By Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director
As I travel on behalf of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT), I’m heartened by the positive comments from agents and brokers who recognize the good work our volunteers are doing. Interest in our work on real-time transactions and other issues critical to boosting agency efficiency through technology is strong. Equally intense is a hunger for more information and resources to help agency principals move their own operations forward in the quest for technology-based performance gains.
Several resources can help boost awareness of agency automation issues and help agencies make better use of existing and new technology. You should regularly check out the ACT web site (www.independentagent.com/act), because we frequently add new reports. Whether you are evaluating new agency workflows, replacing paper with an electronic information management solution, considering an ASP, ACT has resources in the “Agency Improvement Tools” section to assist you with your decision and your implementation.
Similarly, in the ACT “Technology Reports” section, you will find several papers on real-time interface, outlining the progress being made as well as its potential for our distribution system. This section also gives you information on agent-carrier technology agreements, guidance on protecting confidential client information, bolstering sales and marketing effectiveness with technology, and recommendations for both carriers and agencies to follow as policy paper once sent to agencies is replaced with electronic information.
You can click on the ACT Real-Time Interface DVD for an entertaining look at the benefits agents and carriers will derive from implementing real-time. I also urge you to click on the ACTtech insurance resource center for the current status of carrier real-time implementations through the various agency management systems. If some of your carriers have not yet visited the site to enter or update their information, please encourage them to do so. You also can link directly to vendor and user group sites with real-time and download information by clicking on “Real-Time Interface Links” from the ACT site. In addition, check your carrier sites for helpful information on the technologies they can offer you to enhance the efficiency of doing business with them.
ACT also works very closely with several of the state agents’ associations on technology issues, and several of the states have developed technology tools of their own for their members, along with conducting informative technology sessions at the state and regional level. In addition, IIABA’s Big I Virtual University with its newsletter, resource library, and “Ask an Expert” service provides excellent information on technology topics, as well as on a host of other technical insurance and management topics.
You will also find the user groups’ web sites for the various agency management systems to be a great resource for information specifically related to your system. These sites offer the latest vendor news and developments, training sessions, publications and chat rooms for users to learn from other users.
A newly enhanced resource has been developed by an organization that has, for more than 30 years, been at the forefront of agency interface and standardization issues. That group is ACORD, and the resource is the ACORD Advantage (www.acordadvantage.org) program for agents and brokers.
Independent agents certainly appreciate ACORD’s considerable activities and commitment to bringing uniformity and standardization to the many forms agencies must use to conduct business. ACORD’s work has evolved over the years to include data standards, which have made download possible for agents and now facilitate widespread adoption of real-time interfaces. ACORD works closely with the agency community by being an active supporter and partner of ACT as well as the facilitator and sponsor of AUGIE, the ACORD User Groups Information Exchange, which brings together all of the officers of the agency management system users groups.
I urge you to consider subscribing to the new ACORD Advantage Program, not only because of the resources it makes available to you, but because it provides the way for agents and brokers to support and participate in the work that ACORD does to promote standardization. This agency input into forms and standards development is critical to assure that decisions made through the ACORD standards-setting process continue to respond the needs of independent agencies and brokers.
Forms, Forms and More Forms
The ACORD Advantage site offers every ACORD form available, and ACORD guarantees it. This is a great way to assure that you are using the most current form and to gain access to those forms that may not be on your agency management system. ACORD also has developed a common life application, parts 1 & 2, and is now working on additional life forms. Another benefit is the newest Advantage feature—fillable forms, which can be completed online and e-mailed, printed, faxed and saved.
Other ACORD Advantage Features
The ACORD Advantage Resources Section offers a large variety of content, covering management of technology, tips and tricks, and “All Things Internet,” as well as ways to use technology to support customer service and client acquisition. One ACORD Advantage subscriber describes how valuable it is to have at her disposal a central repository of detailed information on a broad range of technology topics.
For instance, a very practical, recent addition focuses on transactional filing. The article offers a basic introduction to the concept, identifies what an agency should consider, spells out steps for agency implementation, and includes a spreadsheet agencies can use to calculate their cost savings.
ACORD Advantage also provides an electronic newsletter that brings agency-focused technology news and trend coverage, as well as business advice from a respected agency- automation expert. Recent newsletter topics range from vendor ownership changes and company technology deployments to telemarketing on cell phones and satellite Internet service.
Other benefits of the site include a human resources newsletter that helps agencies and brokers stay abreast of the latest employment issues; a series of audio interviews to help agency professionals improve their organization’s performance; the ACORD Benchmark Calculator to compare the agency’s cost and productivity status to national performance standards; and ACORD MailNow to provide direct mail tools for agents to use for retention and sales.
Working Together for a Better Industry
The state agent associations, the regional and national chapters of the user groups, ACT, AUGIE, and ACORD are all working hard to improve the use of technology and the efficiency of our workflows, both within our agencies and with our carriers. We are receiving excellent cooperation and valued input from many carriers and vendors. We have incredible opportunities to make significant advances in the technology arena at this particular juncture. However, our ultimate success will depend upon the active involvement of the agents in these organizations—pushing for progress and then implementing the improved technology as it becomes 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 at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.