From the August 2011 issue of Florida Underwriter •Subscribe!

Tech Smart!

Make Your Job a Day @ the Beach

One of Utah-based Bennion Taylor Insurance’s clients knew he was in trouble even before the red lights started flashing on the police car in his rearview mirror. He had left his proof of insurance card at home. However, just as the officer whipped out his ticket book, he came up with a solution. Using his smartphone, he called his insurance agent who quickly copied, scanned, and sent the card as a photo attachment to his phone. No ticket was issued. Insurance data in real time—made possible thanks to agency management system technology.

While this is only one example of the benefits of technology solutions in the insurance industry, it is clear that customers today are increasingly discerning and want more engaging interactions while doing business. They expect to have online access to their policies, allowing them to edit information, print identification cards, or initiate claims from any location. Agents are starting to feel the pressure of this changing landscape, and are looking for ways to drive efficiencies across their organizations to maximize their profitability. In many cases, technology is the answer.

According to Joyce Sigler, a vice president at Ohio-based Jones & Wenner, the key to success with technology solutions is to carefully choose what works best for each individual agency. Jones & Wenner once had nearly every technology product on the market, but the agency quickly learned that having so many tools could be confusing.

“You have to make sure the technology works for you,” Sigler says. “If it’s beneficial to your organization, make it work for you. You don’t have to have every product.”

Real Time, Right Now
In this world of 24/7 connectivity, successful agencies will be those who provide customers with the information they need, when and how they need it. Although some agencies view new technology solutions as too complicated, too expensive, or just not a priority, forward-thinking, innovative agencies are discovering the numerous benefits of implementing the right technology at the right time.

For Nancy Sattler of Sattler Insurance having access to an around-the-clock portal that enables agents and customers to exchange information in real time is one of the most important reasons for investing in technology.

Idaho-based Sattler works in a niche market in 38 states serving outfitter and guide insurance providers, and the automated around-the-clock capabilities that technology provides helps the agency grow its business and increase efficiencies. Customers expect the best technology available, and Sattler is constantly working to meet these expectations.

“The recreation world is not 8-to-5,” Sattler says. “If we have a customer coming off the river in the Grand Canyon during the weekend and he needs information, we have to deliver. This is an “app” generation; it’s fast moving, and the key to success is having the right technology solutions to allow you to meet your company’s strategies.”

Technology in the hands of consumers also is changing the buying landscape. As Ivans, Inc. discovered in its 2011 Insurance Agents, Carriers & Technology Survey, 43 percent of agents surveyed thought the most threatening issue to their bottom line was “a customer shopping around for more quotes,” while 19 percent said it was “increased Internet sales on carrier websites.”

Today, customers can easily gather and compare insurance quotes online and are less reliant on agents to source information. High-quality customer service paired with the ability to provide policy information in real time is a valuable competitive advantage. To provide faster service and retain customers—and stay competitive with the rate information available on the Web—agents need to achieve greater connectivity between their insurance carrier partners.

“We live in a microwave world, where customers expect their agents to be available around the clock,” says Stephen M. Moriyama, senior vice president at Hayward Tilton & Rolapp Insurance Associates, Inc. in Anaheim, Calif. “They want quotes while they wait; they want instant gratification.”

According to GetRealTime.org, an industry campaign advocating implementation of Real Time and Download interface applications by independent agents and companies, implementation of real time through agency management systems or connectivity solutions is on the incline. In a January 2011 presentation the group reported that 66 percent of agencies today are using real time to some extent for inquiries and servicing. That number will likely continue to increase as more agencies realize the benefits to their business.

Today’s technology tools are designed to help agencies respond to these challenges by connecting the entire insurance distribution chain seamlessly. These connectivity solutions enable agencies to shorten transaction processing times and provide more responsive customer service.

The Power of Data
According to technology researcher Gartner, Inc. the four leading data initiatives in 2010 were: data standards, improving incoming data quality, customer data integration, and analytics and business analytics. The challenges of accessing data and keeping it updated are major pain points for agencies today affecting agents’ bottom lines. Gartner predicts that by 2012 investment in data management and analysis technologies will increase by more than 20 percent among property & casualty and life insurers.

Caton-Hosey Insurance in Port Orange is a prime example of a business helping its producers sell and retain accounts by integrating important data into its agency management system and commercial lines software tool. Rather than re-key data into separate systems, Caton-Hosey connected two technology tools together to help its agents sell business more efficiently.

Incorporating all customer data into one system allows the agency to utilize the information hub as an intelligent sales force tool. By tailoring the capabilities to the needs of its agents, the company sends emails, updates contact information and records, and tracks all client relationship details in a single place that can be shared across the agency.

Why is this important? According to research completed by Gartner in 2010 on data management and analytics, having a 360-degree view of the customer, which is generated from data from the source systems, and having follow-up customer analytics from mining this data is critical. Gartner has documented that most property & casualty and life insurers lack a single view of customers. Without this, Gartner said, it is impossible to proactively determine service needs, improve marketing, and identify customer attrition based on customer insight. 

Caton-Hosey Vice President Ann Pinel has nothing but praise for the ease and efficiency of management technologies. “We are trying to touch our small-to-mid market clients, as well as our personal lines clients, more than we did in the past,” Pinel says. “Automation is allowing us to do that.”

According to Moriyama, agents will need a combination of two things to maintain a competitive advantage: people and technology. “Data is power,” he says. “I think the agencies that will succeed in the future will equip people with the ability to service clients faster, work virtually, and compete on a broader scale, and that takes technology. At our firm we are constantly challenging ourselves to do more with the available technology. It is an exciting time to be in this industry. We can dream big. Anything is possible. It’s up to us to make it happen.”

Paper Cuts
Although the insurance industry has long been one that depends heavily on paper, Sigler found that at Jones & Wenner, paper was weighing down her agency’s processes and decreasing productivity.

“It’s not profitable to just push paper around and mail it here and mail it there,” she says. “We adapted our products so now we have only one source for all of our information. Today our interaction between the agency and our customers is automated and seamless. Everything is available on our website.”

Jones & Wenner prioritized its technology investment by choosing an agency management system to create a paperless operation. This brought down costs and improved customer interaction by giving agents the ability to access all the information in one place in real time. Although the agency has yet to reach its goal of being 100-percent paperless, today it is handling about one-eighth of the paper it did 2 years ago.

Automating manual tasks and improving processes dramatically reduces the time and expense associated in a marketing agent’s submissions and improves the quote turnaround time. As a result, agents can focus less on administrative paperwork and more on selling business. Automation also enables agency leaders to grow their business, servicing more accounts without adding staff.

Doing More with Less
Industry managers who want to grow their agencies and stay competitive in today’s economic climate will continue to struggle when it comes to finding the right solutions. They know they need to prioritize improving the business processes that have the greatest impact to their bottom line.

Fortunately, a number of great technology solutions exist on the market to help them do this, by identifying inefficiencies, streamlining processes, and increasing productivity. These technology solutions enable better customer service and allow agents to spend more time generating new business. Today’s business climate is challenging and changing. Managers and agency leaders who make strategic technology decisions and investments now will be well-equipped for tomorrow.

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