Several insurance carriers have adopted a specific corporate objective of achieving “ease of doing business” with their distribution force in order to enhance their competitive position. If the carriers’ prices and products are in the same ballpark, the agent or broker will favor the company that is easiest to place the risk with and which presents the least hassle. Real-time interfaces, download improvements, and other new technologies offer carriers unprecedented opportunities to enhance the quality and efficiency of their electronic interactions with their producers.
Independent agents and brokers should be really excited by those carriers that adopt such a corporate focus, because it will result in a constantly improving agent experience characterized by more efficient and easier to use workflows and interfaces. It is very important for agents to reinforce the actions of these companies by adopting the new technologies when they are introduced and expressing the agency’s appreciation to the company’s senior management for the improved workflows. A letter of thanks to the CEO from a prominent agent of the company can pay great dividends in encouraging more investments that further enhance agent-carrier workflows.
So what are the characteristics we are seeing in carriers that have made a major commitment to “ease of doing business”? This article focuses on workflow and technology related issues, but of course the concept can apply to the entire experience with the company. Some of the broader issues that bear on the ease of doing business include: does the carrier offer competitive prices, quality policies that offer good coverage, and a claims experience that assures that the agent’s customers are well taken care of? Does the carrier clearly communicate its appetite for particular types of risk, and do the company’s underwriters work with the agent to write the risk acceptably, rather than to just reject it? Does the company offer consistent markets, so that the agent does not have to spend an inordinate amount of time re-marketing risks to other companies?
When it comes to striving for “ease of doing business” with regard to agent-carrier processes, workflows, and interfaces, here is a top ten list of the key characteristics that set these carriers apart:
- The carrier sets a corporate priority to achieve “ease of doing business” for its producers. This commitment starts with top management and extends right through to the rest of the company. The CEO and other senior management use their opportunities to speak to agents to encourage them to implement the improved workflows and technologies that will enhance their efficiency and ability to deliver timely customer service.
- The carrier has a corporate culture in which innovators for the company are also sensitive to the impact of process changes on their agents and look for ways to improve agency workflows and to simplify transactions for them. The company is eager to receive continuous agency input to improve its available technology and workflows and has an ongoing agency mechanism in place to solicit that input.
- The marketing and field staff is conversant with the technology that the carrier offers to its agency force and encourages its agencies to implement the technology because of the business benefits it will provide to them. The company also provides ongoing training and help desk support to assist agencies in implementing the carrier’s technology.
- The carrier participates in industry initiatives, such as ACT, AUGIE, ACORD, and the user groups to work toward improved workflows and technologies to strengthen the overall competitive position of the distribution force. These industry initiatives also help each of the stakeholders in the process understand the business needs of the others.
- The company is a leader in implementing real-time agent-carrier interfaces through the agency management systems and comparative raters.
- The company supports and implements the ACORD standards and uses the ACORD forms, because it understands that its independent agents must have these standards and forms to operate efficiently in a multiple company environment.
- The carrier is committed to making download work in both personal and commercial lines. It understands the importance of certifying these downloads with ACORD and the agency management system vendor, as well as testing them for accuracy with a group of its agents. The company also provides its producers with good implementation documentation for these downloads and is willing to continue to refine them so that they work more effectively for its agencies. In addition, the carrier is sensitive to providing its agencies with an efficient workflow for receiving downloads from their multiple carriers.
- The carrier pushes critical information to the appropriate people in the agency in real-time, rather than just posting the information on the website.
- Before turning off the policy paper to the agent, the carrier makes sure the agency can download the information and access it electronically on the carrier’s site. The carrier also provides safeguards to the agency, so that the agency can continue to access this information even if it is terminated.
- The carrier provides a fast, easy to use website with comprehensive marketing, underwriting, and policy information, as well as inquiry and transaction capabilities. The carrier, however, extends the real-time capabilities of the website, so that its agents can access these capabilities through their agency management systems and use the data in these systems without having to re-enter this data into the website. The company continuously solicits agency feedback to improve the website.
It is highly positive to see more and more carriers make these investments to become easier to do business with for their agency force. Agents should respond by implementing the improved workflows and technologies that these carriers make available. Agents should also commend and reward these carriers for their investments to be more efficient and responsive to their distribution force.
Jeff Yates is Executive Director of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) which is part of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Jeff Yates can be reached here. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.