By Michael Cross, VP, Digital Services at CSAA Insurance
As the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. However, that first step is often the most important. Start off on the wrong foot, or in the wrong direction, and the thousand mile journey can take longer, cover unnecessary ground, and in the worst case, never see completion.
The company I work for, CSAA Insurance Group, partners with AAA automobile clubs to provide property and casualty insurance in 23 states and the District of Columbia. We are one of the largest property and casualty insurers in the country and have a unique distribution model that enables us to reach our policyholders through the ubiquitous network of AAA clubs.
Insurance is a particularly complex business, with faint sympathy and little forgiveness for business disruptions and delays. Many insurers have relied upon legacy systems for decades, but as anyone in tech understands, transitioning from legacy is best accomplished with a gentle feathering of the accelerator, not with the pedal to the metal.
All of which is to say, if you are going to undertake a digital transformation at a 100-year-old, multi-billion dollar company, with millions of customers and alignment with one of the most recognized brands in the world, planning exactly when, where and how you will plant your foot is generally considered a good idea.
Designer Led UR/UX/UI
In 2012, we took a look at our footing– where we were and where we wanted to be. While we found ourselves on a firm foundation, it was clear that the digital impact of the past two decades had finally rippled out to the insurance industry. The ground was shifting, rapidly, and the time to start about a transformational path was upon us. The decision was made to initiate a digital investment that would help us evolve into a future-proof online platform.
When we began planning our first steps, it was obvious that we needed to create a seamless experience that would please and satisfy our customers. This informed our decision to embrace agile methodologies, and institutionalize a designer-led user research (DLUR) practice. We were also acutely aware of the need to build our own platform and focus on the product presentation layer. These technology decisions would allow us to continuously improve the digital experience and give members and insurance agents, the solutions they were asking for.
At CSAA Insurance Group, we are fortunate that our mission is to make insurance simple, proactive and personal. From a digital design standpoint, this is a dream come true. Today’s consumers want to do business where, when and how they choose, so we quickly realized that we could close the competitive gap by providing a DLUR-centric approach that anticipated and eliminated insurance pain points, differentiating us in the marketplace.
Let There Be Digital Services
At the insightful behest of the CEO and executive leadership team, and with the board of directors’ approval for a transformational investment, we stood up our Digital Services group in 2012 to identify and deliver the digital experience expected by consumers, agents and employees and committed to key deliverables for internal and external stakeholders.
At CSAA Insurance Group, we are fortunate that our mission is to make insurance simple, proactive and personal
After much user-driven research and testing, we launched “MyPolicy,” enabling policyholders to make payments, access insurance ID cards, and perform a number of other key actions online.
In complement, “Insurance Portal” is now the primary digital application for thousands of insurance agents, providing essential capabilities for reporting, conversions, billing preferences and payments. As with the customer design analysis, DLUR provided a solution that worked for our agent users. Understanding their reality helped us create an SSO “cockpit” that enables agents to safely abandon legacy systems, dramatically improving their efficiency, satisfaction, and results.
We’re also adapting DLUR to make changes to our online insurance quoter. While one of the first to market, we will soon deliver a more modernized, comprehensive experience. This will allow consumers to better understand the advantages of our product, select appropriate discounts, and engage in scenario planning. This is the foundational work that will allow us to expand to a more robust online quote while supporting new online products.
Understanding that no digital solution is complete without a fully articulated mobile approach, the Digital Scorecard committed to our Board, pledged that everything we created online would be duplicated via mobile. Since the AAA-branded app already exists in the marketplace, we deviated from the native approach in favor of a mobile web distribution approach, which creates a UI/UX competitive advantage.
By applying responsive design and embedding essential insurance services like policy quotes, quoting, ID cards, and payments within the existing app, we ensured we would be accessible from any device, while fully supporting the national brand and experience.
Now that we have migrated our products to a centralized platform with a modernized digital experience, we have also safely retired the entirety of our portal technology stack. Armed with a platform of lightweight, cost-effective components, we no longer require expensive licensing and specialized operational support.
Our day-to-day challenges remain aligned with our distribution model, but since it is like no other, requiring a rigorous and thoughtful change management process, it truly offers us a competitive design and implementation advantage.
Including customers in the early design and planning work ensured that we could iterate on product solutions that met their needs and helped guide the software development. This discipline embedded approach has enabled us to up-level from legacy to leading edge, build our own log-in protocols, improve authentication, and create a new generation insurance experience in the process.
Was this approach worth the effort? Considering that we’ve experienced record-breaking registrations, utilization, and payments–in fact, we broke the monthly record for payments delivered through all digital channels–the answer is crystal clear.
The Next 1,000 Miles
Five years ago, we faced a daunting journey that felt thousands of miles off. Yet undertaking that journey has been truly transformational for the organization, and created an opportunity to better market our company. Our Digital Services group has been chartered to think of ourselves as a separate entity, fully embrace agile and DLUR, and invest in a modern platform that allows us to make our digital innovations the centerpiece of the customer's experience.
Even though we’ve arrived at our destination–and the view looks marvelous–new adventures loom. The insurance industry is being bombarded by a number of disruptive innovations: drones, telematics and usage-based insurance, self-driving cars, the sharing economy, IoT, gamification. Whatever the ultimate effect on the business of insurance, our successful digital transformation has given us the experience and confidence to pivot and adapt as needed, and ensure that the digital experience we deliver is informed by a DLUR/UI/UX philosophy that keeps customers and stakeholders at the forefront of all that we do.