Records, Reporting, Value Creation
As a volunteer engaged with a network of agency management system vendor clients, I have an opportunity to hear from my peers about their experiences and compare this with what goes on in our own office. While we all find immense value in our systems, we also struggle with maximizing automation — whether it’s our management systems or other technology. Everyone could stand to spend a little more time getting to know what their automation offers and learning how to use these features. Doing so will produce positive results for the agency and create greater agency value.
The Complete System
Effectively using all agency management systems — policy, document, benefits and sales — is critical to an agency’s productivity and effectiveness. Purchasing and maintaining these various systems is a significant expense for an agency. Making sure users take full advantage of these tools is an ongoing training and education process.
Opportunities to Maximize
As ACT’s executive director and an active Real Time/Download Campaign participant, I interact with many independent agents and brokers who are committed to implementing the most effective workflows and processes. The common denominator is that all have invested in agency management systems, which helps them eliminate keystrokes and enhance efficiency. Still, many agencies underutilize their system capabilities, leaving dollars on the table that could go to their bottom line.
Always Do Better
I have many opportunities to explore with front-line agency and broker staff how management systems support strong sales and marketing results. In our CPIA education programs and our AIMS Society member interactions, I see examples of innovation. At the same time, I find agents and brokers who want to do more. Agency and broker professionals do many things well. Even in these areas, it is possible to improve on system use to increase revenue, bolster retention and boost profits. By making modest shifts or expanding existing workflows and procedures, agents and brokers can find more value in their agency systems and can use them to increase sales, build stronger client relationships and achieve better overall results.
If you are accessing carrier websites and typing information into their system without any use of the real-time interface tools provided in your agency management system, you need to be angry. All of us on the agency side of this equation are far too passive about allowing this state of affairs to continue. It’s 2012 now, and the day when this ridiculous waste of our valuable time should have stopped is long past due.
10 Things Agencies Do RIGHT
Create Efficiencies. Improve their internal processes to increase efficiencies. This includes a tremendous growth in the number of agencies that are using front-end imaging to achieve the long elusive goal of a paper “less” (not paper free) environment. This can reduce the amount of time that staff spends doing tasks that do not have a perceived client value, allowing them more time to spend with clients.
Accounting Tools. Agencies use their agency management system as an effective accounting tool. This is the basis for the beginnings of these systems. Agencies have had many years of practice using this portion of their systems.
Create Agency Value. The information we record and maintain within our systems is invaluable. It not only helps answer the question, “How much are you worth?” but also, “How much are you worth to someone else?”
Give Friendly, Conscientious Service. Management systems are the hub of good client service; nearly all agency employees tap the functionality to support client-focused interactions. Some use system database information to help them be proactive, offer alternatives, and ask (and record answers to) more probing questions, including why someone leaves or cancels.
Personal Lines Download. Implement personal lines download and save a huge amount of time with it. Because their systems synchronize with their carriers’, agency staff can provide clients more accurate and complete information, which means better service and reduced E&O exposure.
Every agency system has a pre-defined way to process various transactions. Agencies have been successful in using these processes to build agency procedures. Efficiencies — as well as errors and omissions protections — are maximized when everyone in the agency uses consistent procedures for processing daily activities.
Front End Scanning. How paper is routed is becoming less important. Almost all of the agencies I speak with are no longer maintaining non-electronic files. The superiority of capturing incoming items electronically early is being recognized and adopted by a majority of agencies.
Claims Download. Save considerable time in accounting departments with direct bill commission statement download. Also, claims departments are more efficient with claims download, particularly following natural disasters.
Client Relationships. Agencies manage their client relationships through their agency management systems. One further step would be to improve their prospect management through their agency management systems. This will reduce their errors and omissions exposure and make new sales more efficient.
Cloud Computing. Software as a Service (SaaS). A trend has been the move from managing internal computing platforms to outsourcing to the cloud. Moving network management, data backup, version upgrades and user issues to an outside firm frees up agency resources for more productive projects.
10 Things Agencies Do WRONG
No Audits. Not auditing processes and workflows to ensure consistency, time-saving techniques, and documentation. Too many procedure manuals sit on the shelf gathering dust because they were not written in a way to make auditing them a natural consistent process.
Updates and Changes. Agencies often do not keep up with system updates, while vendors create enhancements and fix bugs in their systems. The changes often include workflow improvements that are not implemented; staff continues to use “the old way.” Agencies should ask what the changes make possible and adjust workflow to improve efficiency.
Top to Bottom Planning. Often, there is a disconnect between managers who decide what needs to be measured; tools and technologies used to present the measurements; and the procedures and staff that drive data processing that those measurements will be built upon. You can still find people in charge of overall agency operations who believe it is OK not to understand agency procedures or what their automation systems are capable of.
Report on Too Little. System functionality can be more robust to track employee performance, plus offer financial, activity, performance, expiration and book of business reports to help managers understand workload, productivity and revenue per employee.
Real-Time Quoting and Inquiry. Functionality exists for both personal lines and commercial lines that helps employees work consistently with numerous carriers, directly from their agency management system. Real-time automates carrier password entry and relays information directly from the agency system to the carriers’ — eliminating re-keying. Real-time lets agencies realize their vision of SEMCI (Single-Entry, Multiple-Company Interface).
Engage With Peers. Real benefits come from participating in agency management system user group conferences, local meetings and online communities. Agents can learn from fellow agents how to maximize their systems.
Not Consistent With Data Entry.
There is a definite “cause and effect” between good, consistent data entry and sales. A robust database can have a huge impact on cross selling and account rounding opportunities and bolsters the value of management reports. Remember, attaching a copy of a declarations page isn’t the same as entering policy data into the system. You cannot pull reports from an attachment!
No Standards. Agencies don’t define user system standards (i.e., the lack of well-defined activity codes). The agency should define each activity description. This enhances the system search functions, and the ability to quickly retrieve what the user is looking for.
Not Using Full System. Some agencies leave agency management system features and functionality on the table, using much less than the system’s full capabilities. Perhaps they think they don’t need to use the features, they don’t know how, or they don’t know their systems include certain capabilities.