“While technology can undoubtedly help streamline processes, at best it can become only a trustworthy tool, not a trusted friend.”
The march of technological progress has always come with trade-offs. And this compromise generally revolves around screen time and the commensurate erosion of social skills and human connection.
For example, when one checks their Instagram feed during a meeting, it conveys a powerful lack of interest in the business at hand. But, speaking more seriously, the bulk of concessions to technology’s relentless surge continues to occur in the form of real human capital. Or, to be blunt, jobs.
For example, I’ll wager that few people under the age of 55 can recall frequenting gas stations with full-service attendants (assuming they don’t live in New Jersey or Oregon, where full-service stations are still mandated by law). Vehicles in that full-service era were messy, unreliable contraptions that required constant tending and frequent repair. Attendants would fill your car’s tank with leaded gasoline, clean your windshield, top off the fluids, fill up your tires and send you on your way. A filling station attendant had to be both mechanically inclined and customer focused.
This was an essential job for the first few decades of the automobile’s existence. But as time wore on, vehicles became much more reliable, and gas-pumping systems simpler to use. For a while, station attendants co-existed with self-pumpers as a station’s pumps were divided into either self-service or full-service islands. But full-service always cost more (often a dime more per gallon in an era of sub-75-cent gas) and took more time. Eventually, the OPEC-spurred oil crunches of the late 1970s brought an end to most full-service options.
Is insurance on a similar trajectory?
To some, even many, it would appear so. Technology has no doubt provided the industry as a whole with new avenues and opportunities for enhanced profitability. And it’s not just the Progressives and eSurances of the world that are promoting technology’s impact.
Insurtech, as it’s somewhat inelegantly called, has permeated almost every aspect of the industry. It’s replaced human underwriters with computerized systems; it’s allowed appraisers to assess damage remotely via drone flyovers. And the result has been that the way insurance carriers are interacting with customers and agents has become less personal than ever before.
OR HAS IT?
Naturally, the response of most people working in any industry is, “That will never happen to me.” But in the case of insurance—especially high net worth insurance— that “will” may be more appropriately rendered as “should.” Because while technology can undoubtedly help streamline processes, run more rigorous risk algorithms and deposit claims payments electronically, at best it can become only a trustworthy tool, not a trusted friend.
After all, isn’t that what most people, never mind just those of considerable means, desire? Don’t they want a person who appreciates and understands their lifestyles and knows how best to protect them? Technology must be used in service of the individual client and not merely to make the agent’s life easier, right?
Surely the last thing the proud owner of a new Range Rover wants to do is sit down for a few hours with her laptop and search for the best deal on an auto policy. Rather, she wants to pick up the phone, speak to her longtime personal insurance agent and know that everything will be handled as expeditiously and economically as possible. What type of technology that agent relies on to solve her issues is of no concern to her.
That is just one relatively simple scenario. Extend this individual’s insurance needs into property, assets, collections, umbrella liability, travel, and so forth, and you quickly understand that the value a trusted advocate brings to bear is exponentially higher than what any amount of algorithmic alchemy can provide.
So, yes, technology should be embraced as swiftly as is prudent when it helps facilitate or elevate the service delivered to clients. But, for the time being, it presents not so much a threat as a true opportunity.
This means the opportunity to offer genuine value, genuine solutions and, yes, a genuine ear to clients whose trust is hard-won. Perhaps someday, when synthetic androids master the art of empathy and blend in seamlessly with the population at large, even the best agents will go the way of the filling station attendant. But that day is not today.