And the demise of the human insurance agent has been greatly exaggerated.
An outcome of COVID-19 has been what many are calling the “flight to digital”, an acceleration of businesses transacting and engaging online. It makes sense of course, since we haven’t been allowed to congregate in-person and, even once we can, people will be more careful in public. At least for a while.
We see this acceleration happening in many of our partners’ businesses, particularly in the payroll and POS (point of sale) industries. Restaurants, with their focus on delivery and take-out, need contactless payments—a core function for POS providers. And, payroll companies want customers to do away with paper checks in favor of direct deposit (this comes with the added benefit of providing an easy way to comply with PPP loan forgiveness requirements). The world is changing. Whether permanent or temporary, this is where we are now (I am sick of saying the “new normal”).
Prior to COVID-19, AP Intego was all in on the digital transformation. We know more and more business owners want “self help” whether it’s to purchase a policy, update their account information, or get a certificate of insurance; it is expected that these activities can be done online. As an agency who works with more than twenty different insurance carriers, coalescing all this into a seamless, unified platform is our goal. And we’ve made great progress, but still have much to do.
For the quickly expanding, online-only, “do it yourself” group, we offer a fully online, end-to-end, agent-free buying experience. Most customers, however, still want at least some human interaction during the buying process, sometimes to build confidence that the coverages they’re buying are the right ones for them, or to reassure themselves that the price they’re paying is the lowest.
Small businesses are complex (anyone claiming otherwise doesn’t know small business!) They often have complex insurance needs. We’ve known buying the right insurance can be complicated (our mantra is to uncomplicate it), so we built our business around being both technology- and people-based. If we hadn’t, we’d have built a much smaller customer base with a much lower customer satisfaction score.
Along comes COVID-19.
To say that there’s now more confusion about what insurance covers and what it doesn't puts the situation lightly. Federal and state rules and regulations are hard enough to grasp during the “old” normal (sorry) when it’s not your area of expertise. The chaos and uncertainty of a global pandemic adds to the mix. A small business owner doesn’t stand a chance without help — digital or human help, but help nonetheless.
When the dust settles, when we return to mostly business as usual, and when our customers renew their business insurance, it is my bet that they’ll be more diligent about what is and isn't covered. They’ll have more questions, more information to process, and probably more coverage needs. They’ll want an agent to help them figure it all out — again, digital or human agent, but an agent nonetheless.
Which brings me full circle. Sort of. There is a flight to digital. We’re on it! We were there pre-pandemic and as a result we’re ahead of the game now. The movement to do more online with less interaction with an agent is accelerating. We’ve embraced it, and are investing time, effort and resources to lead the charge. But we also know that there are going to be times when answers are needed. And at those times, our trained, licenced, agents will be there.
As someone who travels a lot for business, I want to book all my flights online. The last thing I want is to speak to someone about booking that flight. But if (when) my flight is canceled, and I’m stuck and need another one, the only thing I want at that moment is to talk to a real, live, person. I want help figuring out the best way home and to know it’s actually happening. And that’s just air travel, a much simpler thing than business insurance.
The flight to digital is not a flight from agents. It’s about being able to do more yourself with the confidence that when you need a flesh and blood expert to help, they're there. And that’s what we believe is the best path forward on our journey.
See you soon...