The start of COVID-19 marked a cataclysmic change across the world, the ramifications of which will particularly impact the insurance industry. Amid this challenging time, insurance leaders have stepped up to the plate to support their colleagues and all the individuals that make up their customer base. However, some have found it easier than others to respond and are realising that a new approach is necessary to not only regain operational stability now but also prepare should a similar unprecedented event occur in future – in other words, to build for change.
Responding to the crisis is not just about staying in business for the sake of it. Insurers have a duty of care not to collapse so that months down the line they are able to pay out when a customer needs help.
A three-pronged strategy that covers the three phases of the uncertainty timeline: crisis management, business stabilisation and return to business as usual, is key. Central to this strategy is choosing the right technology that allows insurers to address all three phases.
- Crisis management
One particularly significant knock-on effect of COVID-19 was that insurers suddenly had to deal with a huge jump in the number of customer enquiries. This occurred at the same time as staff numbers were going down due to staff being off sick or those that did not have the right technology to be able to work effectively from home. This doesn’t just mean staff didn’t have a laptop. A big issue for insurers in particular is that dealing with commercial line claims requires a lot of personal interaction between people and departments working on them.
Normally, they’d quickly be able to pick up a file and go to someone’s desk to talk about it. Now, they have to use 20 or 30 year old legacy systems to carry out complex work which are not designed to be used by people working from home. Some employees may not be able to access systems at all from home due to bandwidth issues, or if they can, it takes up so much bandwidth that it runs slowly and lengthens project completion times. If they can’t talk to a colleague about the work face-to-face and it is too complex to discuss over email, they have to set up a call as well.
Insurers such as Legal & General and AXA put up new information on their websites providing advice on the most common queries to help take the pressure off customer service agents, and others have prioritised customer queries over selling new policies, directed customers to self-service facilities and more.
However, tools such as email bots are also enabling organisations to adapt to the new normal in other ways. Customers expect great service and demand even more from companies in periods of crisis. According to research released by Toister in April 2020, 33% of customers in the UK expect companies to respond to their email in one hour or less. However, email requests are siloed from systems of record and standardised processing and require lots of manual work to solve. Email bots leverage natural language processing to identify sentiment and the nature of the enquiry with keywords and AI to automatically triage work to the right people. They can also help with case management by capturing details such as name and account type to track all multiple enquiries from the same customer in one information hub. This enables them to ensure responses are the most helpful and accurate as possible and improve case completion times.
Tools are also available that help companies not only move to the cloud but have cloud-choice – the ability to choose whichever cloud service they find best for them – to enable smoother running of applications, and therefore, staff to work a lot faster remotely.
- Business stabilisation and continuity
Insurers need to develop continuity plans not just for their own company but also for those of their outsourced suppliers in their supply chain, so they know they are in a financially stable position to support them now and in the future. This is important so they know they can fulfil customer claims, especially for those most in need, such as the victims of Storm Ciara and Dennis whose homes suffered flood damage and then had to self-isolate at home. Solutions such as intelligent automation allow insurers to evaluate their supply chains. For example, bots can automate a lot of the hard work that would otherwise go into actively managing supply chains in real-time and directing work to the best performing suppliers.
- Return to business as usual
While insurers are still focused on what they need to do to react right now, they are also keenly aware that they need to learn from the challenges faced during the COVID-19 crisis so they can better deal with another pandemic or similar situation should it occur in the future.
They must, therefore, make time to look at technology that allows them to deal with the current crisis while undergoing digital transformation, while staying fully in control, i.e. that deliver incremental change faster to realise a more strategic approach right from phase one – crisis management.
There are solutions that enable businesses to withstand change and run in all environments. Agile, low-code or no-code software that doesn’t require much or any knowledge or experience of coding is key. It will allow companies to adapt to change to drive productivity in days, much faster than software that requires several months of delicate hard coding.
In a crisis, it can sometimes be hard to balance the here and now when fighting fires, but thinking about the tech that is needed in the short, medium and long term will enable insurance organisations to not only be in a position of strength to support customers during and when coming out of crisis, but improve operational resilience so they are better prepared to do so again should they need to in future.
By Tony Tarquini, director of insurance, EMEA at Pega