Agents frustrated at the limited functionality of their carrier Internet agent portals and look on in envy at peers who sail through a Web-based application process and lock up business in minutes — your eyes aren’t deceiving you.
It’s true, the agent portal landscape is uneven, with functionality of some Internet portals soaring as high as Mount Everest is tall (29,028 feet), and other Internet functionality sinking as low as the Marianas trench is deep (36,070 feet).
Agents wallowing around in the trenches of Internet portaldom ought not despair, said Steven Kaye, an associate vice president with the analyst firm Novarica and author of a recent report on agent portals across insurance sectors.
Life and annuity carriers understand the importance of agents in the distribution chain — remember, these products aren’t bought but sold — and recognize that the easier an Internet portal is to use, the more agents will have a positive experience and want to close more business.
Often, competing carrier priorities simply mean that agent portals aren’t at the top of the list. But they probably should be given the importance of distribution, Kaye said, and agents shouldn’t be shy about raising their voices.
“Agents should continue to dialogue with carriers about what they need in order to sell more business and retain and that will drive what carriers will do with regard to portal functionality,” Kaye said in an interview with InsuranceNewsNet.
The good news is that 90 percent of life insurers have embraced the functionality of agent portals — from usability and interactivity to collaboration and marketing to transactional capabilities. Still, some carriers are more adept at it than others.
Online application submission, quick quotes, interactive video marketing and single login protocols hover around the 90 percent mark for life insurers, the report also said.
Portals have been around for a decade or more but pain points persist.
The report on business and technology trends finds that as many as 30 percent of insurers in a recent Novarica survey have no full quotation capability and 16 percent have no online application submission available in the portal for any lines of business.
In addition, fewer than 50 percent of insurers provide collaboration and marketing implementation via portals. The number of insurers with chatting, instant messaging and collaborative document editing can be counted on one hand, the report found.
And that’s not sitting well with young agents.
“Insurers may be satisfying the expectations of Generation X agents, but will leave millennials—who are used to a different manner of interaction—underwhelmed,” write Kaye and his colleagues Iain Prendergast and Laura Kling.
Independent agents also told researchers that they prefer selling products from carriers with the easiest processes and the most accessible technology, even if other factors weigh more heavily in a carrier’s favor.
Access to portals is typically found in the upper half of an insurance carrier’s home page, where agents are invited to log in. The process takes agents to separate Web pages where agents and advisors can view client accounts.
Agent portal priorities for life and annuity carriers operating in the individual market include illustrations and needs calculators for term life quotes based on age and other factors; allowing agents to view policy details, account values and beneficiary information; offering agents policy transactions from premium payments to fund transfers to rebalancing to initiating surrender actions and death claims, the report said.
In the past two years, carriers including Voya Financial, Phoenix Life Cos., Gleaner Life Insurance Society, MetLife, Protective Life, National Life Group and Lincoln Financial have installed new software packages to improve the experience of agents selling individual life and annuities.
Portal priorities for carriers with group life, annuity and voluntary benefits books of business include group-level reporting so that agents know how many members of a group population have elected a particular product, Kaye and his colleagues wrote.
Assurant Employee Benefits, Companion Life and MassMutual have implemented new software tools to make it easier for agents selling group products. Many carriers have chosen a path of incremental portal system upgrades instead of “big bank” core system transformation, the Novarica researchers also found.
Kaye said he was surprised that agent portal functionality through mobile hardware wasn’t more of a priority, but suggested it might have to do with carriers wanting to nail down core agent portal functions — taking care of basics — before venturing into the mobile channel.
“Many carriers are looking at the use of mobile and tablets for illustration and marketing materials,” he added.
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Writer Cyril Tuohy has covered the financial services industry for more than 15 years. Cyril may be reached at email@example.com.
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