Harford Mutual Insurance is the exception to many regional carriers in that the company has built most of its own systems. But when speed to market is of the essence, turning to a best-of-breed vendor solution can be the best course of action, and that is what led Harford to the Agency Portal solution from AgencyPort, now a part of the insurance division of the Sword Group..

“We’re quite proud of building our own solutions, but the driving reason we didn’t build this solution was speed to market,” says Steve Fabian, assistant vice president of IT for Harford.

“We think we can develop better [tools] than anybody else, and we would have loved to tackle this project internally. But it would have been an expensive, time-consuming project, and we needed to get our portal process out there quickly, which drove us to the best-of-breed product.”

Ease of business was the biggest challenge facing Harford in late 2006 when it began the process of finding a portal solution. At the time, Harford provided independent agents with a rating disk that allowed them to get a quick quote.

“It didn’t do anything for workflow,” says Michael Winn, business systems analyst for Harford. “In certain lines, we had an application they could print out, but it was a manual and intensive process.”

The decision to change was pushed by demands from many of the carrier’s agents. “We were hearing they were not going to do business with us until we improved that process,” says Winn. “We had to find a solution for that.”

Harford looked at several solutions but immediately was drawn to AgencyPort because the vendor offered the carrier the ability to put its own brand on the portal. “It wasn’t just an out-of-the-box solution,” says Fabian.

“The product allowed us to customize the quote and policy-submission process,” he says. “Our CEO understood the need and told us, ‘We were late to the portal game, so we want to make sure right out of the gate it’s a very healthy and easy-to-use product.’”

Having built the bulk of its systems, Harford found most of the integration issues were removed. “We knew everything that needed to be done to interface the AgencyPort standard ACORD XML with our policy administration system,” says Fabian.

To make the portal hum, Harford also needed to change rating engines because the rating engine it had was embedded deeply in the policy admin system, and it was not easily adaptable to a browser-based portal, according to Fabian.

“We needed a rating engine that would satisfy the portal product as well as our policy admin system,” says Fabian. “From that touch point, the rating engine we chose–CGI’s Ratabase–had developed a relationship with AgencyPort, so that wasn’t a big interface issue for us, either.”

Three years after going live, Winn reports excellent results for 2009. In looking at percentage of portal utilization, bound premium through that system was up 27 percent over 2008. The bound premium for BOP was up 48 percent over 2008, and personal auto was up 15 percent. The number of applications also was up significantly: 22 percent for BOP, 16 percent for workers’ compensation, and 54 percent for auto.

One of the pluses for the solution is, by putting the carrier’s own front end on the AgencyPort system, agencies are provided an account view.

“The agents can see all the different lines of business for that potential insured,” says Winn. “Once we have processed one line of business, we can extract information from that one quote and populate another quote.”

The biggest challenge in the implementation was Agency Portal is a Java solution and Harford is a Microsoft shop, notes Winn. “That was a bit of a learning process for us,” he says. “But working with AgencyPort we resolved those issues.”

One of the major benefits for Harford has been the carrier’s ability to provide improved service for its agents. Any technical issues that arise during the entry of a transaction trigger a notice to the carrier’s issue tracking system, so Harford can touch base with the user to offer assistance, explains Fabian.

“When there’s any issue or anomaly that happens in the entry process, our support group gets notified through e-mail, even if it’s something small,” says Fabian. “We proactively give agents a call, tell them we noticed they had a problem with a particular application, and we find out how we can help them. We call them rather than having them call a tech-support line. They certainly appreciate that kind of customer support.”

Robert Regis Hyle