If insurance distribution executives are unsure of their place in getting agents and producers going on mobile, they should put their fears aside and provide the devices and functionality to help them succeed. That was the tenor of yesterday's keynote speech from Rob Pal, VP, wholesaler distribution and enterprise sales reporting IT for Lincoln Financial Group, at Insurance & Technology's virtual event, The Future of Multichannel Distribution.
Pal took event attendees through Lincoln Financial Distribution's successful effort to get all of its wholesalers on iOS devices, noting that their laptops are now "sitting at home."
Mobile and straight-through-processing capabilities offer an opportunity for the insurance industry to be a leader in showing how tablets can be leveraged as enterprise tools, Pal continued. For those who have security concerns, he said that the key is to "engage your security team at the start of the process."
Bookending the event was a presentation from SMA's Karen Furtado, who noted that insurers "rely on wireless networks for support more than ever." The black boxes and GPS systems that support telematics initiatives all contribute to this rapidly expanding mobile infrastructure in insurance.
But distribution remains the top area of mobile investment, she added, noting that companies don't have to develop platform specific apps: HTML5 allows top-of-the-line distribution capabilities to be built in-browser. This echoed a point from Pal, who said that distribution is where mobile innovation will be led in most insurance organizations.
Between the two mobile-centric presentations was a debate on whether agents preferred carrier-designed agent portals or real-time integration with agency management systems.
Representing the portal side was Novarica's Karlyn Carnahan, who referred to research her company released last year that showed widespread support for portals. Though the survey was criticized for a small sample size, Carnahan said that "we see in many different surveys that agents prefer portals," and that "agents report higher satisfaction with the quality of the transaction through a portal."
Jeff Yates, Executive Director of the Agents Council for Technology at the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, countered that portals can be a complement to real-time capabilities in agency management systems, but can't replace them.
Agents are in a "war over keystrokes," he added. They don't want to key data in multiple times in several portals, he said, they want to see AMS and comparative rater integration, with multiple carriers. Linc Trimble, head of US Casualty for Torus Specialty Insurance, wrapped up the session saying that he understood both sides. He had "mixed experiences with carrier portals" while working for a managing general underwriter before coming to the insurer side, and has endeavored to solve some of the problems he had in his work for Torus' distributors.
"Portal technology ages quickly, so carriers must commit to maintenance and improvement," Trimble said. "They don't have to be black boxes — they can be customizable."
A good portal translates into a good customer experience — but if agents want to work within their AMS as well, data bridges provide a potential compromise, Trimble added.