Product Distribution
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  • June 2020
  • 5 minutes

COVID-19 Brief: Can digital solutions function without a human touch?

  • Jonathan Hughes
  • Anthony Miller
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Individual with credit card and devices making purchase
In Brief

At a recent EMEA webinar, “Changing Consumer Behavior and Digital Distribution in the COVID-19 World,” Jonathan Hughes and Anthony Miller presented insights about how consumers’ behavior is evolving amid COVID-19 in the short and long term: What are their major concerns, fears, and expectations? How has purchase behavior changed and what can we expect next?

But, paradoxically, in this world of remote interactions, the human element can be more important than ever.

We’ve often seen that even the most digitally focused approaches may need the human touch. Artificial intelligence (AI) enabled chatbots, for example, certainly offer exciting new possibilities to facilitate the insurance process, but they cannot fully replace the value of person-to-person interaction. As well as adding personal reassurance for the consumer, human beings cope better with the unexpected. For example, in testing a life insurance proposition with an RGAX partner recently, a customer’s key concern was whether the policy would impact his ability to donate organs after death. The ability to address such unpredictable questions is challenging enough for professionals with years of experience in the industry, let alone today’s AI.

Startups are alert to this reality. Simply, the South Africa-based insurtech business co-founded by CEO Anthony Miller, takes a multi-channel approach: Simply’s value proposition relies on the company’s online, call center and broker distribution channels built around its digital core.

Some evidence from the U.K. market suggests that as more consumers are confined to their homes and to digital devices, the greater the opportunity for human interaction from online insurers. In the past, many digital insurers could expect sales late at night, when call centers were often closed. However, one RGAX digital distribution partner recently discovered a stark change in site usage statistics after lockdown measures were introduced locally. Pre-lockdown (23 March), more people visited the site between 8:00 p.m. and midnight, than between 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (roughly 40% versus 35%). Post-lockdown, over 60% of site activity was detected during working hours, when more call center staff were available via phone or chat to answer questions in person. These insights echo reports from other phone-based distributors, who noted a surge in call contact success rates during the day.

This is not to argue that there is no opportunity for digital insurers to grow amid the current COVID-19 crisis and moving forward. Paid social promotion trends seem to suggest that some are seizing the opening. RGAX regularly monitors Facebook’s searchable advertisement library to identify digital distribution trends and witnessed a sharp dip and then a surge of U.K. advertisement activity between April and May, from 300 advertisements in April to 900 in the first half of May. Perhaps more notably, the spread of those advertisements changed. Prior to the pandemic, the advertisement mix was relatively even among life insurers directly marketing products, specialist insurers searching for leads to fulfill themselves, and third-party lead generators who sell leads to others. Today that balance has shifted markedly to the lead generators and, by extension, to the channels they serve.

Online sales activity could be on the rise. The question is: What role will people play?


We’ve yet to see a fully digital solution that is as universally reassuring as human interface. The seamless fusion of digital and traditional practices has proven to be successful for businesses as a governing thought. As Anthony Miller said: “We should strive to make our digital interactions more human, and our human interactions more digital.”

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Meet the Authors & Experts

Jonathan Hughes

Chief Strategy Officer, RGA EMEA

Ant Miller
Anthony Miller
CEO and Co-Founder, Simply