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Will the pandemic spawn an industry-wide digital roadmap?


April 23, 2020   by Adam Malik


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Backing brokers into a corner and forcing them to use just one kind of technology is bad strategy, Joseph Carnevale, president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO), warned Wednesday during Canadian Underwriter’s webinar Business Continuity In The Digital Age.

Clients live in different parts of the country with different needs and desires, Carnevale explained. So brokers need to be able to offer them different ways and options of doing business. Some may still want to deal with paper and have face-to-face meetings. Others may be fine with going entirely digital. And there will be those who want something in the middle. An omnichannel approach right now is a best practice during the pandemic, he recommended.

“Whatever we do, we always have to remember that whatever’s best for the client is ultimately what we’re trying to do here,” Carnevale said. “Sometimes we get caught up in groupthink, where we say: ‘Well, we know this is what’s best for brokers and the insurance company, so let’s do this.’ Unfortunately, that doesn’t translate too well when the end consumer isn’t involved.”

His message to insurers is simple: “Give brokers enough choice to make the right choice that suits the clients that they have.”

Carnevale made his comments when asked about digitizing paper-based processes in response to an extended period of social distancing to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Carnevale pointed out that brokers were able to move quickly into the virtual space when the circumstances – i.e. the pandemic – required it. But if individual insurers attempted to force brokers to digitize their processes according to the carriers’ individual timetables, the result would be chaotic. He called on brokers and insurers to work together to develop a comprehensive, industry-wide strategy for digitizing processes in the future.

“Instead of having insurance companies or vendors saying [to brokers], ‘On this day, this is what we’re doing. Get with it,’ the idea is: Let’s all acknowledge this is the goal of where we want to be as an industry. What can we do to get everyone to the table to make sure that we’re all on the same page?” said Carnevale, who is also managing director of sales and partner at Brokers Trust Insurance Group Inc.

Brokers want a choice of digital solutions, he added. But even if it’s determined that a single solution would work best, at least that decision can be reached together.

“Let’s talk about exactly what does involve, what does that look like,” he said. “Is there technology that can support all of us in what we do? And if we know there’s not one technology, [but] there are multiple tech vendors that can provide the solutions, what would it take the entire industry to move to that point?”

A roadmap is needed to achieve these goals, recommended webinar panelist Graham Haigh, vice president of broker distribution at Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company. He stressed the value of competition and choice when it comes to digital options in the marketplace, but transition to digital services could be more coordinated than it has been, he suggested.

“Instead of just surprising each other on a continuous basis — ‘Hey, guess what tool I just launched today?’ — let’s put a roadmap together and work towards [a goal],” he said. He further noted that “there are some good tools out there that have been created over the last number of years, and I think we just need to start to see a strategy in place instead of…just releasing stuff and then wishing it would get used.”

Webinar panelist Steve Whitelaw, vice president of industry and partner relations at Applied Systems, agreed in principle with the idea of creating a roadmap to figure out where the industry wants to go, so long as the outcome recognized a variety of possible options. Having multiple digital options would ensure competition among vendors to provide the best solutions, he said.

“Let the vendors use their tools and creativity to come up with solutions that work best, as opposed to you trying to land on one common industry solution,” Whitelaw suggested. “The roadmap is important, but let the vendors have their opportunity to shine in delivering the best solutions to the customers.”

This is perhaps the best time to work together, Haigh said. During the pandemic, the industry can examine where changes can be made to strengthen the industry, he noted, repeating a line he’s been told before: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”