Does the digital insurer spell the end of agents and brokers?

Not at all, according to some speakers at the InsureTech Connect Conference in October.

While the roles of agents and brokers in personal lines and very small commercial may be numbered, few expect them to disappear.

Gaurav Garg, CEO of AIG’s Global Personal Insurance, believes the value of intermediaries is “enhanced” as technology takes over some of the tasks. He sees a stronger value proposition for agents and brokers emerging from the emphasis on technology.

Mariel Devesa, head of Corporate Development and Innovation for Farmers Insurance, which has 14,0000 agents, agrees and thinks expectations on agents will increase.

Spike Lipkin, founder of ABE, a tech-driven middle market brokerage that combines tech with real humans, agrees with AIG’s Garg about the increased value of brokers as technology takes care of menial task and simple accounts. ABE is targeting accounts of $100,0000 premium and finds that these customers prefer dealing with humans who can advise them on risk and strategy. In fact, much of ABE’s pitch is to brokers, promising them that its technology and streamlined services for clients can mean a better work experience, higher commissions and the ability to make more money.

It’s Complicated

As InsurTech’s make waves in insurance, Jay Gauthier, CMO of Personal Insurance at Travelers, said the industry may appear to have a target on its back but it is responding and changing. He told what hasn’t changed at his company. “We’re still bullish on independent agents,” he said, because “selling property/casualty products is often complicated.”

Separately, participating in Carrier Management’s Future of Insurance series earlier this year, Goldstein said: “There is little doubt that the entire insurance process will be direct and online in the future. There will no longer be the need for a mediator (in this case, an agent) between the insurance provider and the customer, as this online system will enable the customer to buy, maintain and handle claims all in one place.

The insurance system today is built on agents, actuaries and underwriters, who will be replaced with simple-to-use online interfaces, algorithms and artificial intelligence.”

Read more of his views here.

To Guy Goldstein, CEO of InsurTech Next Insurance, the argument that insurance is complicated is an argument in favor of automation—not human agents—because automation reduces the complexity for the customer. He says there is no need for agents at all in small commercial lines, that computers do a better job. “If computer can give you exactly what you need, why use an agent?”

He grants that it’s not agents’ fault that they can’t do a good job; it’s not their fault that insurance is so complicated.

ABE CEO Lipkin has a different experience. He contends even his firm’s smaller customers want to talk with an agent and he believes that “humans will play an increasingly important and a higher value role in transactions.”

That’s OK with Goldstein, too. Goldstein doesn’t expect every customer to bypass humans. “Some people always want to speak with a person; this is not for everyone. It’s not black and white.” He is expecting just enough of them to prefer his automated approach to keep his computers humming.

Dustin Yoder, CEO of Sureify, the developer of a digital customer engagement technology platform for life insurers, believes empowering agents is the first step but that eventually much of what agents now do will become digitized. That will appeal to maybe 50 percent of customers, while the other 50 percent will prefer a more human experience, he saidl

“It’s all about whatever the customer wants,” said Jamie Hale, CEO of digital life insurer Ladder. While a lot will be done digitally, agents can also still deliver a “delightful experience” to those who want the personal touch, he said.