The path to becoming a digital or connected broker is an evolution and not a race because there is no finish line. The last time I wrote about being a digital broker I posed three questions that brokers should think about as they embark on the transformative journey. Those questions were: What problem am I trying to solve; How much money does it cost to acquire a customer; and How much is too much?
These questions don’t necessarily have firm answers or numbers and that’s because every brokerage is different. As insurance brokers, we all have different needs and markets to service which require different solutions or paths and our customers demand different services and interactions based on many different factors. Simply put, you can’t follow the same path to serve everyone because needs and comfort levels are diverse. What a brokerage wants to do is change to match the habits of its customers, and that means finding your path(s).
The past eighteen months have forced every brokerage to change their processes to accommodate the issues presented by COVID-19, brokers have had to find new paths to accommodate their customer’s needs and expectations. Whether it be by over-the-phone-transactions, online forms, automated self-service, patiently waiting for distinct in-person service, or even mail. The traditional broker value proposition of advice and service was disrupted by a risk no one expected, and the solutions were not always obvious.
What brokers did in the past may be gone, and possibly for good. Now is a great time to think like a Taoist as we look to the future. We cannot control what is happening around us, but we can let a natural order of how things exist help us choose a path to follow. This is a key principle of Taoist philosophy.
A great book to understand Taoist philosophy is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff; the book uses Winnie the Pooh as subject matter to explain Taoist philosophy. When it comes to discovering or choosing a path, there may be no better book to read. It is full of thoughtful quotes, lessons, and concepts about Taoism and it’s worth looking at this next quote as an entry point. “The main problem with this great obsession for saving time is very simple: you can't save time. You can only spend it. But you can spend it wisely or foolishly.”The path you choose will require time. Time to explore it, time to observe it, and time to react to it. Brokers have experienced interruptions where none existed before. Friction points have been created from new and untested processes while necessary adjustments have changed workflows and services. So how do you want to spend your time as you follow a post-COVID path? More importantly, how do you want customers to spend their time with their insurance transactions and experience?
The situation caused by COVID-19 should not be seen as a temporary nuisance that, when COVID is eradicated, will end and business will return to normal. Rather, this situation can be used to a broker’s advantage by figuring out how to adapt to future variables and deliver services with unexpected restraints. At the same time, customers might be reviewing how they want to be receiving insurance products and services.
Yes, we’ve hit the questions with no firm answers again, but the above thought is important. Brokers have to learn where the new paths are when it comes to the intersection of service and technology. Many software vendors (and some companies) are offering consumer portals that allow each customer to have their own space in the insurance cloud. These are secure places to view documents, provide information, and conduct financial transactions with their broker. Do customers who enjoy the convenience of remote services want to return to the old way of business? Is that how they want to spend their time, or are they ready to evolve? What was learned about how to make something work even though the situations were not planned? The temporary fixes that each brokerage developed for workflows and processes can become a permanent solution with a few tweaks and a change in mindset. Those paths that we were forced to explore can become regular journeys.
A change in mindset is important and the COVID-19 pandemic provides one, but perhaps in a business sense, it would be seen as a paradigm shift. There’s a Taoist way of looking at what a paradigm shift is and again it’s covered in the book. “Hui-tse said to Chuang-tse, "I have a large tree which no carpenter can cut into lumber. Its branches and trunk are crooked and tough, covered with bumps and depressions. No builder would turn his head to look at it. Your teachings are the same - useless, without value. Therefore, no one pays attention to them.” "You complain that your tree is not valuable as lumber. But you could make use of the shade it provides, rest under its sheltering branches, and stroll beneath it, admiring its character and appearance. Since it would not be endangered by an axe, what could threaten its existence? It is useless to you only because you want to make it into something else and do not use it in its proper way.” We won’t dive into the purpose of trees and whether they exist for lumber or not, but the point remains, how can we take something that appears to have no use and find a purpose that proves valuable in other ways? This is part of discovery when discovering your path. The value may not be obvious until a path is explored, and right now brokers should not be afraid to explore.
Brokers need to determine what is the right technology path to support the efficiencies, experience, and customer needs now that many changes have become permanent. This is where understanding the market is paramount and listening to customers becomes critical. A broker may want to change, but where do you start? Learning what customers want will allow the broker to spend time and dollars wisely. Remember, the goal is to spend time finding solutions that align with the customer’s needs and the strategic objectives of the brokerage. The path chosen by the broker will inevitably require technology and change, but not all or just any technology. Traditionally technology has been developed by the insurance industry with a lens pointing inwards. Now the lens is pointed outwards, and in many situations, the lens is held by non-traditional insurance entities. Brokers are being propositioned to solve many problems they didn’t know they had, at least that’s what they are being told. As a broker moves forward and thinks about what COVID-19 has allowed them to do, how will they explore this new path with what they have learned?
The idea here is to find the inner path with the brokerage business and use tools and services that align with and help follow that path. Of course, there is a quote from the Tao of Pooh about this too. “Cleverness, as usual, takes all the credit it possibly can. But it's not the clever mind that's responsible when things work out. It's the mind that sees what's in front of it and follows the nature of things.”
There are many smart and clever people in the insurance industry, and they are achieving amazing results but that might simply be their own ‘nature of things’, so what is yours? What path do you see in front of you and how will you naturally follow it?
Terms such as ‘the new normal’ have shaped the way we think about the world and how we conduct business in it. How a brokerage moves to a new normal is controllable but requires a different way of thinking, a paradigm shift. Brokers should try to discover their natural path and align themselves with resources to support the journey that best serves their customers.
Brokers are already planning for the end of the pandemic by evolving new ideas and initiatives created by the last eighteen months. Some changes will become permanent because they worked and now need to be refined. However, taking time to look at the different paths available will allow brokers to think strategically.
The opportunity to change provided by COVID-19 is apparent, but how we manage the inevitable changes requires some patience and resistance to the forces of momentum. Brokers are and will be presented with many options about how to change, but identifying what changes have value and what is of value to customers is prudent. So, think about Winnie the Pooh and let me leave you with another thought from the book, “The goal has to be right for us, and it has to be beneficial, in order to ensure a beneficial process. But aside from that, it’s really the process that’s important.” The process is the path and allowing yourself and your brokerage to find its natural way will mean you likely will end up where you should be. After all, “How can you get very far, if you don’t know who you are?”