Aon talks about how tech is impacting travel insurance sales
Insurance is a segment of the travel industry that has been slow to change. But broader B2B technology shifts are beginning to affect it.
The investment in tech comes with rising sales. Suppliers and intermediaries have awakened to the profit potential of selling ancillaries in general and of selling travel ancillaries in particular. Since 2012, the number of plans sold in the US has risen by more than 15%, says the US Travel Insurance Association.
On the trade side, new B2B tools for analyzing data are helping to update industry practices. On the consumer side, rising demand for complicated products, such as flight price protection and vacation rental protection, is helping to push technological adoption forward.
One of the companies claiming to be in the vanguard is Aon. That’s partly because one of its biggest clients is online travel agency giant Expedia Inc., which demands a certain level of tech savvy from its partners.
Aon is a broker consultant, which enables it to customize products, unlike a standalone insurer that is restricted by red tape and limited product portfolios.
Tnooz: What does the Aon Affinity Travel Practice do technology-wise?
Godlin: We focus on making the workflow of suppliers more efficient. We sell product development, analytics, software for managing programs, and administration-as-a-service.
Tnooz: How has technology changed the selling of travel insurance?
Godlin: We’re one of many companies in the insurance space trying to use technology to connect more closely to the sellers and to the customer.
In the past several years, the main tech change has been with APIs. These have become standard. You can set up an API to get information quickly and directly from suppliers….
Workflows and interfaces are getting easier, too. …
For example, in December we relaunched our claim system to make it mobile-first and let a customer file a claim on the go, without any paper, through a series of drop-down menus….
In the next few months, we’ll have more launches of more features, like providing online status updates on claims and electronic payment reimbursement.
Tnooz: How can things get simpler?
Godlin: Lots of ways. If we’re provided with a customer’s TripIt itinerary information, let’s say, we ought to be able to use that info to populate a form and streamline the data-entry….
More broadly speaking, we need more ways to more quickly understand where a customer is having a problem and give information earlier in the process to speed things up. There are ways to use tech to help with that.
Tnooz: What about tours-and-activities? Will travel insurance spread there?
Godlin: From what I understand, a significant amount is bought in-destination still, so there isn’t a cancellation risk. But that will change with the rise of brands like Viator, and it’s definitely an insurable product.
Tnooz: What about alternative lodging and peer-to-peer vacation rentals? Cancellation insurance, property damage, etc.
Godlin: Again, as travel evolves, travel insurance will evolve, too. But product development lags a bit in travel insurance. In the US it’s regulated by 50 state departments of insurance, and that slows everything down.
Tnooz: What are the limits of technology in this sector?
Godlin: On the one hand, we want to give travelers the control to file a claim wholly online without having to interact with an agent. We spend a lot of time studying the analytics to learn how to process the claims faster.
But on the other hand, we also want to keep the process simple for the user, and sometimes that means reducing the documentation that needs to be uploaded and sometimes that means directing the customer to a human agent.
We’re using analytics to learn how to better mix automated workflows along with human agents.
Tnooz: What about chatbots or conversational interfaces?
Godlin: On the sales side, chat is probably not going to take off because customers want to know if their specific situation will be covered and that’s sometimes very hard for an insurance agent to answer let alone a chatbot.
On the service side, we are planning to test it this year. I’m not sure if it’ll be helpful or not. We’ve really worked hard to make the filing tools simple and maybe a chatbot won’t be necessary.
We run a tight ship on customer service because that’s what we differentiate ourselves on. We keep our crew in-house. We don’t outsource. And they excel because they can be empathetic as well as knowledgable.
What’s unique about travel insurance is that, if people are calling, they’re usually quite unhappy, because, after all, there is some reason why they’re not getting on their trip and it’s usually a sad one.
So we need to make the process as human and intuitive as possible. I am skeptical about chatbots having a role to play, but we will test anything that might help customers to see if it has traction.
NB: Image via BigStock
Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.