NIH SARS-CoV-2 microbes over a chessboard, with a software flowchart in the background. (Credit: Thinkstock; NIH)

There’s a corporate meme circulating that smartly captures how many companies are responding to the COVID-19 crisis. The meme reads:

Who led your digital transformation?

  1. CEO
  2. CTO
  3. COVID-19

For many insurance brokers and third-party administrators (TPAs), the answer is… “C.”

(Related: Why Post-COVID-19 Operations at a Small Life Insurer Look OK: Idea File)

For years, the insurance industry has lagged behind other industries when it comes to digital transformation. In 2015 McKinsey ranked healthcare near the bottom in their McKinsey Industry Digitization Index; since then, the industry has begun spending more on digital innovation, but there is still a long way to go for many healthcare entities.

The COVID-19 crisis is rapidly highlighting whether industry stakeholders were prepared to digitize — or not.  Companies who had already embraced a culture of digital innovation and had begun exploring, if not implementing, technology are much more likely to successfully navigate the sudden and dramatic shift in the way we do business.

It’s unclear when this crisis will end, and what the full extent of the repercussions will be on our health, our economy and the ways we interact with one another. Insurance industry stakeholders will need to implement new technologies and accelerate plans to digitize to keep business running smoothly through the crisis and prepare for business in a post-COVID world.

Here’s how we are already seeing insurance agencies and TPAs digitally adapt during COVID-19.

1. Communicating with clients and prospects looks different.

While the industry has made the move to digital, the value proposition for clients remains the same. Employers want a trusted advisor to help them navigate an uncertain time. They are looking for someone to guide them through ensuring employees are cared for while also mitigating costs.

The challenge for brokers will be continuing the client relationships that are critical for doing their jobs while also offering digital services to help clients navigate what they need on their own terms. For instance, many agencies differentiate themselves with strong customer service, often through on-site and/or in-person meetings, and will need to learn how to translate that over digital tools.

Some of the ways brokers and TPAs are working with clients remotely include:

  • Offering to hop on quick phone calls — or even better, video calls — with clients to talk through any concerns
  • Sending weekly updates explaining how new regulations might impact clients
  • Hosting webinars and Q&A sessions to share updates and best practices as a community

Clients and prospective clients likely have more time to learn about how they can improve their business operations, but they need help. Finding new ways to serve clients during this time will demonstrate why the relationship is so valuable.

2. Consumers expect digital options, now more than ever.

If it wasn’t clear before it will certainly be clear now that consumers not only prefer but expect digital solutions. Now that virtually the entire country is experiencing some form of shelter-in-place, brokers and TPAs have been forced to find digital methods for conducting business. Even when restrictions are lifted, many consumers will remain wary of unnecessary face-to-face meetings for the foreseeable future.

Some of the tools you can use to serve clients digitally include:

  • Self-service portals for both agents and clients
  • Mobile apps for client services and claims
  • Fast, responsive customer support available through multiple channels, including call centers, email and chatbots

3. Cybersecurity concerns remain.

Part of the resistance to digitize healthcare has centered on concerns about patient privacy. The rapid and unplanned shift to moving insurance operations to almost entirely digital has naturally garnered well-founded concerns about cybersecurity. Even our routine team meetings aren’t immune to hackers.

Insurance agencies and TPAs need to be concerned about protecting both their customers’ personal data as well as their own internal data. This will require vetting software to ensure the utmost adherence to security protocols as well as fully utilizing security features like encryption, password protection, two-step verification and more.

The Future

Virtually every business is now looking at an entirely different plan for 2020 than it was a couple of months ago. Some projects may be scrapped entirely, while others will be accelerated. Insurance industry stakeholders who planned to eventually tackle digitization projects now need to move rapidly.

While companies have been making drastic changes to adapt in the short-term, leaders need to also consider their mid- and long-term plans. What tools do you need to continue doing business and serving your clients? How are you prepared for an economic recession? What projects can you fast-track to help your business adapt to consumer needs?

It’s impossible to tell what the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be. One unexpected benefit will be that the insurance industry will come out of this in a better position to serve customers — especially when they need it most.

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Terry Rowinski (Credit: HPS)Terry Rowinski is the president and chief executive officer of Health Payment Systems, Milwaukee, a health care biling and payments technology company.