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How Technology is Transforming Insurance Distribution Channels

4 minutes, 31 seconds read

‘Insuring’ has always been a mundane and complicated subject for businesses. Distribution channels allow customers to access and purchase products efficiently. According to JM Financial, online insurance sales for new business are fast catching up and are likely to grow at a CAGR of 13 percent to become a $37 billion break by 2025.

Each distribution channel requires different resources to be effective and impact the pricing structure. The type of insurance business model determines its structure, strategy and placement in the market.

Take, for instance, India. The market size of the online insurance business in India is currently $15 billion, but the overall insurance penetration rate is just 3.7% (Statista, 2018). 

The regions where insurance penetration is low poses an immense potential for the digital premium market. Insurers can leverage the following distribution channels to undermine the profound potential.

1. Self-directed or Direct Distribution Channel

Through Self-directed or direct distribution channels, insurers can reach out to the customers without shelling out commission for any middle man. With an increase in the population of tech-savvy customers, the ready availability or online channel of advice or transaction capabilities is the need of the hour. 

Online channels, websites, social media platforms, e-commerce and kiosks are some examples of the direct distribution channels in insurance. The 2017 Global Distribution and Marketing Consumer Study reveals that nearly 51% of digitally active groups of consumers (39% of all Insurance consumers) have purchased insurance through an online channel. The direct insurance distribution channel encourages self-service and independent decision making.

NLP-powered chatbots are a great way to provide a self-service portal for buying/renewing insurance policies. Leading Insurers like Religare are leveraging the direct distribution channel by integrating chatbots in different platforms like their website, mobile app, and even on third-party apps like WhatsApp.

2. Assisted Distribution

Agents and brokers are typically the key players in the insurance distribution channel, with market shares of 42% and 25% respectively. The old school face-to-face distribution channel is very much alive and is integrated with tech assisted models to ensure more leads and conversions. They mainly play a part in advising and managing complex insurance products.

agent's share in assisted insurance distribution channel

Agents, insurance brokers and reinsurance brokers remain the most recognized insurance purchase channel. The Gartner Group reports that 60% of the US GDP is sold through assisted or indirect channels. Cognitive technology is becoming a key enabler to strengthen the assisted distribution channel. PwC suggests leveraging analytics solutions (mainly predictive analytics and behavioral analytics) to increase sellers’ knowledge as well as skills.

[Related: How behavioral psychology is fixing modern insurance claims]

The technologies that are empowering learning for Insurers include augmented reality, machine learning, data analysis and NLP.

upcoming technologies in assisted distribution channel

For example, Zelros, a European AI startup, is augmenting the knowledge of sales and customer representatives through best product recommendations, advisory, and pricing based on the customer profile in real-time.

3. Affinity-based Insurance Distribution Channels

The affinity channel focuses on distributing products to a tightly-connected group of consumers with similar interests. Traditionally, the affinity-based distribution channel involved peer-to-peer networks, brokers and aggregators. While the network model remains the same, the model has become digital and tech-driven for affinity channels. And technology is playing a vital role in expanding the consumer base. The key benefits of the affinity distribution channel are-

  • Common platform for all stakeholders.
  • One-stop access to policies and claims.
  • Centralized database for insightful analysis.
API-based Insurance Model Affinity Distribution Channel

This distribution channel is also a part of B2B2C or API-based insurance business models. Here, Insurers can leverage 3rd party apps to distribute their policies. APIs or Application Programming Interfaces are lightweight programs to extend the functionality of existing apps. Travel, airbus, hotel, bank and retail are some examples of affinity-based distribution channels.

Finaccord estimates that airline companies hold a distribution share of up to 10% of the travel insurance market. The annual revenue from airline and travel insurance providers partnership may range from $1.2 billion to 1.5 billion in premiums.

[Related: 4 New Consumer-centric Business Models in Insurance, How InsurTech-Insurance Partnership Delivers New Product Innovations]

The majority of travel insurance policy sales across the globe are done through some kind of affinity partner instead of via a direct sales channel.

Jeff Rutledge, President & CEO, AIG Travel
Source: Insurance Business UK

The Bottom Line

In the countries where buying an Insurance is not mandatory, market penetration is extremely low for Insurers. Being meticulous in sales and marketing efforts and educating customers about the benefits of insurance is just not sufficient. Convenience is the key to new generation consumers. Therefore, insurers need to invest in technology and make insurance policies accessible to the new-age digital consumers through the channel of their choice. 

Michael D. Hutt and Thomas W. Speh, in their book – Business Marketing Management: B2B, suggest a six-step process to select among the most efficient insurance distribution channels-

  1. Determine the target customers.
  2. Identify and prioritize customer channel requirements by segment.
  3. Access the business’s capabilities to meet those customer requirements.
  4. Use the channel offering as a yardstick against those offered by competitors.
  5. Create a channel solution for customers’ needs.
  6. Evaluate and select the most effective among the distribution channels.

We’ve developed insurance chatbots for organizations like Religare to automate policy distribution and renewal. For your business-specific requirement, please feel free to reach us at hello@mantralabsglobal.com.

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What will ‘Behavioural Changes’ Mean for India’s Digital Health Future

We are in the middle of a global pandemic, facing a threat unlike one never seen before. COVID-19 has been a reason for global concern since it has negatively impacted economies, shut down workplaces, and forced cities into lockdowns.

But history also tells us  that times of uncertainty also foster innovation. The pandemic has forced consumers and businesses to rethink how they behave both physically and digitally. As per McKinsey, COVID-19 has speeded up the adoption of digital technologies.

India, which was on the cusp of a ‘digital health’ revolution, has now been forced to embrace innovation and emerging trends. The healthcare sector holds great promise since new-age technologies like telemedicine, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), genomics, etc. are transforming healthcare services.

There have been unprecedented changes in consumer behaviour as well. People are now increasingly relying on using the internet to find clinical information or engage with healthcare professionals digitally. Moreover, online consultations, telemedicine, and e-pharmacies have seen a rise in popularity.

Companies will thus need to capitalize on the changing patterns of consumption and health-seeking behaviour.

This article focuses on how changing patient behaviour will affect India’s digital health future.

A growing Indian healthcare market

According to a report by Future Health Index, India is a leader in the adoption of digital health technology. As per India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the Indian healthcare market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 22% to reach a valuation of USD 372 billion by 2022. This growth can be attributed to the following –

  • Growing health awareness
  • Aging population
  • Lifestyle-related diseases
  • Rising income levels
  • Growth of internet availability

The rise of digital health start-ups is also playing a role in the growth of the healthcare sector. Indian health tech startup landscape has now matured.

Over the last few years, telemedicine has emerged as a fast-growing sector in India. Prominent start-ups like Practo, mfine, and Lybrate have established themselves in the telehealth market. McKinsey estimates that India could save up to USD10 billion by 2025 by using telemedicine instead of in-person doctor appointments.

COVID-induced behavioural changes

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about changes to patient behaviour. The fear of leaving homes to get treatment has led to the growth of virtual care and telemedicine. 

As per a report by Accenture, almost 70% of the patients canceled or postponed their treatments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology, therefore, played a crucial role in helping patients continue their care. Healthcare providers were even able to improve the experience for patients by delivering them faster response time, personalized interactions, and the convenience of getting consultation from home.

The same report by Accenture highlights some key behavioural changes that are being observed in patients – 

  • Nearly half of the patients now get their treatment at their homes instead of visiting a clinic.
  • Almost 60% of patients want to continue using technology for communicating with healthcare providers.
  • About 41% of patients now use video conferencing to connect with their healthcare providers. Of these, for almost 70% of patients, it’s their first-time using video conferencing for healthcare.
  • Almost 44% of patients used new apps or devices during the pandemic to manage their health conditions.

All this highlights the need for healthcare providers to reimagine their patient engagement strategies in keeping with the changing patient behavior.

Future of digital health in India

New digital technologies and tools are making an impact across the healthcare sector. They hold great promise in improving the efficiency of healthcare services while delivering better patient care. Below are some of the technological developments that are expected to revolutionize the way we seek healthcare.

Telemedicine

About 68% of India’s population lives in rural areas where healthcare services are not usually up to the mark. This barrier can be overcome by telemedicine that offers an excellent way for patients to consult a doctor in a much shorter duration. Telemedicine can cut waiting times and allow patients to avoid traveling to a clinic or hospital. Some other benefits of telemedicine include –

  • Immediate access to specialist healthcare providers.
  • Cost-effectiveness.
  • Improved quality of care.
  • Convenience to the patients.
  • Improved patient engagement.

Internet of medical things (IoMT)

The rapid growth of IoMT devices is rapidly changing healthcare delivery by playing an important role in tracking and preventing chronic illnesses.

It not only helps eliminate the need for in-person medical visits but also helps reduce costs. Goldman Sachs estimates IoMT to save USD 300 billion annually for the healthcare industry. IoMT will benefit those patients the most who are unable to get access to quality healthcare due to remote location.

Big data in healthcare

There has been dramatic growth in the amount of medical and health data in the last few years. These massive datasets can be used to draw insights and opportunities for healthcare organizations. Analysis of healthcare data can help discover warning signs and create preventive plans.

The widespread adoption of IoT devices also makes it easier to monitor heart rate, blood pressure, etc. This can help in the early detection of diseases like hypertension, asthma, heart problems, etc.

Electronic medical records

Electronic medical records or EMRs help collect, digitalize patients’ information, and store it in a single place. EMRs store various types of medical data like medical history, prescriptions, drug allergies, etc. and allow doctors to make accurate disease prognosis in a much shorter time. Some other benefits of EMRs include – 

  • Effective medical decisions.
  • Easy data recovery.
  • Improved collaboration.
  • Portability.
  • Security of medical data.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has a big role to play in improving healthcare since growing digitization leads to the availability of a large amount of health data. AI has the potential to transform everyday health management in the following ways –

  • Improved accessibility of healthcare services (for example – the AI-based mobile app Ada is available across 140 countries and makes it possible for anyone to have access to medical guidance).
  • Improved efficiency.
  • Accurate disease diagnosis.
  • Improved insights to reveal early disease risks (for example – a popular app Verily can forecast noncontagious and hereditary genetic diseases).
  • Time and cost savings.

mHealth

Mobile health or mHealth refers to the monitoring and sharing of health data via mobile technology like health tracking apps or wearables. 

mHealth apps can prove to be beneficial in increasing patient engagement, providing health education, and offering remote consultations to patients. It can also use the data from wearable devices to improve the quality of care. Some other benefits of mHealth include – 

  • Faster access to physicians.
  • Improved medication adherence.
  • Remote patient monitoring.
  • Increased medication reconciliation accuracy.
  • Improved coordination between healthcare providers and patients.

Conclusion

It’s quite clear that COVID-19 has significantly impacted patient behaviour. There has been a growing preference for telehealth and mHealth apps. But all of this has also compelled healthcare organizations to put in more effort in adapting to these behavioural changes. Healthcare providers are opting to rely more on new technologies to continue delivering patient care. A more affordable standard of high-quality care is in the works for India’s digital health future.

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