seeing client relationship management (CRM) systems becoming more popular with agents. We have even started offering to supply one for them as a value-add from our agency.
“I wish I could say that on-line applications were a hit, but it has been a struggle to get many agents to submit applications that way. However, we are starting to see an uptick in online use of drop ticket applications. This has been especially true where the agent can submit a ticket for multiple carriers through a single interface. I expect to see a lot of growth in these platforms in the next couple of years. It makes it easier for the agents that are less experienced in life insurance, such as property and casualty producers and health insurance agents.
“While we have not yet seen many agents using mobile apps as a primary focal point for their business, I believe that will change as we tie more functionality into those applications. If an agent can get information, run a quote for multiple carriers and start a drop ticket–all from a mobile application-I feel adoption will increase dramatically.”
Insurance technology tools for agents are plentiful and developmentally varied-some have peaked, others have become obsolete, while still others are just getting started. Now is the perfect time to investigate which insurance technology tools are working and which ones are not. It is important to implement best practices for agent insurance technology solutions.
As we look into the future, what opportunities and trends should grab our attention? Mobile apps are certainly a key trend and a place where agencies, carriers, and vendors should focus their investments.
1. 2015 LIMRA Life Insurance Conference