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I am not a person who easily embraces new technology. For example, a few years ago when I was the editor of a jazz music magazine, I wrote an editorial about why I was stubbornly refusing to let go of listening to all my music on CDs and vinyl instead of buying an MP3 player. Eventually, however, storage space in my apartment became a serious issue. With prodding from my spouse, I finally broke down a year ago. My CD collection now conveniently resides in my iPod and on my home computer’s hard drive in the iTunes library.
I didn’t want to change, but I had to. I had no choice.
Right now, the insurance industry is at a similar crossroads where technology is concerned. Issues such as a lack of standardization for insurance company portals and the reluctance of both insurers and brokers to embrace mobile technology are creating an impression of an industry that is reluctant to change with the times and meet new consumer expectations about how they want to interact with companies in the 21st century.
A survey of brokers on technology issues undertaken by IBM and Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine (see the special supplement in our October issue) underscored some of these themes. The lack of standardization across carrier portals has come to the point where some brokerages are dividing customer service teams based on the carriers they work with to minimize the number of interfaces each team member has to use. In other words, the problem of dealing with thorny technology issues may actually be trumping the goal of finding the best solutions for the customer. Similarly, some brokerage owners are reluctant to go completely paperless because the industry lacks a standard electronic document format.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the research also found that only 11% of brokers said mobile applications help sales. In fact, brokers said they feared mobile applications would allow insurers to bypass the broker and connect directly with policyholders, thus threatening the broker’s position as trusted advisor in the “real” world.
These comments reveal that the real issue is not about grappling with new technology. Solutions currently on the market today could revolutionize the industry tomorrow. The real problem is entrenched attitudes about protecting turf and competitive advantage. Until all stakeholders realize that they need to tackle these issues together for the good of all, the consumer will be left wondering why buying insurance is a CD experience in an MP3 world.
Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November/December 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.