On the outset of the pandemic, Aflac’s unbiased agent/franchise enterprise a useless duck.
The normal in-person means of insurance coverage brokers assembly with potential clients to debate insurance policies, signal paperwork, and cargo it into the corporate’s consumer/server system got here to a whole halt.
Whereas Aflac’s different main division, its business-to-business insurance coverage line, was comparatively unaffected by the pandemic, its unbiased brokers hung within the steadiness, simply because the publicly traded firm was endeavor a transformational journey to the cloud.
“As a result of we’re an insurance coverage firm, what we’re is a promise on a chunk of paper,” says then-CIO Richard Gilbert. “We had launched a big user-centric, customer-focused transformation with the expertise tasks we had been doing, however then the pandemic hit and altered every thing for us.”
Most urgently, the IT group needed to attend to the tens of hundreds of unbiased brokers who wanted a digital system to keep up present policyowners and signal on new policyholders instantly.
“COVID was the digital disruptor. Our brokers promote to small, medium, giant companies at their work website and now there was no work website,” says Gilbert, who signed on as CIO at Aflac in 2019. “So we needed to sort of rethink and reimagine our complete mannequin of partaking with policyholders or potential policyholders.”
And the timing couldn’t be extra crucial, Gilbert says: “Extra importantly, we had brokers that their complete livelihood was based mostly on the flexibility to promote and repair insurance coverage and so they couldn’t do this anymore.”
To overtake its enrollment expertise, Aflac’s Hatch innovation lab needed to reimagine and replicate the face-to-face nature of its brokers’ enterprise course of from scratch.
First, Aflac constructed microsites to provide brokers and clients entry to insurance coverage merchandise, movies about protection, and information about every of the insurance policies accessible, in addition to e-forms and a choice assist instrument to assist clients resolve which insurance policies greatest suited their wants. The instrument additionally employed Microsoft Groups to allow brokers to arrange videoconference conferences with potential clients and used WebEx for co-browsing with shoppers and to assist fill out e-forms collaboratively.
“There was actually nothing revolutionary about it,” Gilbert says. “We had been combining applied sciences that already existed and created a brand new function for these applied sciences.”
Hosted on AWS, the Digital Enrollment Expertise developed by Aflac features a microsite personalized for every account. “We wanted the pace of the cloud to assemble a brand new expertise for brokers to work remotely,” Gilbert says of the enrollment course of, which is cloud-based apart from Everwell, which is used for the ultimate section — enrolling clients and performing e-signatures — and runs in Aflac’s information heart.
Aflac additionally expanded its advertising outreach to 22 completely different channels to direct clients to microsites the place they may study Aflac’s supplemental most cancers insurance coverage, arrange a digital assembly with an agent, and use the homegrown system to signal on to insurance policies.
“We really constructed an entire new enrollment platform that’s very like an Amazon functionality. Customers might drag-and-drop merchandise right into a purchasing cart,” he says. “It will inform clients [their] protection and month-to-month price related to that.”
The ‘bionic’ agent
Gilbert has a singular method of describing Aflac’s method to augmenting human work processes with digital capabilities to drive higher enterprise outcomes: bionic.
Due to Aflac’s enrollment transformation, Aflac’s brokers can now course of many extra conferences and coverage purchases than they may earlier than utilizing guide processes that required bodily transit and extra time to conduct conferences. Consequently, coverage gross sales have vastly improved.
“Brokers now have the flexibility to maximise their schedule. They are often higher, smarter, sooner,” Gilbert says, with a nod to The Six Million Greenback Man’s Seventies TV icon, the “Bionic Man,” performed by Lee Main, who was billed as “higher, stronger, sooner.” “We’ve made them extra bionic, proper?”
Gartner analyst Kimberly Harris-Ferrante sees Aflac’s Digital Enrollment Expertise as a part of a development wherein the insurance coverage trade is more and more embracing rising applied sciences to fulfill shifts in client demand — partially pushed by the pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic, many insurers accelerated their digital methods — some by alternative and a few by drive,” says Harris-Ferrante. “Different corporations had been compelled to rework the place they discovered their outdated operational fashions wouldn’t work in a digital world, or that client on-line exercise was growing, or to assist a digital agent gross sales drive. For these corporations needed to remodel to outlive.”
Aflac, as an illustration, launched a brand new division as its expertise infrastructure plans started falling into place — a business-to-consumer supplemental insurance coverage direct digital channel for unbiased enterprise house owners of the gig financial system, equivalent to Uber drivers.
Reworking the insurer’s future
Constructing the enrollment system was only one aspect of Gilbert’s digital plans for the corporate.
In parallel with creating the Digital Enrollment Expertise, Gilbert was mapping out Aflac’s full migration to AWS to interchange its information facilities, a course of that has simply begun. “We’re shifting away from our conventional information heart mannequin or hosted mannequin, and we’re transferring all of our purposes to the cloud. It’s a journey we began submit COVID,” he says.
Regulatory issues about well being information had initially held Aflac again from the cloud, however “we don’t have these issues anymore,” Gilbert says. “We’ve been capable of shift to the cloud and now are on a two-year journey we’re launching to be 100% within the cloud.”
At the moment, Aflac has between 15% and 20% of its enterprise information and purposes, says Gilbert, who was promoted to chief transformation officer throughout the pandemic and has massive ambitions he believes will distinguish Aflac from different insurers, which, in accordance with Gartner’s Harris-Ferrante are additionally leaning closely into expertise to rework their companies.
“Digital transformation continues to be one of many important focuses amongst insurance coverage CIOs as they assist operations and enterprise mannequin evolution,” she says. “As enterprise leaders give attention to new enterprise fashions, together with embedding insurance coverage and personalised insurance coverage, they may want stronger digital capabilities and a digital enterprise expertise platform to assist this imaginative and prescient.”
As for Gilbert, his overarching aim is to create an “enterprise clever automation” platform that employs information analytics, machine studying fashions, and robotics to automate most of Aflac’s operational processes.
“Like making our brokers bionic,” Gilbert says, “we have to do the identical for our workers. There may be loads of competitors for expertise, and we have to make our workers [better, smarter, faster] and remodel our operational processes utilizing machine studying and synthetic intelligence.”
However it all comes all the way down to the identical deliverable: a promise on a chunk of paper, or in binary code within the cloud.
“What’s on the coronary heart of any insurance coverage firm is paying claims,” Gilbert says. “We’re taking our claims specialists and enabling them with an amazing quantity of automation to then enable them to give attention to what’s actually vital.”