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Improving Agency Workflows When Carriers Turn off the Paper

by Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director

Carriers are increasingly turning off the transaction-related paper to their agents and brokers. This change has big workflow implications for agents, and it can set back agency efficiency significantly unless carriers take specific steps with regard to the electronic information they continue to provide to their agents. If carriers take the appropriate steps, however, the replacement of the agency paper with electronic information can enhance agency as well as carrier efficiency and assist the agency in its efforts to become paperless.

Because of the importance of this change to agency workflow, ACT has had a work group developing recommendations for carriers, agents, and vendors over the last two years. ACT published its Phase One Report in July, 2003 and has now just published its Phase Two Report, Turning off the Paper to Agents; Recommended Agent and Carrier Workflows. Each report covers different aspects of the paperless trend and contains valuable recommendations. They are both available on the ACT web site under Technology Reports at www.independentagent.com/act.

In Phase Two, we wanted to take a much deeper look at the impact of this change on agency workflows and develop specific recommendations for agents to help them operate in this new environment as effectively as possible. Equally important, we wanted to identify the specific steps carriers should take before turning off the paper so that this change can work efficiently for their agents and brokers. We asked three consultants who are experts on agency workflows and operations to join the work group, and they were extremely helpful to us as we developed our recommendations.

The first major issue that the agent confronts when the carrier turns off the paper is how to ascertain that a transaction has occurred. The download of the information related to the transaction provides this critical notice to the agent. The download also puts the important data into the agency’s management system. Also, in most cases where the data is downloaded and the carrier has a track record of sending reliable data, the agency can gain efficiency by auditing a set percentage of policies for accuracy, rather than checking each and every policy.

The work group concluded that download has become an even more critical process in the paperless world, in spite of the fact that the carrier has the electronic information available on its web site. The ACT report strongly recommends that carriers not make “turning off the paper” initiatives mandatory until they have an effective download process in place for that line of business that is broadly used by their agents. This is another reason why the industry needs to undertake an intensive effort to fix the current “bugs” in commercial lines download, just as the industry did for personal lines several years ago. ACT has launched such an effort working very closely with the user groups, ACORD, the carriers and the vendors.

Some carriers also make available electronically to their agents daily transaction reports with links that agents find very useful in managing their download review process. These are particularly helpful with regard to transactions, such as pending cancellations, which the carriers do not download. Agents prefer that the carriers which provide such reports “push” them to the agency via e-mail or download.

Even where download is in place for a line of business, there are likely to be some transactions relating to that business which are not downloaded. Examples might include notices of cancellation, audits, property valuations, and correspondence regarding underwriting issues sent directly from the carrier to the insured, etc. The carrier should either continue to send the paper to the agent for these transactions or “push” the electronic information or links to it to the agent.

As has been discussed, where download is not in place for a line of business, ACT does not believe the carrier should mandate that the paper be turned off. Where the agent and carrier, however, agree to turn off the paper, then ACT believes it is important for the carrier to push the information or a link to it to the agent electronically, rather than requiring the agency to visit the individual web sites for each of its carriers to ascertain whether a transaction has occurred. For these types of business which are not downloaded, ACT also recommends that the agency check each policy for accuracy and store the electronic information or a link to it locally.

Agencies should also consider having the carrier e-mails containing links or policy information routed to a central mailbox at the agency rather than to specific agency individuals so that this information can be managed in a consistent manner and not be sent to the wrong individual.

The agent also faces another major issue in the paperless environment: should I rely on the electronic information residing on the carrier’s web site, or do I need to import this information into my system? As discussed in both the Phase One and Two Reports, relying on the electronic information residing at the carrier is contingent upon receiving the carrier’s commitment to the following points:

  • That the complete policy paper which is no longer being sent be available on the carrier’s site, including specific endorsements, etc.;
  • That the electronic information be available from the carrier for the full period during which the agent is required to retain the information by his state law; and
  • That the carrier will continue to provide the agent with access to the information (for the period the agent was the agent of record), even if the agent’s relationship with the carrier terminates, another agent becomes the agent of record, or the carrier ceases doing business in the state or goes insolvent.

As of this time, most carriers have not revised their contracts to provide such a commitment, and thus, agents should continue to press for it.

Looking to the future, emerging real-time interface technologies hold great promise to improve the efficiency of agency workflows in this paperless world even further. Already, agency management systems can expedite the retrieval of customer policy information from the carrier using the electronic policy view function. Real-time “alerts” technology is being introduced to permit carriers to send policy related messages, such as pending cancellation notices, directly into the workflow of the agency management system. The same technology might be used in time to send links to electronic documents or the documents themselves directly into the agency management system.
 
Increasingly, real-time technology and advancements in agency and carrier systems will enable agents to move policy information residing in their agency systems directly into the carriers’ systems without the need for data re-entry. And once the transaction is processed by the carrier, the data in the carrier and the agency systems will automatically synchronize with each other. These improvements will happen incrementally, but they are within sight and are extremely important for agents, carriers, and vendors to invest in and implement when they become available.
 
Jeff Yates is Executive Director of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) which is affiliated with 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.
  
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