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Does your insurer really care about you? I asked America’s top insurance leaders

Four visionary insurance leaders recently told me that the industry’s future is to be “as fast as Google, as far-reaching as Facebook, and [most importantly] as intimate with its customers as Amazon.”

While insurance is the financial backbone of the economy, the industry is still considered transactional and slow to change. However, what consumers really want is to be understood as individuals, to have deeper connections, longer relationships, genuine care and true empathy.

Dan Amos, the chairman and CEO of Aflac, Caroline Feeney, the CEO of US insurance and retirement businesses at Prudential, Meera Krishnamurthy, the global insurance leader at Cognizant, and Andrew McMahon, the president and CEO of Guardian Life envision a future where Silicon Valley-level technologies that are “behind the curtain” enable true human connection.

The biggest risk to the insurance business

At the heart of insurance is the concept of risk. Dan Amos, who is in his 33rd year as Aflac CEO, is one of the longest-serving CEOs in the Fortune 200.

He sums it up in a simple yet profound way: “The three principles I use to evaluate risk are: don’t risk a lot for a little; don’t risk more than you can afford to lose and then consider the odds. I use these principles consistently to evaluate risk.”

Insurers are rethinking risk through an emerging technology lens. Meera Krishnamurthy explained the event: “AI-driven algorithms and machine learning are already advancing the industry’s understanding of risk, but we have only scratched the surface as the industry has enormous data issues to address.”

Krishnamurthy also highlighted another type of risk that insurers need to address. Cognizant’s survey of 2,100 retail insurance consumers revealed that 69% said they were either unclear if their insurer cared about them, or they did not believe their insurer cared about them. That emotional disconnect has profound implications for customer retention and trust.

Caroline Feeney outlined a key dynamic, “I believe if you marry the high-tech and the high-touch together, you end up with much better outcomes for our clients. We’ve set a number of aspirations at the company level. And one of them is to move from customer-focused to customer-obsessed – and that’s a whole different game.”

“Insurance is a technology business,” agreed Andrew McMahon. He explained how the insurance industry can learn from Silicon Valley about adopting key technologies to advance all elements of the customer experience and operations.

Andrew McMahon shared his leadership philosophy on driving a world-class customer model, “I am an alum of two storied management academies – McKinsey and General Electric – where I learned the virtues of analysis and the need to be decisive and action-oriented. Those things remain important, but today’s leaders must also influence and inspire, establish a vision of where we are going, and create a safe environment to take calculated risks and innovate.”

Increase customer connections

When asked about the secret to truly connecting with customers, McMahon explained that “listening is the first step to creating ‘wow moments’.” Guardian Life has created a listening program for employees to hear first-hand what policyholders are experiencing and to empower them to come forward. solutions to improve those moments.

Cognizant’s Meera Krishnamurthy noted that while certain technologies can help drive the delivery of great customer experience at scale, “having the right data is the precursor to effective service delivery.”

“Most companies can’t scale by relying on human service heroes, so you have to get really good at aggregating data from internal and external sources. Success with data will create success in delivering the convenience, speed and insights modern customers expect,” she added.

Dan Amos emphasized that great customer models start with culture, “I still think we’re a people business. We are not selling a tangible product. I think it’s always going to be a people business to some extent and you have to know that, but you also have to know technology.” And Amos reinforced what came first, saying, “So goes the employee, so goes your company.”

For Caroline Feeney, empathy is at the heart of great leadership in today’s insurance industry. “I was once told by a well-meaning leader to lose my empathy gene so I could make harder decisions more easily,” she said. “Luckily, I didn’t follow that advice, and I now know that empathy actually makes me a more effective and stronger leader. If you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel, you’re in a better position to have those important conversations.”

Having personally interviewed more than 1,000 top CEOs over the past 15 years and speaking with CEOs every day, I can confirm that empathy is quickly emerging as one of the most important leadership qualities – and that it is the future of insurance will form. This customer obsession, coupled with technology and data, has the potential to elevate the entire industry.

Robert Reiss is the founder and CEO of The CEO Forum Group.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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