Agents Warm Up (Slowly) To Tech Adding mobiletechnology to laptops and other electronic devices allows insuranceagents to improve their efficiency significantly, agents andexecutives in the industry say.

|

“If Im in a brokers office and we had a complex case, we used tohave to return to the office and get back to him later, or else askthe broker to come up to our office to work out the figures,” saidDoug Mishkin, president, Algren Associates Inc., a New York-basedagency.

|

Now, with a laptop and a cellphone modem, the same agent canextract the needed information from his companys database right inthe brokers office, he said.

|

“Mobile technology allows them to provide quotes on the spotrather than meeting with the broker, compiling information, goingback to the office, going to different carriers for quotes, thene-mailing the information to the broker or going out to see himagain,” said Mr. Mishkin.

|

“Using a laptop, a complex case might take an agent fiveminutes, including getting quotes from different carriers,” saidMr. Mishkin, who uses a Dell laptop.

|

Mr. Mishkin often uses a wireless modem to connect his laptop tothe Internet when with a broker.

|

Also, he noted, “some brokers use a wireless modem to pull upinsurance quotes from our Web site.”

|

However, not every agent shares his enthusiasm about mobiletechnology, he added.

|

“I dont think too many of our agents are using it as much asthey should be,” he said, noting that his agency has approximately200 independent agents.

|

As for personal digital assistants, Mr. Mishkin finds theirusefulness limited mostly to scheduling appointments.

|

“Theres not a lot of insurance-related software for PDAs,” hesaid.

|

He added that he has been resisting tying his Palm Pilot to acellular modem.

|

“Its enough to have people calling me on my cellphone all day,”he said. “I dont know if I want my e-mail attached to my hip.”

|

But he foresees being forced to do so eventually, as morebrokers and agents use mobile devices.

|

Charles Burnham, CEO of Burnham Insurance Group, Battle Creek,Mich., also reports that many of his agencys producers find theycan live without mobile technology, even though they travelextensively.

|

Still, a growing corps of his companys agents find they can dotheir jobs more effectively by connecting their company-suppliedlaptops with a wireless modem.

|

“Primarily, they are using it to access our office system, sothey can get specific customer information or premium quotes,” hesaid.

|

Mr. Burnham said mobile technology is well worth its cost,because it provides remote access to e-mail and instant access tocustomer information.

|

“Plus its a great way to communicate as managers to pull ourpeople together for meetings,” he noted. “Its much easier tobroadcast e-mails to agents, to let them know developments in thebusiness or any number of management issues we want to cover withthem.”

|

For agents who work for Burnham in remote or home offices,laptops with mobile technology are almost de rigeur, headded.

|

“Its a way to make sure everyone can access informationefficiently, especially when you have multiple offices. Its just amuch more effective way to do business and provide service tocustomers.”

|

Burnham provides its producers with Dell laptops but leaves itup to them to them to buy their own PDAs. Mr. Burnham himself usesa Palm Pilot.

|

Ed Higgins, president of the Thousand Islands Agency, Clayton,N.Y., said some of his agents have bought PDAs equipped withdigital cameras to take photographs to facilitate property riskunderwriting or to help expedite clients accident claims.

|

Although wireless connections are not yet available in his area,his agents use Dell notebooks equipped with universal serial bus(USB) connections so they can plug in their Dell scanners to copydocuments and store them for later transmission to the agency. Heexpects to soon upgrade his agency to faster IBM notebooks or newerDell models.

|

Some of Mr. Higgins agents complete clients insuranceapplications with their notebooks and e-mail them to underwritersto speed up processing time, he added.

|

“Every time you can take an application and start processing iton your notebook, you save input and conversion time when you getback to the office,” Mr. Higgins said. “Its all about saving timeand decreasing errors, because you only put in the data once at thepoint of information gathering. Youre not handing it off to someoneelse who might make a mistake. But it also makes you moreaccountable, because if something goes wrong, you cant shift theblame.”

|

Mr. Higgins uses his own notebook to download his agencys dailytransaction log when hes out of town.

|

“I can be as far away as Hawaii and retrieve the log to seeeverything that happened in the office that day,” he said. “Its agreat way to maintain control.”

|

Erin L. Tegnerud, a Farmers Insurance agent in Burlingame,Calif., said mobile technology allows her to use her IBM ThinkPadto get business done right in clients homes or offices.

|

Using a wireless Internet connection, she can log onto hercarriers mainframe to obtain instant quotes and help clients seethe impact of proposed policy changes.

|

The biggest benefit of mobile technology is increased sales, Ms.Tegnerud said, because with direct access to her carrier, shedoesnt have to guess the answers to customers questions.

|

Trevor Thomas is an assistant editor for NUs Life &Health/Financial Services Edition.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 14, 2003.Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serialpublication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as anindependent work may be held by the author.


Want to continue reading?
Become a Free PropertyCasualty360 Digital Reader

  • All PropertyCasualty360.com news coverage, best practices, and in-depth analysis.
  • Educational webcasts, resources from industry leaders, and informative newsletters.
  • Other award-winning websites including BenefitsPRO.com and ThinkAdvisor.com.
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.