It’s rare to find a business that wasn’t affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic shutdown. The insurance industry certainly saw some immediate and long-term changes. Auto policyholders filed fewer claims because they were driving less. Policyholders for multiple lines were (and continue to be) concerned that they wouldn’t be able to afford their insurance premiums. Simultaneously, these new concerns bred innovation, evolution, and forward movement. Heath Ritenour, chairman and CEO of Insurance Office of America, looks at the positive changes that have emerged in the industry over the past 18 months.
Heath Ritenour feels that it is time for new energy to be pumped into the insurance industry and to implement innovation that will streamline processes, offer unparalleled customer service, and increase success. The pandemic has made insurance brokerages and agencies, large and small, take a hard look at what is working and what needs to be changed. Ritenour cites a few changes that he thinks will outlive the pandemic and change the insurance industry for the better.
1. More agents working from home.
The pandemic forced most insurance agents, typically in-office or out and about throughout the day, to work from home. The interesting result is that this made them in some ways more accessible to their clients, while saving their companies money on travel, utilities, and communications. Over time, this model could also help reduce office rents.
Heath Ritenour decided early in the pandemic to move to a work-from-home model. “To my surprise, we’ve proven that we’ve been able to work effectively remotely,” says Ritenour. It’s a trend that CEO Heath Ritenour sees continuing at his brokerage and at other insurance agencies.
It’s not just agents who sell to individual consumers who are setting up Zoom meetings with their customers. Traditional “road warriors” that sell commercial insurance coverage and group insurance are also staying home. Once both parties became accustomed to this model, it actually benefited the insurance provider, the insurance agent, and the customer. The insurance agent saves on travel costs and customers get better access to their agent, who isn’t tied up at an airport or in a vehicle.
2. Streamlined application processes.
Insurance agents have traditionally spent up to an hour taking information from clients in order to complete their application. Ritenour feels this is way too long in this information age, where much of a person’s information is available from public records. That’s why he and Insurance Office of America launched SimplyIOA. After answering just a few questions, this intuitive digital platform uses information pertaining to the consumer that’s already in the public domain and automatically fills in a portion of the application. All the consumer has to do is verify the information. The process reduces the time needed to complete an application by more than half.
Heath Ritenour also sees more insurance companies using digital signatures via third parties so that customers don’t have to come into an office to sign their insurance papers or take days to process them via traditional mail.
3. New insurance technology.
The insurance industry as a whole has been slow to embrace new technology. According to Ritenour, “Historically, the insurance industry has been rife with antiquated operational practices, cumbersome paperwork, and other factors that have slowed down the process. By implementing intuitive technology, and allowing consumers to obtain information in a manner most conducive to their own preference, we will be able to reach individuals in a modern, meaningful way.”
The good news is that there are a number of exciting insurance tech products coming to market. These include using AI to facilitate the claims process, using satellite technology and drones to view claims and properties for insurance, and telematics to directly assign risk to drivers (in real time) based on their driving habits.
4. New insurance products.
Heath Ritenour sees the industry creating new products that meet the needs of the younger generations. This includes pay-per-mile auto insurance policies that charge customers a low, set monthly premium plus a daily, per-mile premium. This is good for both customers who drive fewer miles (like those working at home) as well as their insurance companies. This type of product works to better match risk and premium.
Heath Ritenour also sees a market for more specialty insurance products stemming from the pandemic era, such as cyberthreat protection, pandemic insurance, and event-cancellation policies.
About Heath Ritenour
Heath Ritenour has spent his entire life surrounded by the insurance business. His parents, John and Valli Ritenour, founded Insurance Office of America. He joined the family business as an agent, after completing collegiate summer internships at the brokerage. Heath Ritenour became CEO of the company in 2008 and chairman in 2018, when his father transitioned into retirement. During his tenure as CEO, the brokerage has grown to be the 11th largest privately held insurance brokerage in the United States.
Heath Ritenour is also president of the IOA Foundation. The IOA Foundation is actively involved in giving back to the central Florida community through fundraising drives, charitable events, and sponsored sporting events such as the Symetra Tour’s IOA Classic and the IOA Corporate 5k (recently renamed the SimplyIOA Corporate 5k), the largest 5k race in Florida. A cancer survivor, Ritenour works with and actively supports other people in the community who are going through cancer treatment.