Getting Automated: How One Agency Streamlined Its Work Flow

By | May 15, 2000

In today’s fast-paced, high-tech world, an agency management system-one that is built with technology that defines the future of the insurance automation industry-is a crucial part of an independent agency’s success.

“You have to be automated,” said Paul Hammack, vice president of Professional Insurance Associates Inc. (PIA Inc.). “If you’re not, you’re going to get bogged down in payroll. That’s just the nature of the beast right now.”

Since becoming a fully automated agency, San Carlos-based PIA Inc. has created a more efficient way of conducting business. “We’ve been able to save time-and time is money,” Hammack said. “We’re able to handle more accounts with fewer people-that’s the bottom line.”

Back in 1989, PIA Inc. purchased its first agency management system, COMMERCIAL Plus, a product of The QWIK APP Co. Inc. COMMERCIAL Plus is a complete agency management system that generates every commercial lines application, certificates, binders, loss notices, endorsements, memos and fax.

After a couple of years of using COMMERCIAL Plus, PIA Inc. felt it was time to replace or upgrade its system. “The program [COMMERCIAL Plus] was designed mainly just to complete ACORD applications, complete certificates of insurance and monitor your clients in that manner,” Hammack said. “It didn’t have the full accounting and full-blown agency management reporting capabilities.”

So in 1995, Hammack purchased a product from Compass Software Inc. “But we eventually got rid of Compass,” Hammack said. “They were trying to convert file data which they told us they could and they didn’t, so we ended up suing them in court to get our money back.”

After resolving its problems with Compass, it was time to find another new vendor. The next vendor had to have the right mix of technologies for the agency’s needs.

Everything happens for a reason

Roughly one year ago-as if somebody was trying to send him a subliminal message-Hammack received a flyer from AMS Services. “They were offering discounts to agencies if they bought by a certain time period,” he said. “So we looked at their system, the AfW [AMS for Windows], and we ended up purchasing that program.”

Making this third purchase was a milestone for PIA Inc., according to Hammack-“the actual purchase of the system; a full-blown agency management system like AMS to incorporate everything into one.” Hammack’s reason for purchasing AfW was that it had all of the reporting, account management and account handling capabilities that the agency was looking for. “It also had integration with our existing documentation in Word and Excel,” he said.

Another selling point was that with AMS as its vendor, PIA Inc. also has the ability to expand its automation capabilities. “[We can] add forms modules, imaging modules and faxing modules,” Hammack said. “It’s an all-in-one system that does everything for us.”

AMS for Windows was developed from the ground up as a Windows product in accordance with Microsoft. It’s founded on true Windows technology, utilizing Microsoft’s SQL and Windows NT client-server technology. This Windows management system has been successfully automating agencies since 1993.

The AMS system has been up and running for roughly one year at PIA Inc., and there are no signs of the agency jumping ship and switching systems. In fact, Hammack said that they are going to install a fax server in the next couple of weeks. This will give the agency the ability to fax applications, documents, certificates, memos and letters to clients directly from a PC.

“The fax software is going to replace our inbound fax machine, so faxes that come in will be converted to e-mail,” he explained. “This will really cut down on the time and the paper in faxing back and forth to companies, producers, etc.”

Moving toward a paper-free environment

PIA Inc. is a multi-location agency with many offices throughout California. The agency started its affiliate office program in 1985 with one office, and today boasts a network of 95 offices in California alone. The next step is expansion into Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

“I work with probably 100 entities, in terms of companies and MGAs, and if you take all of the producers on top of that and my staff, I’ve got to communicate with roughly 200 people,” Hammack said, explaining that he averages 150 e-mails per day. “Even if one-tenth of those [e-mails] were phone calls, I would never be off the phone.”

That being said, another very important “automation” step that PIA Inc. took-even though it isn’t directly related to agency management systems-is the use of e-mail. “To be able to push buttons and get my message to 100 people…for when quotes are coming in and out or when carriers are requesting more information…to just hit ‘cc’ and get e-mail to go to everybody is probably the biggest communication saver that I can think of,” Hammack said.

How tech savvy are you?

Most of the automation products on the market today are reasonably user friendly. “The only downside to them is that if you are not tech savvy, it may cost you more in initial training fees…and some of these systems, too, have fairly healthy monthly costs,” Hammack said.

The cost of bringing in an AMS trainer to PIA Inc.’s office to train six new staff members was $1,200 for one day. But as Hammack said earlier, “time is money,” and by having a fully trained staff, the office should work more efficiently and bring in more business.

Hammack stressed the importance of having a “game plan” before diving into a new agency management system. “You’ve got to have a strategy,” he said. “You also need to take a look at your budget, because there are hugely varying degrees of price. Applied and AMS are about the same, but then you go down to someone like InStar Corporation or the QWIK APP Co. and they are considerably less in price-but you don’t get as much support.” The bigger vendors offer more complete packages.

“Usually the pecking order-in terms of upload/download of the companies-is that Applied is first,” Hammack said. “Then the second one that they work with is AMS.”

Hammack sits on the agency councils of five different insurance companies’ committees for technology. “They’re always piloting first with Applied and secondly with AMS,” he said. “The reason they pilot with Applied first is because Applied is a little more lenient in providing the companies with their source codes. They can actually get the systems to do the upload/download much quicker.”

Regardless of which management system your agency ends up investing in, Hammack had a few final words of advice: “You want to be able to have one system to handle all of your needs. You don’t want to have to go to a second program to do your accounting or a third program to do your faxing and another program to do your forms. If you can get everything in one place, you’re good to go.”

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