December 22, 2014

Drone applications buzz feds

droneErie, USAA, State Farm – all names of insurers asking the federal government for permission to use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), popularly known as “drones,” for commercial operations. The Federal Aviation Administration has banned most commercial drone use, but insurers are hoping to receive exemptions.

Insurers foresee an array of uses for drones, including claims assessments in areas of widespread damage or inaccessibility, surveys and inspections, risk assessments, underwriting and loss prevention.

Insurers have requested approval to use unmanned aircraft system (UAS) technology on their own property for research and development, but Erie, for example, also wants to use drones in commercial and residential policyholder operations, and USAA wants to operate the vehicles at disaster sites.

While the FAA had received 167 requests for exemption from drone prohibitions from various businesses, just 13 exemptions had been granted as of Dec. 10. None are insurers.

The FAA’s most recent comprehensive report, from September 2013, offers a broad view of where the agency plans to go in its regulation of UASs, but just this December the regulator indicated it is going to miss the September 2015 deadline for safely integrating drones into the national airspace plan – and delays could extend to 2017 or beyond. Several European countries, Australia, Canada and Japan allow limited use of drones, with some restricting the UASs to five pounds or lighter. But safety issues are different in the U.S., the FAA says, adding it receives about 25 reports a month from aircraft pilots and others of drones flying near planes and airports.

Allstate announced this month its participation in a consortium dedicated to studying and advocating for drone usage in the insurance and construction sectors. The group, called Property Drone Consortium and led by EagleView Technology Corp., is a newly formed collaboration of insurers, construction industry leaders and supporting enterprises, including the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety. It aims to develop hardware and software solutions within the first year, build relations with relevant industry and government groups, establish industry standards for data formats, and promote industry expertise on UASs.

Hiring the next generation

The millenial When you think of the Millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 1996, what comes to mind? How about “meaning” and “early adopters”? Does “expectations” or “immediacy” seem like a good fit? Those are just a few of the characteristics that define the next generation of insurance industry employees. Here are some others that Applied Systems discovered in a survey of Millennials: focus, collaboration, positivity, multitasking and connectivity.

Now how does the number 75% strike you? That’s the segment of the workforce that Millennials will comprise by 2025. It’s time to get your sales systems and hiring practices aligned to this demographic constituency so you attract the very best of this group and keep them.

Your internal processes may have to be reshaped to include faster response, more-personalized reward systems (not just money), greater openness to multitasking and stronger commitment to work-life balance. Your technology will have to allow for interface among multiple devices at the speed of touch, and systems will have to be designed (or redesigned) for at-a-glance comprehension and user convenience. Not only will most of your employees be Millennials, most of your clients will be, too. Those who take steps today to make inroads with this demographic niche could cement a foothold.

Using Millennials’ technological literacy is a good first step at educating them in insurance and risk management so they can be successful in the industry, but it is not enough. To attract the best and brightest, you will need to demonstrate to them that your firm has what they want in terms of culture. Applied found they want room to grow and enough internal mobility to keep their interest, they want to enjoy work, they want flexible hours and remote work options, and they want to communicate.

From your phones to your web presence to your internal processing systems, HR relations, print marketing and career development programs, you need to commit to a combination of adapting your business to Millennials and showing them you have a dynamic business culture.

Connecting with the Next Big Buyer: The Millennial

Millenials are constantly connectedIndividuals born between the years of 1980 and 1996, the Millennial generation, bring a unique set of values and expectations to the market that require an overhaul of your service standards.

The insurance industry is under pressure to remake itself in the face of the technological revolution, and today’s agents and brokers must somehow remain personally connected while maximizing remotely controlled relations. Millennials, or Generation Y, are a major source of prospective sales in both business and personal lines, and they are your future agency leaders. Applied Systems took a comprehensive look at what the next generation wants and expects and how your agency can meet those demands.

Constantly Connected

A defining characteristic of Millennials and those to follow is their digital savvy. Touchpad relationships and high-speed answers and actions are the norm, so waiting 24 hours for a response is worse than alien; it’s ludicrous. Working, communicating, purchasing, researching—all of these are subject to expectations of immediacy and accuracy, and coming up with a wrong answer or a slow response is a deal killer in most circumstances. They just don’t have time for you. But they do have time to squawk about your failure on social media.

They use social media, which by the way is more than just Facebook, to blurt out their instant opinions and experiences—both positive and negative—so first impressions matter. All this makes them a key factor in your marketing strategy.

They are largely happy to conduct business without meeting in person. The study found that, of Millennials who had car insurance, 60% used a remote purchasing method—35% bought online; 25% used the phone. Just 37% had a face-to-face purchase experience. If you don’t have a quality, aggressive online presence, you are missing out on a bulky consumer segment. Millennials also like to conduct account maintenance online, so having self-service software that gives clients instant access to insurance information and account actions at all hours of the day and night is crucial.

Interestingly, the concept of “trusted advisor” is still very important to Millennials, Applied found. That means an agency’s website and call center need to provide consumers confidence and congeniality. Has your webmaster even considered these two concepts? Your marketing strategy also needs to reflect those two principles—you’ve got to display competence as well as friendliness at every customer touch point.

Millennials turn heavily to friends and family for referrals and opinions, Applied Systems found, using text messaging and social media. Since this generation relies so heavily on friends and family, it might be time to up the status of your business referral plan in your marketing strategy—and measure the attempts and the results.

Your digital relationship with Millennials needs to be “consistent, convenient and personalized at every stage of their buying or service journey,” Applied says. It’s time to take a new look at marketing and service from the perspective of the next buying generation and see if your technology is keeping up with your current and prospective clients.

Productivity and profitability insights from “best practices” agencies

Best practices agencyWe’re always interested in how agencies are performing and operating—we have, after all, made it our business. So we are closely watching the periodic results released from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (Big “I”) Best Practices Survey.

In this report, the Big “I” analyzes the performance of 217 of the top insurance agencies in the country. It provides a timely and useful benchmark for evaluating agency operations. In particular, the report gives us a few different ways to look at profitability. For the sake of discussion, we’ll focus on the bracket of surveyed agencies with revenues between $5 million and $10 million.

Even within this cream-of-the-crop group of agencies, there can be a 30 percent difference in measures of profitability. For example, let’s consider the spread per employee, which is the difference between revenue per employee and the compensation per employee. This is an excellent metric of productivity because it measures employee contribution to the business before overhead. At average agencies, the spread is $64,733. At agencies with +25 percent profit, the spread is $89,868. That’s a 32 percent difference.

Also interesting are the figures for the Rule of 20. Assigning points to agencies based on organic growth rate and EBITDA margin, this looks at growth and profitability in balance. A score near or above 20 means a company will have a good return for shareholders. Average agencies surveyed had a score of 20.3; agencies with +25 percent profit had a score of 27.7; agencies with +25 percent growth had a score of 29.5.

Though the Rule of 20 formula is weighted to prioritize organic growth, growing the EBITDA margin is a solid strategy for improving the score during a soft insurance market or economic downturn.

In both the case of spread per employee and the Rule of 20, improving employee productivity can improve how an agency measures up. If you improve the output per employee based on improving operations efficiency and effectiveness, it’s “cheap” money that doesn’t require a huge investment or downsizing.

This is only a sampling of the ample data provided (you’ll have to purchase the full report for that), but these numbers demonstrate an essential truth—that the most profitable agencies have the most productive employees.

But, of course, there are many ways to understand the data. Tell us what you took away from the report, especially as it pertains to profitability, employee productivity and IT—tweet us @ReSourcePro with your thoughts.

How business leaders can become storytellers

Storytelling in Business is an art.

With their “God made a farmer” Super Bowl ad, Dodge told viewers a story about their brand values: hard work, dedication, reliability. They used words and images that composed a story about the all-American farmer paragon to show us what they and their products stood for. This appeals to consumers’ emotions, not logic.

In fact, few successful Super Bowl spots simply discuss product benefits. Instead, they tell you a story that supports a brand’s values, vision and mission. One of mankind’s oldest habits has become a choice tool of business leaders. Skilled storytelling has always been a way to convey important messages, but only more recently has it been recognized as a critical strategic business tool.

Storytelling applies to more than marketing and advertising. Leaders can use storytelling within organizations in much the same way Dodge did. A good story can help employees relate to the company’s mission, vision or values and inspire them to support these abstract yet definitive characteristics.

Storytelling also humanizes brands. From the Aflac duck and his many adventures to PEMCO’s gently self-deprecating Northwest Profiles, storytelling allows customers to see their insurers as human, relatable and entertaining. People want to do business with people (or water fowl) to which they can relate.

Writer and producer Golan Ramras spoke on storytelling at the recent ReSource Pro Innovation Advisory Council gathering in Berkeley. He emphasized that stories are powerful, build people’s desires and inspire them to act, and he shared crucial dos and don’ts of storytelling in business:

-    Do make sure the story you tell is positive and has a hero.

-    Don’t be afraid of metaphors, anecdotes and current events.

-    Do make challenges and obstacles personal.

-    Don’t oversell or include too many details about your company.

-    Do tell a story about results and about your customers.

-    Don’t lean on cliches and corporate-speak.

Remember that storytelling is an art—once you have learned the basic rules, feel free to throw them out judiciously.

Using storytelling as a business tool has become easier, thanks to the ready availability of a variety of media. Leaders can choose exactly the right way to get their messages across: written narratives, video, animation, comics, photo essays, etc. Relating a simple anecdote about a successful sales tactic can be incredibly effective.

Write the best story to communicate mission, vision and values. Give customers someone to relate to. Use the right medium. Tell more stories about your business. It’s a consummately human way to communicate with customers, clients, employees and partners.

Is your solution just another problem?

If you find a good solution and become attached to it, the solution may become your next problem. I recently came across this Robert Anthony quote and thought it offered excellent insight into the practice of improving process.

In any context, solutions are only solutions if you have properly assessed and understood the problem. Applying a solution to a troubled situation can create new problems if you do not understand the nature of the original problem.5 Whys

In practical terms of insurance operations, understanding your process helps you see where the problems are. Knowing where the problems are helps you find the right solution. You must start with a deep assessment of workflows and processes to shine lights on inefficiencies.

Applying the wrong solutions—even temporary solutions—to your troubled process will create more problems. For example, adopting a new agency management system that promises to streamline your operations can only create a greater need for training. At the same time, this software may not address the original inefficiencies particular to your organization. Now you have old and new problems to solve.

The Six Sigma “Five Whys” method provides an excellent method for getting to the core of problems. Originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda (founder of Toyota), the Five Whys is essentially an iterative question process to elucidate the sources of a problem and how they are connected.

The Five Whys procedure is dead simple. You identify the specific problem and ask why it is occurring. You then ask “why” of the answer to your first “why,” and so on until you have asked “why” at least five times. You repeat this process as many times as you need to reach the clear source of the problem and identify a solution.

Though very complex problems may require a more detailed analysis, the Five Whys are a great place to start. Before you sink precious dollars into a so-called operations “solution”—such a popular buzzword these days—ensure you know what problem they are addressing. If you don’t, that solution may very well become your next problem.

 

The need for top insurance talent grows as industry ages

new talentIn the last several years there has been a great deal of buzz in the insurance industry about the need for top talent as Baby Boomers enter into retirement. In fact, according to a 2013 survey conducted by Accenture, the number of employees age 55 and over is 30% higher in the Property & Casualty industry than in any other industry. Moreover, it’s estimated that insurers will need to fill as many as 400,000 positions by 2020. Additionally, some estimates have about 50% of insurance agents retiring over the next 10 years. According to a study conducted by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIAA), the average age of principals with 20% or more ownership in their agencies is 54, and 72% of these principals are older than 60.

The industry is well aware of the talent gap and is looking to fill positions as they become available in addition to needing more staff to meet their revenue projections. In fact, a survey of carriers earlier this year indicated that more than half (62%) had planned to increase their staff in 2014.

But hiring strong talent is difficult in a competitive market. Insurers and agencies are struggling to find experienced individuals to fill important positions. Some of this, unfortunately, has to do with the insurance industry’s reputation among young recruits. They don’t see it as an exciting and rewarding career, although the reality is quite the contrary. Perhaps we haven’t done a good job of selling the industry as a career path for individuals – one that is made up of risk advisors who provide asset protection and have significant specific industry expertise, business acumen, risk assessment and other skillsets in order to write and service complex accounts. Moreover, it’s an industry that offers a career with flexibility, security and opportunity.

In an interview with Art Betancourt, Vice President and Senior Search Consultant for MarshBerry, in the industry publication, Insurance Unplugged, this very issue is underscored. Art is on the front line looking for producer talent for agencies and spoke about the need to enhance the insurance industry’s reputation and brand. “One of my biggest challenges in attracting talent is that insurance is a dirty word in the job market,” he noted. “[But] in fact, the insurance industry is the best-kept secret if you’re looking for a sales position. There are a number of differentiating benefits, including residual income, personal satisfaction in serving as a trusted advisor to clients, and the flexibility you gain as an entrepreneur building a business within a business.”

This sentiment is also echoed in an article in Property/Casualty 360 in which the author writes: “Few would say that the industry has positioned itself as an exciting or attractive place for recent college graduates to work. Although P&C companies suffered less through the economic crisis than their banking or capital markets counterparts, the industry does not exert much pull on Millennials or on their younger siblings and cousins…”

Several recommendations have been made to address the talent challenges in the P&C industry both in the Accenture report and in findings based on a survey by McKinsey. These recommendations include focusing on improving the industry’s reputation, increasing the awareness and understanding of career opportunities among high school and college students, and enhancing the training of young professionals. Accenture suggests that insurers begin influencing universities to add business analytics and insurance coursework to their programs. Some of this is already being done at risk management schools around the country with the support of insurers. For example, the School of Risk Management, Insurance & Actuarial Science at St. John’s University in downtown Manhattan, in 2012 adopted an “Introduction to Risk & Insurance” course as a mandatory part of its core curriculum for all business majors. This represents a significant change, according to school officials, to fuel the insurance industry’s talent pipeline. The school brings in featured speakers from the industry to discuss their roles at the insurance companies and the career opportunities available. In addition, some insurers are sponsoring university programs to help position themselves within MBA programs.

These recommendations need to continue to take place in order for young graduates to view the insurance industry as a viable career choice and for insurers, MGAs and agencies to bring in new blood as individuals look to retire. In addition to undertaking these measures and rebranding the insurance industry as a whole, those throughout the distribution system can focus more of their time and resources to find and cultivate the talent needed on the front line by shifting their back-office operations. This can be accomplished by outsourcing business processing tasks. By so doing, agency owners, MGAs and carriers can zero in on getting the right talent to help generate income by expanding their footprint geographically and in certain niche markets and developing new products while positively impacting growth, productivity and the bottom line.

 

Based in New York, ReSource Pro is the premier provider of business process outsourcing services for the insurance industry, working with retail agencies, Managing General Agents (MGAs), and regional carriers. Our processing centers in Qingdao and Jinan, China are wholly owned subsidiaries of the U.S. corporation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maximizing Your Staff’s Servicing Opportunities: Get Everyone with Skin in the Game

customer service overloadIn speaking with insurance consultants around the country about what helps differentiate a successful retail agency from others and contributes to profitable growth, all unequivocally cite having a true sales and service culture where producers spend the majority of their time selling and customer service reps (CSRs) focus on providing first-rate service. The reality, however, is that in many agencies the handling of day-to-day back office processes gets in the way of personnel doing what they were hired to do – and the tasks at which they are most accomplished. While these processes, of course, are crucial to one’s operation, when producers and service reps spend 50% of their time performing tasks such as completing endorsements, certificates of insurance, renewals, loss runs, MVRs, billing and payment services, etc., it leaves a lot less time to cultivate prospects for new sales and few resources for rounding out accounts, cross-selling and delivering value to customers.

Let’s take a look at CSRs as an example. They spend a lot of time being reactive, fielding customer calls, making changes, getting quotes for producers, and completing on-line processes. They’re not focused on taking a proactive approach in finding areas where additional coverages can be sold and services provided to customers, in addition to solidifying long-term client relationships. In fact, they’re missing out on tremendous opportunities to help customers with additional insurance solutions, such as cyber protection and supply chain coverage, relating recent events to highlight how emerging risks can be addressed. They can also, for example, create initial conversations around the Affordable Care Act and the impact on businesses and how the agency can provide creative solutions, including performance-based health plans, telemedicine services, stop-loss medical plans, etc.

 

Incentive Compensation Plans to Foster Sales Culture, Elevate Productivity and Profitability

To help CSRs and others throughout the agency focus on sales and servicing and take a vested interest in the profitable growth of the firm, various plans among successful agencies have been implemented that shift the traditional salary-based compensation program to one that is incentive based.

For example, one incentive compensation-based approach that successful agencies utilize involves giving everyone in the firm some “skin in the game.” This approach is designed not only to reward producers, but also CSRs and others in the agency for their productivity and contribution to the agency’s profitable growth. One such program involves a three-year cycle where in year one, compensation growth at the end of the year is based on revenue growth for each department or for the agency, depending on the firm’s size. Salary increases are based on the growth of the book of business for the year. Everyone in the department or agency works together to help grow the book of business. Employees become personally invested in new production as well as client retention. If there is a 5% rate of growth, there will be a 5% salary increase.

In year two under this plan, growth is tied to profitability, which means that individuals are not only looking at growth but also at costs and achieving a profit level acceptable for the agency. If the business is not profitable, this will affect the amount of money each individual makes. Then in year three, the plan incorporates individual growth. If, for example, a CSR makes $60,000 on a $450,000 book of business, he or she is worth 15% of its value – which represents what the agency is paying him or her under the incentive compensation plan. The CSR’s income won’t go down, but will increase only if the growth level of the book of business exceeds the previous year’s highest levels. The needs of both the individual and those of the agency are taken into consideration, understanding that the only way an employee gets paid more is if the agency grows (and does so profitably), recognizing that the individual has been an integral part of the growth.

Moreover, each CSR doesn’t receive the same compensation under this type of plan. Instead you are now incentivizing highly productive employees, empowering them, and giving them control over their own income. Those who are productive and highly motivated will take care of customers and find opportunities to round out accounts and cross-sell. In addition, because service people now have a stake in the agency’s overall sales, they will begin to push producers to get out from behind their desks and sell.

 

 

Based in New York, ReSource Pro is the premier provider of business process outsourcing services for the insurance industry, working with retail agencies, Managing General Agents (MGAs), and regional carriers. Our processing centers in Qingdao and Jinan, China are wholly owned subsidiaries of the U.S. corporation.

 

Gamification for motivation

gamification

Parents and teachers have long known and appreciated the value of “games” as learning and motivational tools.  For children, games can teach social interaction, healthy competition, and reinforce the basics of counting, spelling, and life in general.  For adults, games can be a relaxing and spirited way to bond with others and solidify friendships.  And it all happens through fun.  Yet games seem to be an almost forbidden concept in the business world, despite the potential for accomplishing everything already mentioned and more.

 

At the June 2014 Innovation Advisory Council (IAC) hosted by ReSource Pro, attendees learned how “gamification” can create mutual synergy between employees and clients, a motivational tool to achieve targeted goals, and a means to create higher levels of engagement.

Sound like a “magic” bullet.  Not according to Molly Kittle, one of the top 10 women in Gamification, and the leader of a day long workshop at the IAC event.  From the theory and tools behind Gamification to actual shared experiences, Molly led the group into an eye-opening journey that challenged everyone to rethink the art and science of motivation through Gamification.

What is Gamification?

According to Molly, Gamification is integrating game mechanics and dynamics into your digital experience to increase engagement, participation and retention – and many of us are already engaged in the process:

•  Do you have a fitbit? Fitbit users earn badges the more steps they take and stairs they climb.

•  Do you check-in on Foursquare? Users earn badges on foursquare depending on the types of establishments they visit. You can be dubbed a gym rat, Wino, JetSetter or Hot Tamale to name a few.

•  Do you have a Starbucks rewards card? Users earn stars with every purchase and the more stars you get the higher level of rewards you earn including free drinks.

 

Everyone Likes Fun!

 Games are fun. Game theory can make desired behavior of your employees or clients fun. This is why Gamification matters! Imagine being able to get your producers to submit complete applications all the time. Imagine motivating your clients to give complete information on their own without following up for missing information.

Participants in the IAC event echoed their interest and mentioned ways that they could use Gamification in their own insurance operations:

•  The most frequent comment centered on the value that gamification could provide in better interaction and engagement of a younger workforce, providing a generational bridge and a unique way to teach insurance operations, engage, and motivate.

•  Others commented that Gamification techniques could improve the onboarding process for new clients and employees.

•  Utilization as a change management tool was a also a commonly heard comment.

•  Some saw Gamification as a platform that could drive organic growth with their clients and build better and stronger relationships for improved retention and loyalty.

•  Others mentioned that Gamification would be an excellent way to tap into the competitive nature of team members, a way to reinvigorate the energy of the workplace, and a unique manner to improve their corporate cultures.

What makes a Gamification program successful?  

Gamification focuses on the science behind motivating people. A successful program motivates people to desired activities that overall results in a desired behavior. You can use Gamification as a framework to keep challenging your people to do their best.

A successful Gamification program:

  • Is aligned to your goals. If the game misses your target, rethink and redesign!
  • Keeps people interested by making the game unbeatable! Allow people to progress by becoming experts or gaining high ranking titles. Add challenges and quests to keep people interested and excited.
  • Focuses on activities rather than outcomes to achieve results.Define what your desired outcomes are and then drill down to motivate the necessary activities that are necessary to achieve the outcome.
  • Uses carrots not sticks to reach goals. Reward people for doing what you want, those who don’t do what you want will simply miss out.

 

Click here to see the slide deck shared at the event.

Click here to learn more about Molly, Gamification and Bunchball.

 

 

 

 

Excellence in Practice

 

ASTD-Excellence-in-Practice-250

We are thrilled to announce that ReSource Pro’s Learning and Development department in Qingdao, China has recently been recognized for their Achieving Business Results Through ESL Learning program. The program has been selected to receive an American Society for Training and Development Excellence in Practice citation in the Organizational Learning and Development category for the 2012 award year.

There are many ESL programs in China but few corporate English programs are earning this kind of distinction. This program is one of many offered to the to our team members working in our Qingdao and Jinan offices in the Shandong province of China.

 

 

The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) is the world’s largest association dedicated to professional training and development. ASTD members are found in 100 countries (www.astd.org).