Jul 15, 2021

Industry Voices: The momentum is building

What provoked the digital transformation we’re seeing in insurance? How should we think about the landscape moving toward API-driven technologies? I talked to industry experts to get their perspective on what makes this moment so critical for insurtech. 

Tim Cerimele

The Industry Voices series features the viewpoints of the nation’s most innovative insurance leaders as they imagine a technology-enabled future for the industry. 

Noyo’s mission is to build a world where people feel truly protected by their insurance coverage. We aren’t alone in believing that consumers deserve products that are easy to understand and easy to use, with experiences that are reflective of our modern era. This represents a shift in  how things have traditionally been done in insurance, but momentum is building–changes that felt gradual not too long ago now feel sudden. 

So how did we get here? What provoked the digital transformation that we’re seeing from an industry that was born out of the Great Depression and World War II? And how should we think about the landscape moving forward? I talked to leaders at insurance carriers to get some expert perspective on what makes this moment unique. 

There is a proliferation of benefits administration, HR, HCM, and all-in-one solutions

“Large employers were early adopters of HR platforms, but now we are seeing a steady rise in adoption by smaller employers,” observes Mike Ganoni, Channel Development Lead at Humana. Dean Del Vecchio, CIO and Chief of Operations at Guardian, agrees, and notes that current events have also contributed to the meteoric rise of platform solutions: “Smaller organizations are implementing benefit technology platforms at a much faster rate, both as a response to COVID and remote workforces, and due to the availability of cost-effective ben-tech platforms that focus on this customer segment.”

Dean also pointed out that the number of platforms and interconnections will only continue to increase: “Advances in tech allow new players to more easily enter the benefits administration space–any software that solves a customer pain point can be plugged into the data flow through APIs, and customer choice and experience can be improved.”

The broker’s role is evolving

Andy Hutter, Director of Digital Distribution at Beam Dental, certainly doesn’t see brokers going the way of travel agents, but he does believe that they will need to adapt: “Producers still control the lion’s share of how employee benefits are distributed in this country, but the new brokers coming up are changing industry norms with more tech and more automation.”

Employers have so many new ben-admin solutions to choose from that brokers are increasingly stepping into the role of technology advisors as well as benefits advisors. “Insurance agencies are relying more on technology and software solutions to help provide value to their clients while also creating efficiencies and simplifying the administration of groups,” notes Mike from Humana. 

To retain brokers as a critical sales channel, carriers are feeling the pressure to ensure that the process of quoting, binding, installing, and administering groups is fast, simple, and easy across many different technologies.  

Today’s consumers have sky-high expectations

With so many employers invested in software solutions for managing HR, it’s only natural that the employees who interact directly with these platforms will compare their experiences to the interactions they’re accustomed to. “Consumers have the same expectations of the insurance industry as they do of any other experience enabled through modern technology: they expect accurate information to be available immediately, and they want that information to be easy to understand and act on” says Elek Pew, Director of Small Business Strategy and Planning at Unum. 

To deliver against these expectations, it falls to the members of the insurance ecosystem to quickly update their entire technology stack to optimize for the end-user experience. “The days of paper transactions are coming to an end and we are morphing into real-time digital environments with self-serve options,” says Mike from Humana.  

Another theme that emerged was transparency: “We see an overwhelming demand for transparency throughout the benefits ecosystem,” says Daniel Horowitz, CTO and co-founder of Smylen. “Clarity around out-of-pocket costs, plan designs, provider reputations–customers are finally expecting an experience that works like every other experience in their lives.”

Connecting the dots is the biggest challenge

Jake Bendler, Director of National Accounts at Ameritas, has learned an important lesson from shifting consumer habits: “Simplicity is the driver for great experiences. Even if we have the perfect group ancillary product for an organization, we will lose the account if we don’t have the enrollment experience that an employer prefers.” But how do we deliver that perfect enrollment experience? 

Plus, there’s the issue of standardization, highlighted by Andy from Beam: “Unlike in the banking industry, there isn't a government or industry-mandated standard for data exchange, which means most platforms and carriers are caught in a staring contest, asking each other to conform.”

Legacy technologies like PDF forms and file feeds are not the solution for either of these challenges. Instead, this group agrees that APIs and real-time data exchange hold the most promise for bridging connectivity gaps: “We’re seeing increasing fragmentation in the ecosystem, leading to challenges around connecting stakeholders. APIs are a key enabler that facilitate important connections across carriers and ben-admin platforms. With this technology in place, consumers can be unaware of the many services or systems behind a simple, unified front-end experience,” explains Jason Wong, Head of Growth at Angle Health.  

Jake agrees: “An API strategy is the great equalizer. You get fewer enrollment errors and greater visibility into your data with a one-time integration and minimal connection management compared to EDI.” 

What’s next? 

The factors outlined above have combined to create an insurance ecosystem that is faster-paced, more dynamic, and more exciting than ever before. Unfortunately, most of the key systems that make insurance possible are still constrained by slow, siloed technology under the hood. 

The next generation of amazing products and experiences will be built on top of new technologies like APIs. This leaves established organizations grappling with the question of how to move forward and embrace these new technologies without impacting the bottom line. In the next edition of Industry Voices, I’ll talk to our experts about connectivity, innovation, and strategies for meeting the current moment. 

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