Distribution Matters features conversations with Breathe Life customers, partners, and the industry at large on life insurance distribution challenges and opportunities.

This article features Manoj Upreti, Strategic Advisor with Aite-Novarica’s Life Insurance and Annuity practice. His career includes operations and product leadership roles for major insurers such as Transamerica, Genworth, and MetLife.

Q: Where do you see the future of distribution going?

A: Technology has been a major limiting factor for insurers, at least in the past. Legacy systems originally provided efficiencies but as technology continues to improve, upgrading these systems is not sufficient to deliver a superior customer and agent experience. That leaves insurers scrambling to catch up with recent technology while patching up their distribution process with duct tape and bubble gum to meet the needs of the current environment. 

Now, instead of pushing a process to the customer, insurance distribution is becoming more customer driven. Some insurers are fast-tracking a hybrid distribution process because it offers them the opportunity to take the lead in offering a new customer experience that meets today’s more technologically proficient population. Other insurers are still trying to make the leap to an online application process. 

 Q: What do you mean by a hybrid distribution process? 

A: A key component of hybrid distribution is flexibility. The agent and customer both participate to determine how the journey proceeds. As no two customers are alike, a hybrid distribution process is flexible enough to meet the customer where they are most comfortable, such as a mobile device, a desktop, a Zoom meeting, or an in-person meeting with their agents. The hybrid process is also flexible enough to allow the customer to start and stop the process at any point in their insurance buying journey. Integrating chat and messaging experiences into the system helps make the online process seamless. 

The flexible hybrid process is also beneficial to agents, as they want to optimize their time while increasing their customer base. All customers do not require the same amount of engagement, so a hybrid system – online platform, chat, Zoom, in person meetings, and messaging options – offers agents and the customer much more flexibility during their interaction. While the process might start online, it can also transition to a chat experience or phone call. Many customers still want the human touch once in a while. For instance, an online claims reporting process needs to take into consideration the sensitive nature of life insurance claims. 

The challenge facing insurers in implementing a hybrid solution is offering options that address customer needs. 

Q: How did COVID impact this process for insurers? 

A: COVID expedited the need for a hybrid distribution platform. With personal contact limited, insurers faced a dilemma in how to distribute insurance products without face-to-face interactions. A flexible, hybrid system utilizes technology where it can be more effective while enabling human intervention where it is needed.

In a recent survey, Aite-NovaricaGroup asked our customers what motivated them to buy life insurance products during COVID. It turned out that younger people made up a much larger percentage of the newest life insurance customers during COVID. COVID highlighted the risk of death and focused customer attention on what they could do to protect their families if something should happen to them. The reasons for buying were no different for the younger customer than what drove customer decisions in the past: it is all about the need for security and protection. 

To me, hybrid platforms offer insurers the opportunity to deliver a new customer experience, broaden the audience for life products, and encourage product development geared to the needs of this new customer base.