We’ve heard this story
before: Technology is
going to replace the agent,
run rampant, and the
agent will be among the
casualties. Today there
is much discussion of
disruption in insurance,
and a significant portion
of that revolves around the
Many, both inside and
outside the industry, see
the potential to leverage a
variety of technologies to
go directly to the customer
and eliminate the time and
expense associated with
agents, brokers, advisors,
and other intermediaries.
The notion of dealing with
prospects and customers via an omni-channel
environment has taken hold, with heavy emphasis on digital
The obvious questions, then, are whether the agent has a
role in the omni-channel environment, and if so, is that role
different than the traditional agent role? I believe the answer to
both of these questions is yes. The agent does have a role, and
yes, that role will change.
Who is the Customer?
It is instructive to look at how insurers view the customer. To
those outside the industry, it may sound like an odd question.
Most would assume the person or business that pays for and
uses the product is the customer, but it’s not that simple in
insurance. The vast majority of insurance has traditionally been
sold through intermediaries, and for most insurers those intermediaries are independent. SMA research data shows the mixed
view of the customer among insurers (See figure 1, page 40).
Over the last year, we have observed a number of insurers
shifting their view and considering the agent/broker/advisor as
their partner and the policyholder as the customer. But there
are still companies that absolutely consider the agent to be their
customer. Most of these insurers are still moving toward pro-
viding more digital self-service capabilities for policyholders,
but they are trying to carefully manage that in the context of the
The degree to which insurers are employing direct strategies
and offering self-service varies significantly by line of business.
This also has important implications for how the role of the
agent will change in the future, because the answer may be
Where’s the Agent in Omni?
Reflections on the role of the agent in an omni-channel world.
By Mark Breading
The vast majority of insurance
has traditionally been sold
and for most insurers
those intermediaries are
independent. SMA research
data shows the mixed view of
the customer among insurers.