Being Digital in Commercial Lines



What Does 'Being Digital' Mean and How Do We Get There?

When I see “Being Digital” and “Commercial Lines” in the same sentence, I chuckle. It’s hard to imagine two universes further apart: one moving at light speed; the other seemingly stuck in a black hole. At the same time, I also feel invigorated because I see a world of opportunity.

What does “Being Digital” mean? On a personal level, we’ve all become so digital over the last few years and yet we don’t even realize it. And that’s because it has crept into our lives, byte-by-byte, one day at a time. We make purchases, do banking, arrange trips, read newspapers, books, and magazines, watch movies, listen to music, and monitor and control our homes and cars. We communicate with our friends and family through email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and FaceTime. And we do it all—using a device that fits in our pocket—on our terms, with anyone, from anywhere, at anytime. We are digital. And we are the new customer.

So how do we in insurance connect with and service these new digital customers? And how does this differ for personal and commercial lines? These are important questions, yet in the business of commercial insurance very few of us, if any, understand fully what being digital means for the enterprise. And that is a perilous position to be in because digital has the power to transform entire industries…seemingly overnight.

Steve Jobs understood this. He famously said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” And he did. He harnessed the power of digital to transform no fewer than 6 industries including: personal computing, music, movies, books, mobile phones, and tablets. What if he had chosen to put a ding in our universe, the business of commercial lines insurance? What if we don’t?

What is it about digital that gives it transformative powers? In his 1995 landmark book “Being Digital”, Nicholas Negroponte imagined a world where “unwieldy atoms”—paper documents, CDs, DVDs and the like—would be replaced by agile “bits” of information that could be created, manipulated, and transferred anywhere in the world at the speed of light. Prophetically he said:

“The access, the mobility, and the ability to affect change are what make the future so different from the present. And digitization will increase dramatically with each generation becoming more digital than the preceding one. Being digital is not about the future. It is here. It is now.” – Nicholas Negroponte, 1995

So how do we tap into this transformative power in commercial lines? One thing for sure:  in the digital world, automation and connectivity are table stakes. If a broker can’t capture and manage commercial lines data (richer than eDocs, which are just electronic paper) and exchange it freely with their insurers, they can’t play effectively in this domain. Similarly, insurers must free themselves from the shackles of their legacy systems to enable rapid development and deployment of new products and connectivity with their brokers.

Digitally-prepared brokers use specialized commercial management systems that are integrated with their broker management systems. They have also achieved high levels of efficiency with their insurers by incorporating all of the available real-time commercial-lines capabilities into their day-to-day workflows.

Digitally-prepared insurers have replaced their legacy systems with latest-generation commercially available systems. Capabilities of the new systems that lead to digital preparedness include: a common database structure for quotes and policies, connectivity with their brokers, and externalization of rating, product definition and document production.

Turning our attention to the customer now, finding and serving digital customers is the endgame for any digital enterprise. In this domain, the spoils are plentiful and this will surely attract new and unconventional players. As an industry, we need to take this threat seriously and we need to tap into the digital customer before a “born-digital” company enters our universe and sweeps them away.

Marc Benioff, founder and chairman of, once said “leading organizations are becoming social organizations”. A report from McKinsey and Company backs this up by reporting that revenue growth of social enterprises is 24% higher than traditional enterprises. That means they will outpace their competition at rate of 2 to 1 every three years!

Social Media, Mobility, Cloud, Consumerization, and Analytics are foundational pieces. And yet, these are all things that we in the commercial lines industry know almost nothing about. Sure, at some level, we all know that we should maintain Facebook and LinkedIn pages and a Twitter account, and we do, but these alone rarely generate significant growth, revenue or profits. To do that requires a profound understanding of the new digital customer and a willingness to re-invent our business processes to accommodate them.

So how do we do this? Again, we can be informed by the brilliance of Steve Jobs. Jobs wasn’t the creative genius most people think he was. In fact, he didn’t invent any of the technologies he used to transform industries. For example, he transformed the personal computing industry using ideas he “borrowed” from Xerox’s Parc Place research lab. Some say he modelled the iPhone—with its singular “Home” button—after a phone that was widely available in Japan long before the iPhone appeared.

Jobs’ true genius is that he could look into an industry and see what was missing and what customers where hungry for. And in the commercial lines industry, that’s a job we can all tackle. And all of us together are smarter than any one of us individually so if we work together we will come up with better solution than any of us working alone.

Here are some questions to spark your imaginations and start the discussion:

  • What’s missing today in commercial lines insurance?
  • What would our customers be crazy for?
  • What aspects of commercial lines are suited to the digital world?
  • Which will continue to require a traditional approach?
  • How do you effectively translate the broker’s value proposition of choice, advice, and advocacy into the digital world?
  • How will our sales and service models evolve?
  • How does all of this vary between micro businesses, small-to-medium enterprises and large-scale enterprises?
  • Where should we focus our energies?
  • How will brokers and insurers address the disintermediation that often follows the consumerization of products?
  • What tradeoffs is the broker channel willing to make if the disintermediation of some sectors is inevitable?

These are just a few of the questions we all have to contemplate to keep our channel vibrant. We just need to start the discussion. To that end, please watch me and our panel of experts at the ORBiT Real-Time Day 2016 event. Hear what they had to say and let me know if you have questions. Let’s get the conversation going!

Panel Participants:

  • Cindy Gravelle, Vice President Commercial Lines, Youngs Insurance Brokers Inc.
  • Sam Natur, CEO & President, Bullfrog Insurance
  • Tom Reid, Executive Director, Customer and Digital, Aviva