Agent digital experiences are moving to the forefront of property/casualty insurance carrier tech strategies, according to a survey report published by Celent late last week.

Just having a web portal isn’t going to cut it anymore, with 94 percent of 35 North American carriers surveyed by the global research and tech advisory firm for financial institutions saying that they want to create above-average experiences for agents. And one-third of those aim to be “world class,” according to the report, “Agent Digital Experience: A New Battleground in Property and Casualty Insurance.”

Roughly 65 percent of the carriers surveyed rated their digital experiences for agents as “average” now.

Web portals date back to the mid-1990s, when carriers first began to give agents better visibility into their books of business, later expanding to provide transactional capabilities—allowing agents to enter new policy applications, request endorsements, manage billing, and often extended to access to commission statements and marketing support.

“Forward-thinking carriers are now also building a variety of digital integrations to communicate in real time with agents,” said Rob Norris, author of the report and a senior analyst within Celent’s North American property/casualty practice.

The survey found that 50 percent of carriers are using e-mail and text alerts to complement their web portals, enabling more timely delivery of critical information to agents. Of the carriers that have not deployed this capability, most indicated that are planning to do so.

While upload and download of data between carrier and agent systems is common now among most types of carriers, Celent found that workers comp carriers are much less likely to offer this—only 22 percent. Excluding workers comp insurers, nearly all said they have deployed upload/download.

Importantly, nearly three-quarters of survey respondents said that integrations between their systems and agency management systems using application programming interfaces (API integration) have been deployed or are in current plans.

Also in carriers’ sights are comparative rating software platforms—allowing agents to compare quotes from multiple carriers—and connections with digital insurance exchanges, such as Bolt and Bold Penguin. The Celent report notes that the digital exchange platforms go beyond the multiple-quote capabilities of comparative raters, becoming “a more complete distribution solution for carriers [and] allowing agents to produce digital storefronts without the hassle of integrating with multiple carriers.”

Three-quarters of personal lines carriers already use comparative rating platforms, compared to just one-quarter of commercial lines carriers.

Forty-three percent of personal lines carriers and 39 percent of commercial lines carriers surveyed are already working with the digital exchanges or plan to do so.

About Those Web Portals

Focusing in on the capabilities of web portals for agents, the report reveals that 68 percent of carriers surveyed have implemented full quoting for multiple lines.

“One of the strongest factors affecting the experience of quoting is the percentage of applications that can be straight-through processed into a quote without the intervention of human underwriting,” the report says.

On that score, capabilities vary by line, with personal auto having the highest median straight-through rate (75 percent) and workers comp topping commercial lines with a median of straight-through rate of 20 percent.

“One of the strongest factors affecting the experience of quoting is the percentage of applications that can be straight-through processed into a quote without the intervention of human underwriting.”

“Carriers are moving quickly to establish connections with emerging digital intermediaries as a way of accelerating their entry into new distribution channels,” Norris noted. “This will require carriers to improve straight-through processing rates during the quoting process.”

Carriers are working to make quoting easier for agents in other ways, with data prefill and simplified application design being the most common strategies.

Not common yet are capabilities to advise agents about appropriate coverage and customer options or upload and data extraction from ACORD applications, but most carriers plan on implementing these at some point in the future, Celent reports.

The report also provides survey results for various parts of the policy administration and billing process, claims and loss control and agency relationship management.

What’s Not Happening: Claims and Mobile

One area that deserves more attention from carriers involves giving agents more visibility into the claims process, allowing agents to fulfill their roles as “advocate and advisers during what often is a defining moment in a customer’s relationship with a carrier,” Celent believes.

While commercial lines carriers almost universally give access to loss runs and all types of carriers allow agents to receive basic details about the status of claim upon inquiry, Celent suggests giving visibility into non-sensitive adjuster notes and issues alerts outside the web portal to give timely information to agents about claim developments.

Also recommended: Digital measures to help agents step up their roles in the loss control process. Measures could range from giving agents visibility into carriers’ loss control recommendations to giving them more access to business intelligence tools and data about individual customers, the agency’s book of business or the carrier as a whole.

Throughout the report, Celent analysts offer other recommendations for capabilities that don’t exist in P/C insurance industry today, including gamification and white-label portals. Almost no carriers currently offer agents a white-label solution for their customers, but one-quarter are contemplating it.

Defining gamification as an “element of scoring or competition [that] is interwoven into the process of selling or servicing policies,” Celent finds such capabilities remain “almost non-existent” in spite of their potential to encourage positive behaviors.

The survey report also notes the preference for desktop-oriented web portals over mobile-first portals and downloadable mobile apps in agent experiences with carriers. Even though downloadable apps are becoming more prevalent for direct-to-policyholder experiences, Celent doesn’t see the trend carrying over to agent digital experiences based on the survey results. Only 27 percent of carriers said they have deployed mobile apps for agents. Other work by Celent reveals that agents are office laptop people in terms of how they spend their work days.