CARRIER PAPERLESS INITIATIVES CREATE CHALLENGES
FOR INDEPENDENT AGENTS AND BROKERS
New ACT report makes recommendations for “Turning off the Paper”
ALEXANDRIA, VA, July 14—As carriers “turn off” paper documentation and replace it with electronic information, agents and brokers are confronted with a new set of workflow challenges that can set back agency efficiency significantly unless carriers take specific steps with regard to the electronic information they provide to their sales forces.
Because of the importance of this paperless trend to agency workflow, the Agents Council for Technology (ACT), a partnership of independent agents, companies and technology vendors, user groups and associations dedicated to enhancing the use of technology, created a work group to develop recommendations for carriers, agents and vendors. ACT published its Phase One report in July 2003 and this week is publishing Phase Two of the report, Turning off the Paper to Agents: Recommended Agent and Carrier Workflows. Both reports are available on www.independentagent.com by clicking on the “ACT” link and then clicking on the “Technology Reports” section.
“The trend for carriers to turn off the paper to their agents is a reality today,” says Bob Slocum, chairman of ACT and the work group, and president of Slocum Insurance Agency in Warwick, R.I. “ACT wanted to assist agents with workflow recommendations that would enable them to operate efficiently in this paperless world and to identify steps carriers should take before turning off the paper so agents can operate efficiently and feel secure in relying on electronic information.”
“The report’s overarching recommendation is that a carrier should not mandate the shutting off of paper to the agent unless there is an effective download in place,” adds Jeffrey M. Yates, ACT executive director. “Download continues to be very important to agents in this new environment even though the electronic information should also be accessible to agents on the carrier’s Web site.”
The report provides a series of recommendations to agents and carriers depending on whether the transaction is downloaded or not. Where there is an effective download, agents should be able to rely on “spot checking” the downloaded items for accuracy and viewing the electronic documents on the carrier’s Web site when needed.
“However,” Slocum stressed, “it is critical that carriers revise their current contracts to provide the agency with the commitment that they will continue to make the electronic information on its Web site available even if there is an agent of record change or the agent is terminated. This information also should include the exact form used and its edition date.”
Even where download is in place for a line of business, there are likely to be some transactions relating to that business that are not downloaded. Examples might include notices of cancellation, audits, property valuations and correspondence regarding underwriting issues sent directly from the carrier to the insured. The carrier should either continue to send the paper for these transactions or “push” the electronic information, or links to it, to the agent. The ACT report also praises carriers that e-mail or download daily transaction reports to their agents with links to electronic documents.
Where an effective download is not in place, the report urges carriers not to turn off paper unless the agency agrees. Assuming this agreement is reached, the report stresses the importance of carriers helping agents with this new workflow by pushing the information or a link to it to agents electronically, rather than requiring agencies to visit the individual Web sites for each of their carriers to ascertain whether a transaction has occurred. For the types of business that are not downloaded, the agency should check each policy for accuracy and store the electronic information or a link to it locally. The report also urges that agencies consider having carrier e-mails containing links or policy information routed to a central agency mailbox rather than to specific individuals so this information can be managed in a consistent manner and not be sent to the wrong individual.
“Our work confirmed the importance of download and real-time interface technology to enable agents and brokers to operate as efficiently as possible in this paperless world,” Yates concludes. “It is vital for the industry to come to together to make commercial lines download work more effectively and for us to achieve broad implementation of the new real-time technologies that enable the instantaneous flow of electronic information, messages, and data between agency management systems and carriers.”
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.