June 21, 2021

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Transformation of distribution model: How insurance industry needs to prepare for ‘Next Normal’

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, SEO, Wordpress Support & Insurance, Mortgage, Loans, Legal, Etc Blogs
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By Chula Hettiarachchi

Across different industries and geographies, COVID-19 has changed the
ways people engage with one another. Numerous health regulations—from social
distancing to self-quarantine—have been conscientiously imposed by authorities
across nations to overcome numerous pandemic-related challenges, even to the
extent of shifting a large proportion of physical transactions to digital and
remote platforms. This transformation continues to affect operations in many
industries, including insurance.

With the continuation of physical distancing measures, industry experts
point out that the insurance distribution model will be impacted both in the near
term and longer-term. As the world progressively moves towards the ‘Next
Normal’, our dependence on remote and digital technologies will not cease at any
point but pick pace at a faster rate.  

In such a context, many insurance companies are already taking vital
steps to address the pandemic’s immediate impacts, including the expansion of
customer service channels into digital platforms and onboarding employees to a
remote setup. The next challenge for insurance companies, on a longer-term, is
reimagining their distribution model in a more digitally-oriented world.

Although many local insurers, including Softlogic Life, took key steps
to adapt and respond to these pandemic-driven changes, two key highlights
overshadowed the industry’s progress. First was the drop in new business and
premium collection due to movement restrictions, and the second was the
challenges faced by agents when building new customer relationships remotely. However,
a strategic mix of digital and
in-person communications have facilitated us to overcome the situation to a great
extent. The real challenge was maintaining the same relationship development
model, in a less interactive, digital scenario.

To address these challenges,  local
insurance companies need to reimagine their distribution model across three
dimensions: customers, sales models and processes,
which are also referred to as enablers. Focusing on these three dimensions
will help local insurance companies to prepare for the next phase of challenges
set forth by COVID-19′.  

Addressing evolving client preferences

Understanding how customer preferences have transformed is the name of
the game. It is safe to say that the pandemic has highlighted an increase in the awareness and importance of
insurance in general. With this in mind, companies can reimagine current processes,
experiences, and products to better fit life in the next normal, using a
zero-based design.

It is best to point customers in the direction of protection-based long
term insurance policies, which has become a vital necessity in life as
highlighted by the health pandemic. Solutions of this nature helps customers
invest in a secure future, with real value. This offers higher benefits to
clients, sales teams and to organisations, and gives companies a competitive
edge to retain business stability. Since these policies require a long-term
commitment, it
demands a few detailed discussions with clients, since no one commits for big
continues payments for 20/30 years without extreme explanation and convincing.
However, streamlining paperwork and nitty gritties to digital is also
important.Therefore, companies must
strike a balance between digital and in-person interaction when it comes to
pitching long-term financial commitments.

Additionally, it is important to also leverage digital-only platforms
to promote simple short-term insurance products that address more specific
customer needs. However, it is advisable to not put all your eggs in one the
metaphorical digital basket as it is still a highly competitive and unstable
business model that can be replicated by competitors. Ideally, short-term Products
based entirely on the digital market should be extremely simple, form just a
part of a total solution, and adaptable enough to proact or react to market
movements.

Gearing your salesforce to operate in the next normal

When preparing your salesforce to face the next normal, Insurers should
leverage multiple virtual tools to support teams to efficiently reach out to
and service customers. This includes tools that offer employees snapshot
profiles of each customer base to help better align the right product with the
right customer. With digital becoming an increasingly close part of daily life,
it is easier to  source and leverage this
to ensure effective selling. So, training, a consistent flow of information, standardized
selling processes and digital tools for communication makes new business acquisition
more efficient for sales forces.

 A recent PwC report[1]
highlights that having an effective hybrid distribution force—a combination of
internal sales desks and hybrid advisors (that use both in-person and digital
channels)—will enable insurance companies to transfer remote capabilities to
their skilled field sales teams.

For example, sales advisors of Softlogic Life currently work on a 100%
digitally-supported sales platform, where post-sales operations of over 90% of
the policies are managed via an auto underwriting platform. With these
developments, the company secured over 90% of the budgeted total sales revenue last
year, meeting all client requirements, including claims without any gaps in
service standards.

Investing in digital tools:
The ‘Enablers’ to the rescue

Digital tools, which I refer to as ‘enablers’, will bring a plethora of
benefits for insurers, starting from ensuring resiliency in a crisis like the
ongoing pandemic. These enablers will help organisations quickly respond to customers
and insurance advisors’ present and future expectations while increasing the agency
channel’s productivity. It is encouraging to see that many Sri Lankan insurance
companies have realised the importance of digital tools for the customer and
their salesforce as the number one priority to enable them.

However, when investing in digital technologies, insurers should evaluate
and ascertain gaps in the ideal customer and agent journey for their specific
business. The findings will help them develop an agile road map tailor-made to
their strengths and weaknesses to begin closing those gaps.

Data is another great enabler when transforming the distribution model.
With vast amounts of data stored in legacy systems, insurance companies need to
look at ways to mine these data and extract critical insights to infuse more
resiliency into their distribution mechanism and address the demands of customers
and advisors. Whilst distinctive in-person lead generation tactics are no
longer a viable option, data-driven lead generations have kicked in to bring
immense value for companies during the last few months. Furthermore, insurers
can build advanced analytics models to recognise lifetime value-based customer
segments within their current portfolio and build additional models for each
segment to identify customers at risk of churning or lapsing. With right data
models, the opportunities are limitless.

In conclusion

Changing the distribution model will take time to implement. It does
not only mean bringing novel technologies but also ingraining other
capabilities to support the rest of the existing elements of the value chain, including
claims and products. However, it
is important to note that experimenting with different distribution models
could be disastrous in the long term as well. Therefore, what is really needed
is the continuous improvement of existing distribution models to match rapidly
evolving market and environmental conditions. The distribution leaders that operate
in the next normal will be the ones to begin work on the longer-term
imperatives today.

(Chula Hettiarachchi is the
Executive Director of Softlogic Life. He is a qualified sales and insurance
professional with a career that spans a period of 40 years, 27 of which is in
the life insurance industry. He joined Softlogic Life in 2001 as Head of Sales
and since then has contributed extensively to the growth and development of the
company)


[1] https://www.pwc.com/sg/en/insurance/assets/insurance-2020-and-beyond.pdf

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