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Forget what you know about the role of an insurance broker. The days of a broker using traditional methods to build and nurture meaningful, long-term relationships no longer cuts it. Today’s client relationships are built and maintained by offering a full-scale buyer experience, complete with resources and guidance. Brokers are now attempting to meet all the needs of the insurance buyer through a digitized approach to delivering insurance and service.

Forget, too, what you know about the buyer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2020, nearly 50 percent of the workforce will be made up of millennials — a demographic that demands instant access to information, products and purchasing options.

Today’s insurance buyers expect much more from their brokers, says Dave O’Brien, CEO of Zywave, a Milwaukee-based provider of Web-enabled software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology solutions for the insurance industry. “If you look five years ago and you ask employers how often they want to talk with their brokers, typically it was once or twice a year. Today, an employer wants to hear from their broker monthly.”

While that kind of expectation drives up a broker’s value, it also presents a dilemma, particularly for brokers with large books of business. Communicating with clients more frequently can create a demand that brokers may not be able to keep up with. That’s when brokers need to bring in technology, O’Brien says. “What they need is scalable intimacy; yet many don’t know how to achieve it.”

Challenges

It’s a change many brokers want to make, he says, yet many are unsure about which technologies they need. Therein lies part of the problem. Brokers, he says, typically can’t develop their own technology, so they rely on technology providers to lead them to the right products. Yet depending on the vendor, the choice of technology can make their job easier or infinitely more difficult, he adds.

And the pressure is on to automate. Technology is a primary tool in nearly every business sector. Brokers who are behind the tech curve are in danger of being left behind from both a client perspective and a market relevancy perspective, O’Brien says. But where to look? O’Brien says that because brokers are understandably not experts in technology, they’re unsure where to start and which technology provider to trust. It’s a task that’s not made any easier by the providers.


“In the technology world, a lot of people can throw something together and it can look like a viable technology company,” O’Brien says. “It’s very difficult for a broker to look under the hood. Scarier still is that a lot of these companies aren’t making money. When you’re talking about a solution for clients, you don’t want to get it wrong.”

Also, many brokers are still taking what Joaquin Santos, senior vice president of sales for Zywave, says is the reactionary route. Santos says too often, brokers assume that since clients aren’t asking for technology, the broker doesn’t need to provide it. Instead, brokers react to client needs as they arise. That’s the opposite of what should be happening, in his opinion. “We say, ‘When was the last time you asked them what they need?’ If we’re waiting for the client to ask, in many cases it may already be too late.”

Moreover, brokers and agencies need technology for more than just customer service and satisfaction. Compliance is a constantly moving target, Santos says. “It’s changing so fast that if we’re not leveraging technology, we’re going to have a difficult time keeping up with everything.”

Brokers, he says, need a mechanism with which they can educate clients, and frankly, he adds, clients are looking for such a mechanism. “More of the client population is becoming aware of the changing compliance and legislative landscapes,” Santos says. “Within the organization, employers are looking for ways in which to stream education and information to their employees.” Yet one-on-one conversations aren’t always possible, nor are they a feasible use of time.

“I’m looking at the advisor or broker to be a full-service operation and in many cases, I’m looking for technology to make my job easier,” O’Brien says. “I need to be compliant. I need to educate my employees. I need to streamline my processes. I’m trying to do more with less. Technology is the fastest, easiest, most cost-effective way to address the need that’s growing out there.”

The proactive broker, O’Brien and Santos say, understands that clients expect simplicity, ease of use and instant access to the tools that help brokers grow business, maintain relationships and increase value for their clients.

Finding the right partner

To deliver on these expectations, brokers should be vetting technology providers. O’Brien suggests starting by locating technology providers that have proven track records and proof of financial solvency. Too many tech providers, he says, aren’t making money, which will impact the amount of resources available to brokers post-sale.

A technology company should be able to show it can drive results for the organization, O’Brien adds. His own company hired an outside firm to meet with brokers using Zywave solutions. The goal: to measure the ROI Zywave was delivering to those agencies and to provide that feedback to potential clients. “That’s the kind of references brokers should be checking,” he says.

O’Brien says brokers should also contact the vendor’s current customers. “Ask questions like ‘Are they getting more appointments and prospect meetings? Have their close ratios improved? Are they retaining a higher percentage of clients?’”

Likewise, Santos says the provider should be much more than a faceless technology. It should be a fully staffed, service-oriented provider that has a team of experts who provide support in three stages — at product implementation, post-implementation and on an ongoing basis.

Another must-have for brokers is a technology partner that’s going to conduct a one-on-one conversation to understand their objectives, capacity, expectations and needs in order to provide a customized experience. “We strongly believe in having a methodical, handheld process through the entire kickoff period, but also the ongoing service and support that ensures brokers are maximizing their investment,” O’Brien says. “Every broker is different, so it takes the human element to figure out what they need to do and create a plan to get them performing at a different level 60 days down the road.”

Part of the job of a broker should be to intuit the future needs of clients and help them plan for those needs, he says. Technology, when chosen wisely, should facilitate that process, not hamper it. “This is a big decision and purchase,” O’Brien says. “You have to use technology to meet the expectations of the changing buyer, and you need to work with a technology partner who understands that.”