ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 7 -- There are many potential benefits for the independent agency system as many carriers begin to "turn off" the paper traditionally sent to agents and replace it with electronic information.
However, the ultimate success of this trend is going to be determined by how well carriers, agencies and vendors communicate with one another and carry out their own responsibilities during the conversion process, the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) says in a new report issued this week.
ACT, which is affiliated with the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), formed a “Paperless to the Agent” Work Group to address the procedures involved in implementing the change to a paperless environment and ensure that essential information is provided to the agent in an electronic format that is convenient and efficient. ACT makes specific procedural recommendations to carriers, agencies and vendors in its report—Turning off the Paper to Agents: The Key Responsibilities for Each of the Parties.
“ACT believes that a careful and responsible move to a paperless environment will be a great benefit to the independent agency system,” says Bob Slocum, chairman of the work group and president of Slocum Insurance Agency in Warwick, R.I. “However, it is essential to be thinking very proactively in this conversion process. By compiling this report with input from knowledgeable individuals representing every stakeholder, we hope to clearly outline the procedures, electronic capabilities, and safeguards everyone should incorporate in order to make the new paperless workflows a win-win situation for agencies and carriers alike.”
ACT suggests that carriers advise their agents of any intent to move in a paperless direction at least one year in advance. The carrier should advise its agents to implement the appropriate download, real-time information inquiry transactions, and electronic information management within their agency systems to be able to handle the electronic information effectively. Furthermore, carriers should provide agents at least a six-month testing period that would allow them to discover any inadequacies in the carrier’s electronic approach in time for the carrier to fix them.
Among other ACT recommendations for carriers:
· Involve their agency advisory councils, including individuals who regularly perform this work with the carrier, in their strategy and planning to go paperless with their agents, so that these plans can benefit from agency thinking before they are finalized.
· Before turning off paper to the agent, provide access to that information on the Web site in a manner that the agent can download, print, and store locally. The carrier should commit to make the information available to the agent for the length of time that state law requires the agency or the carrier to retain such information. The carrier should strive to provide this information to the agent on its Web site for at least a seven-year period—the length of time most states require the parties to retain such information.
· Be able to download the policy information effectively for the transactions where they cease sending the paper.
· Implementing real-time policy inquiry and view through agency management systems also is important for carriers because of the efficiency this adds on the agency side and the savings this adds for carriers from a reduction in agency calls.
· Offer the capability to “push” certain electronic documents to the appropriate person in the agency by e-mail with a link back to the carrier system for a view of the full document.
Agents, too, must play a proactive role in the paperless conversion process. Agencies should install high-speed Internet access at every desktop, budget for automation, upgrade systems to keep the agency current, and train staff members so they are fully prepared to utilize technology advances as they become available.
ACT also recommends that agents:
· Continue to move to an agency environment where the agency management system is the primary source of information for all agency employees.
· Continue to think through all of the management issues involved in an environment where the primary files are electronic. The report outlines several issues for agents to consider.
· Review their company contracts with specific regard to the provisions and guarantees concerning their ability to access their policies and other documents following a termination, or if their carrier is acquired, exits the state, or the line of business.
· Implement policy download wherever available in personal and commercial lines and work with the user groups and carriers to refine these downloads where necessary.
· Implement real-time inquiry functions through their agency management systems with as many of their carriers as possible. This capability will enhance the ability of agency employees to efficiently use electronic information stored at the carrier. Agents should provide internet access to company Web sites to all staff members.
· When an agent learns that a carrier will “turn off the paper” to the agent, the agency should immediately begin testing its reliance on the electronic information from the company, as though it were not receiving the paper. In this way, the agent will be able to point out any inadequacies to the carrier before the paper is actually turned off. This also allows time to update agency procedure manuals and workflow processes.
· Agents should keep in mind as they determine their electronic information policies that if one of their clients is sued, they may be subpoenaed to produce the complete policies (not just the Declarations Page) covering those insureds from decades before. Agents also should assure themselves that they can continue to read this electronic information as they upgrade or change their systems.
Finally, agency management system vendors should work with their user groups and the carriers to make download as effective as possible. These download capabilities should include both personal and commercial lines, direct bill commission statements, and claims status and payment.
ACT also recommends to vendors:
- Keep current versions of all ACORD forms on their systems at all times. If the form is outdated, the agent’s ability to submit electronically is severely impaired.
- Implement real-time billing, claims, and policy inquiry transactions with as many carriers as possible.
- Agency management systems should have the capability to attach electronic documents in multiple formats (such as PDF, jpg, Word, Excel, html, tif) to the client file.
ACT Executive Director Jeff Yates stresses that the move to a paperless environment where possible between the carrier and the agent can yield important efficiencies to both parties. “This new workflow should not be feared, but welcomed,” Yates says. “As long as each party acknowledges the impact its actions will have on the other parties involved and addresses those needs by implementing the recommendations contained in this report, this can be a very positive transition for companies, agents and vendors.”
The complete ACT report is available by visiting www.independentagent.com and clicking on the Agents Council for Technology tab. Scroll down to the “What’s New” section.
Established in 1999, ACT provides a candid, action-oriented forum for agent and industry associations, user groups, companies and vendors to address critical technology and workflow issues facing the independent agency system.
Founded in 1896, IIABA is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and brokers, representing a network of more than 300,000 agents, brokers and their employees nationally. Its members are businesses that offer customers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent agents and brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life and health—as well as employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address: www.independentagent.com.