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George Foulke, MetLife
George Foulke, MetLife
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Mastering Insurance Distribution in an Anytime, Anywhere World

Consumer technology adoption is changing how insurance agents and brokers work with clients and, as a result, how insurance companies must support and communicate with their producers to maximize opportunity while managing risk, reports MetLife VP George Foulke.

We live in an app-driven age. At no point in history has information been as readily accessible as it is today -- thanks to mobile communications. This is leading to a major shift in the way insurance agents and producers interact with their customers and insurers.

In the past, insurance buyers usually consulted face-to-face with their agents/brokers to determine the right products and coverage. Today, more customers -- especially among the younger generations -- leverage the Internet to do research before even contacting a producer, and their communications with their agents are as likely to be via e-mail as by telephone. This shift in consumer behavior necessitates major changes in the ways agents interact with their customers, and as a result, how insurance companies support and communicate with their producers.

As technologists, we must deliver solutions that improve our companies' competitiveness and top and bottom lines. By bringing a customer-centric view to everything we do, our customers -- including agents, whether captive or independent, as well as end customers/policyholders -- can do business with our companies in ways that they prefer. This can lead to increased productivity and increased satisfaction -- which drives retention. In order to better service their customers, producers need the ability to access information and provide service from any device, including smartphones and tablet PCs, quickly and easily.

Anytime, Anywhere Access ("Bring Your Own Device")

The tablet market has exploded in the past year, thanks largely to the Apple iPad. Producers and their customers now expect to be able to work over a smartphone or tablet -- checking e-mail, accessing information on mobile portals, etc. These devices can completely change the way agents interact with insurers, each other and their customers. Imagine agents using tablet devices to hold video conferences with remote customers, or auto claims appraisers using their smartphones to take photos on-site of accidents to send to adjusters to allow for quick processing of auto claims. This is what end customers -- and, increasingly, your producer force -- expect.

Meanwhile, paper is being replaced by automated electronic processing. Agents and brokers want to initiate straight-through processing of forms. Not only is automated electronic processing more environmentally and cost conscious, it maximizes processing efficiencies while eliminating error-prone manual processes.

In order to enable, retain and make agents more productive, insurers need to invest in two main areas: mobile capabilities and customer relationship management tools. With most smartphones and tablets offering full web capabilities, there is a rich demand for mobile-friendly websites that run within mobile browsers. Leveraging standards-based HTML technologies (e.g., HTML5), there is a low barrier to entry for building these mobile websites since they often leverage the existing application infrastructure and knowledge.

A good customer relationship management solution is critical for driving efficient business processes. According to Forrester, insurers are looking to improve four customer-facing business processes in particular:

1. Claims management. Provide agents with multiple points of access to consistent claims data.

2. Account origination. Analysis of customer data and objectives, underwriting, and risk assessment.

3. Lead management and distribution across channels. Capture, route and manage sales leads to ensure they are directed to the best-fit channel and partner.

4. Cross-selling at sales and service interaction points. Understand customer behavior through analysis of account transactions to generate sales leads.

IT Security Considerations

New technologies raise several new IT security considerations. As the mobile strategy evolves with more powerful mobile devices, native applications that users can download and install on their smartphones or tablets will increase. These will bring an inherent risk in terms of storage of customer data on a mobile device. Insurers will need to design applications that leverage encryption to ensure that they do not compromise any data and potentially have a remote-wipe capability. These goals need to be accomplished while still providing the end user with quick and easy access to information.

In addition, as agents and brokers start using social networks for business, insurers will need to work diligently to meet compliance and privacy rules. Technologists are in the position to make recommendations and implement solutions that will create the connections between their compliance departments and end users, irrespective of the device used.

By adapting a customer-centric view, strategic technologists can deliver solutions that improve their companies' competitiveness, in part by meeting the needs of their companies' producers as they and their end customers become increasingly mobile. By doing this, we will be able to help our producer force increase its productivity, while taking all IT risk and security considerations into account. Optimizing delivery systems in the field can increase satisfaction and retention, while addressing the risks and challenges brought by the way our producers do business now.

George Foulke is vice president of U.S. business IT, including distribution, e-business and broker-dealer technologies, for MetLife.

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