InnSure Voluntary Benefits Virtual Peer Discussion: The Insiders’ Review
As the saying goes, two heads are better than one. We had this expression in mind at the start of the insurance innovation nonprofit InnSure’s recent virtual discussion – in partnership with Vitech – on the Voluntary Benefits Insurance market. The call featured 12 executives from a variety of leading insurance companies, including Guardian Life, AFLAC, Chubb, Equitable, and Liberty Mutual, to name a few. After a year of uncertainty and business disruption, it was good to speak with so many colleagues to compare notes about how the industry and insurance software technologies in general have adapted through innovation and the resiliency of its constituents, and how they will continue to evolve in an ever-increasing virtual environment.
The Industry Outlook, Accelerated Digital Engagement
Our discussion immediately turned to the market outlook for the rest of the year. The group agreed that the current industry rebound should continue, resulting in normal or near-normal sales levels by this summer, especially with the second stimulus bill. We also concurred that the voluntary benefits industry will continue to adopt more virtual, automated operations, but with the caveat that many employers and distributors are still struggling to adjust to demand. Increased digital methods of engagement such as E-signatures, virtual enrollments, and Zoom meetings have accelerated to further automate formerly manual business processes, and industry members have expressed that they are excited by and prefer these new and efficient alternatives.
Account Management’s “New Normal”
What is particularly intriguing is how methods of account management have quickly pivoted to adapt to the “new normal.” Call participants also emphasized that account management with employer clients has become even more critical with new, more virtual business practices. There is now greater opportunity for more flexible client stewardship since meetings are no longer bound by travel and scheduling. But as a result, virtual interactions need to be more directed and efficient. Another outcome is that information exchange between accounts has now become more frequent and formalized, and much less dependent on informal meetings and personal relationships. This alone may lead to entirely new, long-term account management tactics.
The Need for External Technology Integration, Better Data Governance, and New Employees’ Perspectives
External technology integration was another frequent topic during the discussion, as participants mentioned that to meet their employers’ client needs, they want to align with clients’ technologies such as advanced enrollment and benefit administration platforms. Consistent with the greater insurance industry, modernizing legacy administration platforms has become an important enabler of internal automation and external, real-time integration with the enrollment, benefits administration, and other services used by employers’ clients. One participant discussed how his company started its API/external ecosystem initiative three years ago and has already started to experience significant user experience and efficiency benefits. He also mentioned the necessity of allocating at least three months’ worth of effort for each API and another three months for full adoption. Other participants emphasized the need for better data governance and the desire to hire employees from other industries, to bring in new perspectives to address data and connectivity challenges.
The Rise of Customers’ Digital Expectations
In terms of perspectives, it was refreshing for us to hear so many group members agree with Vitech’s belief that consumers’ digital expectations have grown significantly, and that voluntary benefits needs to catch up with the larger financial services industry’s digital prowess. To take the customer experience to another level, a few companies have floated the idea of using data lakes to access medical claims data and then allowing consumers to receive payouts for voluntary benefits products without filing claims. This would, in effect, remove an entire step from the standard claims processing cycle.
Virtual Business is Here To Stay, and What Comes Next
Throughout the InnSure call, we were incredibly impressed by the energy and passion of the discussion, especially concerning the growth of innovation and technology. It has become abundantly clear that consumers, producers, and employers are now expecting a more automated, virtual way of doing business with group benefits insurance companies. Therefore, the pressure to transition away from traditional paper and manual processes has become very real. The good news is that group benefits companies are responding positively to the challenge. What it also remarkable is how the industry, and insurance software technology overall, has generally adapted to the challenges of the pandemic, and how innovative technologies have enabled the market’s evolution over a relatively short period, even though digital transformation has been discussed for what seems like decades. One could argue that the accelerated pace was out of necessity, rather than actual aspiration, but whatever the cause, the bar is finally being raised around automated processes and digital engagement. As the pandemic has forced people to interact with others – personally and professionally – in entirely different ways, it is exciting to see insurers taking the reins and driving innovation forward. It remains to be seen if this pace will continue to accelerate and if these levels of digital adoption will be sustainable.
Another important question that we are both pondering is with the prevalence of cloud Centers of Excellence for greater security, along with so many successful cloud migrations, what factors remain in holding back more insurers from moving to the cloud? We are hoping to address that on the next group call, but perhaps the question is what other innovations will develop from this unprecedented year to help the insurance industry to further evolve? Stay tuned.