There's been a barrage of insurtech products hitting the market for several years now, creating confusion for some agency owners trying to decipher what is relevant to them, how to implement these products and whether to wait for new agency systems.
Regardless of the confusion, choosing to do nothing is not an option, according to agency consultant Chris Burand, founder of Chris Burand & Associates, who says agencies have to get in the technology game if they want to not only thrive but also survive - and the sooner, the better.
"Your peers, your competitors, they're going to wait five, 10 years," Burand said. "They're going to wait on their agency system management company to get all these modules all into one system. They'll be too late. It's so critical to move early and fast and move intelligently."
Burand also said it is important that agencies, not their carriers, decide what insurtechs are best for them.
Burand's message was part of an overall theme on the importance of agencies adopting insurtech and what options are available at a two-day Insurance Agency Showcase Summit held by Burand & Associates in Breckenridge, Colo., this month. Several insurtech companies spoke to agency owners on the agency-specific options they offer, and the ease of deploying those different options in an agency.
Burand said while there is no one-size-fits-all insurtech for agencies, the many different products can be tailored by agencies to their needs.
"It was so cool to see how you guys all talked about the integrated approach. There is no single solution, is there? It's going to take different people, different parts, different organizations to make it happen," Burand said.
Jason Walker, managing partner of Smart Harbor, which offers industry-specific mobile, web and search engine optimization tools and data analytics for agents, said agents should not view the technology offered by insurtechs as scary. Agents should instead think of the different insurtechs as a way to help bridge a gap or take tedious tasks off their plates.
"If we look at insurance technology that way, and we start to really just humanize all of this, we can follow this trend and start to step off into this digital marketing space," he said.
Smart Harbor, Walker said, works to help agencies become more visible with potential customers and create a good experience for customers through relevant content, chat integration, content management systems and directory listings, for example.
"All of this is driving credibility through content, but it's using a bunch of different platforms that are, guess what - technology. And when we talk about it for the insurance space, it's insurtech," Walker said.
With more digital agencies entering the insurance world, traditional agencies are going to have trouble competing if they do not adapt to technology, said Doug Mohr, vice president of Industry Relations & Partnerships for Vertafore.
"Newer agencies - they have no blinders on," Mohr said. "They have no preconceived notion of 'this is how we've always done it, how we have to do it,' so they put in the new technologies as a way to buy competitive advantage and differentiate themselves from the competition in the market."
Carriers are also investing in digital independent insurance agencies and making decreasing the acquisition costs of new business one of their number one priorities, Burand said.
"They are planning to go direct if they have to. They will be cutting commissions and expenses," he noted, and that means agents are going to have to streamline their processing and bring value to their clients.
"We have to have a win-win scenario with the carriers. Where [they are decreasing] their costs, we decrease our costs, and we both grow more quickly," Burand said.
Burand said agencies should be in control of what technologies they implement, not their carriers.
"Technology is going to drive the wedge further between agencies and carriers. You've got to choose what's best for you. Don't let the carriers dictate a fact," he said. "Just because a carrier doesn't like this technology or that technology is not a reason to avoid using that technology."
Chris Cheathem, co-founder of RiskGenius, which offers a platform applying artificial intelligence to insurance policies to better understand policy language and improve underwriting workflows, said investing in technology doesn't mean eliminating the human touch from agency work.
"Successful companies augment humans with tech. I think that's the key right there," he said. "If you come out, and you're like, 'Okay, we're going to get rid of a bunch of people and implement technology,' it will fail because there is a middle ground area."
The number one priority for any independent agent/small business owner is to get closer to customers and improve their experience, Mohr said, and the technology they choose should ensure that happens.
"[Set] those priorities, pick technology, two or three depending on your outcome, that meets those goals and take them to heart," he said.
Insurtechs like Avyst are looking at agency-focused opportunities that enable the efficiency of independent agent channels, said Kitty Ambers, chief growth officer for Avyst. The company offers ways to streamline processes and workflows, as well as its eForms Wizard that was designed to simplify the submission process.
She said agencies need to have a plan for growth and future success so they can align their technology around that plan. "I think that's super critical as we make our investments in the right technology for the thing at the right time," Ambers said.
Mohr said agencies shouldn't be afraid to fail when it comes to implementing technology - if something isn't working, move on.
"If it isn't providing the value and the ROI [return on investment] that you originally set out when you set those goals with the technology, don't be afraid to just say that's not working for me," he said. "Another mistake I see from agents is they think that if they've invested in something, they've really got to play it out, even though it's not working for them. Don't be afraid to fail. Evaluate it. Iterate. Maybe take it in another direction. Constantly look at the value you're getting out of your technology."
Ultimately, Burand says agencies cannot afford to wait - the successful agencies will be those who get it done.
"Let's figure out how we can deliver better quality to our clients and at lower costs," he said. "If we do that, we save money and grow simultaneously. Not everybody is going to be able to figure out how to make that happen."