Even with the technology in place to work from home indefinitely, most people don’t want to self-isolate forever. Working with a team in an office is about much more than easy access to the tools needed to do your job. Having said that, COVID-19 has highlighted the need to be able to move seamlessly from an office-based environment to a work-from-anywhere model.
I believe this is going to be a fundamental part of more businesses’ operational strategies going forward. If service, delivery and the ability to interact with your clients is central to your business, then the tools your staff need to do that must be accessible from any location. And, in the case of a business like financial services, from a secure online location.
Flexible work arrangements and the back-end technology which support remote working are one thing, but in the case of an online insurer, if service and delivery is to remain unchanged regardless of the location of our staff, our adviser and customer portal must be available, and easy to use, on any device – from a desktop computer to a tablet as well as a mobile phone.
For many companies, remote working has presented unprecedented challenges. For larger institutions, it is often limited to a few employees, and used mainly for sending emails and working on other non-operational systems.
Take the education sector for example: a large handful of universities advertise distance learning as a competitive advantage – yet primary and secondary schools are still largely reliant on staff and students being on-site to learn. Virtual conferencing facilities for teachers and network access for administrators are rare. No doubt that is now changing swiftly.
This is where tech-based disrupters such as Integrity Life have an advantage. Having been built with flexible and secure, cloud-based technologies at the centre of our business model, transitioning from our HQ to multiple home locations securely, can be easily achieved within a matter of hours.
COVID-19 isn’t the only catalyst for change, although it is certainly shining a spotlight on the need to move faster. In his final report to the Royal Commission into Banking and Financial Services, Commissioner Hayne called for the financial services industry to make rapid in-roads into cultural and technological transformation to better put the customer first and simplify products. The unprecedented events of the past few months have only served to reinforce these words and accelerate change.
Unfortunately, the need to use technology to restructure the way we think, and the way we do business is particularly true in life insurance, where legacy systems continue to impact the way advisers work. The major problem is these systems were originally designed by insurers to suit their business models and to make their lives easier, forcing customers to conform to the way insurers wanted to assess, underwrite and charge, rather than considering the needs of advisers and customers.
Taking personal data from clients is a particularly painful case in point. For many advisers and clients, tele-underwriting has been a clunky and intrusive process, where an agent of the insurer calls the client up at (probably) an inconvenient time to ask a series of personal questions no one would be particularly happy about answering out loud, and certainly not to someone they have never met.
Then after the financial adviser gets the information from the client, they have to key it in multiple times to multiple systems. It’s time consuming and increases the odds of error, both of which raise the cost-per-client for advisers, which has become an increasing burden of late.
Newer insurers ensure this part of the process is actually completed by the client, on their mobile phone or tablet, via a web-based form that they can complete when they want, where they want. Integrity have found when emailing an application to clients, just over 50% of forms are completed within 24 hours, the rest within a few days, no doubt because the client can spend as little as a few minutes or as long as half an hour on the form.
Meanwhile, advisers have saved a tremendous amount of time by not having to drive out to the client and walk them through a paper application that often begs as many questions as it answers. Such digitisation also means there’s no slow and error-prone, repetitive data entry for the adviser.
There’s similar time and cost benefits for advisers with risk assessment. A product comparison for a client has typically required advisers to extract information from multiple platforms including IRESS and IOOF. Digitisation means Integrity can take that information and pull it into our quote system, so advisers don’t have to re-key everything again.
Virtual interaction is making business and lives easier, but nothing can take the place of an actual person-to-person connection. Evidence suggests that our brains function better when we’re interacting with others and experiencing togetherness. This is better in person, but not necessarily crucial.
The use of video technology to interact can help keep teams connected. Like many start-ups, we’ve already fully embraced tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, which means there’s no interruption to our usual meetings and regular events. We have also launched a virtual lunchroom, where every day from 12-1pm you can log on and enjoy a break with colleagues and feel, hopefully, less isolated. We’ve also encouraged staff to share pictures of their work from home set up – including kids and pets in the background – so we can connect and see clearly that everyone’s in the same boat.
These are all practices we’re encouraging our adviser partners to adopt, but they’re all much simpler when you have a robust cloud-based technology platform in place and are supporting your people through both training and education.
ADVISERS FACING THE FUTURE
We’re heartened to see that advisers are also transforming including the likes of The Advice Movement, a group of young advisers determined to make financial advice more widely accessible, with an alliance that produces webinars, online courses, podcasts and (post-COVID-19 restrictions) live events.
The future of advisers also includes being able to get the most out of technology to deliver their customers personalised, bespoke service that is just as effective as the traditional, high-touch, face to face model.
Advisers also have for some time needed to build their reputation and profile online. This need has been sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the ways that advisers can build their online profile include improving their search engine optimisation – in other words, how well they show up when a potential client Googles either their firm or areas they work in, so they are less reliant on word-of-mouth alone to raise their profile, and can serve people from a wider geographic region.
Advisers also need to check their social media and general web presence. While many of their referrals may come through word of mouth, that certainly won’t stop a client from visiting their Facebook page, where they may be more publicly exposed than they think. Similarly, many will visit an adviser’s LinkedIn profile and if they’ve neglected it to the point that there’s either a poor quality or generic profile photo and scant details about their professional history, clients may be unimpressed.
Whether it’s using digitisation to lift their profile or reduce their per-customer costs, advisers must make technology part of their future, long after COVID-19 has receded as a historic disruptive threat. Insurance companies in particular must also digitise to better serve advisers and their clients, and thus ensure their own future.
In the end, technology should be a tool which helps us to do our work better, to interact more efficiently and more closely with our team members, ultimately serving our clients better. But as we wait for life to return to normal, it’s comforting to be able to rely on technology, particularly if we are in isolation, to continue to work, live and interact with others in as normal a way as possible at such an unprecedented time.
Andy Todd is general manager, IT at Integrity Life.