Episode 033 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Insurance Agent’s Blueprint For Digital Transformation



In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan continue to unpack the contents of the talks they gave at Applied Net 2018—this time by focusing on Steve’s presentation. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • How to get a better read on the future by distinguishing between hard trends and soft trends
  • How to chart your way to change, be it incrementally or transformationally
  • How ideas, even the bad ones, fuel your organization forward
  • How technology is changing the very nature of insurance, and what you need to do about it

As the final speaker to present at the Executive Management Program of Applied Net 2018, it seemed appropriate that Steve would talk about the future. Much like Ryan had described data as a hazy thing that people struggle to understand, so, too, does the future seem like something that doesn’t exist. And in fact, it doesn’t—until it becomes the present.

But what’s a broker if not a student of the future—an appraiser of what is likely to happen? Unfortunately, we’re so focused on insuring other people against the mysteries of their futures, we neglect to do the same for ourselves.

Steve confronted the future head-on and unveiled a blueprint for a digital transformation plan. The future isn’t set in stone, but it is where the present is headed, tempting analysts to get a jump by identifying trends in the past and present. If only it were that simple.

(5:12) Daniel Burrus, a prominent futurist, recommends separating hard trends from soft. According to Burrus, a hard trend is something that will happen and cannot be changed, whereas a soft trend appears predictable but isn’t guaranteed to happen and can be changed.

Soft trends reside in the shadows of harder trends and require a finer eye to discern. Cell phones are likely to stay dominant—a hard trend—but what will they look like in twenty years? Do you remember how cell phones were as big as your head in the eighties? In the nineties, they grew much smaller, only to swell up again after the smartphone devoured other devices. (Steve takes you through this risk dilemma cycle at 10:03.)

Change is another way to chart the future. (14:15) Just like trends can be separated into hard and soft, change can be separated into incremental and transformational.

Incremental change is when you try to improve what you’re doing already. Think of all the processes within your organization that you’re trying to do faster or less expensively. Transformational change is when you start to question why you’re doing something at all(16:42) It is up to you to determine which processes you want to submit to that scrutiny, but you’ll never make inroads unless you cultivate a culture of curiosity. Much of the time, a process becomes so institutionalized that the people who monitor it don’t even remember why it’s done that way, or they’re afraid to change it for fear of something breaking down. This complacency is a straight line to failure. You would think that Amazon, the most successful online retailer in the world, has got a process down so pat, they’re terrified of veering from it lest the whole thing falls apart. In fact, the opposite is the case.

“Leaders are never done learning,” reads one of Amazon’s fourteen leadership principles, “and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.” If you’re not cultivating a culture of curiosity, you’re diminishing the potential for improvement in your organization. Your employees—the people who are doing the day-to-day stuff—can be your most creative people, if you create a culture that allows them to try out and share new ideas.

(19:18) Developing an eye toward transformational change is critical because, at some point, agents and brokers might have to get away from their current business models. For hundreds of years, insurance has meant indemnification: a policy or contract would restore the person to the financial position they were in before a loss. But look at driverless cars. Among their goals is to reduce human error as much as possible, decreasing accidents. Smart homes will try to ping you if there is even a chance of a leak. All of these are geared toward prevention, making sure losses don’t happen. Will this obsolete every policy?

Of course not. Here again, we hone our futuristic insight to see what people will continue to need insurance for. If you haven’t got the means to do this type of R&D, go to your carrier partners. Ask them what they’re looking at or working on, and how you can be involved. Grab your seat at the table.

(23:51) If it feels like you’re always behind on this stuff, here’s a sobering thought: so does everybody else. You’ll never find the time for all the things you could or should do, but make a list of those things anyway, then make another list of the things you must-do.

Don’t throw the first list away! When the must-do’s get done, you can add more stuff from the previous list. But you need to manage your time. If you try to do everything at once, it will never work.

(25:28) Once you have decided what to act on, please get in the habit of acting fast. The future moves at a sluggish pace sometimes, but our friends at Amazon understand that “speed matters in business,” so they default to action—which is the opposite of what many agents and brokers do. They default to waiting, for more information or research, before they act.

Amazon identifies two types of decisions: reversible and irreversible. By all means, take the trouble to evaluate your irreversible decisions, but the majority of decisions are reversible. You can walk right back out of that door if it doesn’t work out, and you’ll have learned more, and sooner, than if you’d stood around concocting the best possible way to glide in.

There’s a risk of action, of course, but in today’s world, there’s a greater risk of inaction—so default to action and start thinking strategically. Don’t let the typical excuses keep you from doing what you know to be right for the future of your organization. “We don’t have enough money, or we’re too small an agency.” Partner with someone. Figure out a way. To paraphrase a famous phrase, you might not be interested in the future, but the future is interested in you.

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