Recognizing that service and support may become the differentiator in life insurance when it comes to sales, Zurich Life (Schaumburg, IL), a member of the Zurich Financial Services Group, has named Michael Sladek as director of field technology services for e-business. Sladek will focus on developing and implementing field technology initiatives designed to enhance Zurich's distribution channels.
Initially, Sladek will be a promoter of Zurich Life's e-business initiatives. "My first responsibility will be to get information out to field about our new services," Sladek says, citing Zurich Life's new online application process as an example. "We don't want to spend a lot of time and money developing products and functionality and have the products exist in a vacuum. The products have to be well known to be useful."
In general, Sladek contends, insurance companies have spent vast resources developing online functionality, only to see minimal usage from agents. "Insurance companies now are supporting a variety of contact methods with agents," including the Internet, call centers and traditional mail and fax, he says. "Carriers rolled out the Internet to save costs, but nobody is using it. Another one of my short-term goals is to figure out how to get the Internet usage up" among agents.
Sladek also will be responsible for relaying technology likes, dislikes, concerns and new ideas back to the home office from agents in the field. "Since I will be working in the field, I will also gather feedback about technology to help improve the relationship with our distribution partners," he says.
Responding to business partners' ideas will be important for Zurich Life, Sladek emphasizes. "One thing that I have noticed about insurance: If you have similar products and another company offers better service, the business goes to the other company," he says.
"Companies that offer better service are going to do it with technology," including more efficient call centers and more functionality on the Web, Sladek adds. "There are a lot of insurance companies that talk about the benefits of technology, but few deliver it. Our management and CEO are big supporters of technology. That will be the deciding factor for Zurich Life." He points out that Zurich Life is one of the first companies to offer online life applications to agents, something that many insurance companies have been promising for years, but few have delivered.
Before joining Zurich Life, Sladek was director of product development at ZeBu, Inc., an agency life insurance technology provider. He was also previously a field technology representative at Lincoln Benefit, a subsidiary of Allstate.
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio