The question is, however, to what extent have international life insurance companies leveraged the benefits of technology? Friends Provident International, now part of the Aviva group, recently appointed Insight Discovery to carry out a piece of independent, qualitative research with customers and advisers in Hong Kong, Singapore and UAE to understand the answer to this question.
The short answer is – not much. But, do continue to read, because the study unearthed some very interesting insight that we are keen to share, as well as issuing a clear challenge to the industry, as a whole.
Aviva recognised and responded to this challenge some time ago, making one of its strategic anchors ‘digital first’, which is a philosophy that drives the Aviva group’s approach worldwide. We should benefit from this approach in Friends Provident International, but we do appreciate that the international life industry, of which we are a part, still has a long way to go. Technology could be a great enabler for international life companies dealing with customers and advisers in multiple foreign locations, in different time zones and they are already using technology in other areas of life.
Perhaps the first surprise therefore is that, according to our research, advisers still don’t count technology as a factor in determining whether or not to use an international life insurer. This isn’t necessarily because they think technology unimportant: it’s more to do with the fact that the bar is set at a low level; there is no clear leader in technology today.
Both customers and advisers expect more from international life insurers. Customers are used to utilising state of the art technology with non-financial services companies, including global giants like Amazon, who offer an end to end, online sales process and access to information on a 24/7 basis, in multiple languages. They expect the same from their international life provider. Advisers expect insurers to invest in technology to improve both the transactional efficiency and marketing story of the company. Some notable advisers are investing heavily in technology, in their own businesses. Providers need to understand that technology isn’t a way of clandestinely passing on costs to the adviser or the customer. Both provider and adviser need to invest in technology, to remove unnecessary costs from the end-to-end value chain.
Some companies have made attempts to tackle these issues head on and some have had a modicum of success. Others have failed to engage properly with customers and advisers to understand their needs and deliver a workable solution. So, their offerings have therefore fallen on stony ground. The larger international players, perhaps hampered by legacy, are probably furthest behind the curve but should have the resources to put this right – so there is cause for optimism.
We asked advisers what companies have the best and worst technology. This merely served to demonstrate that there is no clear leader and no clear laggard. In many cases, the same companies appeared on both lists. There’s clearly an opportunity for a provider, not necessarily from the insurance industry, to take a leading position on technology and the provider that dominates will see that an entirely different business model and mind-set is required.
International life companies need to see technology as a new way of enabling business, using it to improve the processes involved between itself, the customer and the adviser. Also, as a channel to get its messages across – particularly when demonstrating the relevance of its proposition to end customers.
Customer expectations centre on obtaining more information in plain language that they can understand. They want more self-service and they want more interaction with their provider too. They are particularly hungry for information regarding their investments.
The insight we gathered raised an interesting opportunity therefore for new entrants and the industry is inevitably going to evolve. By definition, Independent Financial Advisers are not tied to any one particular company and it’s interesting to watch providers scrabble in the aim of becoming leaders in technology, so they can use it as a way of tying in advisers to their offering. What advisers really want is independent technology that links their technology to all providers, using common standards. That means they can maintain their independence, not forgo it.
So we believe the industry is set for rapid change in terms of technology and the way to handle this is to understand the needs of the customer and the adviser.
We’ll be talking about this subject again in International Adviser, so look out for further articles.
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