It isn’t just insurance carriers and insurtechs that are driving the digital insurance movement. A key element of this trend is the evolving roles of agencies.

As I‘ve mentioned in past posts, the insurance industry benefitted from the ultimate social network long before Facebook or Twitter came on the scene. It was, and remains, a human-powered social network of agents and brokers, who regularly interact face to face with customers, building relationships, providing product education and being available when needed.

As digital technology enters the agency space, this real-life social aspect must be preserved, and any innovations need to be geared toward enhancing and preserving those relationships. “Disruption” is not sought here – instead, it is “delighting.”

In a recent post, Sharone Volk of Novidea talks about this balancing act, in which agencies are gradually moving to a “digital advisor” model, which “essentially enables clients to communicate with chatbots instead of insurance agents in order to do things like buying policies, assessing risk, and other services usually handled by human sales agents.” Digital advisors may help offload much of the grunt work or back-and-forth communication that may have taxed or slowed down agency work, but agents are urged to proceed with caution.

Insurance engagements cannot be entirely automated, for starters. It takes agents, working closely with policyholders and potential policyholders, to get things right. “Consumers are not insurance experts,” Volk says. “There will always be nuances that elude the client, that the client won’t be willing to invest the time to master, and that he or she consequently won’t know how to properly deal with.”

For example, Volk continues, consider commercial general liability insurance. Beyond the transactional pieces of writing a policy and billing, there will inevitably be issues that arise. “Commercial general liability insurance covers lawsuits that arise from day-to-day business activities. However, this can leave the client with a number of questions — if a competing business sues you claiming your advertising materials are similar to theirs, will you be covered? How about if an employee has an accident on office property?”

It takes experienced agents or brokers to help small business owners anticipate their own needs, as well as navigate “the complex liability scenarios for which they'd require thorough explanations of the policy types and coverage options available to them,” Volk points out. “An online quoting system can’t assess a company’s needs in an in-depth fashion. Likewise, chatbots aren’t sophisticated enough to make comprehensive insurance plans for complex or non-standard business needs.”

The best approach, then, is a combination of human talent and technology resources to best serve policyholders. “Technology comes in as a valuable tool to empower agents with information that would otherwise be inaccessible,” Volk points out. For example, data analytics and automation help reduce the amount of manual entry work agents need to do,” while “cloud-based platforms further allow agents to ‘be everywhere’ and sell from tablets, smartphones, or whatever other devices they might find within reach.”

The digital agency is arriving, and it will be smart and responsive to customer requirements. At the same time, there will always be a need for informed agents to provide the human touch that distinguish insurance as a people-centric industry. Let’s not lose that social network of social networks.

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