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Meet the bionic advisor – the new breed of insurance agents1

Once upon a time, insurance agents did most of their work on foot and on the phone, pounding the pavement to meet new clients and following up with their current ones. There was literal paperwork – lots of it, enough to fill entire desks multiple stacks high – and the filing systems required to keep track were so measured that they could command the respect of librarians throughout the country. Now, those days are over.

Even before COVID-19, the bionic advisor was already on her way into the insurance industry. And the changes brought about by the pandemic have only hastened her arrival. In a world where businesses and consumers alike are embracing digital transformation in every sphere they engage in, it’s imperative that insurance agents do the same.

Businesses are going digital... and they’re not looking back

“[COVID-19] is a catalyst that has driven adoption,” says Rich Gilbert, a senior vice president and the chief digital information officer at Aflac. “Think about the number of people who had never been on a Zoom meeting until March 13 of last year [2020]. They had to adapt and they had to figure it out and it’s made their lives easier.”

Across industries, this adoption rate has been nothing short of staggering. And the results have been just as extreme. In light of the technological changes COVID-19 necessitated, companies have accelerated the digitization of both customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years, conservatively. Further, the share of digital or digitally-enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by as many as seven years.2

Early and frequent adopters and investors in these technological changes also seem to have responded to COVID-19 at a disproportionately better rate than their fellow businesses. According to a 2020 study by McKinsey & Company, among respondents reporting very effective responses to COVID-19, 72% were the first in their industries to experiment with new technologies during the pandemic, and 67% invested more than their industry peers in digital related capital expenditures.2

Just as notable as these changes themselves is the intent to keep them. Among organizations experiencing specific change amid COVID-19, 50% believe their increasing use of advanced technologies in operations will stick for the long term, and 49% believe the increasing use of advanced technologies in their business decision-making will also remain a constant.2

The need for technology-adept insurance carriers

Even before the pandemic, 66% of employers had become more digital than paper-based when it came to managing employee benefits.3 In light of the pandemic, nearly 4 in 5 employers currently have had at least a portion of their employees working remotely, and, of these, 7 in 10 say more of their employees will probably work remotely at least some of the time going forward.4 This shift may increase long-term demand for electronic benefits enrollment and communication methods. Which means insurers need to be ready.

With 80% of B2B consumers wanting a B2C experience when purchasing for work, and over 90% of buyers being more likely to buy again from a vendor with an outstanding mobile experience, it’s in the best interest of both carriers and their agents to develop a pleasant online user experience. Especially since 48% of B2B customers purchase from competitors when they are disappointed in a company’s digital experience.5

According to Gilbert, this is exactly the experience Aflac is creating for people applying for insurance. “Our new enrollment tool is just like, for example, shopping at Amazon,” he says. “You add the different products in and it shows you your monthly amount, it shows you your coverage, and then you have the ability to check out, just like you would with Amazon, do an e-signature, and you’re done.”

Bionic advisors – the insurance agents of the future

With clients and carriers turning increasingly to technology in every facet of their business, insurance agents will need to be able to leverage technology in their jobs as well. That may come naturally to the incoming generation of agents: As active agents retire and a new crop launches their sales careers, experts predict that, by 2030, agents will be relying heavily on technology to increase productivity. This increased capacity will see them commit to a transition that’s already begun in the industry, as agents continue to go beyond policy sales and client support, digging deeper into becoming process facilitators and product educators.6

This is why leading insurers are investing in long-term reskilling and upskilling to harness the capabilities of their existing workforce through personalized digital learning.7 The bionic advisor is on her way. But that doesn’t have to be a scary thing, even for agents who didn’t grow up surrounded by technology.

“Bionics, or the ‘digital agent,’ is simply the combination of human capability and digital tools to be able to drive an outcome,” Gilbert says. “It’s not making people cyborgs, but augmenting their abilities with best-in-class tools that are going to make them super productive and more efficient.”

This efficiency is a good thing. It’s good for agents and their clients and carriers alike, saving all parties an abundance of time and resources. Yet regardless of how efficient technology enables agents to be, technology won’t be the most important factor behind their success. That distinction belongs to the same characteristic it belonged to in the previous age of insurance agents: the ability to connect.

As Gilbert says: “The most successful agents are the ones that connect and show value, and a computer alone will never do that.”

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