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It is Time to Move on Real-Time Interface

by Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director
 
Independent agents and brokers have a historic opportunity right now to determine how efficient their electronic interactions with their carriers will be over the next decade. More efficient interfaces will not just happen. It will require that a much broader cross-section of independent agents and brokers get involved in the movement to implement and advocate for these interfaces through their agency management systems than is the case today. This article discusses the opportunity we have, the progress that is being made, and what the grassroots agents and brokers of this country need to do to make this more efficient future happen.
 
Independent agents and brokers are increasingly being required to use proprietary carrier websites to write business. Agents have to separately logon to each of these sites, enter the same data multiple times, and train their staff on each carrier’s distinct workflow. Agents tell me that this new world takes them back fifteen years to the inefficiency they had to deal with when they had a separate computer terminal and system for each of their carriers.
 
We can transcend this inefficient business model to one where your staff work in a consistent manner with your companies through your agency management system. The agency management system handles the logons to the carrier systems or websites and makes use of its data to complete the carrier screens without the agent having to re-enter the data multiple times.
 
Today, close to 8000 agencies are using the new, more efficient real-time approach through their agency management systems for at least some transactions. This represents significant progress; in fact, it is the fastest and broadest implementation of a major new technology in the history of the Independent Agency System—much faster than download. But, it is not enough. Several carriers are waiting to see how many agents use these new real-time interfaces for the inquiry transactions (billing, claims, policy view, etc.) before tackling the more complicated transactions which involve their unique company information and edits, such as new business quote and issue.
 
Unfortunately, too many agents are also waiting to implement the new technology until a broader range of transactions are available from a broader array of their companies, so that they do not have to deal with multiple workflows. This is a mistake. It perpetuates a classic “chicken and egg” situation. As long as carriers see most of their transactions continuing to come through their websites, they will conclude that agents are content with the current workflow and will not be inclined to make the necessary investments to move to the more efficient interfaces through the agency management systems.
 
We have a unique window of time open to us right now, where with the help of the grassroots agency force, we can achieve the agents’ vision of Single Entry, Multiple Company Interface (SEMCI), through a series of incremental steps. We must not let this window close without taking action, leaving us to deal with a multitude of proprietary websites for each of our carriers over the long term.
 
The agent leadership understands the opportunity that we have. Outgoing IIABA President Louise Canter said in her farewell speech this October: “ACT has the amazing opportunity to truly influence the technology that will be available to us as agents.” Incoming IIABA President Tom Grau said at the same meeting in his acceptance speech that technology implementation and adoption would be a key focus of his presidency. He added: “Real-time transactions will increase agency efficiency, boost our employees’ morale and free us and our staff to sell more policies. It is truly a win-win for us, our companies and, of course, our clients.”
 
Not only are more efficient, real-time interfaces a key priority for IIABA, they are a top issue for all of the major automation user groups. The user groups and the agents association are working extremely closely on this opportunity and are speaking with one voice. And the agents are getting wonderful support from many carriers and vendors in ACT to move these real-time interfaces forward. 50 carriers are currently participating in IVANS Transformation Station which facilitates real-time interfaces through Applied Systems, Doris, Ebix, InStar, NASA, Agency Advantage, MI Assistant, and AMS Services (through IVANS Station Direct). 45 carriers are contracted to provide real-time interfaces using TransactNow with AMS Services.
 
In September, 154,000 real-time transactions were handled by IVANS Transformation Station, almost double the volume from January. 89% of these transactions represent various inquiries, but the new business quoting and issuance and endorsement transactions have grown to 8% and 2.5% of the total respectively. ACT’s and the user groups’ top two priorities for new real-time transactions for the carriers and vendors to offer are endorsements and new business quoting and issuance.
 
We are making progress, but to establish real-time interfaces through our agency management systems as the mainstream workflow in our agencies for the future, we need to get a much broader group of agents committed to this issue and willing to implement and advocate by:
 
  1. Having their staffs implement and then use these real-time interfaces as soon as a carrier makes the transaction available. We need agents to take this step even though not all of their carriers are yet there. This is the best way to inspire the remaining carriers to catch up. These real-time interfaces have been designed to be easy to implement, and they bring real efficiencies to agency staffs.
  2. Letting their carriers know at every opportunity—whether it is a visit with the marketing officer or the CEO, or an advisory council meeting—that the carrier’s implementation of inquiry, endorsement, and quote and issue real-time interfaces through the agency management system is very important to the agency and that the agency has established real-time as the agency’s mainstream workflow going forward, NOT proprietary company websites.
 
Please commit to be part of this grassroots movement and to take these important actions. You will help to shape a new, more efficient working environment with your companies that will free up your staff for more pro-active sales and service activities and enhance your agency’s overall value and competitive position.
 
ACT has developed a number of tools to assist agents in making the transition to real-time. Visit the ACT website (www.independentagent.com/act) and view the new Real-Time Interface DVD and related questions and answers. Then click on the ACTtech Insurance Capabilities Center to find out exactly what real-time transactions your specific companies offer for your agency management system. You might also want to visit Real-Time Interface Links on the site to view your vendor’s or user group’s information on real-time. You will also find a number of informative ACT reports on real-time under Technology Reports, such as “The Real-Time Revolution; Redefining How We Work,” and “The Need for More Effective Agent-Company Interfaces; A Call to Action.”
 
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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