5 Ways Insurance Carriers Can (and Should) Innovate to Support Agents

by | Apr 3, 2019

As a gold sponsor at Elevate 2019, we invited EMC to share their thoughts on how carriers can best support indie agents and what they are doing to help them compete in the ever-changing marketplace. 


The insurance industry is constantly evolving. Policyholders now expect insurance carriers and agents to have Netflix-like choices with the delivery speed of Amazon. Setting independent agents apart in this environment requires insurance carriers to be agile, flexible and forward-thinking. That’s where innovation comes in.

Innovation, one of today’s biggest buzzwords, refers to more than just technology. Innovation is a mindset. It’s about thinking differently to deliver a higher level of products and customer experiences. By doing the following five things, insurance carriers embrace innovation and help their independent agency partners compete in an ever-changing marketplace.


1. Foster a Culture of Innovation

Innovation cannot thrive in an environment where it is not welcome. Insurance carriers should start by encouraging new ideas and diversity of thought among their own team members. The expertise, knowledge and insight those team members bring to the table can be some of a carrier’s (and its agency partners’) most valuable assets.

EMC Insurance Companies (EMC) is already well on its way to challenging the status quo. The property and casualty organization inspires team members to consider new, alternative solutions through initiatives such as the Pop-Up Innovation Lab, a quarterly innovation incubator that explores, researches and recommends emerging technology solutions for EMC and its agency partners.

“When our team members are empowered to innovate, they can more quickly and effectively respond to change,” says Jason Gross, EMC vice president – strategy and business transformation. “How carriers adapt—and the speed at which they do so—simultaneously helps us defend against disruptors and differentiate our products and customer experiences for independent agents.”

2. Invest in Insurtech

Insurtech, inspired by the word fintech, refers to the use of technology innovations to create cost savings and efficiencies in the insurance industry. Like innovation, it has quickly risen in the ranks of the industry’s most-talked-about topics. The power behind insurtech is its ability to help independent agents compete with national direct writers and other new market entrants that want to eliminate agents from the equation. That’s why EMC entered the insurtech arena.

EMC is building and testing internal capabilities for the Internet of Things, drones, machine learning, automation and more. Plus, the Des Moines-based insurance carrier has invested in the Global Insurance Accelerator, a business accelerator focused on developing and growing innovative insurance-centric startups, and Plug and Play, which connects corporations with insurtech startups in different growth stages.

“Investing both time and money in insurtech is an investment in the future,” says Ian Asplund, EMC senior vice president – chief analytics officer. “By exploring insurtech through our own efforts and several industry partnerships, we find new opportunities to help our agents deliver extra value, as well as the digital end-to-end customer experiences that policyholders expect.”

3. Don’t Pass on Pilots

Pilot programs are invaluable when it comes to testing the viability of new processes, procedures or products. They can help determine if programs align with the audience’s needs and what adjustments are necessary to transition to full-scale implementation. Plus, pilots can help decide which insurtech partnerships are a good fit for the long term.

In 2018, EMC launched 20 pilots with insurtech startups. Some of these included using specially modified drones combined with machine learning to conduct preventive roof damage assessments and building sensors to detect changing conditions that could lead to losses or operational disruptions. All pilots shared the same goal—testing elevated services that meet agents’ and their customers’ needs in the digital age.

“When insurance carriers are trying to differentiate themselves with agents, providing authentic value from innovative risk solutions is key,” says Chad Veach, EMC risk improvement innovation manager. “Insurance carriers need to provide creative solutions that both improve client risk and help support client business goals. Those have value far beyond the insurance policy.”

Dive Into Data

The convergence of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality enables the free flow of data. That data can be available anytime, anywhere on any device connected to the cloud. With so much information at their fingertips, insurance carriers have ample opportunities to leverage that data for agents’ and policyholders’ benefits.

Data can be used to capture information about consumer preferences and purchasing patterns. It can help identify risks in industrial workplaces. It can help reveal conditions that could lead to insurance claims—and more.

“Data science allows insurance carriers to ingest the multitude of data available and uncover patterns to benefit their agents and policyholders,” says Erin Lachen, EMC data science supervisor. “Innovation really comes into play when carriers start asking questions based on those findings, inspiring more insights and analysis.”

5. Elevate Experiences

People want to do business with people, not businesses. People are at the center of the insurance business, and at the core are the relationships and trust between them. And the relationships between insurance carriers and their agents should not be a one-way street. To benefit both businesses’ bottom lines, as well as policyholders, insurance carriers should think outside the box when it comes to how they’re providing superior service to their most important stakeholders.

Feedback is a critical first step in understanding the current state of the interactions between insurance carriers and their agency partners. EMC has established an agency and consumer experience team dedicated to improving customer loyalty and keeping customers the insurance carrier has already. This team gathers input and insight from a variety of sources, including surveys, hands-on workshops, technology councils and personal discussion forums—all with the goal of finding ways to act on that feedback.

“Listening and responding to agency needs is critical,” says Lee Bailey, EMC agency and consumer experience manager. “Only through our collaborative efforts can we introduce new ways to provide policyholders with the personalized service and insurance protection they deserve.”

About EMC

EMC Insurance Companies ranks among the top 50 insurance organizations in the United States and is one of the largest property and casualty companies in Iowa, based on net written premium. Founded in 1911, EMC Insurance Companies is financially solid, built on over 100 years of serving policyholders and independent insurance agents. Today, EMC employs more than 2,100 employees in 20 locations across the country. EMC sells its products solely through independent insurance agencies in more than 40 states, partnering with independent agents to bring a superior level of personalized service to the insurance process.

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