High-Tech and High-Touch: Evolution in the Insurance Business
By: Bernie Kurtzweil
When I first started in the insurance industry in the mid ’80s, the technology we used was dummy green-screen monitors and fax machines, which often failed when moving pages through the scanner at the blazing rate of a page per minute. I called the dictation pool on my desk phone to compose letters and spent much of the day on the phone discussing deals and returning calls missed during meetings.
If anyone remembers endorsements being typed in carbon triplicate on preprinted forms, you recall that the processes were manual, and much time was spent correcting mistakes found during the laborious process of quality controlling the documents and related correspondence.
Before too long, fax machines got better, marginally more reliable and ultimately smaller. As copy machines entered the workplace, carbon copies disappeared. We’d joke about how efficient those machines were as we waited hours and sometimes days for the copy machine repair mechanics to show up and fix them again.
I still remember getting a desktop PC. With it came external email for the first time. I remember thinking it would help me be more efficient, as I could then communicate and document the file at the same time. The big question was: What would be the future of the telephone?
In the early to mid-’90s, along came the internet, modems and the World Wide Web. Waiting for pages to load was excruciating, and, like many at the time, I ignored the “working” message and kept hitting “enter” thinking that would help. It never did.
Insurance enters the digital age
As the web evolved with applications and content, this technology delivered an incredible breakthrough for the insurance professional. The internet has become a go-to resource in the insurance industry, as it is for everyone. As long as you consider the source and follow the information and knowledge with a degree of skepticism and timing, the ability to research, learn and understand most topics, industries and specific businesses is by far the greatest leap in technology for insurance underwriting.
As for the earlier question — “What will happen to the phone?” — the greatest irony had occurred along the way. The internet was built to rely upon the vast phone network to keep civilization connected, should a nuclear war threaten mankind’s existence.
Now, the internet continues to absorb the functions of telephones and smartphones in forms such as Zoom, Teams, WebEx, WhatsApp and the vast list of other connectivity apps out there. In the field, our mobile devices allow us to share pictures and communicate with clients anywhere.
Other forms of tech are now reshaping the insurance industry: notably, predictive analytics, big data and mapping capabilities. Predictive analytics uses large volumes of data to find patterns of opportunity in the risk selection role of underwriting and the pricing of individual risks, relying upon portfolio metrics. Big data is scoured for predictable patterns and competitive advantages.
Mapping applications, such as Google Maps and Google Earth, have given us an unprecedented ability to see and assess the sites we insure. Digital photography allows us to maintain up-to-date images of properties and can even be overlaid with satellite imagery. Sites that once were remote and difficult to reach now are as familiar to us as our own offices.
Some things will never change
We have come a long way with technology in the insurance industry over the past 30 years, and I can only imagine what the next three decades will bring. My advice to those in the industry is to not lose sight of what’s essential: Insurance is, and should always remain, a personal business built on trust and relationships. The most important skill we have is listening. This skill will always help buyers solve risk management and risk financing needs and navigate the landscape of risk in a changing world.
While the methods we use to communicate and make decisions are constantly changing, we’ll never stop engaging with people to understand their needs, challenges, motives and hot buttons. My personal maxims: Ask questions when you don’t understand something. Help others find solutions to the challenges they face. Constantly learn and share with others.
Technological evolution is inevitable. But maintaining human contact, along with bringing focused insurance solutions, will always remain a priority in the eyes of insureds, brokers and insurers.