Online Client Access – Get Your Agency on Board

More Customers Demand 24/7, Real-Time Access to Policy Information

Today, people continue to migrate to the Internet to accomplish many of their day-to-day tasks. And as we move into the second decade in the 21st century, where are you and your agency as it relates to this shift?

In the early 2000s, direct writers laid the foundation in educating consumers about online insurance solutions by offering services such as quoting and online policy access, giving clients the option to access insurance information at any time and from anywhere. This trend is now being integrated into independent agents’ business strategy and will only continue to widen.

Many industry experts agree that as baby boomers start being replaced by Generation Y, people will enter the insurance market not only wanting, but expecting online access. In 2009, a record 2.8 million policies were purchased online – an increase of 22 percent from 2008, according to an Agents Council on Technoloy (ACT) article based on a 2010 comScore survey. And 82 percent of consumers reported utilizing online tools such as electronic signatures. Consumers are expecting easy to use, fast service, and 24/7 availability.

In order to fully understand the significance of online client access, it’s important to be aware of what it is. Client access allows policyholders access to their insurance information in order to make change requests to their policies and retrieve documents, including auto IDs and certificates of insurance, on demand. This is much more than simply providing request forms on a Web site that back up onto a CSR’s desk overnight. True online access is about enabling access of data, real time, 24/7, to policyholders for self-service functionality.

With the overall value that online client access provides to both clients and prospects alike, along with how rapidly this trend is taking off, all agencies need to add this feature to their selection of services in order to stay competitive.

Value of the Independent Agent

In this new online age, it would be wrong to say that agents are not needed – they are still an extremely integral piece in the insurance process, and some may argue, more integral, as a result of all of the information on the Internet. The ACT article notes that 78 percent of consumers continue to purchase offline, citing the number one reason as wanting to speak with someone who can guide them.

Offering clients online service options as part of an already high-quality customer service package makes for a more sophisticated, cutting-edge agency. The addition of online access frees staff to take on the more vital roles of insurance consultants and risk management professionals that bring the most value.

Support Client Needs

One area where online service options make sense is certificates of insurance – available on demand. Consider this scenario: An electrical company needs certificates of insurance at every job site. Working with an insurance agent that provides online client access, the company is able to print their certificates and have them ready for each job as they leave the office in the morning at 6 a.m., before their insurance agency is even open. This is also a great benefit for an agency, serving as an exit barrier – once an agency offers online access, clients are unlikely to switch to an agency without it.

Offering 24/7 client access is not only a huge value for current clients, but it’s also a great way to secure new business. Agencies are beginning to believe in online access as the way insurance agents need to grow in order to stay competitive in the industry.

“Customers today want options,” noted one California agent. “Four to five years ago, the percentage of prospective clients wanting a way to communicate on the Internet was low; now 30 percent to 40 percent of them are familiar with online certificate services and ask specifically for the functionality.”

And that number will continue to grow. It is no longer a question of, “When should I jump in?,” as much as it is a question of, “How do I catch up?”