WASHINGTON, D.C.–The time is ripe for the insurance industry to adopt the technology solutions many other industries have used for years.
In fact, it’s overripe, said Wayne Chopus, president and CEO of the Insured Retirement Institute. IRI convened its first in-person annual conference in three years this morning in Washington.
Not coincidentally, a panel discussion on technology amid the COVID-19 pandemic helped kick off the event.
“We are behind the technological curve, and that’s probably saying it politely,” Chopus said. “I think with the way that our consumers and advisors expect to do business we’ve got room to grow, a lot of room to grow and that’s where we have to transform our business going forward.”
The push for technology is not just about growing, the panel of executives agreed. It’s about surviving. The pandemic forced a revolution at Lincoln Financial Group, said John Kennedy, president of Lincoln Financial Distributors.
“If my CEO came to me in January 2020 or February 2020 and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea. We’re going to go virtual.’ I would have been like ‘I’m out,’” Kennedy said to knowing chuckles.
But that change happened and Lincoln made it through. The insurer is pushing and supporting producers and remains 75% virtual today, Kennedy said. Lincoln continues to hit its financial projections despite the dramatic sales changes, he added.
Going virtual was not all sacrifice. It made the insurer more efficient, Kennedy explained, with producers cutting out hours and hours spent traveling to meetings. Lincoln invested in “a virtual outfit” for producers, meaning better lighting and a better backdrop.
“I’m old school I want everyone to be live all the time, but that’s just not going to happen,” Kennedy concluded. “When I think about what transpired and I think about the new work model, I think it’s here to stay. We’ve kind of drawn the line in the sand that we’re going to be a virtual-first company.”
Embrace The Change
This morning’s second general session featured keynote speaker Greg Williams, editor-in-chief of WIRED Magazine. There is no avoiding technology in 2022, Williams said up front.
“Every organization is a tech company for our backend systems, internal operations, human resources, finance, and the way that we interface with our customers,” said Williams, who presents to senior business leaders around the world. “We’re all working in tech companies, whether that’s to optimize performance, automate business process to reach new customers, or deliver products and services in new and original ways. There’s no turning back.”
Human civilization is in the midst of “the fourth industrial revolution,” Williams explained, one that involves the merging of human and machine systems, artificial intelligence, renewable energies, autonomous vehicles and the internet of things.
Technology will eventually become part of the background of everyday life, Williams said, and already is, to some degree. About four years ago, Walmart tested the use of robots in a group of Southern stores. Robots wandered the aisles and performed various routine tasks, while collecting data. Customers responded with bemusement, Williams said, frequently taking photos for social media.
Researchers returned 18 months later with the robots and nobody noticed them. No pictures went up on Instagram, Williams noted.
“I think that this is where technology really gets interesting,” he said. “Like robots are going to be interesting when we forget. Technology becomes truly transformational when it’s seamlessly woven into our life.”
During a question-and-answer session with Susan L. Fiengo, managing director, digital customer experience, for Global Atlantic Financial Group, Williams said AI is probably the most important technology for the insurance industry going forward.
“It has to be artificial intelligence,” he explained. “Applying that in new, meaningful ways. Using datasets that are meaningful to the industry, finding new products, reaching customers, applying it to historical datasets that might help you understand customers a bit better.”
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.
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