On a recent Delta flight to San Francisco I had a chance to see the airline’s latest 1980s-themed safety video. 

Safety video comedy seems to be a growing trend, though most of them are pretty lame. But this one hit the mark. I attended a conference dedicated to transforming businesses into digital models. As I sat in the insurance-specific roundtables and listened to the mostly carrier attendees discuss their horrific current processes, my mind kept drifting back to the safety video. Everything they were describing sounded pretty ’80s to me.

In the real world, the ’80s theme leans more toward tragedy than comedy. When you peel back the layers of our agencies you find our business processes are just as modern as leg warmers and feathered hair.

Got Paper?

Most agencies want to get rid of paper. Many have formal paperless initiatives. Unfortunately, even the agencies that have found success focus more on the actual paper than the paper-driven processes.

What does this mean? I recently received an urgent request from my agent related to my E&O renewal. She sent a PDF form that required my signature. Thanks to the miracle of Adobe Acrobat my agent is paperless—hooray! Unfortunately, the process is paper-driven. Let’s ignore the fact that a wet signature is a ridiculously archaic convention that doesn’t actually prove anything. Let’s just focus on the process.

Rather than physically handing me a piece of paper to sign, my agent sent me a piece of digital paper. In fact this digital paper was in many ways worse than real paper. It looked like a bad photocopy, complete with smudges and blurry, crooked type. At least in the ’80s I would have received a clean letter in the mail.

I’m a digital guy. In fact, I believe there’s more about me that exists in the quantum data world than there is in my physical space. I’ve purchased property in distant states without any paper, cash or checks, without having met in person the agents, the seller or even my home inspector. I work in your agencies with very little physical presence. In fact, I schedule the physical meetings just to convince my clients that I’m a real human being. Over time, the need for this reassurance will fade as we become completely digital. This ghostlike existence is the future of efficient business.

So what happens to my quantum existence when my agent forces me into a paper-driven process? Bam! Like an observed quantum particle I instantly fall out of hyperspace, hurtling backward in time to an inefficient state. Open email, print the non-paper onto real paper, flail about furiously looking for a pen in my bag (I’m rarely sitting at a desk—too inefficient), sign the paper, snap a picture with my iPhone (I’d rather own a vintage Atari 2600 than a scanner), reply to the email. Six steps! Was that really necessary?

This is a classic case of technology making life harder. From a customer experience perspective, the ’80s were actually easier: open mail, sign paper, drop in mailbox. That’s a 50% reduction in steps, also known as a 100% efficiency gain. Too bad that efficiency gain is going backward in time. That’s right. We’ve made the process twice as hard by digitizing the paper without changing the paper-driven process.

I’m not seriously suggesting a return to physical paper, but there is a better way. If I can make a real estate purchase without a pen, then my agent doesn’t need my squiggle on a smudgy picture of a piece of paper related to my minuscule premium. I can sign that dumb form with three clicks of my mouse, but this would require real change at the agency, the wholesaler, and in my case, certain syndicates at Lloyd’s. Better yet, the email trail including my replied acknowledgement should be good enough. It’s certainly easier to confirm an email trail than a physical signature that looks different every time I sign something.

And what was this pressing document that urgently needed my physical signature? Apparently my renewal package included a specific syndicate’s application (the syndicate that has actually bound my coverage for years and bound this renewal as well) rather than the general Lloyd’s application. So Lloyd’s needed me to physically rub my caveman mark onto a piece of annihilated tree trunk to acknowledge that my coverage is provided on the basis of the application that I provided before coverage was offered. Seriously?

I think we can both agree that the coverage that is already bound is based on the application that was provided before the coverage was bound. Well, maybe six steps later we can both agree.

The world doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to stop blindly buying software and scanners and start to rethink the way we do business. Let’s focus our attention on the source of the problem—outdated, inefficient business processes—and then let’s whip it, whip it good.