technological developments / Mikhail Seleznev

Technology investments in the insurance space have the potential to not only streamline administrative workloads but also make client interactions more efficient and secure, according to Investment Executive’s (IE) inaugural Insurance Advisor Report.

The new report is based on a web survey for which data was collected this past autumn. The survey asked insurance advisors (both captive and independent) how well their company or managing general agents (MGAs) have been supporting them and their businesses. These advisors mainly process business through these companies, so do not consider themselves traditional employees.

The advisors who participated were generally satisfied with their company or MGA’s back-office tools and support as well as the remote-work resources to which they had access. (See chart.)

Regarding the back office, more than half (56.3%) of advisor respondents said the staff employed by their company or MGA in that area are well-trained. A majority (59.8%) also said the back office is responsive and helpful via tools and human-led support.

As for remote work, a majority of respondents (59.5%) were positive, saying their company or MGA has a dedicated method for providing quick and reliable assistance.

Some insurance advisors said online and cloud-computing tools are available and dependable.

Others, however, said insurance carriers are often more helpful than MGAs. These latter advisors were part of the 11.9% who said systems and hardware are inadequate at their respective companies or MGAs.

For example, one advisor in Ontario said their MGAs’ systems fail to “provide sufficient information to properly service clients’ policies,” in comparison with insurers’ direct tools. An MGA advisor in Alberta said response times are much faster when working mainly with insurance carriers for which they’re selling product.

That result was similar to the mild dissention regarding the back office at MGAs: 16.1% of survey participants said staff within their agencies respond slowly, and 9.2% said those staff members aren’t trained well, leading to occasional mistakes.

Advisors bemoaned situations in which MGAs were acting as intermediaries and tech-related processing delays occurred that required coordination with large insurers.

Said one MGA advisor in Alberta: “Dealing direct [with] a company would be much more effective, as there would be no middleman passing the notes.” This advisor added that they get particularly frustrated when MGAs aren’t “on the ball with what needs to happen next” during e-application and transaction processes.

Insurance advisor respondents also were asked about client onboarding tools and client account statements.

More than half (55.2%) of respondents identified industry client onboarding processes and tools as secure. More than four in 10 (44.8%) cited a smooth onboarding process with user-friendly tools, and the same percentage said e-signatures were offered for clients.

Client account statements and resources had similar results, with 54.7% of advisors calling those resources secure and 37.2% saying they’re user-friendly. Nearly half (47.7%) of respondents noted a combination of paper and electronic statements is used.

Yet, some advisor comments revealed mixed experiences with client-related tools and documents, both digital and traditional.

While old technology can present one challenge, a more common complaint was redundancy during onboarding. As one insurance advisor in British Columbia said, the industry’s process “has gotten better but is a long way away from being perfect.”

One captive advisor in Ontario with a large insurer said there are “too many different departments involved, instead of one contact person to oversee onboarding.”

On the MGA side, an advisor in Ontario said working with many carriers means learning many external tools: “The tools to write new business are secure, [but] every insurer has a unique tool to upload applications.”

Executives describe complex relationship with carriers

Navigating the relationship between the insurance carrier/wholesaler and MGA is complex, according to insurance executives who provided general insights about the industry (rather than direct responses to the survey questions) for this report.

For example, because electronic policy applications are processed by the carrier before they reach the MGA, agencies act only as an intermediary, said Cathy Hiscott, president of PPI Management Inc. For front-end client transactions, she said, onboarding does not take place at the MGA level; it’s performed by the advisor through their chosen carrier.

Hiscott also pointed to Burlington, Ont.-based financial services software firm Bluesun Inc., which was acquired by U.S.-based iPipeline in 2019, as the common tool that major MGAs use. “That’s a third-party supplier to us,” she said, adding there’s “very little that MGAs can do to customize the experience for their advisors.”

MGAs have to extract and consolidate information from carriers and third parties, Hiscott said, becoming “the technology integrator.”

Mona Wahab-Standaert, chief sales officer with Hub Financial Inc., said MGAs share responsibility with carriers that handle the application set-up process, and agencies’ back-office, processing and account management teams take it from there. Having the right resources on both ends means advisors are well-served, she said.

Leaders with both Canada Life and Sun Life Financial Inc. (pertaining to the latter’s captive advisors as well as its independent insurance distribution advisors) told IE that they’re investing in technology and training tied to e-signatures, underwriting, and portals and dashboards.

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