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PwC Managing Agent Change Report

Insurers are upgrading their technology to support more complex
products, lower operating costs, and get closer to their customers.
But they can do more harm than good when they make changes
that alienate their independent agents. We’ve identified five steps
that can help insurers engage agents early and create a
transition plan that meets agents’ needs—converting these
important stakeholders into enthusiastic advocates.

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PwC Managing Agent Change Report

  1. 1. Insurers’ IT projects can threaten independent agent loyalty. Change management can turn skeptics into believers. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades
  2. 2. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 1 The heart of the matter Insurers are upgrading their technology to support more complex products, lower operating costs, and get closer to their customers. But they can do more harm than good when they make changes that alienate their independent agents. We’ve identified five steps that can help insurers engage agents early and create a transition plan that meets agents’ needs—converting these important stakeholders into enthusiastic advocates. Right now, in Beaumont, Texas, there’s an independent agent who is struggling with an insurance service portal. The site was launched recently with great fanfare by her preferred carrier, one of the six she represents. At the moment, she can’t find the right link to enter some required information to prepare an annuity contract for a new client. As she turns away from her desk in frustration, a binder from a different insurer catches her eye. “I should see if they can help me close this deal.” Insurance carriers have invested heavily to modernize their technology in recent years. And despite upgrades to systems like billing, claims, and policy administration, there’s still a lot more change ahead. When supported by strong distribution channels, technology advances can allow firms to roll out more specialized products, give carriers better pricing flexibility, and lower operating costs. Agents are eager for innovation, too. They’re all too aware of how much time they’ve spent in legacy systems looking for forms, completing them, reworking rejections, and so on. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out so well. In many technology change projects, insurers are focused inward. They think about how to streamline their own operational processes, which have real room for improvement. Project plans usually specify some training for the agents who’ll use them, but many carriers make the mistake of assuming that agents will simply do what they’re asked. In reality, any deployment that involves changing human behavior requires deliberate planning to move people from grudging acceptance to enthusiastic advocacy. Independent agents are particularly important, because they’re hardly employees. If anything, they’re closer to customers, with significant influence over what policies are sold and with which carriers they’re placed.
  3. 3. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 2 How does agent satisfaction impact carriers? Carriers must keep agent satisfaction in mind. A study completed by J.D. Power found that as agent satisfaction increases, the likelihood of agents increasing their premium business with an insurance company also rises. According to Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the insurance practice at J.D. Power, “Agents have tremendous influence over policyholders when it comes to switching providers. In fact, 60 percent of consumers report that they would follow their agent recommendation to switch to a new insurance company. Clearly, agent satisfaction can have a major impact on policy growth for an insurance company.” Source: Andrea Wells, “Study: Agency Satisfaction Linked to Amount of Business Sent to Insurers,” Insurance Journal, March 26, 2009,, accessed April 6, 2015. And despite all the hype around direct distribution, it’s very possible that the independent channel will become even more relevant in coming years. That’s because new entrants are spurring competition in some markets and many customers will value the perceived neutrality of independent agents. Also, while carriers have had some success selling directly to customers with relatively simple needs, independent agents are a valuable resource for those with more complicated situations. For the foreseeable future, it’s our view that companies looking for commercial or specialty coverage will still want tailored advice, as will high net worth individuals with complex insurance needs. As a result, carriers that downplay the importance of the independent agent channel risk alienating some very lucrative partners. Some carriers “get it.” Leading carriers expect resistance to change, and they plan for it. They know that independent agents will often be concerned about the lost productivity that follows project rollouts. They know that agents may be living through a dozen carriers making technology upgrades at the same time, with little confidence that they’ll benefit from any of them. And they know that these experiences can affect agents’ willingness to trust and work with carriers in the long term. Leading carriers take steps to engage their field partners early and often. By using a structured approach to managing change, these insurers turn potential adversaries into allies. This requires the right attitude and some tangible actions. To get increased value out of technology projects involving independent agents, we encourage carriers to follow this five-step approach:  Engage agents from the beginning when defining the change.  Communicate with agents to build commitment.  Design processes to ease the transition.  Provide training that is relevant, simple, and concise.  Deploy and reinforce the program. While these are not always sequential or distinct, the successful implementation of each step increases a program’s overall odds of success.
  4. 4. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 3 An in-depth discussion In PwC’s 2015 CEO survey, 61% of Insurance CEOs believe changes in core technologies of production or service provision will be disruptive to the industry (that includes respondents who listed very disruptive or somewhat disruptive). Source: PwC, PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, Insurance sector data, February 2015 In today’s evolving insurance industry, customer-facing transformation projects have moved to the front burner. Market demands are more complex than ever, with new pressure from customers and agents. And many policy administration systems are nearing the end of their productive life, requiring extensive maintenance and taking away from discretionary investment. For many carriers, the question is no longer if they should upgrade, but when. On the positive side, insurers can now choose from a range of stable, feature-rich systems, making upgrades less risky than before. Insurance used to be paper based, and agents spent a fair amount of time correcting applications and claims. Automation has helped carriers and agents work more efficiently, reducing errors and clerical work. And companies are turning to technology to get more insights out of the vast data sets that are now within their reach. Leading insurers are developing information strategies that will allow them to set themselves apart from their competition. In the rush to upgrade, many carriers dive deep into functional requirements documents that focus on product features, technical integration, and scalability. But there are stakeholders whose interests lie far beyond functional specs, or availability, or compliance. And, these users—the independent agents who sell the carriers’ products—can have a chilling effect on technology projects if their concerns aren’t identified and addressed. How carriers get it wrong with independent agents, and why it matters Unlike captive agents, independent agents have choices. Loyalty, convenience, and compensation are all important factors that influence an agent’s decision regarding carrier, but we believe that ease of doing business tops the list. If agents feel that a carrier is easy to work with, they’ll stick it out, even though their productivity may drop as they work through the learning curve of a new system. On the other hand, if they think the insurer is making their work harder, they’re very likely to start tapering off their business with that company and consider promoting competitors instead. This is where many carriers fumble, because they downplay or misunderstand the effect of the changes they’ve created. Here are some common errors that insurers make: Depending on marketing teams to shoulder all change efforts Many insurers rely exclusively on their marketing teams to support change initiatives with their agents, which—in our experience—undermines the effort. It’s true that marketing has communications expertise, owns external communications channels, and often has close relationships with independent agents. And while these skills are important for spreading the word about system changes, insurers need more than publicity to build long-lasting commitment to technology changes.
  5. 5. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 4 Treating change as a simple technology problem Often, insurance carriers see new system features as straightforward technology upgrades that require little more than a simple notification to agents. This point of view overlooks the fact that many independent agents work with multiple carriers, and may be juggling multiple changes at any one time. This perspective also underestimates the level of training, communication, and other change management activities needed to effectively implement a technology change. Figure 1 describes the impacts and challenges agents may encounter from some common insurance carrier technology upgrades. Assuming that independent agents are more like employees than customers Independent agents rarely respond to directives as well as employees do. If a technology change makes life harder for agency staff—for example, if they need to spend more time collecting or understanding information—they may turn to competitive carriers when quoting policies. Figure 1: Even the simplest technology upgrades can have many unintended side effects for insurance agents. These can be mitigated, but will pose serious challenges if they are not addressed up front. Change Impacts Challenges New billing system and invoices  Direct impact: Agents may need to adjust to new ways to review payments, make payments on behalf of the insured, and/or update payment plans.  Indirect impact: Policyholders may see new invoices or different payment options.  Agents may struggle to train staff to use new payment methods or advise policyholders on options.  Agents may not set aside time or attention to explain changes to policyholders.  Agents may feel sidelined if carriers use the new system to communicate directly with policyholders. Update to quoting system  Direct impact: Agents may need to use new tools or processes to quote new business, and may lose some functionality at first.  Indirect impact: Policyholders may see different pricing or terms as a result of product changes.  Agents may find it easier to move business to other carriers than train staff on new systems.  Agents may react poorly to pricing changes.  Agents may feel overwhelmed by product changes and resent impact to policyholders. Incentive compensation system change  Direct impact: Agents may need to adjust to new system for tracking compensation and changes to commission plans and recognition programs.  Agents may be suspicious of changes to commission schedules and view simplification as an exercise designed to pay them less.  Agents may overwhelm staff with requests to validate amounts paid.
  6. 6. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 5 Failing to understand, or expect, resistance and concerns Some carriers assume that their agents are a constant distribution force that is unlikely to leave. Other carriers may have the best of intentions, gathering agents’ inputs early in the process—only to let those inputs fall by the wayside as they make tradeoffs in the rush to upgrade. Leading carriers understand that agents play a vital role in their distribution strategy, and carefully prioritize their needs alongside business and internal user goals. Forgetting that not everyone benefits from change When technology upgrades emphasize back office efficiencies such as streamlined processes or self-service capabilities, agents may perceive that changes are simply increasing their workloads. In this case, publicizing a planned change can be counterproductive. Most insurers don’t consider the agent’s perspective on “What’s in it for me?” until it’s too late. Avoid jeopardizing the broader project by using change management For the foreseeable future, independent agents will still be an important delivery channel for most insurance carriers; they may even grow more relevant, as companies turn to direct distribution for their lower- margin products. As we’ve already noted, poorly managed transitions usually lead to decreased productivity. And dissatisfied agents are more likely to sell competitors’ products. But even the fiercely loyal independent agent may struggle to adapt to technology changes. A J.D. Power study found that technology is one of the most important drivers of agency satisfaction, ahead of both price and compensation.1 And you shouldn’t simply assume that agents and their staff will be comfortable with apps and digital processes. They’ll need help to make the adoption work, and they may need incentives to encourage them along the path. The good news is that a little planning goes a long way. And by involving agents early on in the process—before the requirements have been written—insurers can make sure that new systems will work for this valuable constituency. With the right training and tools, agents can move from sellers to relationship builders, and that benefits everyone. Our approach to managing change for independent agents In recent years, we’ve helped a range of insurance carriers as they’ve upgraded their technology. Drawing on this experience, we recommend a structured approach to managing change with independent agents in technology projects. Specifically, we encourage companies to think about five key steps in the transition:  Engaging agents from the beginning when defining the change.  Communicating to build commitment.  Designing processes to ease the transition.  Providing training that is simple, short, and relevant.  Deploying the changes and reinforcing the program. It’s important to remember that this is not a strict, linear process. The approach we describe below, and the corresponding steps, are part of an interrelated cycle. These should be refined throughout a given project, and some actions may need to be taken in parallel. ………………………..…..… 1 J.D. Power, "Insurance Agents Who Are Highly Satisfied with a Particular Insurer Drive A Majority of Their Business to That Insurer," February 2010.
  7. 7. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 6 Step 1: Engage agents from the beginning when defining the change Don’t treat independent agents as an afterthought when planning for technology change. Instead, carriers should go out of their way to engage external stakeholders early, both before and during the change design stages. This process starts early, when defining the requirements. As shown in Figure 2, we believe you should balance needs across three areas when planning technology upgrades: market analysis, user needs (including both agents' and customers'), and business priorities. In a recent publication, Playing for Keeps: How insurers can win customers one at a time, we noted how little most insurers know about their end customers, and how fragmented operating models have led to inconsistent customer experiences.2 In that paper, we talked about how the very notion of “customer-centric” has changed. We reiterate here that focusing on the customer means more than just designing a good user interface. Not only do you have to actively look for insight into customer needs, you also need to streamline the user experience, and rethink the operating model. These same concepts apply to agents just as they do customers. Long before deployment, carriers should think about which agents they'll talk to, how they'll receive feedback, and how they'll incorporate suggestions. How would your most important agent segments want to change the systems you're revamping? How will your planned changes affect their business? Could the change affect the way they interact with their customers? Will it require more or less of their time? We’re not suggesting that agent requirements should drive the project, but carriers should take time to understand what different categories of agents and customers want, and then prioritize those needs and integrate them within the broader program design. Finally, carriers should think about how to engage agents throughout the rollout process. We suggest that carriers solicit agent feedback on topics ranging from system usability testing, to thinking through communication plans, to defining success. Even if decisions are made counter to agent preferences based on sound business rationale, understanding points of resistance will allow you to plan for and address them proactively ………………………..…..… 2 PwC, “Playing for keeps: How insurers can win customers, one at a time,” July 2014, Figure 2: Key considerations when planning technology upgrades.
  8. 8. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 7 Know your agents Understanding the varying needs of your agents can help you tailor your change management techniques for each group. Each agency is unique, and transition programs are not one-size-fits-all. We recommend viewing them across several dimensions:  Earned premium.  Overall book of business.  Relationship strength.  Adaptability to change. After you’ve classified your agents, you’ll be able to design approaches that are directly relevant to them. When mapping stakeholder needs:  Agencies that are very important and may struggle with change should be supported extensively.  Agencies that are less important, but will adapt well to new programs, should be kept informed during the change.  Agencies that offer a lot of value to the organization and can manage change well should have their concerns addressed throughout the process by their sales managers.  Agencies that are less important and may not adapt well to change should be supported selectively. Figure 3: Mapping stakeholders allows the carrier to identify the appropriate level of support each agency requires.
  9. 9. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 8 Step 2: Communicate with agents to build commitment After carriers have determined what to build (or buy, or integrate), they should start sharing information about the upcoming changes. Here, small cues send big signals. As seen in Figure 4, creating a communi- cations plan helps agents understand what is happening, why it is happening, what is expected of them, and how they will be supported during and after the change. We encourage carriers to frame the change in terms that independent agents will appreciate—and ideally, in a way that they'll find motivating. To find out what appeals to different users, tailor and test communications with different audiences— not only across agent segments, but within agencies as well. For example, a customer service representative might see a $25 gift card as a valuable incentive, while principals might respond better to personal outreach to help them understand how changes may benefit their book of business. Agency advisory councils and user groups can also offer good insights into how changes will be received. We also encourage testing messages with internal audiences. Front-line staff, like underwriters and regional sales managers, are likely to have useful information about how well a given story will be received. Accounts receivable, claims, and marketing staff may also have good insights. Finally, carriers should make sure that their management is vocal, visible, informed, and aligned with the communication strategy. An agent should be able to ask a question to anyone in the company, from the CEO to a claims representative, and hear the same answer. But even the best intentions break down when messages are delivered inconsistently. Because of this, we also encourage the development of internal training to make sure everyone is speaking the same language. Another way to avoid confusion and mixed messages is process- related: encourage employees to try to solve agent issues directly, whenever possible, without handoffs. Figure 4: A communications plan can help keep stakeholders informed of progress throughout the lifecycle of the program.
  10. 10. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 9 In practice: tackling the big question on price Helping agents see “What’s in it for me?” can help focus messaging, but that’s just a start. The next question is likely to be “How does this affect pricing?” Sales managers will need clear, concise talking points to address this, even if the changes aren’t likely to affect products or rating algorithms. Particularly in personal lines, where changes are readily apparent through comparative raters, carriers should always be ready to address what’s behind any price changes. We encourage carriers to take these steps: 1. Determine the impact. Do you know the size of potential increases/decreases? You’ll need an estimate at the start—and it will drive how much leadership attention you’ll need. 2. Determine your pricing flexibility, if any. Will you offer credits or transitional pricing to offset changes? 3. Prepare key messaging and tools, if needed, to help sales managers discuss pricing changes with agents. Consider including information on how you’ll frame changes to service, your commitment to competitive pricing, your financial stability, and the business you expect to win and lose as a result. 4. Prepare sales managers for agent discussions. Consider educating agents about industry issues that are driving your changes, and help them see how policyholders will benefit if changes in coverage are recommended. Help sales managers see these discussions as opportunities to build trust and focus agencies on the long-term benefits to agents and policyholders.
  11. 11. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 10 In practice: anticipating agent challenges One national insurance company implemented a major technology change that affected the agency quoting process. When they encountered challenges with the system, agents turned to underwriters and sales staff that hadn't been adequately prepared to answer questions. Without tools, the underwriters and sales staff became frustrated, making skeptical comments about the program’s long-term prospects. This damaged the likelihood of its adoption. This scenario could have been avoided by defining a clear support framework that included clear guidelines for what each employee should know and when questions should be referred to a customer service center or a regional sales manager. By envisioning the change from the agent's perspective, insurers can anticipate questions and plan accordingly. Step 3: Design processes to ease the transition As much as we’ve emphasized messaging, if carriers don't support the process changes with organizational focus, the communication will fall flat. This means that carriers need to prepare front-office staff to respond to issues, develop process changes to support the new tools, and create metrics and incentives to encourage adoption of new behaviors. Most carriers understand the need for preparing frequently asked questions, or FAQs, to help underwriters and customer service representatives deal with concerns. But no list of potential questions will ever be exhaustive. Leading carriers establish protocols for responding to feedback, answering questions, and escalating questions they can’t answer appropriately. To support a positive agent experience, companies will also need to make process changes to support agents’ use of the new tools. This can be as simple as establishing support contacts for agents in the early stages, so employees can refer the agent to the right place if they can't answer something themselves. In some cases, it may involve role changes or more. For example, we often see insurance executives who assume their IT help desks will be able to effectively handle independent agents' questions after a technology change. But an IT help desk that typically supports employees, or even captive agents, may not be equipped to support increased call volume, let alone handle independent agents' questions. In some cases, carriers may need to add support roles during the transition to the new system to provide sufficient support. Finally, as the saying goes, "What gets measured gets done." If carriers want to encourage a particular set of behaviors, from internal staff or independent agents, they should measure what their staff and agents do. By evaluating their performance against targeted metrics, carriers can find out how well stakeholders are adapting. If they're not adapting well, the measurement data will provide clues as to why—and help carriers understand how to modify incentives to get what they want.
  12. 12. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 11 Step 4: Provide training that is relevant, simple, and concise With independent agents, there’s no guarantee that they’ll attend the carefully crafted training or read through thoughtfully prepared communications. Without this information, they may not be prepared for new processes, systems, or responsibilities. In these cases, training designs should require little formal training, because they should be intuitive and supported through “just in time” guidance like FAQs or access to real-time chat support. If agent feedback from earlier focus groups indicated the need for more in-depth training, carriers should also develop options for in-person or virtual courses. Incentives, like continuing education credits, can help agents prioritize training by framing it in “What’s in it for me?” terms. When developing the training strategy and plans, remember that independent agents guard their time carefully. Every hour in a training class is an hour not spent generating revenue, so training should be kept relevant, simple, and concise to make the best use of agents’ time. Finally, people learn differently, so making multiple options available increases the likelihood that training materials will be used and understood. Depending on the nature of the changes, you may want to supplement initial training with additional tools, such as short modules that cover the basics, online demos with reference documents, question and answer sessions, or contests. You may also choose to offer personal visits or one-on-one training, though this tends to be less cost-effective and require more support from sales managers. Step 5: Deploy and reinforce the program Companies often forget that changes need to be reinforced after the first steps are taken. This is particularly true for insurers trying to change independent agent behavior, because agents have what they see as an easy alternative: ignore the change and sell someone else’s product. Even after agents read briefings or attend training, a lack of support can push them back to previous tools or processes that may feel more comfortable. We suggest carriers consider these steps: 1. Build (and use) feedback loops to hear what field agents think. This starts with thinking through the process to identify persistent questions, issues, or agent dissatisfaction. When you know what people are saying, and you have created a path to escalate this feedback to leadership, for action, you send a critical message to the independent agents: “We value you and your opinion, and we’re listening.” That, by itself, often helps increase engagement. 2. Share success stories. Look for ways to share stories that promote agent wins. By collecting testimonials from influential agents who have made the switch, you can influence others who are on the fence. And if the data on adoption tells a positive story, share that information early and often. 3. Be prepared to see the post- adoption environment for what it is, not what you want it to be. If something isn’t working, acknowledge the issues, and provide information on how the issues are being addressed. When you show that you’re willing to change if necessary, you enhance the agent experience, and you support the development of trust. This helps get more support for the current change, and the one that comes next.
  13. 13. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 12 Making the case for change management Communicating the benefits as well as the impact of disruption is important to gaining leadership buy-in. Some organizations find it hard to articulate the benefits of a change management program. Reasons vary: some have a low perception of the activities’ “soft” value, others are overconfident in the quality of the final product, and most have unrealistic expectations for how stakeholders will react. Though soft benefits, such as greater engagement help, are important, decision-makers are often more swayed by demonstrating the potential for disruption. By using a simple impact analysis that shows the likelihood and potential effect of a change on each stakeholder group, managers can show what’s at stake. While there is no perfect “rule of thumb” for change management budgets, we often see investments of 10-15% of a technology program’s overall cost. This can vary by a project’s size and complexity, the maturity of a change management function, whether captive agents are also affected, and likelihood of resistance. Other approaches include making a case by activity (which entails quantifying specific activities), or benefits, (which involves estimating the likelihood and cost of project delays, reduced productivity, or lost business).
  14. 14. No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades 13 What this means for your business These are complicated times for the insurance industry. Historically, the sector has relied on independent sales agents who have been responsible for understanding consumer and business needs and recommending insurance products to their customers. But shifts in consumer preferences, demographics, and technology are changing this. Many insurers are now pursuing multi-channel strategies that put them in direct competition with the same independent agents they rely on. As the number and share of market for independent agents declines, the relationship between some carriers and agents may become more adversarial. At the same time, carriers are investing in new technology to capture better data so they can profile their customers better, building more loyal and profitable relationships. And independent agents want carriers to invest in technology, processes, and products, because this helps them deliver quality customer service. How changes are designed and communicated can have far-reaching effects. By following a structured approach for engaging agents early and throughout the change process, insurers can lock in the benefits of the larger program. And, they can help manage some of the more contentious aspects of the agent-carrier relationship in the process. This is the bottom line: when change management is handled poorly, agents are likely to shift their business to other carriers. By involving agents early in the change, seeking feedback, and encouraging collaboration, agents are far more likely to adopt the change and see the carrier as a true partner. For the leading carriers who “get it,” change management is a profitable secret weapon that strengthens the unique relationship between carriers and their independent agents and gives them a competitive edge.
  15. 15. “No agent left behind: How insurers can rally support for tech upgrades,” PwC, May 2015, © 2015 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership. All rights reserved. PwC US refers to the United States member firm, and PwC may refer to either the PwC network of firms or the US member firm. Each member firm is a separate legal entity. Please see for further details. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors. For a deeper conversation, please contact: Debra Mazloff (312) 298 5360 Imran Ilyas (312) 298 6884 Christine Goldberg (602) 364 8510 Juneen Belknap (407) 236 5102 We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Michael Wellman to this publication. About our Financial Services practice PwC’s people come together with one purpose: to build trust in society and solve important problems. PwC serves multinational financial institutions across banking and capital markets, insurance, asset management, hedge funds, private equity, payments, and financial technology. As a result, PwC has the extensive experience needed to advise on the portfolio of business issues that affect the industry, and we apply that knowledge to our clients’ individual circumstances. We help address business issues from client impact to product design, and from go-to-market strategy to human capital, across all dimensions of the organization. PwC US helps organizations and individuals create the value they’re looking for. We’re a member of the PwC network of firms in 157 countries with more than 195,000 people. We’re committed to delivering quality in assurance, tax, and advisory services. Gain customized access to our insights by downloading our thought leadership app: PwC’s 365™ Advancing business thinking every day. Follow us on Twitter @PwC_US_FinSrvcs A publication of PwC’s Financial Services Institute Marie Carr Principal Cathryn Marsh Director Emily Dunn Senior Manager Kristen Grigorescu Senior Manager