And We Quote …

We know it’s bad form to quote ourselves. But we have to make an exception here.

We recently watched a panel discussion about the ways in which insurers responded to the effects of the coronavirus and its ensuing shut-down. One comment, from Sean Ringsted of Chubb, jumped out at us:

I draw a distinction between, say, operating remotely and the digital age. For us, the digital age is a much broader perspective in terms of how we think about product and service, and how we think about the customer. By and large, we haven’t moved forward as an industry collectively in that regard. It’s shown that we can operate remotely, but we’re a long way away from being an industry that’s operating and succeeding in a digital age.

To paraphrase Yogi Berra, we had a deja vu all over again.

You Don’t Say

Bad form notwithstanding, we couldn’t help recalling that, on October 8, 2018 we wrote this:

Digital transformation is almost always interpreted to be about technology. It’s not. Here’s why: Unless we manage to experience some kind of once-in-a-millennium event sometime soon, there won’t be any technological transformations. But what we do have is a data transformation. More specifically, with the digitalization of data — and with the technological progress we’re making in storing, extracting, analyzing, and applying data — that’s a transformation worth heeding and on which we should be capitalizing. And it feels like progress.

And on February 3 of 2020, we wrote this:

Objective #1 is to look at thing from the perspective of the prospective buyer … But [insurers are] facing the sobering realities of Objective #2 — getting their core systems to function at levels sufficient to achieve Objective #1. If products remain difficult to change, if integrations continue to be a challenge, and if BI isn’t meaningful enough to improve operational decision-making, customer behavior, responsiveness, accessible information, and self-service capabilities become tough nuts to crack.

Does that make us special? No. Does it make us clairvoyant? Uh uh. But it does make us prepared. And it makes us prepared to help our customers implement the digital platform that will enable them to scale, to accommodate market changes and policyholder demands, and to operate in the world in which their prospects and policyholders already live.

If it takes a worldwide pandemic to get us there, so be it. But we do have to get there.

Don’t Roll the DICE

efficacy:noun — capacity for producing a desired result or effect

We don’t seem to hear as much about digital transformation or digitalization as we used to. There are two pretty compelling reasons for that:

  1. We’re not hearing as much about those things anymore because we’re actually doing them.
  2. The coronavirus gave as a very good reason to stop talking and writing about those things and to just do them.

The fact of the matter is that we — in this instance, insurance companies and their policyholders — are living in a digital world. And an inevitably attendant fact is that outdated systems are far less likely to have the functional capabilities required to keep pace with changing demands, market opportunities, and customer expectations.

Modernization Can’t Be a Crapshoot

Insurers have to keep the technology they use up to date and functionally capable. They have to monitor its usage. It’s all but a given now that policyholders want immediate access to their insurance information through their computers and their mobile devices. So, with the evolving nature of technology and the ever-increasing rate of change, it’s fair to imagine several things will become increasingly prevalent: With IoT and Big Data feeding telematics devices and precipitating usage-based insurance, we’ll see more individualized rates as standard personal-lines products, in particular, become ever-more specialized. That means insurers need to recognize the fact that their systems have to be capable of delivering what policyholders are demanding today. If they don’t have them or the capability to add them, alarm bells should be going off.

To describe insurers’ recognition of these fact and their readiness to keep pace with them, we’ve coined an acronym — DICE (digital insurance capabilities efficacy). Simply put, DICE is a way of determining whether insurers are functionally able to meet policyholders demands in the digital world in which their policyholders conduct their lives and their businesses. It’s not hard. And it doesn’t take long.

If you’re ready to determine your DICE, please contact us today.

You can’t afford to roll the DICE with your business.

What’s In Your Toolbox?

Imagine you have some new friends coming over for dinner. You really want to make a good impression, but your house has a few things that need to be fixed. While not many friendships are lost over broken screen doors, shabby paint, or a picture that needs to be hung, it would better if things were in order. Your honey-do list has been escalated to a more urgent status. What you do next will depend upon your level of skill (are you handy?), the resources available (do you have the right tools?), and how much time you have before you guests arrive (how urgent is your need?). This scenario is similar to situations insurers find themselves in when it comes to maintaining and updating their core systems.

Almost all of the insurers we talk with want to do more themselves, with less reliance on their own busy IT departments and self-sufficient from third-party vendors. Imagine being an insurer, moving your office location, and having all your bills and other print output continue to go out with your old address for more than a month. Imagine that being the result of a third-party vendor that said it would manage all changes in the system, with no provision for you to make your own changes. If you think that can’t happen, maybe it’s because it hasn’t happened to you … yet.

Well, Yeah …

The situation above is exactly why modern core systems come with toolsets that empower users to make significant design, configuration, and product-maintenance changes on their own, if they want to (most do at some level). The skillsets required have evolved from programming to drag-and-drop WYSIWYG tools and proficiency with Microsoft Word and Excel. And why would you want to pay a third party to make mundane changes to verbiage in forms and addresses or minor tweaks to rating algorithms. In many cases, the time required to request a change from a third party exceeds the time it would take to do it yourself. The vendors will always be there to help pick up the slack if resources or timing are an issue.

Going back to our analogy, why wait for (and pay) a handyman to tighten some hinges or drive some nails — if you can even find a reliable handyman? If you prefer to have someone else do things or you’re too busy for home projects, that’s one thing. But doesn’t it at least make sense to have the ability and the tools if you have to do things yourself? What are the risks if you can’t?

Maybe most important: What will your new friends (and policyholders) think?

Portals Are the New Common Sense

We love inevitability.

For instance, it’s often said that insurance is sold, not bought. That means many consumers don’t think of insurance as a necessity and tend to purchase it only when it’s sold to them. (Hence, the classic scene from Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run in which Woody’s character is sentenced to 10 years in the hole with an insurance salesman.) But there’s something about natural disasters and other catastrophes that makes the importance of insurance evident and the need to buy its protection inevitable.

Connecting Dots

The same logic might be applied to portals. Portals used to be considered just tools. They used to be nice-to-have marketing gizmos with which insurers could tout customer focus and self-service. We don’t know if the coronavirus pandemic caused their sudden inevitability. But we do know it sped up its realization considerably. It was … well … inevitable.

Think about it: Most insurance company employees can’t be in their offices. Many policyholders are less likely to visit their local agents in person. Still fewer folks are likely to engage in the painstaking drudgery of filling out paper forms for insurance applications and claims notices. Given the number of people we now have to call everyday — to verify their health and safety if nothing else — most of us find our time at a premium. Under those circumstances, a portal that can be accessed from anywhere — on a computer, on a tablet, on a smartphone — has become more than a tool. It’s evolved to a point at which it’s a common-sense necessity for insurers, saving them and their policyholder time, energy, and headaches.

Perfecting the Art

With or without the coronavirus pandemic, our portal technology is so important to our customers we’ve branded it and applied for a trademark for it: Customer Engagement Portal™. We didn’t know portals were inevitable when we developed the technology. But we did recognize its contributions to efficiency and customer service. And we try to make a habit of staying ahead of the curve.

Software development is a science. Our Customer Engagement Portal reflects our commitment to its art.

Our approach to both seems like common sense.


City photo created by vanitjan – www.freepik.com

New Connections

We recently came across an article in which Jack Salzwedel, chairman and CEO of American Family, was quoted as having said this:

We’ve made the comment that it took COVID and physical distancing to bring us closer as an organization. And I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

We don’t know if that will come to constitute anything like the new normal that’s become so popular to talk about since the pandemic affected us all. But we do know the truth of Mr. Salzwedel’s statement is reflected in our relationships with our employees and our customers. And we also know the pandemic has caused us to re-examine our notions of connections — from professional to personal, from the office to home and family.

What’s Old is New

There might not be any method of connecting or communicating older than personal conversation. But a few others are right up there:

  • Phone. We were tempted to write telephone. But that would have taken us back to dinosaurs, and people weren’t even conversing that long ago. Nevertheless, being able to pick up the phone has become increasingly handy as the pandemic has stretched on. We don’t text with our customers. But texting is a great way to connect and share quick messages with friends and family.
  • Email. This technology’s been around for a while; although, it post-dates the phone by a hundred years or so. If you don’t count the phone invented by the Italian inventor, Antonio Meucci, in 1849 — or the phone invented by the French inventor, Charles Bourseul, in 1854 — Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. Ray Tomlinson didn’t get around to creating email for the ARPANET until 1971. But it turned out to be, and remains, an effective means of communicating and retaining dated documentation of that communication.
  • Collaboration platforms. While they pre-date the coronavirus, collaboration platforms like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and smaller platforms like Slack, Happeo, Jostle, Flock, Asana, and others have proliferated during the pandemic. They may not be for everyone. But they’re there. And they fill a need we may not have seen coming.

We don’t know if Mr. Salzwedel intended any or all of that. But we’re grateful he prompted us think about all of the means by which we create and maintain connections … old and new.

Maybe we’re closer to a new normal than we thought we were.

The Right Tool For the Right Job

In the July edition of Best’s Review, Bill Pieroni, president and CEO of ACORD, published an article called, “Underspend, Overperform.” In the article, he made a number of good points, including these, which we’ll address in order:

  1. “Superior Performers … demonstrated materially higher levels of digital maturity and the resulting productivity.” The importance of that point can’t be overstated. Many insurers have gotten by for years running older systems. In so doing, they may have lost sight of the fact that their policyholders and their prospects live in a digital world. Insurers that don’t join their policyholders and prospects in that world — providing interactive digital transaction and communication capabilities — will lose those policyholders and prospects soon.
  2. “Winners successfully deployed and leveraged technologies while ensuring alignment with strategic intent as well as complementary organizational and process capabilities.” Translation: In terms of tactical, operational activities, successful insurers put people and processes ahead of (technological products). Aside from the fact that people are any organization’s most important assets, a bad process automated is still a bad process. Putting people and processes first enables successful insurers to better evaluate the technological products that best fit their organizations.
  3. “The final hallmark of Superior Performers was execution across distinct time horizons—simultaneously achieving superior near-term performance and long-term positioning.” Apropos of #2, successful insurers think and act strategically, satisfying short-term needs even as they identify and work toward the achievement of longer-term objectives.

Put Your Success FIRST

But perhaps the article’s most telling point is in its very first sentence: “It should surprise no one to learn that high-performing insurers are better at core operations than competitors are.” That’s due, in part, to the fact that high-performing insurers choose the right tools for the right job. And that’s why, for smaller insurers that may be late to the digital dance, we’re developing an offering called Finys FIRST: Full Implementation, Rates, Specifications, Testing. Because the world is changing technologically, because policyholders and prospects are living in a digital world, and because many insurers are not, Finys FIRST:
  • Gives them the opportunity run on a digital platform
  • Lets them run the Finys Suite with fewer customizations
  • Provides the project-management expertise they don’t have in-house
  • Helps them define specifications adequately
  • Tests the software thoroughly in their own environments
  • Ensures successful implementation
  • Improves responsiveness and speed to market
  • Reduces risk and total cost of ownership.

For more information, please contact us. Your policyholders and prospects don’t have time to lose.

Neither do you.

The New Three Rs

As human beings and business owners, many changes have been precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. In contending with everything from restricted travel to social distancing, from working at home to wearing masks in public, we’ve found we’re able to adapt and conform. We’ve also found we’ve been able to learn. In all the lessons available to us thanks to COVID-19, these are among the most important:

Relationships

One of the definitions of commerce is this: “social relations, especially the exchange of views, attitudes, etc.” In that context, all of us engage in commerce, whether it be personal or professional. The success we desire, personally and professionally, depends on building and maintaining that commerce. It’s the responsibility of each of us to initiate it — to make contact with the people in our lives to assure them we’re here. We care. We support. We’ll do everything we can to help.

Responsibility

Now, more than ever, we are our brothers’ keepers. We’re responsible for ourselves and each other. Whether looking out for family members, friends, customers, or random strangers who might need a helping hand, each of us bears the responsibility to do what we can. It doesn’t have to be much. Whenever we ask one particular person we know what he needs, he always responds, “A few kind words.” Most of us can do more. But don’t underestimate the power of a few kind words.

Responsiveness

One of the peculiar challenges of the coronavirus pandemic is that it’s created senses of urgency. That makes it all the more important for us, in our interactions with each other, to discern the real from the reflexive, the actual from the perceived. Since it isn’t possible for all things to exist or transpire on the same level of priority at all times, we just need to stop for a moment. Breathe. Assess. Respond accordingly and appropriately. It may take a little practice, but we’ve gotten this far, haven’t we?

The Good News

Fortunately, we don’t have to go back to school to learn any of these lessons. All we really need to do is pay attention and do what we likely would have done anyway. Among the positive aspects of the coronavirus pandemic is that we’ve shown we’re capable of practicing The New Three Rs, even without being told we should.

Three Things You Never Want to Hear

If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, regardless of industry, there are three things you never want to hear, read, or experience. You’re likely to encounter them after some undertaking or other has going horribly awry, usually at the point at which the circular firing squad has been assembled or is about to be assembled. As a public service, we present them here in enumerated fashion.

1. Time is Relative

You’re likely to hear this first one after any undertaking has come up on the short end of unclear direction, incomplete definitions, arbitrarily imposed and unreasonable deadlines, or all three:

There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of that axiom, and regardless of the nature of the undertaking, it’s likely (A) your boss told you it had to be done yesterday, (B) his boss told him it had to be done in some reasonable amount of time, (C) your boss wanted to make his boss think he was a hero, and (D) your boss blamed you for the fact that it was FUBAR the first time.

2. Price, Cost, Value

The second thing you should try to avoid like the proverbial plague is the Good, Fast, and Cheap Rule. According to this tried-and-true old saw:

Everyone wants everything good, fast, and cheap. But they can only get it two ways:

   • Good and fast, but it ain’t gonna be cheap
   • Good and cheap, but it ain’t gonna be fast
   • Fast and cheap, but it ain’t gonna be good.

The times at which you’re most likely to encounter this gem are the ones in which (A) your boss told you it had to be done yesterday, (B) his boss told him it had to be done in some reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price, (C) your boss wanted to make his boss think he was a hero, and (D) your boss blamed you for the fact that it was either too slow or too expensive.

3. And Justice For All

The final item in this series is likely to be experienced at some point by anyone in almost every organization comprising more than two people. In fact, the larger the organization, the more likely it is to manifest. It is, of course, The Six Phases of a Project:

1. Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Praise and honors for the non-participants.

We love all of those expressions, rules, and phases. As long as we don’t know anyone on whom they’ve been inflicted, they’re funny. When real people get hurt by them, they aren’t funny at all.

The Antidote

At the risk of positioning ourselves as miracle workers, there is one way around all of those afflictions and aphorisms: Get it right the first time.

If you want to know how to do that, we know some guys ….

Three Things Your RFP Won’t Tell You

For those new to the insurance industry, the length and complexity of the system-purchasing process must seem overwhelming and, at times, unnecessary. Overkill might come to mind, but the much-maligned request for proposal (RFP) process drives technology selecting and purchasing in the risk-averse insurance industry. For core administration systems (policy, billing, and claims), RFPs can provide an organized approach to working through and scoring dozens of seemingly viable alternatives. But three vitally important things are often neglected in the RFP process, all of which should be primary considerations for a long-term partnership with a system vendor:

  1. Consider how well the base system meets the needs of the organization. Most systems have out-of-the-box entry screens, workflows, reports, and processes that can speed implementation and production. While some level of customization is almost always requested, remember: More customization means longer timelines, higher costs, tougher upgrades, and more complicated maintenance. Weigh what’s available vs. what’s possible.
  2. Pay attention to the ways configuration tools work and how such tools will be used during implementation and for ongoing system and product maintenance. The capabilities of configuration tools are frequently overlooked because vendors typically set up the first few lines of business. So, configuration tools aren’t given the same scrutiny as policy, claims, or billing functionality. Consequently, post-implementation, insurers rely on vendors to make changes and updates or give those responsibilities to IT staff members. Either way, the capabilities of the configuration tools will affect time to market for future changes or new lines of business.
  3. Sending an RFP to a number of prospective vendor partners is like speed dating in the hope of finding a few good candidates. But technology aside, don’t overlook cultural and philosophical rapport. Differences in work ethic and responsiveness have caused many projects to fail in discord and dysfunction, especially if communication is reduced to procurement or consulting channels, rather than direct interaction between stakeholders and vendors. After contracts are signed and the project kicks off, two companies will aspire to be long-term partners. That only happens through cultural compatibility and alignment of goals. That compatibility and alignment of goals can only be achieved through extensive, open communication. And that communication, ideally, should be conducted face to face.

Take the Time, Not the Headache

A popular corporate axiom says, “There’s never time to do it right. But there’s always time to do it over.” When it comes to core system replacements and implementations, that’s a recipe for disaster. Insurers may never recover from the time and money lost to a bad vendor relationship. That’s why underwriters, claims examiners, accountants, executives, and IT staff member have to be comfortable with the vendors and the systems they select.

Conducted conscientiously, the RFP process can ensure appropriate compatibilities between insurers, vendors, and systems. If you take the time to do it right, you’ll save yourself the headache later.

The Truth About Customer Experience and Digitalization

We love a good panic as much as the next bunch. But we have to admit we’re not precisely sure what all the fuss is about when it comes to customer experience, particularly in the insurance industry. We completely understand its justifiably increasing importance. But self-service portals have been around long enough to have become entry cards or table stakes for most insurers and their software vendors. And mobile apps have proliferated quickly enough to have become de rigueur. So, what’s up?

Digits By the Numbers

According to a post from Lightico:

81% of companies expect CX to be the key battleground in the race for market dominance. Meanwhile, a McKinsey study shows that a whopping 70% of consumers base their opinion of a business on the quality of its CX. The importance of customer experience is true across product and service categories, and even more so when providers are selling intangible benefits … Digitization effectively shifts the focus from antiquated, manual processes to consumer-focused, digital processes.

The post refers to claims processing specifically, but its generalizations abide across all insurance transactions and interactions. But if insurers are conducting business on the Internet — if they’re already making information accessible and interaction possible with portals and mobile apps — isn’t that digitalization? We grant that more automation might be warranted. The refinement and extensions of automated processes are always evolving and improving.

According to Wikipedia:

The modern binary number system, the basis for binary code, was invented by Gottfried Leibniz in 1689 and appears in his article Explication de l’Arithmétique Binaire. The full title is translated into English as the “Explanation of the binary arithmetic”, which uses only the characters 1 and 0.

Granted, it took a while for those two digits to comprise the substance of our computer and mobile-phone communications. But we’ve clearly been at this for a while. It makes you wonder how it ended up in the spotlight now, doesn’t it?

We’re Getting There

We don’t know. But what we do know is that digitalization is well underway. The customer experience improves with every incremental expansion of digitalization. And anyone who’s not playing the digitalization game is not going to win the Customer Experience Sweepstakes.

Since it’s 2020, chances are you’re already in the game. Everything else is a matter of degree.

Don’t panic.