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The Fusion of Insurance with the World of Technology

By Vivek Attavar, Head, IT Application, Architecture and Delivery, Birla Sun Life Insurance

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Vivek Attavar, Head, IT Application, Architecture and Delivery, Birla Sun Life Insurance

Though the Insurance industry has traditionally been slow to adopt technology, many leading insurance companies have already begun their journey towards digitizing their enterprises. Going digital does not mean only direct connect to consumers. Insurers sell and service multiple generations of customers and the way these segments use technology and engage is different. While Gen Y and Millennial may be more inclined towards a web-enabled self-service model, Gen X prefers dealing with humans at least for a part of the sales or service process. The latter like to do their research online, including getting inputs from their social connections, but eventually prefer talking to an expert or advisor before making the final decision. This is even truer for complex financial products such as annuities or retirement solutions. Similarly, agents and insurance sales people also tend to switch between channels; while some agents like to access all insurer applications through their tablets or smartphones, there are others who prefer to close the biggest of deals on the back of a napkin. Hence, insurers must focus on enabling Omni-channel capabilities that provide consumers as well as distribution and advisor groups with contextualized information and tools

With the availability of large volumes of data and the means to manipulate this to classify their customers into different segments, it makes business sense to understand the behavior, needs and expectations of each segment and customize products accordingly. While the industry does not have to go as far as to develop personalized pricing for each individual policy, insurers definitely need to review their underwriting, scoring and marketing models and fine-tune them to address the needs of different customer groups.

"Insurers should invest heavily in enabling such engagement through contextualized, collaborative solutions, integrated with the rest of the enterprise IT systems to provide superior customer and agent experiences"        

Historically, the insurance industry has not been very quick to exploit the huge volumes of available data for better decision making. Information in unstructured data captured as underwriter or service representative notes and customer/agent letters or forms has not been tapped. It is but natural then that insurers view the utility of the additional ‘big data’ from external sources such as social media with skepticism. However, insurers need to realize that the future is going to revolve more and more around data and data-driven insights. And that data, whether it is ‘small’ or ‘big,’ ‘structured’ or ‘unstructured,’ is going to be of tremendous business value. So the smart thing to do is to mash data from all sources to derive new insights. Insurers can progress from predictive to prescriptive modeling by combining internal customer and policy information with external social, demographics and/or environmental data to draw actionable insights. 

Insurance companies typically operate in silos for each line of business, resulting in lack of data sharing across both product lines and channels and a high degree of inconsistency in customer experience. Customers should be offered the flexibility to bundle products and/or switch between channels. If a customer abandons a transaction that he/she started on the mobile device, an agent should be able to pick up the lead and connect with the customer to close the sale. Or, if the customer needs help while completing a self-service transaction, he/she can call the contact centre and the service representative should be able to pick up from where the customer left off to enable a seamless user experience. They can use social media services, techniques and technology to effectively engage with their customers. A social CRM will also help digital insurers identify social ambassadors and promote their brands using word of mouth. Big Data can play a huge role in this by enabling the merging of structured and unstructured data from within and outside the enterprise, run analytics and glean customer specific insights.

In the increasingly competitive insurance market, reaching, engaging and retaining customers and/or independent agents are key focus areas. Customers expect insurers to understand their context and provide relevant services just as they would from a retailer or an airline. Improving the stickiness of customers and agents through innovative engagement models will be a critical success factor in the transition from a traditional insurance company to a digital insurance enterprise. Insurers should invest heavily in enabling such engagement through contextualized, collaborative solutions, integrated with the rest of the enterprise IT systems to provide superior customer and agent experiences. Providing consumers and agents with the right value-added tools such as financial calculators and commission planners can also help improve customer/agent stickiness. But, as companies evolve into their digital avatars, it is important that they revisit these tools. They must not rely on the old calculators made available on their website a few years ago, as user expectations have changed along with technology innovations. Insurers need to keep up with the times and provide a rich user experience using newer techniques such as gamification and rewards.

Finally, the insurer's digital platform should be responsive to the needs of the user. Today, users expect a split-second response to their requests, and assume they will be able to complete any insurance transaction from anywhere and at any time, in a manner most convenient to them. Delivering an interactive and intelligent user experience across a wide range of devices and channels requires insurers to modernize their legacy systems to handle dynamic requests, integrate multiple disparate systems to provide end-to-end straight-through processing, and improve the availability of their highly batch-oriented legacy platforms to support real-time 24x7 transactional requirements.

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