Each year, IVANS surveys agencies, carriers and MGAs to determine the state of connectivity across the insurance distribution channel. The resulting annual report provides insight into digital adoption trends and alignment of business priorities throughout the industry.
Last fall, Westfield Chief Distribution Officer Craig Welsh joined me for a virtual discussion at NAMIC to share his point of view on agency-carrier connectivity and insights from the 2021 IVANS Connectivity Report.
Here’s what Craig had to say during our insightful conversation.
What were your initial thoughts when you reviewed the insights from the 2021 IVANS Connectivity Report?
Craig: It’s easy to feel behind. I encourage carriers to take a deep breath and absorb the information from the industry research, but at the same time, it speaks to the importance of setting a roadmap.
Think about what the most critical capabilities are for you and your agency force. What things are you going to start investing in? Having that view is critically important. And I think that we’re in a time in our industry where the digital connectivity tools are getting better and people are investing more in these tools.
As an industry, we recognize that it’s 2021 and the workflows can be clunky. This creates pain points that cause inefficiency and rework. Carriers who figure this out will continue to elevate their status with agencies.
83% of agents surveyed said automated connectivity is very important to them. How important is that statistic for carriers in developing a road map?
Craig: I think about the 17% who don’t think it’s important. It speaks to carrier connectivity as a big, broad world.
I think oftentimes with digital connectivity, we’re naturally going to focus on quoting and everything that goes with defining appetite. It’s very easy to put a lot of focus there, but things like electronic documents, eSignatures and claims reporting are all important. So much of the work that happens post-sale is where the bulk of the work could be impacted. I challenge everyone to think about the full lifecycle once the policy is written.
Why should carriers consider becoming more automated when it comes to appetite?
Craig: It feels like I’ve been talking about appetite for maybe 20 years. It’s always a hot topic. There is an opportunity to step back prior to thinking about digital enablement of appetite, we’ve found that what we want to write and what we say we want to write can be different.
So often, people say they don’t want to lock down appetite to 10 classes of business and might be willing to look at different classes. Digital enablement forces you to say that at the end of the day, there are segments that you’re best fit to write. I think presenting appetite in a digital format makes sense here because it’s commonplace for agents. The tools are out there. We’re dealing with an agency force that wants more.
There is a lot of attention on automating for small commercial risk, but we’re hearing the same interest for complex commercial as well. What does this mean to you?
Craig: I was surprised to see expectations for more complex risks is neck and neck with small commercial. We as an industry continue to put a lot of resources to bring speed and efficiency to small business and a lot of investment is happening in core operating systems.
Some of the balance is how you invest in technology, but how you also keep people involved. That’s part of the challenge. What we’ve heard is technology is great, but they still want to have a person they know who they can contact because technology doesn’t solve everything.
It’s part of the journey. Part of it is to think about your agencies. Have you thought about what their expectations are? There are many tools that can drive efficiencies to the underwriting and quoting processes. Understanding those options is certainly important, but much like when we talk to agencies investing in tech, don’t start with technology. Start with what you are trying to solve.
If haven’t solved for appetite, appetite could drive higher efficiency to your online rating platform and so on. Think about what you are trying to solve for and the technology solutions that can help you through that process.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
Craig: The research [from the 2021 Connectivity Report] is compelling. As carriers, we need to be in the best position to meet the needs of our agents. Start by identifying pain points within the processes you have with your agency partners, have a road map. The quicker you get started, the easier it will be long-term. I always say this world is moving fast and slow at the same time. Iterative improvements have a large impact, but it will take time.