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HOW TRADITIONAL INSURERS CAN USE TECHNOLOGY TO IMPROVE THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH CUSTOMERS

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The customer experience with insurance is anomalous, in that one is only required to engage with their insurer if things are going wrong for them. To add value to the relationship, new technology and methods should be adopted, in turn driving loyalty and business growth, writes Oliver Werneyer, CEO and Co-founder of Imburse

Oliver Werneyer

Insurance is one of the oldest industries in the world and it is still, to this day, considered a grudge purchase. Looking back, insurance has a history of having a challenging relationship with its customers. According to an IBM study, in 2008, only 39% of consumers trusted the insurance industry. This percentage has stayed largely similar over the years, having reached only 42% in 2020. For any business with growth ambitions, good customer relationships are crucial.

I believe that now more than ever, the insurance industry not only needs to continue investing in improving relationships with customers, but to really think about new ways of doing so. At a basic level, the moment of truth for an insurance customer is when either they need to pay or are getting paid. Insurers can have the best policy wording, quick claims processes, apps and advisors, but if the experience to pay premiums or to receive a claim is bad, the customer immediately loses trust.

The pandemic has exposed this tenuous relationship between insurers and its customers. The need to move everything online and provide personalised services has exposed significant shortcomings in the service insurers provide. The industry has been too slow to adopt newer technologies and move engagements closer to the customer (self-service and empowered). This is largely due to the legacy systems and processes that insurers failed to modernise over previous years.

This means that the better-positioned incumbents have stronger customer relationships and benefit disproportionately from the pandemic, as they are able to win more new customers and convert customers from other insurers. They also benefit from significantly lower customer acquisition costs and much better growth, as illustrated in this McKinsey report. Even new entrants or InsurTechs are benefitting massively by focusing on improved customer experience and customer relationships.

However, it is never too late for insurers to build better relationships with customers. The main way to build a good relationship with a client is to make life easier, live up to promises and add value through the relationship with them. By working on these key elements, insurers can start building strong relationships with their customers, and, through the right partners, deliver this in a timely and non-disruptive manner.

 

Embedded Services

Insurance products often get a bad reputation because they cost money, but the benefits might only come much later, or never. Customers don’t get to experience a positive relationship with insurance products, either because they never claim and feel like they lost out, or they claim and they’re in a bad situation. By either embedding other services into the insurance experience to deliver a more transactional engagement, or embedding insurance products into general customer experiences such as online shopping or rewards, insurers can enrich customer relationships to generate value.

This way, insurers become a value-adding part of the customers’ everyday activities and not just a product that they have to pay for and may never get anything back from. One example is to embed micro-savings capabilities, often found in banking, into pension savings and insurance products. This can allow customers to save more for pension, attract younger customers and build a portfolio of fiscally disciplined customers.

 

Tailored journeys and personalisation

Customers have come to expect personalised journeys and engagements from product providers. Streaming services, social media, e-commerce or mobility services have shaped the customer expectations. Now, customers are also expecting personalisation for insurers.

Insurers need to invest very heavily in delivering personalisation and customisation to customers as they engage with their products. Failure to deliver this puts renewed strain on the value perceived by the customer and their relationship with the insurer. This applies not only to customer interfaces, but to aspects such as payments. Insurers should make it easy and pleasant for customers to pay and get paid. As the main moment of truth, payment experiences need to work optimally.

 

Perceived customer value metrics and delivery

The value customers derive from insurance products is, generally, monetary. Therefore, insurers must invest in product enhancement to increase its perceived value. Perceived value is not tied to a monetary value. By being able to choose between multiple payment options, such as a $300 pay-out to a bank account or a $320 Amazon voucher, the customer has a higher perceived value of the payment. This can be achieved by leveraging non-insurance products that can be purchased at a discounted price, exclusive access that the customer would otherwise not have or conversion into a form that is more useful to the customer.

Payments, for collection and pay-out, are at the core of delivering this value. An excellent payment experience immediately influences the customer to be positively inclined toward a product (PwC report). In order to offer this, insurers need to leverage multiple technologies and providers, offer any speed of transaction in any market, and deliver faster automation and better risk control. The key is to transform insurance products into transactional value-adds to customers’ lives and use this opportunity to continuously build on relationships with customers.

The main roadblock for insurers is still the operational implications of these activities and the costs that arise. In looking to build a better customer relationship, insurers need to look at partners that are operational enablers to deliver this. Partners that can solve the integration and speed-to-market problem so that insurers are enabled to deliver new capabilities, not bombard them with new ideas and no path to delivery.

Imburse, for instance, enables insurers to access all the global payment providers and technologies available in any market. Through a single connection, insurers can deploy any payment capability into any channel, for collection and pay-outs, without ever again needing to build a direct operational integration to the providers. This gives them full freedom to leverage payments as a key value driver and customer experience enhancer.

Building a better relationship with insurance customers is key for the insurance industry to close the protection gap. Incumbents are in the prime position to look at Insurtech and Fintech partners to rapidly and significantly modernise, digitalise and transform their own capabilities to deliver major enhanced value to their customers.

Imburse is an advanced universal payment connector that enables businesses to gain cost-effective access to complete global payments technology, regardless of the service provider. To learn more, please visit www.imbursepayments.com.

Banking

Is traditional business banking the best option for SME finance squeezes?

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Airto Vienola, CEO, AREX Markets 

The pressures facing business and personal finances alike have been well documented.

Stories are now starting to emerge about how smaller enterprises around the UK – which make up well over 90% of the companies in the country – are coping with that mounting stress. The picture starting to emerge suggests, not well.

Personal borrowing is bridging gaps in business books

One survey released recently suggested that one in five of the country’s small businesses have taken out personal loans by the business owner to try to cover gaps in their incomes and profit margins. A further 43% said they were considering doing the same. This rush to secure additional funds by any means may be understandable for businesses feeling the pinch, but it’s neither sustainable nor savvy. Many of these enterprises are already burdened with additional debt from the Covid relief scheme, and given rising interest rates, soaring energy costs and rising cost of goods, taking on additional debt is not an attractive prospect. Add to that the fact that rates from traditional business banking providers are proving steep, smaller enterprises could be forgiven for looking to personal means to shore up the balance sheet. A recent study from members of the Federation of Small Businesses found that one in five small businesses are struggling to find business lending rates under 11%. To help these companies to survive, something clearly has to give.

Not all Alt-Fi options are equal

Alternative finance services have been proliferating in recent times, and yet almost half of small business operators have concerns about pursuing this option, despite actively seeking additional funding support. Clarity over terms and conditions is an often-cited reason for this reticence, which is only natural when undertaking proper due diligence on financial lending. This is a wise choice, especially as it has become so easy for business owners to quickly and simply access new services through embedded finance services, just a few clicks away on existing digital accounting and bookkeeping services. Many of these are still not clear about any detailed fine print, lengthy contract terms or potentially high fees, and yet these too can look like accessible and viable options to business owners facing mounting financial issues.So, it can be hard to pick the right provider without a lot of research. Those wary of the long tail of taking on debt should be particularly careful when it comes to business Buy Now Pay Later or BNPL offers, which are currently entering the UK market, though that isn’t to say that other alternative financing services won’t suit their specific needs whilst mitigating fears over risk.

A fresh perspective on an established technique

So, if debt should not be an option, and embedded finance can have downsides, where should SMEs turn if they don’t want to kick the can of cashflow problems just a few months down the road? One area to reevaluate, which has seen a tremendous shift given the fresh thinking from alternative finance is invoice financing or spot factoring. No longer the imbalanced option of last resort it was traditionally perceived to be, the option has become much fairer to the SME, in addition to providing a swifter and more flexible alternative. In years gone by, invoice financing was the purview of the banks, which led to low rates of return for businesses looking to unlock the value in their organisation, and often much better value flowing back instead to the lender taking on the risk. This is no longer the case. Likewise, invoice financing earned a bad reputation among some for tying businesses into lengthy contracts – another area which current services in the market have since addressed. Our service for example allows businesses the flexibility to access cash back on just a single invoice of their choosing – which could be the difference for struggling SMEs between dipping into loss or keeping the lights on.

One answer to the late payments problem?

Perhaps the most important area which services like invoice financing assist is overdue invoices – the bane of the British SME. Barclays claimed earlier this year that over a quarter of SMEs are finding late payments to be on the increase, and this was an already notorious issue for many business owners. Estimates show that SMEs on average have £6500 in unpaid invoices at any given time. Financing these invoices ensures that the cashflow of these strapped SMEs is healthier, gets the money back into the business without the concerns of lengthy payment terms or endless chasing, and certainly in our case, has no impact on the relationship with the other organisation. Our platform acts as a marketplace between SME and likely investors, with extensive insight provided to make sure that those investing in the invoice are matched to the right businesses. We take on the intermediate risk – removing any suggestion or potential concerns around unwanted debt collection, for additional business owner peace of mind.

While the pressures may be mounting on the SMEs around the country, one thing is clear. No business should rush into making long term financial decisions simply as the cashflow is drying up. Any savvy business would be well advised to make sure they understand the implications, short and long term, of any lending solution they look to employ. However, knowing that there are options and the business’ bottom line does not simply have to rely on traditional banking services, should provide business owners with a lot more options at their disposal to help them to face the coming months with greater cash liquidity confidence.

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Banking

BANKING FOR BETTER 

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By Alex Kwiatkowski, Director of Global Financial Services, SAS.

From shifting market dynamics and mounting geopolitical tensions, to skyrocketing cyber threats and a worsening climate crisis, the world faces risk and uncertainty on many fronts.
But how are these and other prevailing trends reshaping the financial services sector?
A volatile landscape  
Describing the past few years as ‘volatile’ could be seen as a slight understatement, akin to saying the Titanic had a minor mishap at sea or that Liz Truss’s economic policy was mildly unorthodox. From the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s despicable invasion of Ukraine and the increasingly intense impacts of climate change, the resilience of not only businesses but whole nations has been pushed to breaking point.
In many ways, the banking sector has proven remarkably resilient to such challenges and risks. In the face of prolonged disruption, profitability remained higher than many had anticipated. However, the deeper structural challenges, such as digitalisation, the emergence of fintech disruptors, the brouhaha over crypto, and the growing threats associated with cyber attacks, are continuing to gather force as we head into a new year.
A recent Economist Impact survey, sponsored by SAS, found that while banking leaders are conscious of the imminent risks and those on the horizon, many are generally optimistic about how their organisations could be reshaped over the next decade, and beyond. I believe this optimism is well-founded rather than misguided, although pragmatism is required.

Alex Kwiatkowski

Digital transformation

For some years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, banks had been wrestling with exactly when and how to digitally transform. Like so many other industries, the chief legacy of the pandemic was to force rapid and wholesale change on a sector not always eager to embrace new ways of operating.
Traditional banks are now on track to be digitally transformed by the end of this decade, with technologies such as cloud computing and AI becoming industry norms. When considering the next three to five years, 57% agreed that digital transformation is among their top strategic priority. Cybersecurity and data protection (55%) are not far behind.
This focus on digital transformation is understandable, given the opportunities it may bring. Respondents from the Asia-Pacific region were the most excited, with 64% selecting it as among the greatest opportunities for their organisation. This was much higher than their counterparts in North America (52%), Latin America (50%) and Europe (50%). In fact, the tech-savviness among Asian consumers has created an opportunity for banks to leap ahead in delivering innovations compared with other regions.
When asked about the role of advanced data analytics in a successful digital transformation, just under half (48%) of executives selected this as the most important digital capability that their organisation must harness. It was the clear overall favourite, followed by blockchain (35%), AI/machine learning (34%), IoT/5G (33%) and robotic process automation (29%).
However, the survey also revealed a number of hurdles that may prevent the full uptake of data analytics, such as the increased risk of cyber attacks and a reliance on legacy technology systems. In addition, functions and departments working in silos was viewed as a potentially significant barrier, with 48% noting this as a “significant barrier” to change.
Purpose-driven banking
Alongside this goal of digital transformation, a growing consensus has emerged among banking leaders that the wellbeing of customers, communities, employees and the environment ought to be at the forefront of strategy.
Termed ‘purpose-driven banking’, this shift often encompasses ESG-related activities as well as a broader commitment to customer relationships over profits.
Purpose-driven banking has broad support among the industry’s leaders, with 82% of executives agreeing that financial services organisations can pursue profit and a better society at the same time. That sentiment is even more common among C-level executives, with 91% in agreement.
Arguably one of the most interesting results of the survey is the fact that 76% of respondents believe that the banking sector has an obligation to engage with and address societal issues. An even larger portion (81%) said that their bank takes responsibility for the social impacts of its activities.
Interestingly, a clear majority felt that the financial services industry is behind other sectors in terms of progress on ESG commitments. About three-quarters (76%) of C-level respondents said this, compared with 61% of all other executives.
Establishing transparent and measurable ESG goals aligned with corporate strategy is one area where leaders feel behind, with just 38% feeling that their organisation had achieved this. Another important aspect of the purpose-driven mindset is recognising how banks are fundamentally linked to other stakeholders in society. When asked which were the “most important groups for financial services organisations to engage with in order to have the most positive impact”, the technology industry, investors and customers were the top three choices. They were followed by consumers and government or policymakers.
Growing pressure from customers, communities and other external stakeholders are likely to influence the extent to which the banking sector embraces ESG practices, however it’s clear that the banking sector looks set to transform over the next decade. And transform it must.

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