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It’s a widely held notion that technology in the insurance brokerage industry is behind the times.

Our industry has surprisingly few options for automating our agencies.

When you focus your technology on your customers, you can change entire models of doing business.


Pointing in the Wrong Direction

Here’s what’s wrong with today’s agency technology. Banking changed while we were idle.

By  Christopher Gagnon

[Page 3 of 5]

Banking’s Example

Ten years ago the banking industry was in a similar state. Technology was focused on creating efficient transactions. Branch models with tellers were made more efficient with faster transactional systems. Customers were given telephone access to handle simple transactions and ATMs to handle cash needs.

Fast-forward to today. With the advent of smartphone apps, all banking needs can actually be completed via your iPhone. These features were developed to directly benefit the customer. The end result actually created more internal efficiency almost as an afterthought.

Retail shopping is on the verge of a similar revolution. iTunes has made the old way of buying music obsolete. Amazon makes a great case for buying even seemingly trivial items online. Retailers such as Argos in England are merely pickup stops. They contain no showrooms or displays. You shop online or at a kiosk and drop in to pick up your items. Stateside retailers are planning concept stores that reverse this model, serving only as a showroom and shipping products overnight when a customer makes a purchase.

While the ultimate acceptance of these changes is yet to be determined, one thing is clear. When you focus your technology on your customers, you can change entire models of doing business.

As brokers, we are the distribution channel and the direct link to the insured. We fill the role of trusted advisor and serve as the first link in the chain when a loss occurs. Our customers bank online, buy music online and track their kids with their smartphones. They deserve a similar experience when dealing with their risk-management programs.

Choices

When it comes to options for automating our agencies, our industry is faced with surprisingly few choices. The early innovators have risen to the top, basing their businesses and our industry’s automation choices on the “make the CSR efficient” model set forth decades ago. Most agencies operate systems from both Applied Systems or Vertafore. Unfortunately, as with most industries, we are slow to recognize and adopt innovation. Decades of legacy systems do not create an environment ripe for innovation. This story has already played out in another industry.

By the mid-1990s, Microsoft had won the PC desktop wars. The Windows operating system was firmly rooted as the way of interfacing with your computer, especially for business. Apple Computer was relegated to a niche market. The only real choice left for businesses was to decide which brand of computers to buy, mainly HP, IBM or Dell.

Then something interesting happened. Apple released a cellular phone. And not just a cellular phone. The iPhone was nothing like any cellular phone on the market. It had more processing power than a desktop had just a few years earlier. Its touch-screen device required an entirely new way of thinking about interfacing with a computer. Without abandoning its flagship operating system, Apple cleverly developed an entirely new one. Microsoft viewed cellular phone operating systems as a tangential market and banked on its desktop dominance. It made only half-hearted entries into the space. The rest is history.

Then Apple made its smartphone bigger and released it as the iPad, which immediately began eroding laptop sales. Google followed with Android. Amazon jumped in with its own version. Finally, this year, Microsoft is releasing its own tablet computer along with Windows 8, a complete software redesign following a touch-interface design.

After decades of dominance, the market leader was last to the party. Today, Microsoft is scrambling to define its place in a market that is completely defined by Apple. By providing more choice, Apple fundamentally changed the way all communicate and collaborate.

 

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