June 28, 2022
Historically, in the insurance industry, agents, brokers and financial advisors have played a crucial role: they stay close to the customer, give them advice, address concerns, clarify risks and propose fitting solutions, helping them protect what matters most in the best way possible.
The numbers reinforce that fact. In Europe, the agents’ channel has substantially retained its weight relative to other channels and has shown the highest resilience during the pandemic. Agents have also been able to significantly grow our business in preferred lines throughout 2021 in all AXA European Market countries, despite the effects of the pandemic, notably in Italy, Belgium (with brokers) and Switzerland, where we have observed impressive double-digit growth respectively in Non Motor Commercial Lines, in Health and in Individual Life.
Yet in an age where consumers increasingly expect instantaneous, online shopping and service experiences, it seems like every industry’s future lies in digital. We’ve seen the rise of remote work, telemedicine, customer service chatbots, virtual learning, and even judicial proceedings conducted via video conference during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some industries are pivoting permanently, allowing for fully remote workforces and entirely digital customer interactions.
We’ve considered what the future might look like for agents and brokers in this new era, and we’re convinced that phygital (physical + digital) distribution is the best way forward.
It’s clear that the insurance industry needs to further embrace digital solutions where they make sense, building on the steps toward digital transformation that the industry has already taken during the pandemic. Leveraging these technologies will improve the customer experience, enable insurers to compete with digital native entrants, and take advantage of cost efficiencies and scalability. Retreating to the “old way” of doing business is not an option.
For example, process changes like enabling remote, digital signatures and claims filing or virtual, on-demand consultations can smooth the customer journey and better align their experience with expectations carried over from other consumer industries. Products can be simplified to enable those customers who do wish to self-serve online to do so. Data is also highly underutilized in lead generation and the customer pipeline: more highly qualified, data-driven leads can help agents and brokers convert customers more quickly and efficiently than they are able to today.
However, full-scale digitalization may not always be the most sensible way forward, given the complexity of some insurance products and the need for interpersonal relationships and personalized, expert advice. For instance, while we’ve seen continuing growth in the use of digital channels among European customers, 75% of customers in Germany take a hybrid approach to their insurance purchases. This shows the strength of our agents’ relationships with their clients and the need to continue to invest in both in-person and digital channels.
Our vision at AXA is clear. We recognize that today, each customer is the decision maker in their own customer journey, shaping their experience in real-time, free from any physical or time constraints. For their convenience and satisfaction, all channels should be available and designed with the customer in mind. Each agent then plays a pivotal role in this channel ecosystem. They are the ambassadors of AXA value-proposition-led advisory, promoting evolved offerings and interacting with our customers throughout their journey, not just at the claims stage – evidence that we are evolving from payer to partner. This approach enables our customers to benefit from both the flexibility and independence of digital channels and the personalization and expertise provided by our agents. Agents can benefit from this approach, being supported in delivering a superior customer experience, having access to all relevant information in real time and focusing the relationship with customers on high value activities such as advice, caring, retention.
We have a range of initiatives in progress across Europe that leverage digital tools and capabilities. MyAXA, our online customer portal, continues to grow both in its usage and functionalities, enabling clients instant and streamlined management of their policies while creating business opportunity as it is more and more integrated within agents’ sales processes. MyAXA app is getting more and more integrated with the sales process, as in Italy, where proposals available in the app are a first step toward a e-collaboration between customer and agent. In Germany, we’ve rolled out the Polaris program, with a completely new, digitized product offering in non-motor retail, new and STP-digitized journeys (also for claims), and new digitized POS authorities, surrounded by additional investments in omnichannel assets. In Spain, we have launched 360° tools which leverage the use of data to foster growth of new business, retain customers, and encourage loyalty. These tools also help in the commercial strategy, by identifying the potential of each local market for health and commercial line offers. In Belgium, our teams are capitalizing on data-mining applications like Firebird to improve sales and operations, for example to benchmark usage and identify drops, as well as provide an automated system of alerts with support actions for brokers. These and many more ongoing projects are sure to drive continued efficiency and success for our European teams in leveraging digital technologies.
That being said, we believe that the future of insurance distribution will remain, at its core, physical, with agents and brokers as the central touchpoint for their clients. There is work we need to do beyond digital transformation initiatives that will improve our agents’ and brokers’ effectiveness and happiness, ultimately enabling them to better serve their customers. In addition to implementing phygital capabilities to improve the customer experience, our priorities at AXA are to optimize agents’ portfolios through improved sales productivity, simplify agencies’ activities to allow them to focus on their core purpose, and provide expert advisory on strategic lines of business for our distribution community.
Another important shift is our approach to accomplishing these goals. Rather than create a multi-stage, complex waterfall change management project at the regional level, or launch a pilot in a single market, we are tackling these themes as a distribution community with a test and learn approach, allowing each market to explore solutions and share results with the wider group. In this way, we can move fast and learn from each other’s’ experience. One of the best examples of this is the different directions taken in the use and development of AXA Advice, a digital mobile-enabled tool to support agents in providing advice. In Switzerland, AXA Advice has become the backbone of the selling experience, while the team in Italy has developed a tool for SME that works as an assisted machine learning model, processing both external data (i.e., market performance, company’s balance sheet, land registry, territorial statistics) and information collected with the entrepreneur to create a tailored risk assessment and define the best solution for the customer.
As we move into the “new normal” post-COVID-19, we’re confident that we will see a return to in-person interaction between customers and agents, with relationships and personal advisory at the heart of the process. But new ways of distant interactions have been tested in these years and will be there to remain, and with the embrace of phygital, we can future-proof our business while delivering on convenience and improved customer experience for both our clients and agents.
The AXA Distribution Community started in Europe, with Chief Distribution Officers of AXA in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium , which collectively serve 18 million customers.