Industry Meets to Address Pressing Agent & Carrier Technology Issues
By Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director
Over one hundred agency, carrier, vendor, user group, and association representatives converged on Quincy, Massachusetts in mid-September to work on improving how agents and carriers do business together. Over 4000 agents had been clear in their responses to the 2006 AUGIE survey when they stated that their major frustration with automation is “learning and using company proprietary systems” (49%), and that their major automation time waster is “duplicate data entry” (47%).
There were three meetings over a full two day time frame: AUGIE (ACORD User Group Information Exchange), ACT (Agents Council for Technology, a part of IIABA), and the first ever in person meeting of ACT’s State Technology Liaisons. The groups largely consisted of opinion leaders in the field of agency workflow and technology.
Here are some of the major issues covered in the meetings:
1. The industry sees real-time inquiries and transactions (accessed through the agency management system or comparative rater) as a major improvement in agent-carrier interfacing that ultimately will have an impact on agency efficiency and customer service at least as great as the impact personal lines download has had. Real-time also sets up documentation of transactions much more effectively to limit E&O exposure, than when the work is done on the carrier’s website.
The industry is mounting an aggressive campaign to raise agent and carrier awareness of the benefits of real-time and to provide them with practical support in revising their workflows to this more efficient model. More and more carriers and vendors, along with associations and user groups, are partnering together to provide agency employees with real-time training. Agencies should look for these training opportunities and enroll their staffs in them. In addition, the industry will be developing a real-time implementation guide to assist agencies, in the same vein as AUGIE’s excellent “Commercial Lines Download Implementation Start-Up Guide.”
2. Tech savvy agents in the meetings urged all agencies to measure where their employees are spending their time. Shortly, AUGIE will unveil a Workflow Timer that agents can use to measure the time and dollars they will save by implementing real-time and download wherever possible. It was also stressed that download remains just as important to agencies today, and commercial lines download for small commercial lines is working very well for many agencies.
3. The industry will be re-introducing ACORD’s Power of Change seminar, updated for today’s technology and workflows, in order to assist agencies in transitioning their staffs to these improved workflows. The industry is also working on usage reports that will provide agency managers with reports on which of their employees are using real-time and which are not. In addition, the group stressed that agents need to stick with their implementations of real-time and commercial lines download, even if they encounter some initial problems. Carriers and vendors are anxious to hear about these problems, so that they can continue to improve the workflows they are offering. Finally, the new AUGIE Real-Time Time Study shows that agencies are saving considerable time even if only some of their carriers currently offer real-time. Broad agency usage of real-time, wherever it is available, is the best way to convince more carriers to come onboard.
4. ACT’s security issues group will be publishing a report shortly to help agencies protect their customers’ private personal information from identity theft. Agencies should take into account that PCs, portable devices, back ups, and other portable media pose a growing and significant security threat because they are taken outside of the agency premises and can be easily lost or stolen. It is very important to encrypt any policy or customer information on these items, because many Identity Theft Laws provide a safe harbor for encrypted information. Even better, agencies should not permit customer private personal information to be put on PCs and portable devices in the first place. Rather, this information should be accessed directly from the agency’s system through a password protected virtual private network.
The report also stresses the need for most agencies to tighten up the physical security of their premises to protect against theft of their systems or information. Other measures are extremely important as well, such as assuring all agency computers and portable devices are password protected, that desktops are restarted when employees leave their desks, and that passwords are carefully managed to prevent unauthorized parties from gaining access to agency systems or carrier websites. Most carrier contracts put the responsibility on the agency if an unauthorized party gains access to their website using an agency password.
5. ACT participants are very concerned about the lack of presence of most agencies on the Web and on search engines. ACT will be developing best practices information on the most effective uses of agency websites, practical guidance on website maintenance, and tips as to how agencies can position themselves on search engines more effectively. ACT will also work on extending additional carrier real-time functionality to agency websites, so that customers can access it there.
6. ACT is also implementing an agent-carrier workflow improvement forum to provide an ongoing dialogue as to how agents and carriers can reinvent their workflows for the future, so that current “pain points” are eliminated. The agenda of such a forum could be huge, so care will be taken to focus on a manageable set of issues at any given time.
7. One of the most exciting events was the first meeting of ACT’s State Technology Liaisons. This group hit the ground running and will do much to help ACT and the industry connect much more effectively with individual agencies across the
country. This group agreed to take back five priorities to their state agent associations to focus on in the coming year:
• Raise the priority of agency technology and workflow improvement advocacy in the state associations
• Help ACT improve the effectiveness of its communications to local agents
• Work to increase real-time and download agency and carrier implementation by key players within the state
• Seek to broaden state continuing education laws to encompass workflow and technology oriented agency improvement courses
• Get more states onboard actively participating in the state technology liaison network.
For more information, contact Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also see www.independentagent.com/actfor ACT reports and other information. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.