Talking customer engagement at Insurtech New York

This latest insurtech NY conference, a packed event held October 22 in McCarter & English’s NYC headquarters, was originally provocatively billed as a debate but actually turned out to be a lively, polite, and engaging off-the-cuff collaborative discussion. It was fittingly introduced by insurtech NY’s Tony Lew and David Gritz as bringing in the “best panelists” from New York City, “but to the extent where people are making change all over the country and all over the world, we will bring them in as well.” The panelists were:

  • Jane Wang: CEO at Optimity Proactive health evangelist; data science nerd using behavioral science to foster healthy mental and physical lives.
  • Philippe Lafreniere: Chief Growth Officer at Slice and a 25-year insurance industry veteran. Phil has led marketing and innovation teams at such recognized solutions providers as EIS and EDS.
  • Marya Propis: SVP at All Risks, a sales and distribution executive with a track record of growth and broker engagement. Marya was awarded the 2019 Insurance Professional of the Year by the NYC Association of Insurance Women. “Any (aspect) of distribution is fair game for Marya.”

The first part of the discussion focused on customer engagement: What exactly does that mean for each of the three represented parties? For Jane: persistent policyholders on the life side and healthier policyholders, with fewer claims, on the health side. For Marya: Well, “it’s not simply CRM,” but a needs-based approach in which you put yourself in the shoes of customers and prospects and remember always that “they are not there to buy your product”-- they’re looking to acquire the value you bring.

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And Phil: In our increasingly digitized world, “it’s the digital exchange of value.” For the insurance side, that’s “really the need to be relevant without necessarily being present.” And for incumbent carriers, the chief challenge is precisely moving away from what’s been successful for them for decade upon decade and then adapting to the new realities of how people today engage with their work lives; their houses and their cars; and with one another and with companies. It’s a paradigm shift – my words, not Phil’s -- to the new realities of our digitized world.

Jane agreed, adding that for specifically for companies with captive agents [hmm, not independents?] the challenge is how to get them operationally committed to CRM, to Salesforce, etc., “to manage that pool of people in their books of business, systematically book appointments with them and talk with them, and find new high quality leads to talk to.” Also, that’s why, on the health side, “it’s super important to change the cadence of customer engagement with more of a lifestyle type of product.” One good example she uses is John Hancock’s Vitality program, which presents policyholders with, in effect, “an opportunity program through which you can get stuff back” from Hancock. And, if it’s indeed true that the average age of successful brokers and agents is 62, then “when these guys retire, there’s going to be an awful lot of orphans out there.” That’s opportunity, but also an awful lot of tsoris (i.e., trouble and suffering!) for carriers.

We’re really talking about abandonment here, she continues, and the traditional way of reaching these pools of people – Super Bowl, Oscars, and other TV ads – just doesn’t work here anymore: “Really, you’re on Netflix now. You get to choose what you watch; there’re no ads.” These are severly personalized decisions you’re making and they are also a lot more localized than ever before. And so, according to Jane, you’ll still want “to talk to a Human,” the agent whom you know and who knows you or who came to you personally recommended from a trusted friend or family member.

Thus we come to our first thoughts about Distribution. Disintermediation of agents and brokers is not nearly so fast or widespread as we once may have thought. (I vividly remember how in 1997 John Patrick of IBM told my CEO and Exec Management team that New York Life would lose its entire agent force in five years – or fewer.)

Maria: "I agree" and think that customer engagement is full of opportunities even in “the way that we distribute property casualty products” through independent brokers/agents. With Salesforce, and indeed with what Marsh calls its proprietary Aqua Vision system, “these platforms can help predict the next two lines of insurance that your client is most likely to purchase from you in the sales cycle.” With other data and analytics programs you can “scrape publicly available information to come up with a more accurate profile of your customers and prospects to support them with a multitude of carriers and specialty wholesalers.”

Phil: “Exactly what you’re saying, right.” With a partnership with AXA, we built a cyber product that “brings value back to small business owners… and that’s how you create engagement.” This is an example of what Phil was referring to earlier as “replacing the old way we’ve done things with new ways of engaging our now-digitized world.”

There was more, much more from the panel, but also some provocative questions and comments from the audience that helped round out this collaborative discussion: radical customer centricity; unprecedented M&A activity in the retail agent and broker space; cleansing of traditional insurance jargon; and international perspectives on customer engagement and distribution. A lot to be chewed over…

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