Every established industry today faces an existential threat in the form of a disruptive competitor that changes the way customers buy or use a product or service. The obvious examples that everyone cites are how Uber disrupted the taxi business, or how Netflix and other streaming video services changed how people consume video content.
These two examples, and many others, have something in common. They changed customer expectations of convenience, speed, and maybe even pricing.
Inside Nationwide, the insurance and financial services company, a team of developers and business experts were paying attention to those consumer trends. The company offers a number of "personal" insurance products such as home insurance and auto insurance. But each of these products is created in siloed systems. If a customer wants a quote on both it may be a great opportunity for the agent who is selling the insurance.
But if the customer must be taken through the multi-page questionnaire for home insurance first and then go through the multi-page questionnaire for auto insurance second, it's going to take a lot more time than the customer is accustomed to spending in this era of Uber and Netflix. Customers expect fast response times and fast service. It's possible that customer could be lost to another provider who can offer faster quote times.
"At the end of the day we are trying to improve the quote and buying experience of agents that want to sell personal line products," said Chetan Kandhari, senior VP and CIO of personal lines at Nationwide. "We were experimenting to learn to do a multi-product quote as fast as possible. It could take as much as 30 to 40 minutes to quote them," he told InformationWeek.
That was part of the impetus behind a development project at Nationwide called Nationwide Express. The idea was to bring together all the personal lines of insurance and the quoting on one screen to deliver a multi-product quoting experience, according to Mark Disbrow, tech lead of the Nationwide Express team.
"It started as multi-product," Disbrow told InformationWeek. "That was the Holy Grail." The idea was to be able to put in a customer's information and turn around a multi-product (home, auto, etc.) quote in 2 minutes.
The project began in an innovations area of the IT group in the summer of 2018 and put a few developers together with business partners to create a proof of concept. One developer created a multi-channel sales app, and at the end of the year when the senior leadership saw it, they wanted to roll it out not just to direct sales reps, but also to agency reps.
Disbrow joined the team at the beginning of 2019 with the challenge of scaling the development effort so that many developers could work on it at once. His team of seven developers, two testers, and three business team members created a single page browser-based application that relies on APIs into separate back-end systems that include the applications for each line of insurance and all the data and data management and analytics. Disbrow's Nationwide Express front end hides all the complexity from the customer, the agent, or any other sales channel.
Disbrow said that customers previously had to go through 14 pages of an insurance application just to get a quote for one product such as home insurance. Now that's been cut down to 10 pages that can provide quotes for multiple products at the same time, including home and auto.
The browser-based application has gone beyond just enabling the multi-product quote. It has also enabled multi-channel sales including agent sales, internet sales, and also insurance aggregation site sales such as Compare.com and Insurify.com that enable consumers to compare quotes from multiple providers.
"They are not a competitor, but we use them to complement our channels," Disbrow said. "It wouldn't be possible without this project…We've come to consider these aggregators as another first-class citizen, and we have to consider how these third parties are working with these APIs. Lots of time you get the quote on a third-party site and then come to our site to finish the transaction."
In 2019 the focus was on the customer and creating that 2-minute quote experience. In 2020, Disbrow said the team will shift to intelligence by looking at predictive quotes that will look at all the information available to find the best product for each individual customer. This will be a collaborative effort with the back-end data team, Disbrow said.
"We want to get customers the best offers right off the bat, based on what we know about them," he said. "The whole thing is to shorten the experience as much as possible."