While CSC made numerous announcements this week in Orlando— including a strategy for cloud computing for financial services and an expanded Insurance Industry Data Model—at its Connect for P&C annual user conference and Future Focus executive track, the talk among attendees and speakers was about the future of consumers.
Throughout the Future Focus event, insurers and analysts vocalized opinions on consumers, agents, mobility and, at certain times, a combination of the three. And, at a time when many insurers are looking to grow organically, these represent prime opportunities.
Leading two consecutive roundtables, I came to the conclusion that the topic, “Ease of Doing Business,” lent itself to eliciting opinions, and it was easy to come to the conclusion that this topic is extremely important to insurance IT and business execs. The first table—the bulk of which was comprised of IT executives—represented a variety of carriers. Most sell through independent agents, and all could all relate to each others’ challenges—getting systems to “get along,” satisfying each agency’s capabilities requests, etc.
The second table held a more varied group—a couple of attendees representing the business side, a couple from IT, an executive involved with underwriting and a VP from an insurer that works with captives. This was a very different conversation: It focused on whether agents will use the technologies (real time) they’re requesting, or are they asking for it because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do. Most agreed that we are far from getting all agencies to take advantage of real time, and the immediate challenge is catering to the varying levels of technology-accepting agents.
Something all were able to agree upon is that the agent network is important. And, insurers will be battling it out for some time to come to be the insurer of choice for successful agencies. To do this, insurers once again focused on consumers, agents and mobility, agreeing that there is a need to take a closer look at their mobile strategies and service offerings.
As in years past, CSC Future Focus attendees looked forward to the friendly banter between invited analysts, who typically take the stage to “discuss” a certain topic. This year, however, analysts seemed to sing in chorus, sharing their various versions on how the focus on the customer will play forward.
For example, challenging the theories put forth by the roundtable participants, Chad Hersh, principal at Novarica, maintained that the industry has already seen a decline in the independent channel, and a rise in direct-to-consumer insurers. He said insurers need to prepare for more consumer-demanded capabilities on the Web and mobile devices. Is this the much-talked-about demise of the agent channel? Not necessarily. Hersh said agents will have to start acting like direct writers and have answers for consumers; carriers, meanwhile, will have to give the agents the tools and education necessary to accomplish this.
Kimberly Harris-Ferrante, VP and distinguished analyst in Gartner, spoke to the future of social networking, stating it will be used for underwriting intelligence and CAT response.
Karen Pauli, research director in the insurance practice at TowerGroup, remarked that in the near future, services will be more important than products.
And Mike Fitzgerald, senior analyst with Celent, said there is a latent demand for utility insurance, noting that with all of the consumer data insurers are able to collect, insurers will be able to provide this more easily.
All analysts agreed that mobility is increasingly important and in order to compete, insurers need to develop their mobile strategy. The group ended their session by asking the audience to weigh in on the popularity of the iPad and if that will spur a closer look at mobility. Forty-two percent said it may be too soon to tell, and 38% said they’re seriously considering a closer look at mobile strategy.
The pressure to create mobile strategies isn’t coming just from consumers and agents. One CIO told me he was getting pressure from the company’s new CEO to develop some mobile apps and use social networking. Just how he was going to do this, he wasn’t sure, which is probably where many insurers stand presently. But the promising point is, the industry is forward-thinking. Forward-doing is the next goal.
Carrie Burns is editor of Insurance Networking News.
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