The debate on whether agents will be rendered obsolete by technology has dragged on for years. While it is easy to view it as a slugfest between the old guard and young upstart, both forces in fact share the same goal: Giving customers the assurance and protection that they pay for.
Speaking at the Asia InsurTech Summit 2019, IFPAS president Leong Sow Hoe said that consumers do not really care about fancy new technology or the interactive experiences if they cannot get the assurances that insurance products and services are supposed to deliver.
The human element
Mr Leong believes that agents still have a critical part to play in the insurance value chain as they can provide policyholders the assurances only a human touch can bring, by being present in times of crisis.
“At the end of the day a promise made is a promise kept. And when we deliver their cheques, when we deliver payments on hospital bills, we are there,” he said. “Even if there is death, disability or critical illness, we are there.”
Singapore Insurance Institute president and Chubb Asia Pacific regional head of agency development and incentives Jeanette Lim said that different types of products require varying levels of customer engagement.
She compared buying travel insurance and retirement plans to illustrate her point. Buying travel insurance online for a short holiday, bypassing the agent altogether, has become relatively common because of how quick and simple it is.
In contrast, purchasing something bulkier like a retirement plan involves navigating complex intricacies and weighing up the pros and cons of all available policies. Ms Lim said that this process would be far better served with an agent around to give advice.
Ms Lim was part of a panel at the summit alongside Stark Group CEO Matthias de Ferrieres and Huntington Partners partner digital Cristiano Pizzocheri that discussed opportunities and collaborations between AI and agents.
Empowering agents through technology
“We should think ‘human and digital’. Not ‘human or digital’ as that will do us no good,” said Mr Leong. “’Human and digital’ – where technology and online resources can complement the advice of a professional.”
The panel also unanimously agreed that technology should be used to empower agents.
“I think one way for us to really help our agents or partners is to make sure they are well versed in terms of technology,” said Ms Lim. “I think the education to make sure the agents adopt, embrace and adapt to technology is a critical mind-set change.”
“Many tools exist to help the agents organise themselves,” said Mr Pizzocheri. “What we have to do is to bring it all together and consolidate them to help the agents get their job done.”
He brought up AI chatbots that have been used by many online services in recent years. The chatbots can address simple questions customers might have, following which the query can be transferred to an agent should the conversation become more complex.
Mr de Ferrieres said that the most important thing for agents to have is data. He said that technology can be used to gather data for agents to generate leads and the meet the right people.
360F director and head of business development Clarie Kwa, who also spoke at the summit was in alignment. She said that technology can be employed to scale up agents’ networks and improve their efficiency and competence when engaging with clients.
“All this technology, at the end of the day, is to help agents focus on what matters most. And that is the relationship with the client,” said Ms Kwa.
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