Never underestimate the value of stating the obvious.
Karen Pauli, a senior analyst in TowerGroup's insurance practice has told me that her latest research -- on the importance of e-signatures and secure documents -- has stirred more reaction than just about any other topic she's covered."It seems like a no-brainer, but nobody has said it," Pauli explains. "Nobody has really articulated the value of electronic signatures and secure documents in business terms."
In part, Pauli believes that the surge of interest is due to the emergence of so-called Green issues. E-signatures can be leveraged she says to reduce the paper-based processes in place for many insurers.
"Carriers are having to stand up in front of investors and consumer groups and say what steps they're taking to reduce the impact on the environment," she explains.
Green issues aside, Pauli also received a lot of feedback from the vendor area. Many e-signature solutions providers have told her that they're having difficulty finding traction with insurers.
To me, that's puzzling. E-commerce, of course, isn't some passing fad. And it'd be very difficult for a carrier to build a successful e-commerce strategy without some sort of e-signature or secure form technology.
Pauli suggest that the disconnect is most apparent within the independent agent community.
Among insurers, many direct writers and e-commerce leaders have adopted e-signature technologies. However, according to Pauli, it's almost entirely missing from the independent agency world.
"It is a cultural issue when it comes time to look at agents and brokers," Pauli told me. "[They] have a very slow uptake on technology."
Pauli has found that most agency owners and producers are baby boomers and are not big technology adopters. "The vast majority of producers are over the age of 50 and they don't even use laptops. They're still paper-based," Pauli says.
So what has to happen? Pauli says that the involvement of agency management system vendors could be crucial in developing a critical mass for e-signatures and forms. "You have to get the agency management system vendors to do it. It has to be the whole chain - from the carrier to the agency management system vendors to the distributors."
Unfortunately, the topic isn't on most vendors' radar. "It's not there because the agents aren't asking for it, because they're stuck in their old way of doing things," Pauli explains.
Sooner rather than later though, the agent community needs to wake up. If they're truly stuck in their old way of doing things, as Pauli suggests, then it's only a matter of time before the industry as a whole considers the independent agent channel as "the old way of doing things" as well.
E-signatures are one of the most basic and most necessary steps when it comes to selling insurance globally and selling it online. "Otherwise, you are online, but then have to to backfill with a paper process, which is not only counterintuitive, but stupid," Pauli says.