Some insurers got up this morning and thought today was just another day; others were applying the power of innovation to transforming the insurance industry, particularly in the area of distribution. And those are the ones who are making moves that will change the face of the industry.

Technology is driving innovation in the world of insurance, and there are four key areas of innovation that are defining next-generation distribution capability requirements. First, channels will continue to expand in response to the empowered consumer; the pace will not slow. Second, real-time interactions will be considered normal; simple and easy are the requirements. Third, customers, partners and employees, using multiple channels, will expect and require synchronized, consistent and personalized service among and between channels — an optimized omni-channel interaction. And fourth, intelligent and informed interactions will differentiate themselves, delivering higher value and inspiring loyalty.

Each of these four areas of innovation is packing its own competitive punch for some and opening doors of opportunity for others. Only when insurers look at the four together, and consider the impact of their amalgamation, is it possible to put the momentum in perspective, understand how the disruption will redefine the marketplace, and envision the tremendous opportunity for strong growth and profit that next-gen distribution offers.

The leaders are building next-gen distribution capabilities with innovative thinking and action to:

• Embrace the channel explosion. Rapid technological advances continue to drive the proliferation of new ways to interact, fueled by new devices and new avenues for engagement. Consumers are in control. Insurers will need to have flexible, technology-adaptable business capabilities that will enable them to manage and exploit interactions that occur anytime, anyplace, through any channel, among channels and on any device.

• Execute real time, all the time. Intelligent, informed, instant interaction will be demanded for most, and eventually all, insurance interactions. Attention spans are getting shorter, and expectations are being set by experiences in other industries. For insurers, the challenge is significant — complete data, rich analytics, robust predictive models, straight-through processing and collaborative capabilities are all needed to deliver a consistent and satisfying experience every time, all the while keeping risk selection smart and pricing precise.

• Expand omni-channel interaction. The walls between channels are breaking down. Customers and distribution partners switch between channels to gather information, evaluate, ask questions, make decisions, buy and seek service. The requirement for multi-channel management is quickly evolving into omni-channel servicing capabilities. Insurers will need to ensure consistency for customers, partners and employees as they navigate among and between channels. The requirement is the ability to deliver a consistent, personalized experience backed by consistent, accurate data. This takes agile solutions that integrate easily with new technologies, data sources and systems.

• Enable intelligent, informed interactions. Prospects, policyholders, business partners and even employees are expecting to use the channel and device they find most convenient — and they expect every experience to be personalized and engaging. Insurers need modern omni-channel management platforms, robust portal functionality, masterful data management and powerful analytics to deliver intelligent responses and actions that are context-savvy.

Powerful technologies and solutions are available to help insurers across all these four areas. Some insurers are already well down the path to deploying solutions that offer sophisticated data and analytics management, modern portals, omni-channel platform management, collaboration tools, mobility, advanced workflows, big data and more. Yet many others remain in planning mode.

Why aren’t more insurers making progress in reinventing their distribution capabilities? The fact is that while all four of these areas of innovation are interdependent, many insurers find themselves paralyzed by the traditional paradigm of process and capabilities. The business capabilities for the multiple aspects of channel and experience management must be expanded and integrated; this effort crosses functional boundaries and involves many systems.

An insurer that can offer support for many diverse channels, yet is unable to support those interactions with personalized information, will fall short. Likewise, an insurer armed with the insight gained through robust data and sophisticated analytics, but is unable to operate in real-time mode, supporting any device, is missing the boat.

Tomorrow won’t be just another day for any of us. It will be a day for embracing the innovative thinking and change that will reshape our industry in exciting ways. Be part of this change.

Deb Smallwood is the founder of Strategy Meets Action, a strategic advisory services firm for the insurance industry.

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