Brokers have had to endure several years of soft markets, forcing them to streamline operations and cut costs. While there are indications that the market is hardening, some analysts predict that growth and profitability for brokerages in 2013 and beyond will continue to be challenging.
Technology has significantly changed the way companies and their customers interact. With consumers able to access information, sales and service from other industries through the Internet, they expect the same ease and responsiveness from their insurance providers. To remain competitive, brokers need to consider how these market dynamics are affecting their business.
Mobile technology can be an effective option that gives brokers an additional platform to open new lines of communication with their customers and remain competitive in the market. Some brokerages might believe mobile technology for insurance is too new to adopt or it will require a significant investment and capital outlay. In fact, mobile technology for insurance has advanced rapidly and many brokerages are using it successfully in business every day.
Cloud computing is one technology that makes it easier and more cost-effective to deploy a mobile system. It allows brokerages to extend their business activities beyond the confines of the office while also reducing the costs of managing and maintaining technology infrastructure. Mobility enabled through the cloud can help brokerages meet client demands in a competitive market that requires responsiveness without significant financial investments that weigh down the bottom line.
A recent report from research firm Ovum, 2013 Trends to Watch: Insurance, states that growth in developed markets will either be low or flat in 2013. The key to growth of insurance revenue, despite such conditions, is acknowledging the growing power and influence consumers exercise through social networking and increased use of market-facing technology. Ovum also determined that too often, brokerages do not take advantage of technology's full range of benefits. They use just enough to make their businesses run.
Mobility is one such technological benefit that brokerages can use to their advantage now, as the market continues to evolve. Being mobile and connected to customers has two different meanings. In one respect, it means that producers out in the field have access to the information they need through a smart device.
Mobility gives producers a chance to build better client relationships by being more responsive and having necessary information at their disposal. When these mobile systems are integrated with a brokerage management system, brokers have access to more information to better serve customers at that point of interaction.
On the other hand, mobility also means giving customers remote, self-service access to information when needed, or demanded, including even outside normal working hours. Secure Web portals, where insureds are able to obtain basic policy information, liability certificates or certificates of insurance, serve to empower the insured consumer and can increase overall service and satisfaction for the broker.
Moving to More Mobility
Providing a brokerage mobility and flexibility that frees producers to be more efficient and profitable, while meeting customers' demands for service and convenience, may sound like a monumental task. But it does not have to be.
There are variations in what "cloud computing" means, depending on with whom you speak. Most will agree it is an all-encompassing term for data centres that control computing operations. Rather than a brokerage having to run and maintain its own information technology infrastructure, going to the cloud means it can store its data, run its applications and maintain its system through a third-party data centre.
The software, data and applications are all contained on the cloud vendor's servers and are accessed through an Internet connection. They are also protected by advanced information security. Most third parties continually enhance their data security systems so that brokerages have access to some of the latest security technology.
That is what makes mobility through the cloud so attractive. Information is accessible through a smart device equipped with a Web browser. Brokerages are freed from the constraints of hard-drive, wired-in computing.
They no longer have to travel into the office to get what they need. They can work from home if need be. They can also work on a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection. This way, they can be more responsive and efficient, offering their customers the results and service they want almost immediately.
That is not to say the same kind of mobility cannot be achieved if brokerages chose to stick with their local area networks (LANs). Adding mobility to an existing LAN would require some changes. Brokerages would need servers to host data and applications on a robust system that would be capable of running all day, every day. They would also need an Internet connection with enough bandwidth to allow users to access such data and applications.
Security is imperative, so brokerages would need to implement the right security measures to prevent intrusions or unauthorized access. They would need system recovery in the event of a disaster and would need a method for backing up crucial data. Brokerages also need to make sure they employ experienced personnel to manage these systems.
Going to the cloud does not mean there will be significant changes in the way that brokerages conduct their day-to-day business. Those that have gone to the cloud already have reported that, other than a slightly different process for logging into their computers, operations have not changed.
In today's changing marketplace, brokerages need to think differently about how they do business. Mobility and the cloud can provide the leverage brokerages need to get a leg up on the competition and meet consumer expectations for real-time information access and technology-enabled communication.