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This article appears in the Oct. 2022 issue of Investment Executive. Subscribe to the print edition, read the digital edition or read the articles online.

Client onboarding is a critical process for insurance advisors. Firms need a strong technological base to succeed in this area, but not all firms are meeting advisors’ expectations, according to the 2022 Investment Executive Insurance Advisors’ Report Card.

The “client onboarding tools” category, which was added to the Report Card in 2022, had an average performance rating of 7.6 out of 10. Advisors gave the new category an average importance rating of 9.0, marking a significant satisfaction gap (the difference between a category’s two ratings) of 1.4.

The top-rated firm in this category was PPI Management Inc., at 9.1, followed by RBC Life Insurance Co. (RBCI) at 8.2. The remaining three firms were rated below the performance average.

A PPI advisor in Ontario said the managing general agent (MGA) offers templates and digital tools to help with client onboarding, and several advisors mentioned the firm’s intuitive client database.

“They’re on top of everything,” said a PPI advisor in Alberta.

PPI offers both in-house and external tools, and has a digital enablement team that supports advisors, said PPI’s president and CEO, Jim Virtue. He noted that about 80% of PPI’s business now is conducted through e-applications. The Stratosphere technology platform, which helps PPI advisors run their businesses and serve clients, is helping streamline processes within the agency, he added.

Advisors who work with RBCI praised its technology investment and supporting e-apps, with an RBCI advisor in Alberta calling them “cutting edge.” An RBCI advisor in Ontario, meanwhile, called the agency’s client onboarding system “very well organized.”

Mike Hamilton, RBCI’s senior vice-president, sales & distribution and marketing, said the agency has a future goal of shortening the application process for complex products — allowing the advisor to help clients faster and to further focus on “knowing your client [and] their ongoing needs, so [they] can have meaningful conversations.”

Canada Life Assurance Co. received the lowest rating among the five agencies assessed in the onboarding tools category: 6.6.

“Clients should have more access to their accounts and less waiting time [with] the call centre,” said a Canada Life advisor in the Prairies.

Client onboarding “is improving but there are still many systems that are not talking to one another,” said a Canada Life advisor in Ontario. “We are still doing a lot of manual double entry.”

Canada Life is not sitting idle, said Rob DeMott, senior vice-president, Advisor Solutions. The agency is considering ways to help make client/advisor interactions more efficient and to address persistent onboarding disconnects, he said: “We’re making enhancements and connecting new tools to Workspace, [a] hub for advisors where they can manage their business, access tools and [get] support from us to help grow their business.”

DeMott added: “We’ll continue to add more products and strategies throughout [this] year and into 2023.”

However, firms pointed out that modernizing the onboarding process is a vast, industry-wide undertaking. “We’re getting better at it, [but] the industry’s not there yet,” Hamilton said. “It [takes] a major infrastructure overhaul.”

E-applications remain popular

Out of 208 insurance advisor respondents, 93.8% said they had embraced the e-app process — similar to 96.1% of 283 respondents a year ago. For their e-app support, the agencies in the Report Card were rated 9.0 on average in 2022, up from 8.7 in 2021.

Advisors expressed appreciation for the technology. “Any time I can simplify the way I work and add technology, I do it. I’m an early adopter,” said an advisor in Quebec with RBC Life Insurance Co.

“The majority of what we do is electronic. I haven’t done [an application] in person in a while,” said an advisor in Alberta with IDC World Insurance Network Inc.

But some advisors mentioned that paper applications still had a place. For example, an advisor in British Columbia with Canada Life Assurance Co. said, “I haven’t embraced it because my cases are large, complicated cases. [E-apps are] better for routine cases. We are still using paper.”