Last week, I went to the Accelerate conference for users of Vertafore systems. Vertafore is a software provider for different links in the insurance distribution network. Insurance companies and agencies use different solutions to manage data and write and manage their books of business. As Director of Education for the Academy, I don’t currently use any of their products. I went hoping to meet folks, learn more, and spread the word about the Academy (I don’t need a trip to Atlanta bad enough not to get something out of it).
Since you were wondering, the trip was successful. I made some connections, talked about the Academy, and learned a bunch. What was really interesting about the whole time was the way that Vertafore mirrors the insurance industry. That’s what I want to write about today.
Vertafore’s following is loyal, but pretty calm.
I learned last week that Vertafore has had a following for over 40 years, well before they were known by their current name. In those early days, the company produced a computer system with software specifically built for independent agents. In 1978, the first users group conference was held. That would become NetVU’s Accelerate.
I was surprised to see how many people were there. The breakfast keynote was probably the largest room that I’ve ever had the chance to sit in for a speech. The keynote revealed several really important and useful upgrades to key software. As each was announced, there was a low rumble of approval, but no applause, no cheers. At least, that was where it started. The cheers and applause came later with the announcement of their new proposal builder. To be fair, that was the best new feature that I saw (it didn’t hurt anything that they intend to include it without additional fees).
That reminded me how quiet and subdued we insurance people can be. We let the rest of the world dictate that we should be embarrassed about what we do. Why’s that? Is it because we’re ashamed to work in insurance? Not likely. I think it’s more likely to be that we don’t know how to communicate how interesting a career in insurance can be. We fail to remind people that we help society evolve and grow. We finance the economy’s risks. We make it possible for companies to try new things. We make it so that your friends and neighbors have homes, cars, and jobs.
Vertafore grew by acquisition.
In researching the company’s history, I noted that an early event was the acquisition of another software company. That pattern has continued over the last 40 years. Software that I have experience with belongs to the Vertafore family. I didn’t even know it.
Walk with me a few more steps. Insurance is a lot like that. Insurance companies acquire startups. Large agencies acquire smaller agencies. By the way, that trend will increase over time. Smaller agencies will not survive by themselves and insurance company start ups will be purchased by larger, older, more established companies.
The problem with that kind of growth comes in taking disparate parts that weren’t created to work together and making them work together. Vertafore (and our industry) need to keep working at making those parts work and communicate together. In software, when you combine applications that were written by different people and in different years (or decades), with different architectures, you will struggle to get those applications to work together. At times, it’s almost impossible to make them communicate and work without another piece of software, or they simple won’t work together until you tear them apart and rebuild them.
How does that compare with the industry? Think about the little four person insurance office that gets purchased by a national name. A group of people who worked one way together for years, almost like a family and now they have to adapt to the language, culture, and history of this larger organization. You may not realize it, but people don’t like change that much, especially when their world is upset by the introduction of new work flows, software, and processes. That kind of leads me to the next point.
Vertafore needs to modernize to survive.
One theme that I took away from the conference is that the company is working hard to take older products and modernize them. They are looking for ways to adapt what they do to the ways that people are working today. People don’t want to come into an office as much anymore. They don’t want to play phone tag. They don’t want to have questions sent back and forth. They want simple transactions. They want to access their information on the go (which means on their mobile phones).
I saw several innovations that walk down that road some. The proposal generator, for example, appears to simplify the process of generating an insurance proposal for a commercial customer. Is that a big deal? Since I’ve created commercial proposals before, let me help here. YES! It’s a big deal. I can’t count the number of hours that I spent listing individual vehicles and buildings on a proposal. Then send a copy to the agent, who has corrections. Then I had to correct their underwriting file, amend their renewal premium, fix the proposal, email it again, wait for the agent to approve it, and then print a bunch of copies to mail to the agent’s office. Everything that I saw was about how they are looking to improve and provide what their customers need.
The insurance industry has to take this cue. We can’t simply sit back and say that it won’t work that way. I’ve been critical of several start-ups, including our friends at Lemonade. While I’m not a fan of their PR machine and I feel like they are not as transparent as they say they are and they’re not as different as they want to think they are (OK, their Policy 2.0 is different, but this isn’t the time for that critique). What I (and the rest of us) have to get over is a simple truth. These insuretech companies are on to something.
There are some things that need to be modernized. If companies and agents ignore the changes around them, they’ll become like Blockbuster (they’re like Redbox, except you had to go inside to rent a video tape (video tapes are like DVDs that you have to rewind so that the next person can watch it)). Agents can’t just be in their offices, waiting for the phone to ring. Think about it. How often do you use your cell phone to call someone? Most people text, email, use social networks, and play Angry Birds on their phones more than make phone calls. They’re not calling.
We have to get into the 21st century on how we interact with our customers and give them the service that they expect. They expect to be able to use an app to get help. They want to be able to reach you by text. They want to hear from you with more than a renewal quote. They want to be able to send pictures to you on their phones. They want you to send them a link to electronically sign documents.
Vertafore is actively looking in the right places.
I visited several booths where Vertafore customer experience team members were walking users through processes to define problems and design solutions to them. They took the solutions that groups worked on and created prototypes of software enhancements. They actually listened to the feedback that they got from the users and acted on it. My understanding is that they plan to take the prototypes back and work out fully workable product enhancements.
This might be a little more difficult for my fellow insurance professionals to handle. We need to ask our customers what they need from us. We need to make insurance more than two minutes on an app and six months at claim time. We need to figure out how to be what our customer wants and needs. Yes, I’m saying that we need to see what’s going on in the insuretech space, see what’s connecting, see what’s working, and do some of that. We also need to help people see that we are relevant to their lives. Their insurance purchases are not some necessary evil but are an important part of being able to do what they do every day.
All in all, I enjoyed the conference and I understand now what all the hype was about. There was great learning available, there were great people to meet, and I got at least one blog post out of it.
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