Personal lines carriers and their commercial lines counterparts have at least one thing in common when dealing with independent agents: It is absolutely critical for carriers to offer solutions that make it easy for agencies to place business.

At commercial lines carrier CNA, Belen Tokarski, assistant vice president of technology and agency solutions, has learned that not all agents are ready for the newest technology.

“Agents want some level of ease of doing business, so what we do is make sure we have a solution that meets the needs of any agent selling small business policies, regardless of their level of technical sophistication,” she says.

(For more on carrier/agency technology, check out the interview with Nort Salz of Deep Customer Connections. this interview with Jon Siglar of PacificComp, and this interview with Dan Driskell of Brower Insurance.)

This means that CNA offers solutions that meet the needs of the highly technical, the group of agents working through their own agency management systems, and those agents who process business through the CNA Website.

The first group is taking advantage of a real-time quoting system CNA has implemented from SeaPass Solutions. According to Tokarski, the solution allows the carrier to accept ACORD XML directly from an agency without going through data exchanges such as Vertafore’s TransactNOW or IVANS’ Transformation Station.

Some of the highly technical agencies have proprietary means of generating ACORD XML, points out Tokarski. She adds that the success and ease of real-time quoting is dependent on the quality of data that resides within the agency management systems.

“We put down the foundation for the highly technical solution and, on top of that, we put a very cool UI that is focused on user experience,” she says.

At the same time, CNA realizes there are agents who aren’t ready for real-time quoting, so one of Tokarski’s jobs is to find ways to make life easier for that group. One thing CNA has done for those agents is making sure the carrier Website for rating is as easy to use as possible. For instance, they’ve created producer templates which allow an agent to define coverage limits, deductibles, and optional coverages for their BOP every time they log in.

“Our intention is to minimize the number of keystrokes and data entry for an agent who might not be ready for real time but who has some desire to expedite the quote process,” she says.

CNA categorizes agencies in terms of their technology adoption, explains Tokarski. The carrier realizes some may not be large enough or have the interest to embed technology in their business model; so, CNA wants to ensure it is offering solutions that meet all the agencies’ needs.

The carrier recently created a team to train all its agencies, regardless of the agencies’ level of technical sophistication, explains Tokarski. This allows the carrier to make an assessment on the agency’s readiness for technology and how CNA can aid agency efficiencies so the agents can spend more time winning business and servicing accounts.

Accepting Technology

CNA created its first real-time quoting solution in 2006, according to Tokarski. The carrier had high expectations for adoption and utilization, but Tokarski reports CNA was disappointed at the results.

“What we realized is it’s not ‘if you build it they will come’ as some in the industry like to think; it’s more like you have to have solutions for all agents and you can’t hang your hat on just one solution,” she says.

CNA learned the solution it had built was not what the highly technical agencies needed.  CNA reinvested in the SeaPass solution because it was important for the company to maintain relationships with those agents who were ahead of the technology curve.

Tokarski believes less than five percent of the agencies CNA works with could be classified as highly technical. Another 20 percent fall into the technical classification. The remaining 75 percent are those that use the carrier Web site, but aren’t necessarily working in real time.

CNA creates opportunities to get in front of agents and Tokarski maintains what is most important is the personal conversations where CNA personnel can drill down into what the agencies actually do in seeking quotes and other business functions.

“What we find is [real time] is not a priority for most of them,” she says. “It’s a change management issue. I think also you have to get everybody in the agency using [technology] for it to be successful. We sometimes find the agencies start using it, but if it is not part of their standard operating procedure or they can’t do it the same way for all carriers, the agents tend to back off.”

CNA appreciates the support of the user groups from the various agency management system vendors and groups such as GetRealTime.org, but Tokarski is unsure about the level of involvement by agencies in these organizations, which is why the carrier believes in face-to-face meetings with its agents.

“We can be more personal and have conversations with the agents, but it’s going to take a paradigm shift for the industry to get out of the world of working directly in carrier websites,” she says. “By giving agents a taste of what technology can do with ACORD XML, we are slowly moving them up the spectrum until they are in the high end of technical adoption; but, you can’t force real-time quoting. They have to get interested themselves.”