Agency Data Ownership Can Be Tricky in Age of Texting

By | July 3, 2019
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In a column last year on messaging, I talked about the value of a secure means for agents to text prospects, policyholders and insurers and the number of messaging apps and companies offering messaging services. Apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are best suited for personal use while messaging services are designed for business use. These services, including those offered or in development by some agency systems, vary widely in ease of use, deployment and archive options, access to performance data, cost and level of security. Since that time, I’ve been digging into one major red flag that has escaped scrutiny up to now – security and privacy connected to the underlying ownership and sharing of data.

Many agents have told me about the increasing number of policyholders who prefer texting over email and the phone. Agents are responding by texting themselves when clients request it and often only if it doesn’t divulge personal information. Messaging services typically promise end-to-end encryption to protect data during transmission. What most of these services leave unclear, however, is the ownership of the data once it’s stored. Who controls its use at that point and if it will be shared with third parties in order to generate additional revenue? One service, for example, states that when an agency terminates its service, it will provide a copy of the agency’s data.

Insurance technology expert Steve Anderson agrees that texting use is on the rise.

“Younger producers have long been comfortable with texting, but older producers are now using it more and more, particularly for outbound messages,” Anderson says.

But texting between agents and customers is tricky, says Ron Berg, executive director of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT). Berg says that the FCC has issued opinions via the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and the proper use of texting. The Big ‘I’ has created a template for members that covers E&O issues on texting.

“Bottom line, customers will find agents’ cell phone numbers and will text them,” Berg says. “Agents must provide guidelines on what can be shared, and also provide Opt In/Opt Out capability, or face legal actions from the government or even their own customers.”

Berg acknowledges however that the issue of data ownership has not been a topic for ACT – yet.

Most people understand that posting something to Facebook or searching on Google is tracked. When searching for products online to purchase, ads for those items appear the next time a consumer jumps online. Or when placing an order online for an item, ads for related items appear. There is a value to that.

Messaging is a new “best practice” for agents. Consumers are demanding it for their convenience and agents must provide it. Given the sensitive nature of the information agents discuss with both policyholders and insurers, however, messaging services should make it clear they won’t share agency data. An agency’s data must remain the agency’s data, and in today’s market that is an invaluable asset.

This article is being republished from Insurance Journal Magazine, Jan. 21, 2019.

About Tom Wetzel

Wetzel is CEO of Thomas H. Wetzel & Associates, an insurance marketing firm for independent agents whose services include a partnership with LivePerson to bring HIPAA-certified messaging and IBM Watson to the insurance industry, the Wetzel Digital Roadmap, website design and maintenance, and content creation. Website: Email: More from Tom Wetzel

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