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Our Distribution Channel Should Leapfrog Ahead (Part 1)

Editor’s note: ACT executive director Ron Berg and industry consultant Rick Morgan sat down to talk about technology opportunities in the independent agency channel. This is Part I of their two-part discussion. (Comments have been edited for clarity and concision.)
 
Ron Berg: I found an article about DocuPAD via a LinkedIn posting by a colleague. It’s a wireless, small, flat, TV-sized (26-36 inches) hybrid between a tablet and a TV that encapsulates software, authentication, signatures, security and the closing protocol required within the quoting and purchase process at car dealerships. It allows immediate access to add-ons and pricing. It can scan proof of insurance and driver’s licenses; it allows signing for credit, signing for purchase, choosing paper or e-mail, etc. It saves a ton of time and provides good recordkeeping. It made me wonder why we don’t have this as the primary producer desktop? It lies flat on the salesman’s desk and swivels to face the customer as needed. 
 
Rick Morgan: Yes, that’s probably OK for some agencies, but unlike buying a car that typically requires visiting the dealership, that is not the case with insurance purchases. That is, instead of the consumer coming to the agency, the agent is more likely to visit the client—especially with commercial insurance. Yet, Ron, I get your point. We need to be paying close attention to ways in which we can improve the customer experience. The service expectations of today’s customer have changed, and we have to adapt. We are still struggling with things that should already have been done—different payment methodologies, policy access, e-signature. These should be no-brainers, done and put away already. We shouldn’t still be talking about them. Along with regulation, our infrastructure is part of the problem. For instance, when the cellphone came on the scene, it saw more rapid uptake in Europe and the developing countries than in the U.S., partly because our existing communications infrastructure was so much more developed and entrenched. We in the insurance industry have an infrastructure that just is no longer working for us. We have a huge opportunity to move forward, to provide agents the capability to offer a robust, satisfying, effective customer experience.
Berg: In terms of mobility, we have tablets, but they don’t encapsulate the entire functional process front to back that an agent can use to quote and sell on the spot.
Morgan: When we moved from paper forms/applications to an automated process, we simply took a paper process and made it digital. We didn’t rethink the process. We have the opportunity with mobile, cloud, and big data to rethink the process! Let’s not take a current process and just integrate technology; let’s reinvent the process. If we think our industry is insulated because it is too complicated for some of the mega organizations like Amazon to get into, that’s a really scary position to take.
 
Berg: Right. We’ve focused on the very near term. Why should we not leapfrog and get ahead on this? We’re not wrapping our heads around future scenarios like we should. We are focusing on what is right in front of us. I cited DocuPAD as a model not because the system itself is ideal but because it can serve as a model for our industry to create that kind of customer experience. 
 
Morgan: The ACT Customer Experience Work Group is looking at issues related to this. We are digging into the six stages of the customer’s journey. So the question for our independent agencies is: What are we doing to create the DocuPAD experience—not duplicate the technology, but replicate the experience—for our customers? The digital world is changing expectations for all of us, and we’ve got to be there or we won’t survive.
Keep your eyes open for Part II of Ron and Rick’s conversation in the September issue of ACT News that looks at changes in society and our responsiveness.​