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Taking Time out to Work on the Business

by Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director
 
With all of the day to day pressures to produce and service business, especially in this soft market, it is tough to break out of the daily grind to focus on implementing new technology and workflows which require work today in order to deliver a return to the business tomorrow. In my job, I have the good fortune of interacting with numerous agents who are paving the way for the rest of the agency force by implementing these improvements in their agencies and then contributing time to work on these issues at the industry level so that they benefit the entire independent agency force.

Contributing Vision and Passion

These agency leaders have both a vision and passion. Their vision is that the agency management system should be the hub for their client and policy information and that this system should be able to send and receive data seamlessly to and from their companies using a combination of Download and Real Time. These agents have passion because they see their agencies getting ahead using these new technologies – saving time and money and positioned to move to an even higher level of efficiency, customer service, and sales capability.
 
These agency leaders also contribute their time generously at the industry level to further implementation and refinement of these technologies and workflows because they believe they are establishing the critical infrastructure for the future of our distribution system. They also know that a critical mass of agencies and carriers must implement these improved workflows if they are to become the predominant workflow for the business.

ACT and AUGIE’s Role

The purpose for both ACT and AUGIE (ACORD User Group Information Exchange) is to bring these dedicated agents together with carrier and vendor representatives who are equally committed to improving how our distribution system does business. ACT and AUGIE coordinate closely so that we do not duplicate activities. We each have work groups addressing specific issues throughout the year and bring the industry together three times annually for in person meetings.
 
ACT and AUGIE brought 135 agency, carrier, vendor, association and user group representatives together in February for two full days of meetings addressing the major workflow and technology issues currently affecting the agency force – ranging from increasing agency and carrier implementation of Real Time and Download to improving the quality of these implementations to developing a new process for agent single sign on to replace the need for unique ids and passwords for each carrier.

Driving Real Time and Download Implementation

An overarching objective for the group continues to be to drive more implementation of Real Time and Commercial Lines Download. The industry has enthusiastically embraced the continuation of the Real Time/Download Campaign for a second year. Twenty associations, user groups, carriers, and vendors stepped forward to fund the Campaign’s marketing campaign for 2008, and many additional organizations support the Campaign and have contributed information to the Campaign’s Web site. Visit getrealtime.org for a wealth of implementation information, links to individual carrier and vendor Real Time sites and Download information, and numerous agency and carrier case studies on the benefits of implementation.
 
In 2008, the Campaign will continue to communicate the importance of Real Time and Download to our industry, encourage agent association and user group Real Time Demonstration Sessions, and report on the implementation progress the industry is making. In addition, ACORD in conjunction with agent associations and user groups will begin to hold meetings for regional carriers across the country to assist them in the implementation of Real Time and the ACORD standards.
 
The industry made good progress with Real Time in 2007 and many carriers have new real-time functionality in the pipeline for 2008. While agency usage increased in 2007, we hope to convince more agencies to implement in 2008, and for current agency users to strive for 100% usage by their employees. Real Time is available to most agencies at no additional cost as a part of their agency system.
 
At the meeting, two regional carriers reported that they met or exceeded their goal to double their real-time transactions in 2007 over 2006. A commercial lines carrier said it is seeing a steady but moderate increase in real-time transactions of 10-15% a month. More and more carriers are realizing the important role their marketing representatives should play in encouraging agents to use Real Time, coupled with having technology representatives available to assist agencies with their implementations. Two carriers said they are seeing strong usage of their commercial lines real-time rating where they are able to bridge over whole vehicle and property schedules from the agency management system without re-entry of any of the data. The CSRs saw the benefits of this capability quickly!
 
AMS Services reported that it has seen a 63% growth in real-time transactions year over year and had 400,000 real-time transactions in the month of January. Applied Systems has seen the number of its agency-carrier communicating pairs using Real Time grow to 43,000.
 
There has also been a big growth in the number of real-time personal lines quote requests. One carrier reported 50% of their quote requests are coming in this way; a second is up to 70%!
 
47% of another carrier’s agencies are using Commercial Lines Download which is a very encouraging number. Several carriers stressed that using Download and maintaining quality data in the agency management system are critical to the smooth functioning of Real Time transactions, so that policy numbers, codes, etc. match and error messages are not produced.
 
Improving the Quality of Real Time and Download Implementations
 
At the meeting, the participants voted on several additional issues that the agent and user group organizations had identified for the group to consider as industry priorities for 2008 and beyond. The number one industry priority identified by each of the groups – agents, carriers, and vendors – is to focus on quality control for Real Time and Download implementations to reduce the number of transactions erroring out, improve the speed of the transactions and to ensure a positive agency experience. The group agreed that all of the stakeholders need to take ownership of the quality issue. 

Agents take ownership of the quality issue by:

  • Bringing problems to the attention of relevant parties
  • Being on the latest versions of their agency management systems
  • Implementing Personal and Commercial Lines Download
  • Changing agency procedures as necessary to maintain high quality data in their databases and to use the data fields in their system only as they were intended to be used.
The industry needs to do a better job providing contact names and feedback mechanisms that are easy for agents to find when they encounter problems. The industry will work on this, but in the interim agents should contact their vendor first (unless a clear carrier issue), take advantage of the bulletin boards their user groups provide to assist their users, or enter the issue on the getrealtime.org feedback form by clicking on “Contact Us.” Make sure to identify the version of your agency system, the carrier, the type of transaction and the nature of the problem, and try to have screen shots identifying the problem.

Carriers take ownership of the quality issue by:

  • Always including a clear explanation with every error message
  • Making it easy for agents to provide feedback and to identify the contact person
  • Treating these problems as a priority. One carrier reported that when an agent experiences an unacceptable outcome with a real-time transaction, it pro-actively calls the agent and works through the issue on the spot.
  • Providing agents a place to see the status of issues the carrier is currently addressing.
The group identified several additional quality improvement ideas for vendors, ACORD and the other stakeholders which AUGIE’s Quality Implementation Work Group as well as ACORD will pursue further.

Increase Implementation of Commercial Lines Download

The second major industry priority identified at the meeting was to increase the implementation of Commercial Lines Download. This was the second major priority for the agents and vendors and the third for the carriers. A roundtable addressing this subject recommended several ways to improve Commercial Lines Download in the future:
  • Agents should contact their vendor first when they encounter a problem
  • More emphasis should be put on defining the appropriate content to be downloaded
  • The certification process should be more effective, with the possibility that re-certification should be required periodically using the latest ACORD standards
  • An automated tool should be considered which would compare a particular carrier’s downloads with ACORD’s minimum data standards and note exceptions.

Other Industry Priorities

The third major industry priority identified at the meeting was for ACT to continue its work to develop an industry recommendation for agent single sign on (SSO) so that agency employees would have a digital ID which would be accepted by multiple carriers, replacing ids and passwords. Interestingly, this was the number two priority for carriers, the third priority for vendors, and the sixth priority for the agents. Agents probably ranked the Agent SSO issue less highly – not because they are any less frustrated with the current password situation – but because they seek other workflow improvements which can be implemented more immediately. ACT’s next step is to have its Agent SSO Technical Group do a Proof of Concept testing a new technology such as OpenIDs for agent authentication between vendor systems and carriers.
 
The agents’ third priority (and the fifth overall priority) is for the industry to implement the new workflow recommended by the joint ACT and AUGIE work group which would enable agents to run the MVR and loss history reports when making a real-time quote request. Today the carrier typically runs these reports after the quoting process when a request to issue the policy is made. Under the proposed workflow, the agent’s rating system would automatically enter the information from these reports in the agent’s rate request so that the information can be shared with multiple carriers. The carrier which writes the business would reimburse the agents for the report costs.
 
Agents report that almost 50% of the time the initial quote is changed because of information contained on these reports – leading to a poor customer experience and the possibility that the most competitive carrier loses out because this information had not been considered at the quote stage. There was a lot of interest by the carriers and vendors in the Work Group’s proposal at the meeting, even though only three carriers and two vendors ranked this issue as one of their top three priorities.
 
Another hot subject at the meeting was Claims Download which Applied Systems now offers and several carriers are implementing. This was the fourth overall industry priority and the third priority for carriers (six mentioning it as a first priority, three as a second, and four as a third). Four vendors identified the issue as a third industry priority.
 
Finally, the agents identified as a fourth industry priority the implementation of several ACT recommendations to improve the quality of downloads and streamline the download checking process for agencies. Three vendors and one carrier identified this issue as one of the top three priorities.
 
The February ACT and AUGIE meetings were successful in bringing the industry together to identify what the industry’s process improvement priorities should be for 2008 as well as to add a wealth of input to the current initiatives that are underway. Our objective is to see the industry agree on priorities so that the workflow and technology improvements that are delivered to agents are made available as broadly as possible within a similar time frame, thereby encouraging higher levels of agent adoption.
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