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Bryan Harmelink, Director, Operations and Technology

Bryan Harmelink
Director, Operations and Technology

The Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) is leading an initiative to transform the industry through the use of digital solutions for understanding, transacting, and managing annuities.

Digital first means improving the experience for our product consumers and our financial professionals by providing access to the data needed to complete their job seamlessly in any tool they use. That translates to a more seamless process that is faster and easier for the financial professional. And it means meeting financial professionals in the tools they already use to make annuities as easy to manage as any other investment vehicle.

What does “digital-first” mean for annuity applications?
Digital-first for applications is the incorporation of a fully digital submission process to the carrier that is governed by either a third party or via the carrier directly. It includes the required elements that are necessary to process the application in good order and is fully digital using an efficient process that creates a positive experience for all parties.

A fully digital application process includes the application order submission and incorporates e-Signatures and relies on data, rather than paper forms to complete the application process. A fully electronic application can seamlessly move through the carrier review and issue process with little to no manual touches.

In contrast, the paper application process creates a burdensome experience. It requires wet signatures that introduce issues with missing data, paperwork, and signatures. These create manual interventions that lead to delays.

What’s the current state of the digital-first environment for new business submission?
IRI recently completed a member-sponsored survey of 800 financial professionals representing full-service and independent broker/dealers, banks, and registered investment advisors. The survey revealed that only one in four financial professionals submit more than 70 percent of their business fully electronic.

Another firm-level survey completed by IRI shows that 100 percent of IRI carriers and 85 percent of distributors support fully digital applications. Yet, when it comes to implementation and utilization, only 40 percent of applications are submitted using a fully digital process.

Both the carrier and the distributor must agree to the implementation, which creates situations where individually the carrier and distributor fully support digital processing but not together. In these cases, the application requires a wet signature.

The financial professional survey showed that financial professionals are expecting a fully digital application. Sixty-four percent of financial professionals expect to be fully digital within the next year, while 23 percent report that they are already digital today.

Cost of doing business without a digital-first approach
The impact of a fully digital experience cannot be ignored. Ninety percent of the financial professionals surveyed say they would sell more annuities if digital solutions such as e-Signatures and e-Delivery are available.

Additionally, there is a tangible cost to not being fully digital. Carriers require more resources to manage business that requires manual intervention.

Industry must embrace digital-first
The industry has made great strides toward a fully digital process for application submission. More remains to be done, and the work will continue across 2024 and beyond.

Digital-first processing fosters a service model that eliminates delays in processing, provides a customer-friendly experience, and makes annuities a more attractive offering. This is the right answer for customers, financial professionals, and our industry, and IRI is proud to continue leading these advancements.

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