103 – The COVID Effect: Fast-Tracking Digital Transformation


On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds interviews Eric Wistrand, CIO of Couch Braunsdorf, about the impact of COVID-19 on insurance agency technology. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • Why insurance agencies tend to put off digital transformation.
  • How the outbreak of COVID-19 is forcing insurance agencies to make specific technological adjustments.
  • How this is fast-tracking digital transformation and benefiting insurance agencies in the long term.

Digital transformation has been a long time in the making—we even dedicated one of our earliest episodes to it. Simply put, many insurance agencies are technologically behind, and they know it—but they continue to postpone digital transformation anyway, even as their IT professionals implore them to do otherwise. Making any large-scale change usually requires suspending operations, which is tough to do in the middle of business.

But then, something like COVID-19 happens and disrupts operations whether you were ready or not. Suddenly, what seemed like a nice-to-have becomes a need-to-have. Remote work is an example. Many agencies used to keep it at arm’s length, suspicious of what it would do to productivity. Now that we’re keeping each other at arm’s length, remote work has become a must, and agencies that weren’t ready for it have had to scramble to figure it out.

Couch Braunsdorf is an insurance agency headquartered in the northeastern United States, the part of the country that has suffered the highest number of COVID-19 cases. On top of this, Couch Braunsdorf writes business for customers that have been among the hardest hit by the economic shutdown. This is not an agency that could afford to take the crisis off. And yet it came perilously close to being underequipped to handle it.

“Our work at home situation wasn’t well-developed,” says Eric Wistrand, CIO of Couch Braunsdorf. “We had some staff, mostly salespeople, out on the road or using home offices, but overall, if you were to look at our +100 employees, we had maybe 10 people working outside the main office in New Jersey on a regular basis. This was a big challenge: taking 120 people who typically don’t work remotely and putting them in a position to work from home.”

Fortunately, Wistrand had caught on to this ahead of time. Global pandemics aside, there are other reasons why employees might have to work from home on short notice. Natural disasters like snowstorms and hurricanes can interfere with the commute to the office, rendering it inaccessible and forcing employees to “remote into” work from elsewhere. This had happened enough times to test Couch Braunsdorf’s remote work infrastructure: Wistrand had noticed that it was “aging.”

“Our bandwidth was low. None of our people were using laptops, it was all desktops. Above all, we were still using Windows 7, support for which has been discontinued for years. So even if you were able to remote into your machine from the outside, it would be a single screen layout. You wouldn’t be able to use multiple monitors. I knew that if we were to have another hurricane or snow day, remote work was going to be tough.” The least he could do was upgrade everybody to Windows 10, which is what he did—barely a year before the outbreak of COVID-19.

“We’re really lucky we did that in time. That was one of the lessons I learned: always be on the most up-to-date operating system.”

Impressed by his judgment and foresight, Wistrand’s management team has been giving him more leeway to make additional technological adjustments. He has, for example, been supplying employees with some laptops, overseeing more sophisticated Remote Desktop Protocols, and introducing measures to protect the agency’s operations against a power outage. This is unprecedented; getting management to sign off on so many technological upgrades has historically been very challenging, but COVID-19 is changing everything—you could call it the COVID effect. Managers who were slow to embrace digital transformation are getting the point and buying in. For all of its unwelcome consequences, COVID-19 is fast-tracking digital transformation.

It might seem like the winners are the IT professionals, who have been clamoring for these changes for years and are finally being vindicated. But really, the whole agency benefits: lessons learned during this period will carry over into the aftermath of this crisis. Remote work is already changing minds about productivity. It was catching on before, but now it’s happening on an unprecedented scale, and agencies aren’t seeing their productivity dip—if anything, it’s improving.

“We’ve proved that we can do it. We can be productive, we can write business, we can service our customers, we can provide great customer experiences. When you see that we were able to service our clients in times of struggle without skipping a beat, that’s a powerful message, far more powerful than simply working remotely on a snow day or two and being moderately productive. It is interesting to prove the concept with a month’s worth of remote work, which is what we’re doing. We’re proving the concept.”

How is COVID-19 transforming your agency? How will you leverage what you’re learning to provide superior customer and employee experiences? Will remote work inspire you to make more efficient use of space, reduce your overhead costs, and allocate resources better?

You can tell us all about it and find out what others think—including Eric Wistrand—in our Digital Broker LinkedIn group.

Indio Technologies

Indio provides insurance application and renewal software to automate the submission process among agencies, brokerages, insurers and the insured. The application provides a fully digital client risk capture and application experience by automating the data population across each individual, unique insurer application. In simplifying and accelerating the submission and renewal process, Indio enables agencies, brokerages, and insurers to create greater efficiencies and value while providing their insureds a digital customer experience.

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