Based on the many conversations I’ve had with agents, I think it is safe to say that they are sick to death of doing multiple entries of the same data.
Real-time, security, download, paperless to the agent, multiple passwords, proprietary company Web sites, choosing an ASP—there is so much going on that it is hard to know where to start. Every day, independent agents make critical technology decisions. It is a vital part of running a successful business and positioning it for continued growth.
This is an unprecedented time of opportunity for those independent agents who are willing to embrace new technologies and see the implementation of them as a key step in positioning the agency for the future. The most striking opportunity now is real-time processing.
Real-time interface, in its simplest terms, means that a user makes a request electronically and promptly receives a response. It may be a quote, service inquiry, policy view, etc. The electronic response to the user can be in the form of a message, direct access to the requested information, or the initiation of an online process. The long-term goal of real-time interface is that the entire business process in response to the request is completed immediately, and that the agency and carrier databases both reflect the change that has been made. In practice, this is not always the case today.
In many cases, agents are forced to deal with multiple proprietary company Web sites, which each require a different password to access and then separate re-entry of the data that already exists in the agent’s system. For agents, this is a very cumbersome and inefficient way to work.
Based on the many conversations I’ve had with agents, I think it is safe to say that they are sick to death of doing multiple entries of the same data! For over 25 years, we have anticipated the arrival of SEMCI (single-entry, multiple-company interface). Today, however, I can honestly say that the technology exists to end multiple data entry and to realize the efficiencies and corresponding cost savings that will follow for agents, as well as companies.
Real-time processing is a true win-win for everyone. Most of the major vendors of agency management systems have the technology required to take advantage of real-time built right into their systems—now! The missing piece at this moment is participation. Both agencies and companies must get on board and begin using this powerful new technology ASAP. Agents need to be sure their systems are up to date, and companies need to adapt their systems to facilitate the change to real-time. Then everyone must use these new tools. This is the best way for agents to demonstrate to companies and vendors that these real-time interfaces are important to them.
In addition, there is a clear trend where companies are “turning off the paper” to their agents and replacing it with electronic information. Whether we like it or not, this is a reality, and most agents have little or no choice but to deal with it. Some will see it as an opportunity while others see it as another deviation to their internal workflow. The Agents Council for Technology (ACT) has done a substantial amount of research and created a document to help agents, companies, and vendors understand the potentially serious implications of turning off the paper to agents without proper preparation and implementation of new safeguards. Our study shows that there are serious implications in the areas of workflow within the agency. In addition, implementations that do not include a download of data can create potential problems for the agents both now and in the future. We believe that effective download is a prerequisite to turning off the paper, so the task of perfecting download is imperative.
Anyone who has an e-mail account knows that security is a major issue. We are now almost entirely dependent on our ability to communicate electronically. HIPAA, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, and many other state and federal laws are placing more responsibility on agents every day to protect sensitive data. Agents must understand what they can and must do to protect themselves.
ACT is affiliated with the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and provides a candid, action-oriented forum to address the critical technology issues. ACT has developed reports and business tools to assist agents in meeting these technology challenges. Look for them online at www.independentagent.com/act.
Finally, I encourage all independent agents and brokers to stay current with these technology issues and to join us in pushing for continued improvements in available industry solutions, so that our distribution system assures its strong competitive position for years to come.
Robert G. Slocum is president of the Slocum Agency Inc. in Warwick, R.I., and is chairman of ACT. He entered the insurance business when he was 16 years old as a bookkeeper in his family-run insurance agency. Throughout his career, he has been actively involved in a wide variety of industry activities and currently serves at the IIABA state national director for Rhode Island.