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Harnessing the power of CRM systems in commercial insurance

By Lauren Finnis | January 5, 2024

No customer relationship management system is perfect, but with a strategic vision and consideration of key trade-offs, carriers’ CRM systems can be an asset instead of a burden.
Insurance Consulting and Technology
Insurer Solutions

I am genuinely passionate about customer relationship management (CRM) systems and believe the right system can be hugely beneficial to insurers. Early in my career, I participated in a challenging CRM implementation where the company was trying to move from a highly customized proprietary system to a market-leading vendor solution. Working subsequently with several start-ups, I have also evaluated CRM system options and led the design and implementation of both proprietary and vendor systems. As Head of Commercial Lines Insurance Consulting and Technology for North America at WTW, I speak every day with insurers across the industry about their current systems and priorities.

The trouble I find often is that many working in insurance have never seen what a good CRM system is or can do.

  • From my experience, ideally the CRM system is embedded in and part of the client-facing team’s workbench or core processes. It is intuitive and built into workflows so team members use it without prompting, and they can trust the information.
  • Team members can quickly search a client and have access to an easy-to-digest snapshot of the historical relationship and future plans for that client.
  • All team members have access to client relationship data, so internal communication related to clients is focused on strategic planning and future activity — not chasing down details.
  • Team members can easily demonstrate that their company views each client holistically, because every individual interacting with a client is informed and can easily coordinate with the broader team.

However, in trying to design or implement the optimal CRM system for an insurer’s organization, leaders must consider many strategic trade-offs.

Operational integration

In the ideal state, a CRM system would be an upstream part of the core platform build. It would have a central role in the broader ecosystem and technology stack of a firm, as one of the first activities is entering a client into your core systems. Without a CRM system upstream, it may be harder to make sure clients are consistently tracked throughout your process, and insurers may have trouble mapping clients between the various systems, such as policy administration (PAS), claims, underwriting and rating, and financial.

Yet, the reality for most firms is that CRM ends up being a downstream consideration, a consumer of data and somewhat of a workbench tool. However, for a CRM system to be effective, it should be integrated with all the core systems if it’s not part of the initial build, and a decision must be made about where the source of truth for client details lies.

Also, while the end insured is often the main client for an insurer, a good CRM system will also include producers (i.e., brokers, agents).

In most firms, the struggle becomes finding the solution that preserves the central record and client identifier while allowing users in the PAS and claims systems to enter the insured’s name as requested by the client or producer. Furthermore, when client name changes are requested, you need a process to evaluate if that requires a change in the central record and a system that allows that flexibility.

Customer identification

Uniquely identifying insureds is a core issue for most commercial lines insurers. In the personal lines space, it is generally simpler because government ID numbers or email addresses can be used, though it still can be complicated when considering multinational insurers or specific cases of name and identity changes. In the commercial space, government tax IDs are less helpful, as a single corporation can have multiple layers of subsidiaries and individual legal entities.

There are companies that map global relationships and parent-child relationships within corporations, but their databases are unlikely ever to be complete. For most, the North American and Western European databases are fairly complete and Australian databases are solid. But as you move toward parts of Asia, South America or Africa, you can’t expect to find a match for the customer in a majority of situations.

Personally, I recommend a blended approach that incorporates third-party data to do the initial client mapping but also uses additional rules (e.g., if a client record lacks an identifier but is a name and ZIP code match to an existing client, the record is merged with the existing record) as well as a human judgment layer that allows admin users to assess whether two firms are indeed separate customers.

Operational suitability

Insurers will benefit from determining at which level they want to view, analyze and track a client relationship. What constitutes a client and should be shown on a client profile may differ from carrier to carrier. For instance, one carrier might find the relationship should be tracked at the buyer level; in this scenario, if one risk manager sits over buying decisions for several subsidiaries, the team sees one client profile at the risk manager’s entity level. Another carrier might decide that it’s more important to track the individual entities for which insurance might be purchased so that, in its system, every subsidiary has a profile.

In either scenario, the answer is likely different based on the line of business. For excess casualty, the risk manager might call the shots, while for directors’ and officers’ and surety, the chief financial officer maybe the core decision maker. In property, the company might insure all subsidiaries under one global policy, while for cyber, every country buys its own policy.

Almost all carriers I work with want a mechanism to map related profiles and the ability to view a roll-up profile. More sophisticated carrier CRM systems also allow users the ability to create bespoke roll-up views to map other types of relationships, such as portfolio companies of a private equity firm or customers that all participate in a Florida wind pool.

Additionally, carriers need to decide how to handle mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Some core questions to answer would include:

  • Do legacy companies’ records show up on the profile of the go-forward entity?
  • Do closed firms still show up in client searches? (The answer I recommend depends on the situation, as often an insurer might write policies for runoff entities, and you may want that in the view of current year new business written. Yet, if trying to pull a list of existing clients to use for a cross-sell strategy, you probably don’t want that entity to appear.)
  • Do you want to pay to refresh your third-party identifier data on a recurring basis? If so, what do you do with the entities that have changed?

Another ongoing challenge that carriers face in their CRM systems is producer mapping. M&A for brokers is even more challenging, as carriers want to show both the historical transaction with the original broker and map that the go-forward broker now owns the renewal rights. In broker M&A, rules mapping, including effective dates, is critical.

Build versus buy

The decision between building and buying a CRM system is not an easy one, and I could argue both sides.

Vendor platforms reduce the large burden of maintaining the system and keeping up with technological advances. However, many vendor systems come with more functionality than a typical commercial insurer needs, which can become a distraction.

Additionally, in a buy situation, I urge clients to consider access rights. A CRM system includes information that all market-facing and supporting colleagues should be able to see; however, license costs sometimes encourage carriers to limit access to the system. Every solution contracts differently, but I encourage companies to explore options that at least allow for giving the majority of the team read access.

Who does what is important

Especially when not contemplated from the beginning, CRM systems should not be adding significant work to field users; they should be embedded in existing workflows. If easy automation isn’t available day one, I recommend using administration teams or offshore resources to fill in the gaps rather than ask people to key information into two different systems or do significant work to enter information into the system.

For instance, while calendar integration is a wonderful CRM solution, often users can be dissuaded from using it if, in order to save/send the calendar invite, every client and broker contact needs to be added to the system. However, you can build your solution such that, if a contact isn’t in the system, the entry is sent to the support team who enters the contacts into the system and updates the calendar entry; you’ll get better compliance and utilization.

Understand what is optimal for your company

As I noted in the beginning, perfection is not the goal; however, if you understand these trade-offs and make decisions based on your company’s culture, current state and long-term ambitions, you can design the optimal CRM system for you. If you do so, rather than being a source of internal apathy and strife, your CRM can be a competitive advantage that allows your team to win business more quickly and effectively.


Head of Commercial Lines Insurance Consulting and Technology for North America
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