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Electronic Chat with Jennifer Smith, VP of L&A Product Strategy, Sapiens North America

Technology and new demands for products by people sobered by the pandemic has transformed the formerly staid life insurance industry into a robust market segment. Jennifer Smith is Sapiens’ VP of Life and Annuities Product Strategy, responsible for the direction and roadmap of Sapiens digital suite of core solutions and eco-partners that support L&A insurance carriers in the North American market. She started her career at a large life carrier, then moved into the software side with positions at EDS SOLCORP (now DXC Technology), SunGard, and Majesco, focusing on life insurance systems transformations and business process optimization for nearly 25 years.

How has insurtech changed the way insurance carriers approach all aspects of life insurance?

The whole experience has changed, mostly in the last two years, over the previous 10, mostly due to the rise of insurtech and the availability of data and the ability to utilize it. Open architecture in core systems means you can get to the data and use it to help you with actionable insights and make changes to your processes to understand the customer better.

From a Sapiens perspective, we have our own digital front end for core solutions as well as legacy and other core solutions. This enables insurers to design custom journeys for their agents and customers. Our strategy is to be able to create unique and custom journeys for both and to personalize that journey and the experience they have.

This is best achieved through a partner ecosystem. For example, during the customer acquisition process, where there’s the most digitalization and acceleration, LifeScore Labs helps with underwriting. They take all the data we collect during underwriting and run it through their data science and predictive modeling algorithms to determine a customer score -- which can create an underwriting class that in many instances is a better class than achieved through traditional methods.

Splice is another ecopartner that engages with the customer via phone messaging and SMS, so when policy status changes or is processed through an app, it’s a straight-through process: the customer is notified about their policy number and any other information they need.

A lot of our ecosystem partners are related to data and avoiding fraud, such as FRISS. While we have a lot of data, we’re using these accelerators to help us move faster because they’re in a niche area; so while we have the core solutions, we can use our digital solution to integrate the data and take it one step further from our core solutions.

What are the biggest opportunities that life insurance digitization offers traditional life insurers?

We’ve seen a lot of new and innovative things happen over the last six months, let alone what’s happened in the last two years. Some of this is around the specific or unique customer experience and how we’re using technology to properly identify the customer and how to meet their needs – to create the “stickiness” we need in life insurance to sell them another product, and make sure they’re fully insured. Life insurance is unique in that it’s still sold, not bought – even for insurtechs like Lemonade. Nobody intentionally looks for it, so we need to make it easier to understand. Digital processes and interactions make it more friendly and simply easier to understand.

For instance, Sapiens’ IllustrationPro life insurance illustration solution enables the agent to explain to a customer in an easy format why they need the insurance and what it looks like over the life of a policy. This helps the customer understand why they need it and how it will look at the end of 10 years, or how it will create savings for them.

These tools help to explain and make insurance not such a scary thing. In the U.S. we’re unique because we call it “life insurance” – in many other parts of the world, it’s called “protection insurance.” Maybe we should do the same, since this emphasizes its real purpose. Life insurers need to help people understand why they need this level of protection and make the whole process a better experience for the customer. Then people might be more apt to adopt technologies like wearables and share more information with their insurance carriers.

Traditionally when we think of buying insurance, customers are afraid they’ll have to pay more in premiums. Let’s make it something that’s a benefit: if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, why not share that information with your life insurer and keep your premiums lower.

We’re trying to transform how life insurance is viewed, from a negative to a positive. We need to reframe that perception, and our digitization and insurtech ecosystem partners are helping us to start that reframing.

We’re now building a model that takes the consumer though the digital tool where they’re answering questions about why are they here. From the information we collect during that process, we can also proactively recommend other things or let them know their best options based on where they live. We know now information based on their IP code we can get info from Zillow what houses cost in the area so we know how much insurance they should have based on demographics in the area. We also know if they’re in a flood area or if they should consider another type of insurance. We’re always looking at ways to make engagement more helpful, and make sure we’re being informative and engaging instead of one and done.

How has the COVID crisis accelerated the need for increased modernization of the life insurance process?

It has been an interesting two years. I’ve seen tons of reports indicating that people are facing their mortality and are understanding on a larger scale what the loss of someone in your family can mean and taking it seriously. Life insurance applications have gone up dramatically because agents have been able to reframe the conversation.

Also, face-to-face engagement had to change. Agents are very traditional by nature and prefer that face-to-face interaction. We’ve done some analysis and the average age of an agent is somewhere around 59 years old  -- typically not the most tech savvy generation. So, we had to make it easier for them to make that transition to digital. We’ve had to make things easier for them as well as for their customer, remotely and virtually. It took forever to get esignatures for life insurance off the ground. Voice signatures are also popular, along with increasing demand for eDelivery of policy docs.

Even before COVID, the need to accelerate and simplify underwriting was there, without having to have medical exams or lab tests. One area where we’ve helped customers with solutions are with configurable based systems. Many carriers were not in that situation and had to hard code changes and updates.

Agents want to get those applications in without having to require manual medical tests, to be able to straight-through process them. We also got better at e-apps during the pandemic as paper apps weren’t cutting it. Some agents still use paper apps which meant they couldn’t retain market shares during the quarantine. Having an engaging sales tool kit illustration app and an engaging platform for agents will help carriers sell their products. That became a real opportunity during COVID.

What specific tech tools (e.g., AI, big data, etc.) are life insurers using to help modernize operations?

Although it’s still evolving, insurtech is enabling us to reimagine core processes and UX. When a customer comes to a site and inputs data, we can collect pieces of their information from the Web along the way, such as Zillow information and Facebook data. We’ve begun using electronic records to try and speed up the underwriting process by avoiding the need for manual tests. This is more focused around electronic health records and services that already have the information key to underwriting and evaluating risk.

Because consumer privacy can be a touchy area, we’re paying a lot of attention to the NAIC committee dealing with predictive modeling and how to ethically use data sources. There was a lot of backlash a while ago around making people buy wearables to qualify for benefits or getting credits.

What we’re really seeing regarding tech tools is anything that helps the insurer obtain additional insights about their customers and agents that will make them more operationally efficient and improve their market position. We always say that if an agent can’t easily sell one carrier’s product, they’ll sell their competitor’s product. We’re always looking for ways to make products easier to understand and using better sales tools to try and improve the overall process.

How do you see life insurance evolving in the future?

Virtual engagement will continue – more agents are using apps to connect with customers. Every carrier needs to have a strong electronic app presence and continue finding better ways of explaining their products. We’re seeing new life insurance products that are more interesting, or more stable such as Indexed products as well as  on-demand insurance, which was already emerging even before COVID.

We’re even seeing short-term types of accident and travel insurance, such as two-week coverage for something like a Little League tournament. People are looking at new ways to protect themselves and their families, and we’re going to see more of these innovative products, especially as we’re coming out of COVID. Being able to support these innovations with open architecture, APIs, and other technologies is a must. As we’re coming out of COVID, we’re going to continue to see the benefits of conducting business this way.




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The Email Chat is a regular feature of the ITA Pro magazine and website. We send a series of questions to an insurance IT leader in search of thought-provoking responses on important issues facing the insurance industry.


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