There's a talent gap on the horizon for the insurance industry: Twenty-five percent of insurance professionals will retire by 2018, according to a study by McKinsey and Company. With such a significant portion of the workforce leaving the industry in such a short period of time, companies may quickly find themselves understaffed and unprepared to fill their empty roles.
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In order to meet this challenge, insurance companies will need to invest in technology that empowers their smaller workforces.
"Automation isn't better than recruiting new workers, but they both need to be there," says Tara Kelley, CEO of SPLICE Software, a voice automation customer relationship management platform. "New, young workers empowered by technology is where we want to be. [Workers] need access to data, artificial intelligence (A.I.), and crowdsourcing – it's really that simple."
The Right Tools for the Job
The days of the door-to-door salesman are long behind us. Today's insurance workforce is digital in nature. They do from a cubicle or from the comfort of their own homes what the last generation did with a briefcase full of pamphlets and a smile. For that reason, those who sell for companies that don't give them the proper resources will find it hard to close deals.
"People are more informed than ever, and people's lives are moving very quickly," Kelley says. "People are completely mobile. Humanity is putting an ever-increasing value on experiences over stuff, and this is where the opportunity to be an ambassador of happiness really comes in."
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Being an "ambassador of happiness" means being able to more closely align insurance services with the needs of customers – perhaps even before customers have alerted you to their needs.
"What if you could be there for your policy holder when they really needed you, making sure they were safe when they rented that kayak for three hours while staying in their Airbnb in a foreign country?" Kelley muses. "Insurance carriers must earn the privilege to be invited into their customers' lives so they can mine data to surprise and delight their policy holders by perceiving their needs. The sales cycle is completely different than it was a generation ago, and carriers need to rethink everything, starting with their value propositions."
Still, with a 25 percent reduction in the labor force looming on the horizon, simply empowering existing workers to be more efficient and effective may not be enough to fill the void. Additional tools may be necessary to lessen the burden on the employees who remain.
Not Your Father's Answering Machine
Many in the insurance industry – and in other industries as well – are uncomfortable with the idea of replacing retiring workers with automated solutions. However, as the industry moves into the future, adapting to new and available technologies will keep insurance companies relevant and competitive.
New customer-facing technologies can help customers with their initial inquiries while also collecting data and leaving the human element available for higher-level tasks.
"Highly intelligent and personalized virtual agents, both online and on the phone, will change the game," Kelley says. "So while A.I. will replace people, it will also empower a new workforce that is excited about working with data to change people's lives for the better. A.I. will perceive people's needs and be there for them in those micro-moments. The only way that works is when people are as informed as computers and as empowered to make a difference."
While a 25 percent cut to the workforce is a significant, it doesn't have to spell the end for the insurance business. Executives who can strike the right balance between technology and humanity in their sales and customer service teams will be able to successfully weather the wave of pending retirements.