Print Page   |   Contact Us   |   Sign In   |   Sign Up
Young's Stuff
Blog Home All Blogs
Search all posts for:   

 

View all (41) posts »
 

Using Both Direct-Online and Broker-Channel Distribution Impacts Consumers and Industry

Posted By Thom Young, July 2, 2015

How about the Weather?

Typical for an Alberta summer, the weather this week has been stiflingly hot and dry up to Canada Day—difficult to endure in an RV without power—and then the predicted thunderstorms created a general turn to semi-constant rain and much cooler temperatures. Huddling around the propane campfire in the Ponoka Legion parking lot last night was a much different experience from what we’d expected according to the weather reports. There’s a profession for those who like a challenge—no credit for whatever good happens but all the blame for whatever unexpected turns out. Even better, try being a climatologist who attempts to make sense of the overall picture based on the weather details extrapolated from archaeological records. Are they, like us, looking to the past to predict the future?

“We’ve seen the enemy and it is us”

Variations of this comment have been used to describe the process whereby in many endeavours we seem to be the authors of our own misfortune. If I had to give direct credit for it to anyone from memory, I would attribute it to the character named Pogo in and old newspaper comic called Alley Oop. In the historical cycle of a changing insurance marketplace, we’ve seen this process operating more than once and seem to be about to go through it again in Canada.

A decade ago in England, insurance companies rushed to offer their automobile insurance products over the telephone, and the brokerage ranks suffered tremendously from lost market share. Insurers that traditionally had been great supporters of the brokerage distribution model indirectly undermined brokers with telephone solicitation schemes that allowed the consumer to deal directly with the insurers. The presumption of doom came down upon the English insurance brokers who feared greatly for their future.

The effect of this change in market approach caused severe market disruption in England. While some brokers didn’t survive, most did. The real losers in the process were as usual the consumers. The average price of an automobile policy didn’t really change that much, but the price differential sure did. Straightforward accounts that were easy to deal with received the most benefit in price discounts, leaving the more complicated ones to pay increased premiums into the pools. Slicing up the pie into smaller pieces doesn’t create any more pie as anyone who’s had unexpected guests arrive for dinner well know. Consumers were eventually treated to the reality of discounted service and the loss of an advocate to add value to the claims process. Pricing realities in a competitive market also led consumers to seek assistance from a broker or “agent” who could make sense of the complicated product they were buying. Ultimately, the purchase of reliable insurance (any kind of insurance) is not a do-it-yourself project accomplished by pressing numbers on a telephone in response to robot-generated questions, nor is it any easier to accomplish by clicking boxes on an internet website. Doubtless, the process of obtaining the quote can be done in this manner, but understanding and analyzing the risk is a much different story.

The universal capital marketplace continues to believe that the builders of better mousetraps can arrange for the world to beat a path to their door. While the newest “door” is the internet, what we’ve seen so far is a landscape filled with much communication but little in the way of service. Insurers in Europe, the U.S.A. and Canada, as we know, have been flirting with attempts to improve their market share through this new communication device, yet those who are making the best use of it and having the most success with it are using it, not to change the process, but to streamline and improve it. Much like the call centres that now seem to add to the client’s experience and reinforce the broker’s or agents’ efforts, the internet markets that seem most successful are those that integrate the adviser process. Agents or brokers remain the key contact point, while routine service issues are dealt with by service centres. Rating and quoting is subject to the broker’s or agent’s review of the client’s interaction and the underwriting issues that always seem to arise in the process. This is the experience of Progressive in the U.S., and other U.S. companies who have tried the direct approach are losing ground to them in the market. Safeco, as an example, had a direct-writing internet arm and ended up assigning the client-service issues by zip code to its agents. Safeco could neither provide the proper expertise in the market nor give timely, effective service to its clients using the direct approach. Further evidence suggests that using brokers in this manner is much more cost effective than the direct approach, but some companies believe they will have different results. I don’t think they will.

Insurance company executives have much to juggle. They are surrounded with all kinds of advice givers and people extolling the benefits of every new gizmo or gadget that is said to improve the company’s competitive position and to preserve it from others who might effectively use the gadget. The newer the technology, the harder it is to decide. The digital marketplace is exploding companies, and brokers are actively using it to compete with each other, get the customers, and give the service. Digital technology will improve the process, but it won’t change the manner in which the product is sold or delivered. Any insurance executive who believes it will, is losing sight of the process and will, ultimately, pay the price in lost market share. Insurance executives who betray the loyalty of their business partners, be they brokers or employees, by competing directly with them in the marketplace will suffer a worse fate than having to regroup and respond to the market changes. They will be bypassed by those who have taken the time to understand the dynamics of this new communication device called the internet and who have effectively changed their communication strategy to enhance the process of customer service. Their “new” direct approach will fail horribly, and the impact on the clients will put our industry in disrepute again.

All of us are well aware that one of our major markets in Canada has determined to go down this path of competitive realignment in the Canadian market. Of particular concern is the branding. Any business would find difficulty explaining to its customers the difference in price and service of the products sold out of its shop versus those sold directly by its suppliers. A client who walks into a broker’s office with a quote bearing the name of this market will be very confused as to why the broker can’t match that quote when that company’s plaque is on the broker’s wall. Once again, our industry will be confusing our market and doing a real disservice. This company may well find itself bumping up against regulatory obligations in several provincial jurisdictions and will certainly see itself under regulatory review. If a company provides a quote to a consumer, it had better stand behind it at whichever location bears its name. It’s only logical.

One might hope that the company involved will have another look at its business plan. If the company is determined to compete directly with its broker representatives, then fine, but at least it should brand its product differently so that brokers are not confusing the public. The superior service that I, for example, provide my clients under its name needs to be distinguished from the slip-shod, second-rate direct internet approach the company is going to give them. Additionally, when that company’s clients come back to me disappointed with the company’s direct internet service, they won’t be looking for a quote from that company. Caveat emptor!

wagon wheel

Stampede Me

Lundgren & Young is holding its annual stampede breakfast on July 8th, 7:00–10:00 a.m., 9705 Horton Road SW in Calgary. Come on out to this all-industry event, enjoy a good pancake and sausage breakfast, and listen to live country music. While reveling in the stampede show, mingle with the insurance industry folks in the know. If you know the right people, you can get a glass of the good orange juice.

While on the topic, don’t be afraid to stampede me with emails sharing your thoughts. They provide good fodder for future articles.

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.



Tags:  branding  broker channel  consumer confidence  direct writer channel  insurance industry reputation  online channel 

Share |
Permalink | Comments (0)
 
more IBAA Courses and Events

2017-06-13 » 2017-08-31
Convention Educational Sessions (Recorded)

2017-07-24 » 2017-07-28
Licensing Level 1 Immersion - Calgary

Featured Members

Online Surveys
Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal