In the high-energy environment of the Las Vegas strip, members of the AMS Users’ Group were presented with a host of educational and networking opportunities at its 24th National Conference held March 12-14 at Caesar’s Palace.
Currently, nationwide membership in the group, comprised of independent insurance agents who automate their agencies with AMS Agency Management Systems, totals approximately 11,000. With close to 3,000 attendees, this year’s conference was the nonprofit organization’s largest ever.
Kevin Wheeler, owner and president of Cardinal Insurance Services Inc. in Indianapolis and the AMS Users’ Group 1999-2000 president, discussed some of the things that made this year’s event different from those in the past. “First is probably just the immense size,” he said. “Half of those folks are actually agency owners…[They] are here for some very serious, quality education on how to make their agencies sharp, productive. And they’re bringing sales people—they’re bringing management team folks. The conference has gone from one where a bunch of systems coordinators and maybe some CSRs just [discuss] how to work Word or how to put in a policy detail, to some really aggressive stuff to help an agency succeed.”
Wheeler also emphasized the powerful, national presenters, speakers and commentators on hand at the 2000 Conference. These included John Jaques of John H. Jaques Inc. in Palo Cedro, Calif.; Robert Reagan of Atlanta-based Reagan and Associates; Gregory A. Maciag from ACORD; Stephen Anderson of American Insurance Consultants in Franklin, Tenn.; Lawrence J. Marsh of Ohio-based Marsh, Berry & Co. Inc.; and Roger Sitkins of the Sitkins Group in Ft. Meyers, Fla.
Among the array of events offered to conference attendees were executive brief-ings covering a wide variety of subjects, tracks (involving AMS Products Showcase, AMS for Windows, Prime 2000 and AMS Sagitta), how-to rooms featuring one-on-one assistance from AMS technicians, user-to-user labs, more than 100 courses, and scores of exhibitors providing hands-on viewing of services and products.
One of the most significant events of the conference, from the Users’ Group standpoint, was unveiling of its brand new Web site, www.amsug. org.
Cindy Peebles, director of communications for AMS Users’ Group, explained, “We actually took our existing Web site, gave it a facelift and changed the navigation, the look and feel of it.”
“I’m really excited with what the communications committee has done this past year,” Wheeler added. “We’ve got a [members only] WebBoard on our new Web site. Within our WebBoard, there’s a chat room…geared mainly for the agency owners. Some of the comments that I’ve seen from that is this is more powerful than hiring a consultant…[They’re] getting valuable information from [other] agents.” Also featured are “Tips and Tricks” and online publication sections, as well as a “Techno Talk” glossary.
“As far as AMS is concerned, they’ve got a new product, TowerStreet,” Peebles said. “That’s obviously got a lot of focus right now, as well as just reacquainting their customers with the new AMS. There are a lot of things that have changed over the last year. I think there’s been some uncertaintyÐusers being just unsure as to what’s going to be happening.”
John Ashenhurst, the business developer of TowerStreettm and AMS Holding Group executive vice-president, said, “We believe we’ll finally be able to give agencies everything they’ve always wanted in insurance automation. And lessÐwe’re not giving them more work to do. We’ll do it for them.”
TowerStreettm, which gets its moniker from the street where, in 1688, Edward Lloyd established the coffeehouse which eventually evolved into Lloyd’s of London, is marketed using the slogan: “Where it all begins. Again.”
Acting as an application services provider (ASP), the new company will provide integrated, end-to-end insurance software services and information through its own computers over the Internet. Subscribing agencies and companies will be able to choose and pay for only the elements they want. Those same subscribers will be able to participate in a single-entry environment through improved implementation of Single-Entry, MultiCompany Interface (SEMCI). Availability of personal lines point-of-sale (POS) service should start by this spring, and a commercial lines POS service is expected this summer.
TowerStreet aims to work on both agency and company functionality. To that end, the company plans to offer elements of agency management system towards the end of this year and commence efforts towards company-wide functionality by early 2001.
At the “Breakfast of Champions” meeting on March 14, Outgoing President Wheeler reflected on some of those changes: the untimely death of President-Elect Jim Gibson; AMS CEO Chris Magee’s retirement; significant personnel and management changes at AMS; CNA’s sale of a substantial portion of its ownership of AMS; the arrival of Trident II as an investor; IVAN’s acquisition of APT; Y2K jitters; questions concerning the effect of e-commerce on independent agents; and delivery delays with respect to the AMS Rating product. Wheeler also outlined some of the organization’s goals for the future, such as getting more agent involvement, keeping an emphasis on SEMCI, and improving education and enhancing services for members.
Other highlights of the meeting included recognition of MVPs, the presentation of Presidential Citation Awards to Dr. Robert Anderson, Todd West and Gene Connolly, and the presentation of the James M. Gibson Service Award to volunteer Camille H. Zaffino. New members of the group’s Board of Directors were also elected: David R. Davidson, Larry Schoenemann, Sandra Dunn and Michael Randles.
Incoming President Beverly Coats, vice president of the Illinois-based Colton Downey & Hubbard Insurance Agency, voiced her intention of building a new and improved relationship with AMS while reserving the right to openly oppose any AMS action the Users’ Group might disagree with.
Pointing out that the Users’ Group, formed in 1978 and run by volunteers, is a completely separate entity from AMS, Coats said that at times, the unique relationship between the Users’ Group and the vendor has been criticized “as being entirely too close. The truth is that we probably have had times when we were closer to AMS than perhaps we should have been. But there have also been times when we were very grateful for those close relationships and the fact that they consulted with us on new product development, product rollout strategies, pricing—everything that affects our user base.”
Finally, she encapsulated the philosophy she will use with the group in the acronym TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More).
“There’s a climate of change,” Coats said after the ceremony. “You have to develop and work with that climate of change…I think it’s a positive change.” Coats said her goals for 2000 include the commencement of electronic member communications delivery (to get news out quickly and cost effectively) and the development of increased user input. However, her biggest goal for the year will be to do what the users want.
“I really feel confident with the new management,” Coats continued. “[Meetings with Ken Benvenuto, CEO of the holding company,] have been very positive…The good news is AMS is in the black…As an agent, I don’t have to worry about that now, and that’s good.” The group also has other new relationships to work on. “With new people come new ideas,” Coats said. “And with new ideas come, I think, good things for our users.”
The theme of next year’s conference, to be held in Nashville, will be “Your Future in the Key of E”Ðthat’s “e” for e-commerce. “That’s what everybody wants to know about,” Peebles said. “That’s where the future is, so they’re all very interested in how the independent agents fit into all of that and make themselves more valuable to their customers.”
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