While many insurers are making the push to digital distribution, agents still play a critical—if changing—role. Notably, 63 percent of respondents in the Accenture Distribution and Agency Management Survey said they are giving high priority to refocusing agents to where they can add the greatest value.

The changing role of the agent: Adding value through the human touch

In many ways, the shifting role of the agent is a response to certain realities: an aging workforce, fewer new agents and the growing popularity of digital channels means that insurers can emphasize digital channels to reach more potential customers at lower cost. In particular, digital channels are better suited for offering simplified products. On the other hand, agents play a critical role in understanding and advising on more complex risks and packaging tailored solutions.

Our research found that the ability to cross-sell is the number one skill that insurers look for in an agent—and the one that 54 percent of multiline insurers will strongly incentivize in three years’ time (compared with 26 percent today). In general, many agents will require new skills, such as selling a broader range of products, developing expertise across multiple areas and managing multiple channels.

Insurers may need to invest in training programs for existing agents, or promote teaming relationships to provide the required skill set across a group of agents. Data-driven insights are also a key enabler: the ability to provide agents with information on the best product to offer a customer, what their next purchase is likely to be and how best to further the conversation. Developments like the Internet of Things and machine learning can help further the availability of these insights.

Finally, many insurers are re-evaluating their remuneration structures to motivate the behavior they require, as shown in the figure below.

Reimagining insurance distribution - incentivize sales agents behavior
Source: Accenture Digital and Agency Management Survey

Join me next week as I examine the role of aggregators in digital insurance distribution.

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