Retail, D-Tail, or E-Tail? The Good Old Days Start Tomorrow

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23 September 2009
Craig Weber

Life was simpler when most insurance purchases were delivered through a Retail channel. Insurance agents--not brokers, bankers, affinity groups, or workplace kiosks--were the sole source of information and advice will for potential insurance buyers. If you wanted insurance, you called an agent. The agent was the driving force behind selling and delivering the product.

But let’s resist the temptation to refer to the past as the “good old days.” I believe those days perpetually start tomorrow.

The direct model is now thriving. Inspired (!) to buy insurance by postcards, TV, radio, and print, consumers access their carriers over the telephone, or via the mail or Web. To differentiate this from the Retail model, I call it the D-tail model. It is based on the premise that if you reach out to enough consumers in a low-cost manner, some proportion will be motivated to buy. The traditional agent’s role may be limited or nonexistent, because buyers are channeled into a new business process that is handled by back office staff.

Take the Web interactions one step further and you get E-tail. In its purest form, E-Tail business is highly automated, channeled through a Web interaction, and replaces both the agent as advice giver and the “push” activities used to get consumers thinking about insurance. E-tail buyers are self-directed, and typically want to make purchases with limited or no human intervention. Some carriers, even for complex products like life insurance, are supporting a true STP model via their E-tail channel.

It is tempting to look at these three delivery models and say that one or the other is the future of our industry. In fact, all three models have a purpose. In some markets, notably the UK, they are all mature.

Retail, D-tail, and E-tail exist because each serves a distinctly different need today. But I believe that all three needs will persist into the future, and will continue to morph with consumer attitudes and technology. That is why carriers must support all three models in combination. Ideally, using a common tool set that brings a sense of cohesiveness and flexibility, while driving down costs considerably from where they are today. Carriers that let themselves become one-trick ponies in terms of sales and delivery are at risk of becoming obsolete.

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