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  • Writer's pictureDoculabs Vision Team

Want Great Customer Experiences in Insurance and Finance? Focus on Digitization Efforts

Customer service rep with earpiece smiling at you for Great customer experience in insurance and financial services focus on digitization

Paper has moved from the way business is documented to an annoyance when paper documents continue to be at the center of business process. Paper processes suck away our time and a business' productivity. They can also create a poor customer experience. Digitization efforts (turning paper documents and manual processes into digital ones) have been successful at delivering ROI for decades.

The pandemic has put a renewed focus on removing paper from business processes. Doculabs and Mavenware hosted a series of conversations with executives in banking and finance to uncover what their experiences with digitization have been and turned those conversations into a whitepaper.

We present the entire whitepaper (Digitization in Financial Services and Insurance: Focusing on Customer Experience to Drive Transformation) below (a well-designeed PDF of this paper is available here). The authors of this paper Marty Pavlik and James Watson of Doculabs and Chris Daniel of Mavenware hope you find this useful and enlightening.

Executive Summary

Financial services and insurance firms are all in the process of transforming and digitizing their offerings and operations. But “transformation” and “digitization” can take many forms — and it’s up to leadership to set the direction for their firms and put them in a position to succeed in execution.

So how do firms evaluate the key factors — such as general industry trends, global changes, and new market entrants — that influence their direction for digitization? And regardless of the overall direction, how do firms prioritize their efforts and make meaningful progress quickly?

We assembled a group of financial services and insurance industry experts to explore these questions. The group was comprised of leaders at the CIO, SVP, and VP level from various business, IT, and operations disciplines. This paper highlights the key topics, findings, and best practices that surfaced during a series of virtual working sessions that we conducted in the second half of 2020.

Based on the sessions of the virtual working group, the following are some of the key findings and take-aways for organizations.

Key Findings of the Group

Recommendations for Addressing the Expectations

  • Across all the major industry trends discussed, the key driver is the transformation of the customer experience.

  • As a result, for financial services and insurance firms to provide an exceptional customer experience they must deliver on four specific customer expectations: personalization, consistency, immediate interaction, and convenience.

Re-orient your data and content architectures and content architectures to focus on customer journeys rather than company products. Redesign processes to reduce or eliminate friction and create a hassle-free customer engagement. Build a culture around customer experience and execution.

Unifying Theme: Customer Experience and Expectations

The virtual working group had robust discussions about various industry trends that are impacting their businesses (see appendix). For each participant, the importance of particular trends varied from firm to firm. However, overall the participants agreed that the trends underscore the need for every financial and insurance firm (regardless of size, products, or market sectors) to focus on customer experience in order to retain customers and drive growth.

Because customers’ experiences have been transformed due to their activities as consumers (e.g., shopping on Amazon, using mobile apps), they now have similar expectations of their insurance and financial services providers.

Meeting Four Specific Customer Expectations

Every firm says they focus on the customer experience. But those that truly do are those that address specific customer expectations in a targeted way in order to retain customers and drive growth. This means having a strategic approach to the primary customer expectations: personalization, consistency, immediacy, and convenience.

4 expectations of customer experience personalization, immediate interaction, consistency, and convenience

What does it mean to address these expectations successfully, and what roadblocks need to be overcome? Our virtual working group provided the following perspective:

  • Personalization. Delivering personalized experiences is challenging, especially for large firms with poorly organized or inconsistent data to leverage (often due to legacy heritage or line-of-business silos). Such firms need to shift their thinking and decision-making from an internal view to a customer view.

  • Consistency. Many financial and insurance firms may have a great customer experience for certain products or services, however, when customers start working with other divisions of the business the customer experience across the product lines is very inconsistent.

  • Immediacy. Being able to quickly respond to customers in the course of a regular business day is just the entry point. The new standard is to immediately fulfill the customers demand when their emotional state is high — such as during the claims process after a serious accident — anytime day or night.

  • Convenience. Customers don’t understand how siloed a firm can be, or the number of back-end systems it takes to process their transactions — nor should they. Customers simply expect a simple and convenient experience that is well-designed, and thus isn’t hindered by whatever back-end complexities might exist.

The participants recognize the criticality of meeting these expectations, and the challenges that traditional financial services and insurance firms face in meeting them. “No matter the specialty of our offerings such as investments or insurance, we typically focus on product — and we need to focus on providing an experience” said one participant. Another offered: “Our company is 85 years old, and it is hard to move forward due to tech debt. We want to move to strategic platforms that will provide a great customer experience across the board.”

Another participant added: “The customer experience is a really critical, especially because competition isn’t just the other banks anymore, but other new entrants. The competitive challenges are huge for companies with antiquated technologies, especially in leveraging the data.”

Approaches for Meeting Customer Expectations

The working group provided the following recommendations for firms to meet customer expectations:

  • Re-orient your data and content architectures to focus on customer journeys and life events rather than company products.

  • Redesign processes to reduce or eliminate friction and create a hassle-free customer engagement.

  • Build a culture around customer experience and execution.

Re-orient Data and Content Architecture Around the Customer

The virtual working group participants agree that data and content are at the core of transforming the customer experience — and that success requires changing old data structures.

“Look at the data, which has historically been architected on product or contract — not on experience or customer. It’s an upside-down problem,” said one participant. Another participant agreed, adding: “Our data structures were never architected with customer experience in mind. For example, we implemented a team selling model, yet our commission system could only capture one agent for each contract.”

Firms that don’t address their data and content architectures will hamstring the success of their transformation and digitization efforts. Among the recommendations from the group:

  • Modify your data architecture. “For data analytics to work, you need quality data. If you can’t get the right data, it’s tough to do useful/impactful analytics” and get the value out of applying artificial intelligence, said one participant. Given your firm’s current systems and applications, dramatically improving the data may require modernizing or replacing your core record-keeping systems and other applications — which makes it a great time to consider vendor hosted solutions in the cloud.

  • Think about content differently. Customer servicing and interactions are all built around content. And that content has become even more critical, as COVID has highlighted customer willingness to conduct business digitally. Firms need to change the way they think about content, and manage it differently — or they will never be able to effectively address the key customer expectations in a scalable and cost-effective manner.

The key to re-aligning data and content architectures is to focus on what the customer is trying to achieve. For example, when a customer moves, he or she wants to change their address on file with their insurance company or financial institution just once, regardless of how many accounts they may have — and not have to separately deal with the credit card division, the auto lending group, etc. Or when a loved one passes away, the surviving spouse doesn’t want to send multiple death certificates to different operations teams at the firm where the loved one had multiple accounts or products.

Rethink Core Processes to Meet Customer Expectations

For many organizations, their processes remain a serial set of manual tasks. Often, “automating” a process really meant just removing paper and instead routing images and work tasks electronically, from step to step.

For example, what was once a manual paper-based process to open an investment account at a brokerage firm was replaced with the routing of electronic images through the various steps — but the same manual work was performed. While this represented progress because reduced latency and risk associated with physically moving documents, the process was certainly not fully digital nor fully automated.

The group had no shortage of examples of process challenges that negatively impact the customer. “Change of address is a great example,” said one participant. “Our firm has 13 distinct lines of business, and many customers have relationships with two or three of these business units. We are not unified. Making changes in one account but not the other, sending confirmation letters, customer getting confused … here are legacy processes in play, and we need to force ourselves to think about how we’re going to fix things for our customers, and how to deal with the old systems we still have.”

Truly digital processes are different in that they capture data at the beginning, and use logic and rules to process the data and execute the work. Ideally, humans are used only for decision making when certain data element fall outside of set parameters, while the vast majority of work flows through in a fully automated way.

Such digitized processes address customer expectations for immediacy and consistency, and they also reduce costs and resources for the provider. Achieving this type of digitization required re-engineering the processes to be more data-centric, and to leverage capabilities such as optical character recognition (OCR), process mining, and analytics to deliver the automation needed for the digital experiences.

Culture for Customer Experience and Execution

Firms should constantly remind themselves that everything they do, everything they work on, should be in support of serving the customers in the best way possible. This makes it easier to prioritize efforts and break down the silos within an organization that historically impede progress in foundational shifts, like becoming a digital-first company.

For most organizations, it begins with acknowledging that customer expectations have changed, and their firm needs to address these expectations. There is likely the need to prioritize and stage your efforts. Will you focus on consistency first? Personalization? “Sequencing of initiatives today is more critical than ever. We can’t redesign the bucket when we’re bailing out the canoe,” said one participant.

Regardless of what and how you prioritize, firms need to continually reinforce the priorities in order to change culture. So how can firms succeed in aligning their cultures around improving the customer experience? While the participants in our virtual working group agreed that there’s no simple formula or playbook, below are some best practices that they discussed.

  • Align the organization’s leadership. While many companies have individual leaders that may be passionate about the customer experience, it’s far more impactful when the passion exists across the board. This means that the heads of marketing, product, sales, operations, corporate functions, and IT all need to share in the customer focus.

Sometimes this requires certain leaders to increase their digital savvy, so they become more open to embracing the art of the possible and encouraging this mindset from the top down. “We implemented leadership behavior change called ‘digital fluency’ and it really worked,” offered one participant. “Every manager needed to identify a great digital idea, like using robotics for a specific use case in their area, and bring that idea forward. This helped everyone understand the art of the possible.”

  • Challenge the status quo. For example, if your culture has a customer-focused mindset, you will be able challenge long-held assumptions that might stand in the way of transformation. Doing business during COVID has helped organizations be more open-minded about challenging the status quo.

“COVID has been the mother of invention,” said one participant. “When clients can’t get their signatures notarized, your Legal department will suddenly change their interpretation of what’s required. This changed helped us accelerate e-forms, e-signature, and a bundle of other things in our transition to digital.” Another participant agreed, adding, “It’s a digital product that we manage today, with new opportunities and requirements. Don’t hide behind old thinking about what regulators will require.”

  • Encourage contribution of ideas and innovation, at every level. When leadership encourages a customer-first mindset, they can foster this type of thinking throughout the firm. Some participated in our virtual working sessions talked about how their firms recognized employees for recommending process changes or digitization ideas that will positively impact the customer experience.

Others talked about cross-functional collaboration to encourage innovation. Said one participant: “We introduced the concept of a “’ring,’ where we gather people across front and middle and back office and put them together to fix an issue or a problem, and report on it on a shared scorecard.” Said another, “In our firm, we try to invite an internal customer to our monthly department meetings, so the team could hear directly from their internal customers and understand their day-to-day point of view and collect ideas.”

  • Do simple things to keep the customer top-of-mind in everyday activities. This includes bringing the customer perspective into routine meetings. Said one participant, “At our firm, there was a tradition for each meeting to consider how any decision or action impacts the customer. Another participant offered, “We focus on having a purpose. We’re here to help people meet their ambitions, and we want to make their goals our own. To make it real, we’d start our meetings with a client story. Doing this helps people understand that everything they were doing had a client impact. Have a purpose.” While these ideas may not work for every firm, they provide continual reminders to focus on the customer.

Appendix 1 Real-world Example of Needs and Customer Expectations for Digitization: PPP Loans

Customer expectations apply to both business-to-consumer and business-to-business scenarios. And COVID-19 has spotlighted just how critical it is for organization to improve quickly.

Consider the case of Payroll Protection Plan loans under the CARES act. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of small and medium-sized businesses across the country fought for their fair share of the CARES Act stimulus and relief funding. All of the lending activity was channeled through the existing commercial banking system, with commercial customers working with their bankers to originate the loans and address all the specific requirements of the program.

The program presented an interesting set of dynamics for commercial lenders to deal with, including:

  • Unplanned surge in volumes - many commercial lenders’ operations struggled to handle the surge, exposing issues is operations scalability, process automation, and flexibility to quickly incorporate changing business requirements. In fact, many firms were not even ready to accept applications for PPP loans when the program was officially launched, as they could not sort out their front-office and back-office processes in time.

  • Changes in data and documentation requirements - per the CARES Act requirements, lenders were required to capture additional details and data about their customers and their operations than is typical, with customers needing to disclose more detailed ownership information, employee information, payroll information, etc.

  • The need to execute 100% digitally - with customers and their bankers unable to meet face-to-face, and given the rush to get the loan requests submitted, the entire processes needed to be paperless. In addition, banks needed to provide customers with clear details and step-by-step guides on their websites to help their clients through the process.

  • Overall urgency and customer satisfaction impact - when under stress, customers are less likely to be patient with lenders that struggled with new process requirements and made the customer feel like they had to jump through hoops just to get to loan approval before the allocated money ran out. Customers that missed out on the funding would be more inclined to blame their bank and switch firms due to poor experience.

For firms that addressed customer experience well, many of them were able to quickly leverage the following types of digitization capabilities in the PPP loan origination journey:

  • E-forms and e-signature enable the process to happen without paper exchange, providing a better customer experience.

  • Process automation and robotics are critical for enabling the operations to scale, minimizing the need for herculean “all-hands-on-deck” responses to surges in demand or slowdowns in processing times that would reduce customer satisfaction.

  • Content management and customer communication management capabilities for firms that needed to quickly create or modify web pages and instructions, and to ensure that customers were continually notified and updated about loan approval progress and status. Firms with mature and flexible systems were able to quickly introduce the right content and notifications to improve the customer experience. Other firms used subscription services from suppliers to enable these capabilities quickly, and moved the resulting loans onto their record-keeping systems at the end.

Appendix 2 Major Trends Impacting the FSI Industry

To better answer the question about the best strategies and approaches for digitization, we started by working with the group to discuss the macro-level trends impacting the financial services and insurance industry today. This section explores a number of those trends, and highlights those that our working group felt were the most significant trends impacting their particular businesses and operations.

Overview of 10 Major Trends

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