Optimizing the insurance broker’s channel


Gone are the salad days for many P&C (property and casualty) insurers, the companies that insure our cars, homes and belongings. The sector is facing many headwinds including rapidly changing consumer needs, increased risk (particularly around climate change) and rising costs. One vital component of the P&C insurer value chain, the independent insurance broker, is at the centre of change. Insurers that can deftly navigate this transformation will deliver higher consumer value, increased revenues and enjoy better relationships with their broker partners.

Historically, most insurance carriers distributed their products through local insurance agents or brokers. However, times have changed as new distribution channels emerged. Web-based technologies now allow customers to quickly and directly deal with insurance companies and get around-the-clock peer feedback. Insurers now have better predictive tools, advanced pricing algorithms and straight-through underwriting data that allow them to offer quotes instantly while minimizing risk and cost. Finally, providing a differentiated customer experience has become more challenging when consumers can deal either with brokers or with insurance companies that offer their products directly to consumers and influencers. These changes have important implications for the provider-broker partnership.

Contrary to the hype of a decade ago, the Internet is not dis-intermediating channels like insurance brokers even when consumers have a direct-provider option. To wit, a 2012 McKinsey study of the U.S. auto insurance sector found 59% of consumers dealt with a broker and directly with an insurance provider through their customer journey. For the foreseeable future, good brokers will continue to play an important role in the marketing, selling and servicing insurance products by providing choice and advice to consumers.

While marketing through this multi-channel world can complicate an insurer’s business model, it also presents opportunities to outflank competitors and deliver more consumer value. How can insurance companies work better with their brokers and deliver on joint goals?

In our client work and research we have found that P&C insurers share similar channel issues as other sectors including banking, travel and industrial goods. Leaders in these markets have thrived in a multi-channel environment by using strong, intermediary relationships to deliver an omni-channel brand experience — a compelling value proposition consistently delivered through every online and offline channel. Some best practices to enhance the broker relationship include:

1. Align around the consumer

Many factors — social media, mobile computing and a continuing recessionary mindset — are affecting the way most consumers research products and want to deal with brokers and insurers. Successful providers and brokers are embracing these trends through: an integrated, customer-centric model; the capture and utilization of partner knowledge of local markets and sub-segments, and; sophisticated, qualitative Big Data analytics that enable insurers to better understand customer needs wherever they are in the purchase or support journey so they can provide the brokers with the right products, tools and information. Failure to stay abreast of consumer needs can result in a compromised value proposition and lower market share.

2. Get closer to the channel

Smart providers understand that partnership is the foundation of a high performance broker channel. The way to achieve this is through multi-level communication, common goals and ongoing collaboration — not conflict. This partnership mindset includes understanding its entrepreneurial brokers, aligning everyone’s business interests and giving the broker a differentiated reason to favour them over other providers. Market leaders seek to embed this cooperation into their cultures as well as management practices.

“Insurance companies who rely on brokers for the sale of their products will succeed only if brokers are successful,” said Monika Federau, chief strategy officer for Intact Financial Corporation. “This is why we aim to be the insurer that is the most conducive to their growth by providing them with financial, technological, and marketing support.”

3. Enabling the broker’s business

Making significant investment in technology, innovative products, joint marketing and capabilities are needed to reinforce verbal commitments. For example, Intact has invested millions of dollars in technologies that make it easier for brokers to deal with it and allow them to focus their efforts in better serving their own customers. Furthermore, Intact provides differentiated products and services that meet the bespoke needs of its 2,800 brokers and their customers.

Intact’s strategy has paid off. Today, the company is the leading P&C insurer in Canada with a market share that is nearly double its nearest competitor. Furthermore, Intact has consistently outperformed the industry in terms of revenue growth and profitability. Clearly, working with — not against your channel — can pay significant dividends.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

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