For Mitch Wein, a consultant steeped in the technological habits of individual annuity carriers, 2015 is a watershed year. It’s the first time that millennials will about equal the number of baby boomers in the workplace.
From here on, every year will see more millennials than baby boomers in the workforce. This makes 2015 a pivotal year for annuity companies, according to Wein and his colleagues: either annuity companies get on board with technology or risk being left behind.
“Once baby boomers start retiring over the next 15 years, they will go from 50 percent of the workforce to under 10 percent,” Wein wrote in a June 22 blog post.
A “new expectation” coming from agents, brokers and consumers will require annuity carriers to improve their technology. Even inanimate objects are getting “smart” - not just phones but homes, fabrics and “things,” which has given birth to the expression the “Internet of things.”
“As millennials become dominant, these expectations become key minimums for meeting the demands of customers,” Wein said in a webinar titled “Preparing for Digital Transformation and Overcoming Reluctant Users.”
Wein, his colleagues at the insurance technology consulting company Novarica and peers at competing consulting shops, spend their time looking at annuity company information technology models from the proverbial 30,000-foot view.
Technology consultancies are a place where annuity carrier technology spending priorities are illustrated using “heat maps.” These are the places where “work” is a function of processing reams of data, and technology is discussed in terms of how it fits into the broader objectives of a massive enterprise.
“E-applications are now table stakes,” wrote Wein, Novarica’s vice president of research and consulting and Steven Kay, Novarica’s associate vice president of research, in a report on technology among individual annuity carriers.
“Top technology initiatives for individual annuity insurers include agent portal enhancement, business intelligence core system upgrades or replacements, and technology infrastructure to support hedging strategies,” the consultants wrote.
Agents never see many of these technological improvements, according to the business and technology trends report.
The improvements agents are likely to run into come from The Phoenix Companies, which has redesigned its producer portal; Protective Life, which has improved the quoting of products and ticket submission; National Life Group’s automation of life and annuity marketing, and Lincoln Financial’s new mobile sales fulfillment platform.
Janice M. Crackowski, a financial planner and wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Independence, Ohio, makes a living looking at the 30-foot view of the annuity market.
It’s a view that isn’t concerned with data models and where and how data best fits into the overall structure of the annuity carrier.
No, Crackowski’s view of technology is mediated by decidedly lower-tech tools, from the telephone to logging onto her agent portal from her laptop, and filling out reams and reams of paper documents that make up annuity applications.
Technology has trickled down to some areas of Crackowski’s daily life. She uses Laser App Software’s application to fetch data from her company’s customer relationship management system and fill out annuity applications for carriers.
Not all companies are on Laser App, so “we still fill things out by paper,” she said.
And an enduring relic of the 19th century endures, “wet signatures,” or signatures created by human hands using ink pens, tools that annuity carriers, baby boomers and compliance officials insist deliver the only binding signatures with any legal authority.
Crackowski said that if carriers all elected to use electronic signatures, which the courts ruled as legal years ago, her life would be easier.
“They just want that signature,” Crackowski said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet. “It’s not much of an issue for us, but if they allowed electronic signatures, I’d be thrilled.”
She said that long-hand signatures don’t pose much of an issue since many of her clients are retired and, being of retirement age, prefer signing on the bottom line with pen and ink documents they can touch and hold.
What about smartphone apps? “Not necessarily for us,” Crackowski said. Annuity companies’ websites are more than adequate as they allow her to print quotes on one sheet of paper organized succinctly and clearly.
It’s a reminder that despite the talk of the data models and the tipping point millennials present this year in the workplace, there are population pockets that resist the march of technology and consultants’ warnings that annuity carrier technological “have-nots” will find it difficult to compete in the market.
Baby boomers, who are living longer than ever, appear to be quite comfortable with technologies consultants warn will soon be obsolete. Just because one technology or another is available doesn’t mean that people want to use it.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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