Canadian Underwriter

Digital service expansion a delicate balancing act

October 19, 2021   by Jeff Buckstein

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Successful brokers must balance surging demand for online digital services with a clear recognition that clients want to maintain a strong human connection.

“If you force all your clients to go to in-person and on-phone service, you are cutting out a massive percentage of the population. And if you make everybody go through your chatbot and personal self-service, that’s not acceptable either,” said Adam Mitchell, president of Mitchell & Whale Insurance Brokers Ltd. in Whitby, Ont.

“You need to find this tech-enabled middle ground where people can dynamically move between. Don’t overswing this pendulum to either side.”

Both business and consumer respondents to Canadian Underwriter’s 2021 Trusted Advisor survey revealed that online quoting was the most important digital service, with 80% and 73% deeming the service important, respectively.

Deciding whether digital service might suffice or if personal service would be better depends on whether the account issue is simple or complex, Mitchell said.

For example, there are many different quoting engines available for single products. “But if you try and add a second layer of complexity to that — for example, you have one newer car, one slightly older car and then one collector car — there is not a quoting engine that will work nicely for that,” he noted.

Jeff McCann, chief executive officer of APOLLO Insurance, a Vancouver-based insurance technology company, said he expects brokers will provide customers with a full slate of digital services in the near future. That will include obtaining quotes, detailed information about an existing policy, and the ability to interactively submit or manage a claim.

Digital online claims management was considered important by 62% of business clients and 66% of consumers.

“But people will still want to engage with an expert to better understand what they’re seeing,” McCann said.

Mitchell said digital services could adequately respond to some straightforward claims queries. For example, if somebody called their auto insurance broker after striking a deer with their car, that accident — in isolation — might be relatively simple to administer.

But if there had been a previous accident on file relatively close to the deer collision, the combined effect of the two accidents might necessitate a different response. That would add a level of complexity to the client’s file that only the broker could respond to, Mitchell said.

The least important digital service was chatbot or robo-advisor support, with only 14% for business respondents and 16% of consumers deeming it important.

“I don’t think chatbots are anywhere near providing the experience to the customer they would need. Often it can be frustrating when you think you’re talking to a live advisor and in fact it’s a chatbot that can only give you a very limited number of support requests,” McCann said.

Chatbots and robo-advisors are a worthy consideration for higher-volume environments where a broker is hit with demands beyond the human ability to respond manually, said David Kerr, a partner in the technology consulting practice of Deloitte Canada in Toronto.

But there must also be a way to initiate more personal contact, such as a button to push to connect to a live person, “because what a broker doesn’t want is for a customer to sign onto a digital portal or a mobile app, get stuck and get angry with them because it’s so difficult to conduct business — [and then] exit and go somewhere else,” Kerr warned.

Insurance customers expect to interact with insurers and brokers in the most convenient manner, depending on the nature of the transaction or service, he said.

“Brokers and insurers who provide that convenience could have advantages in the marketplace,” Kerr stressed.

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