ACT’s 2007 Agenda
By Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director
2007 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the industry to make significant advances in how agencies and carriers do business together. The industry has just launched an unprecedented campaign to double the usage of Real Time over the next year. We increasingly understand that Download has become even more important in a Real Time world, so it is imperative that we also push implementation of Commercial Lines Download and make sure effective Personal Lines Download is universally available.
Also of note, ACT and the industry has launched a new Workflow Forum, so there is an ongoing place where the industry can discuss key problem areas in current agent-carrier workflows and devise improvements. Already, as one example, there is an all-industry initiative to focus on improving the agency’s workflow when marketing accounts for competitive quotes. One of the most knotty issues that group is discussing is how do we move up obtaining MVR and third party loss reports to the front of real-time rating process, rather than at the end so that agents obtain more accurate rates.
The industry also is starting to respond to the agents’ enormous frustration with having to manage the myriad of ever changing unique passwords that each employee must have for each carrier. The industry is actively exploring the feasibility of replacing these passwords with a digital identity (such as a digital certificate) for each agency employee that would be accepted by all of the participating carriers.
ACT also wants to help agencies have a stronger brand on the Internet, by helping them host more effective websites, increase the functionality available to their customers on these websites, and improve the agency’s positioning on search engines, so that when you search for insurance in your community, your agency comes up.
ACT’s 2007 agenda is to fully participate in these exciting initiatives, some of which are pursued within ACT and some of which are pursued as all industry efforts to which both ACT and AUGIE provide ongoing support.
Key Trends Fuel ACT’s Agenda
It is important to note that ACT’s agenda flows directly out of the industry planning process that was led by ACT’s Strategic Issues Work Group over the course of 2005 and 2006, and which was endorsed by the industry in several meetings. First the industry reviewed the “hard” trends that had been identified. These are the trends about which the industry has a high degree of certainty. Next the industry discussed the implications as to how these trends are likely to change how we do business in the future. Having agreed on the hard trends and their implications, the industry in September, 2006 agreed upon a series of issues that it felt we “must do” to be well prepared for this new world featuring constantly evolving technology options and changing consumer expectations.
To fully understand where the industry and ACT are headed based upon this planning, it is instructive to briefly revisit these trends, the resulting implications, and the “must do” issues the industry has agreed upon. This information is just as relevant to the planning of individual agencies, carriers, and vendors, as it is to the industry as a whole.
There is strong industry consensus that these key hard trends are highly certain to occur:
· Real Time will proliferate
· Consumers will look first on the Internet for information and service providers
· Search engines will increasingly drive consumers’ choices
· Next generation websites will marry video, voice, and graphics for real-time access to service representatives
· Baby Boomers will remain active & “re-engage”
· Gen X & Y will be raising kids, owning homes, and running businesses
· Time will be in very short supply
· The Internet will provide access to more insurance info, creating more choices & greater complexity
· Trust in businesses and institutions will be a real issue for the public.
Based upon these trends, we identified these implications for our businesses:
· Consumers will increasingly expect immediate response
· Our implementation of Real Time effectively is critical to our meeting these customer expectations
· Portable devices will enhance agents’ and carriers’ ability to be immediately available and to be more efficient
· Communicating through the Internet, as well as the proliferation of portable devices, will increase our security risks and put customer information at greater risk
· Being a networked agency or carrier that uses technology effectively will increasingly be a hallmark of professionalism and ease of doing business
· It will be important for agencies to have a meaningful presence on the Web and to have their website found by consumers using search engines
· Gen X & Y, and many Baby Boomers, will want agencies that use technology effectively
· Agencies will need to be available when customers want to access them, often after normal business hours
· Independent agencies have a great opportunity to appeal to consumers by becoming trusted advisors, who help customers cut through all of the choices and complexity, and save them time.
(Complete trends analysis available on ACT website at “Technology Reports”)
The next step for ACT’s Strategic Issues Work Group was to determine the initiatives the industry “must do” in order to be prepared to meet these trends and implications. At ACT’s September, 2006 meeting, the industry agreed to tackle these issues:
· Move the industry’s predominant workflow to Real Time and Download
· Achieve a consistent industry strategy on security
· Create an ongoing agent-carrier Workflow Improvement Forum
· Increase the presence and visibility of agency websites and maximize the customer experience they provide
· Continue an ongoing dialogue on future trends and their implications.
ACT’s 2007 Agenda
These “must do” issues are fueling ACT’s current agenda, and we seek to get as broad industry participation and buy-in into them as possible.
A great example is the Real-Time/Download Campaign which has recently launched. ACT and AUGIE advocated for the Campaign’s creation and have provided much of the staff support, but it has since become an all industry undertaking which will depend on the active promotion and support of agencies, carriers, technology providers, user groups and agent and industry associations for its success.
Campaign supporters will use this logo on their websites, ads, and in their real-time communications.
The Campaign’s dedicated site, www.getrealtime.org, which will go live the week of April 16, is designed to give agents practical implementation information on both Real Time and Download, as well as to provide direct links to vendor pages for vendor specific implementation and trouble shooting information. The site also will contain links to carrier specific real-time and download information. The Campaign has developed an agency real-time implementation guide which includes the benefits of using Real Time, the types of functionality available, the workflows, and implementation tips. Also featured on the website is the Stakeholders Commitments document, which delineates the actions the Campaign requests each group of stakeholders to take to foster the growth of Real Time and to promote the Campaign.
ACT’s Emerging Security Issues Work Group has sought to raise agencies’ awareness of the security risks they face. Its guide, “Protecting Agency Customer Information from Identity Theft,” provides a great overview of the issues agents need to be thinking about, since they are now “networked” with the external world and are increasingly taking agency computing outside of the agency’s perimeter. (Guide available on ACT website at “Agency Improvement Tools”)
The work group is now exploring the possibility of the industry’s forming a Security and Privacy Alliance in order to have an ongoing entity focused on creating more consistent security strategies, especially as they impact on independent agencies which must deal with the policies of multiple carriers. Such an Alliance would consider setting up a system of digital identities (such as digital certificates) to authenticate agency employees on carrier websites and systems to replace the current use of passwords. This digital identity would be issued by a trusted third party to each agency employee and would be accepted by all participating carriers.
ACT also has established a Workflow Improvement Forum to provide an ongoing focus on improving agency—carrier workflows. As mentioned above, one of the key workflow segments being addressed—marketing accounts for competitive rates—has already become an all industry initiative which ACT and AUGIE are administering together. The Forum is also addressing data related issues, endorsements, and checking downloads and issued policy related documents for correctness.
ACT’s Agency Website Work Group is working to assist agencies in becoming better positioned on the Web. It hosted a panel of search experts at the February ACT meeting, and out of this discussion the work group will prepare a primer to assist agencies in getting positioned for both organic and paid search. The group is also preparing a best practices guide for agency websites and has a subgroup discussing how we can extend real-time functionality provided by carriers out to customers through agency websites. Customer billing inquiry and payment transactions are being looked at as a logical first step, because of their frequency and the likelihood of fewer security risks.
Finally, ACT is participating with AUGIE in the development of the new Power of Change seminar which is designed to help agencies lead their staffs through a change process in order to eliminate current workflow inefficiencies and incorporate improved technologies, such as Real Time and Commercial Lines Download. We expect agents associations, user groups, and carriers to host this seminar to help their agencies undertake the change process most effectively and achieve employee buy-in for the workflow and functional changes that they will need to make to remain well positioned competitors in the future.
Jeff Yates is Executive Director of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) which is part of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. ACT’s website is www.independentagent.com/act. 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.