IVANS Vice President of Product Management Kathy Hrach recently sat down with the Digital Sales Director at Acuity Insurance Joel Katsma to discuss Acuity’s participation in a project to tackle commercial lines process improvement including the challenges and how to address them.
Kathy Hrach: Thanks for joining us today Joel to talk about the commercial submission process. We recently announced our exciting new product IVANS Submissions, which digitizes the end-to-end commercial submissions process. As our first step in developing IVANS Submissions, we assembled a group of large national and regional insurers, as well as MGAs, to better understand and advise on how we should improve the process. Acuity was an instrumental part of this working group.
My first question for you Joel is, what challenges do you think exist in the commercial lines submission process today?
Joel Katsma: As a former underwriter and someone who works with agents quite a bit now, I understand that the current process has a few flaws. There are multiple systems, different flows, and a lot of duplicate work. What often happens is that agents will put business with the carrier that makes it easiest. They’re going to go with the path of least resistance, even if that may not be the best product for the insured.
I think back to when I was cheap summer labor for my Dad’s agency back in high school. I would go in and pull statements from multiple carriers off a huge Excel spreadsheet and I’m thinking, “this is so inefficient.” Another example is if agents are still trying to write small commercial business the same way they did five or 10 years ago, profitability is going to be very difficult to come by.
If you dig into the economics and you measure the effort placed, or the effort put into writing that small business, it is fairly substantial. I have only been in the industry for about 10 years, but that process hasn’t changed much in that time. From what I have heard, it didn’t change a whole lot before that either. So we are really entering into an exciting time where the technology is evolving to the point where we can really start to capitalize on building increased efficiencies on that submission process.
Kathy: Why do you think it’s important for the industry, your organization, other organizations, and IVANS to work to improve this overall process?
Joel: I think there is a lot of emphasis right now on user experience and customer experience. What gets lost sometimes, and what I think we need to look at, is our agents are our customers as well. If we’re talking about customer experience, they are incredibly important customers of ours. We want agents to think of Acuity when they think of the easiest company to work with. Additionally, agents have to shift their thought process and mindset as well. They’re not necessarily competing against other agents anymore. They’re competing against user experiences and customer expectations. If you look at Amazon, Zappos, Patagonia and other brands that are known for incredible customer experiences and customer service, that is really what these agents are going to be compared to.
So they need to start looking at more asymmetric competitors. How can they provide the experience consistent with their brand that differentiates them but still meets that instant gratification that the customers are so accustomed to? As a carrier, we want to be able to help and enable that shift in mindset. I think the realization is that oftentimes, agents are spending a lot more time than they realize, and time on things that aren’t necessarily driving revenue. So the greater amount of efficiency we can bring to independent agents, the better off that channel as a whole is going to be.
Kathy: Why did Acuity decide to participate in the commercial submissions working group with IVANS?
Joel: Apart from the challenges I already mentioned, we really have a great relationship with IVANS. We value what you all are doing. With many of these tools, it becomes a bit of a chicken and the egg conversation and we don’t necessarily want to get stuck in that loop. Agents saying, “Hey, we need carriers.” Carriers are saying, “We need agents.” Our view is “Why not us?” We want to be that torchbearer for the independent agency channel and make sure that our independent agents are able to place business with us wherever they are. We feel, as a regional carrier with the technology we have, that we have a competitive advantage in this area. Because of this, we want to make sure that we’re capitalizing on it. IVANS has the largest independent agency network. For us to partner with you in this endeavor really helps a huge portion of our agents.
Now, we aren’t putting all of our eggs in one basket and we want to enable the independent agency channel as a whole. There is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution, which is what makes independent agents independent and all of them unique. Saying this, having something directly integrated into a management system, from an efficiency standpoint, is going to become commonplace in the near future.
One thing about Acuity that I think most people know, is that we have great relationships with our agents. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we possibly can to help them. We think that agents are here to stay and are not going to be disrupted. We have a ton of new, young forward-thinking agents that are blazing a trail. They are not going to be suddenly replaced. The benefit of this insurtech boom or whatever you want to call it is that it is pushing the industry forward. It is paramount for us to make sure we are enabling our most important distribution channel to evolve to get out in front of the curve.
Kathy: Thank you Joel for those insights. All of us at IVANS are delighted that Acuity is part of our working group and we look forward to developing future innovation from your feedback that will benefit all stakeholders in the insurance lifecycle.