Digital presents several easily accessible and cost-efficient opportunities for annuity providers. Annuity providers that can take advantage of these opportunities can make a significant difference in the quality of the services they provide to their contract holders while gaining efficiencies. Today, digital is a given.

As consumers, we have all become accustomed to communicating with retailers, utility providers, financial services providers and more on our smart phones, tablets and laptops. Our expectations for an easy, seamless, productive and positive online experience have been to a large extent shaped by the retail sector. Consumers are also looking for similar online experience from their insurance and annuities providers as they have in other consumer sectors. They’re looking to have a complete digital experience across channels, whether they’re looking to invest in a new annuity or get support on an annuity they already own.

Annuity providers are at a risk of disappointing their customers if these demands are not met.

For instance, an annuity owner might want to check his or her investments or ask questions when it’s convenient, which is often after business hours or on a weekend.

If an annuity provider doesn’t offer 24/7 support from a customer service representative and lacks digital support capabilities, the consumer may not be able to get quick answers to queries.

(Related: Clients Like Guaranteed Lifetime Income but Not Annuities: Report)

The good news is digital has become pervasive in the insurance industry. Most carriers are in different stages in their digital transformation journeys. Today, the enabling digital technologies are mature and widely available.

Fintech and insurtech firms are further disrupting this space with the options that are available with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. With these digital technologies, annuities providers don’t need to have live customer representatives available at all times of the day and night to meet after-hours demand. Instead, they can complement their contact center staff and capabilities with AI-enabled chatbots. This allows the consumers to go online anytime and chat with a chatbot.

Behind the scenes, the chatbots and customer service reps both have access to the same data, ensuring consistency of all information shared with the contract holder. While the chatbots will get smarter over time with machine learning, they are not likely to replace people in the foreseeable future.

However, they can significantly complement the gaps we have today in terms of value added services to the customer.

By adding straight-through processing, annuities providers could potentially process requests for a withdrawal following a conversation with a chatbot, all without the need for additional requests.

Laptop (Image: Thinkstock)

(Image: Thinkstock)

Although it may appear to be a contradiction in terms, digital technologies can also help carriers provide more individualized and personalized service to their annuity contract holders. When a consumer calls in to a contact center, the carrier doesn’t have much opportunity to try to understand the nature of the question or grasp the sentiment of the caller.

But by enabling digital channels, carriers can get plenty of insight about their customers even before the first human contact, including why the customer is accessing the channel, the customer sentiment and aggregate all relevant information upfront.

By leveraging analytics, AI and machine learning, carriers can use digitally gathered data to provide better insight on how to engage with customer, so carriers can provide an appropriate experience that’s both low-touch and individualized.

So even as a carrier is working towards minimizing human interaction to gain efficiencies and to ensure timely service, digital technology can help it can provide customer engagement with empathy and understanding, and assure customers that the carrier is responding to their own individual wants and needs. That insight alone is a powerful tool for annuities providers. But what they choose to do with that insight can give them a competitive edge.

Digital technologies are widely available now. The digital universe offers a world of opportunities and many use cases in addition to intelligent chatbots and straight-through processing.

However, the key is enabling digital not just in the front end. The transformation must be holistic and address the legacy back end.

It’s up to each annuity provider to take the necessary steps to implement strategies that can help bring significant benefits to themselves and their contract holders.

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