Very few agencies tell short stories about agency management systems. ItÕs usually more of a trial-and-error tale that includes a series of purchases, regret and, in many cases, a happy ending that is contingent on finally finding the product right for the agency. Agency management software remains a sore spot for many agencies. While the Internet may bring new competition, it may also become the great equalizer as every agency can access the Internet for little in terms of money. Most vendors, certainly the serious ones, have either released or plan to release a Web-based product. WeÕve asked two of the biggest vendors in the area to tell us in their own words what products they have planned, how they see their companyÕs future and what they think about the tenacity of the independent agency system.
By Jeff Lebioda, Margeting Manager
Applied Systems is a vendor of automation for the independent insurance industry serving the needs of insurance agents, brokers, MGAs, banks and insurance companies around the world.
Many software companies got their start while running skeleton crews on shoestring budgets by rising from the recesses of warehouses, basements and garages. It took more than just an innovative idea or unique application model to be successful, unlike today where a dot-com company can be an immediate success without any proof of performance or proven track record.
Applied Systems was one of those basement start-ups that used traditional methods to get to where it is today. The Internet has companies shifting gears and drastically altering or even abandoning their distribution methods and business models for more e-commerce driven methods and practices. While Applied Systems has adopted some of these practices, it blends new technology trends with traditional practices and values.
Applied currently represents nearly 10,000 agencies with The Agency Manager® automation system. These 10,000 agencies conduct daily upload and download transactions with more than 160 insurance carriers.
Applied’s real-time insurance transaction model, WARP, eliminates the time friction by giving the agent the ability to submit a policy application for quoting, underwriting and issuance in an interactive session. The data from the session is translated to any company format, XML, AL3, or company proprietary, so the company’s front-end policy processing system can exchange information (while performing their own specific edits) with the agency in a real-time session.
This reduces time to market and significantly lowers transaction costs because the process happens over the Internet and takes minutes instead of days or weeks. Both the agent and company benefit from this transaction. Some carriers are removing the agent from the equation as a means to reduce transaction costs by providing a direct Internet portal to their products. Applied removes the friction in the submission process through WARP and empowers the agent to spend more time servicing and rounding out accounts.
Application Service Provider Network
Agencies that want a full-featured management system but can’t front the capital costs were a key market segment for Applied. The Agency Manager Advantage Series addresses the budgetary needs of smaller agencies, but burdens such as system maintenance and technical staffing posed additional concerns for smaller operations.
Application Service Provider Network (ASPN), which is virtually a TAM application hosted on a server farm and accessed via a secure Internet connection, has become one of the most viable options to agencies of any size.
By Loren Parsons, President, AMS Services
For two decades, automation vendors have been developing systems that are increasingly richer in terms of features and functions for insurance agents and brokers. The agency business demands this functionality to compete successfully in the evolving insurance market.
An unfortunate side effect of the growing sophistication of agency management systems is that agents are spending more and more time dealing with the technical aspects of their automation environment. We frequently hear from agents who are frustrated with the amount of time spent dealing with computer issues (server upgrades, backups, software updates, etc.)-time that could be more profitably spent selling insurance and servicing clients.
In response to this, AMS Services has introduced an alternative to the traditional in-house management system, AfW Online. This is an Internet-hosted version of the popular AfW system. AfW Online offers agents the use of AfW software residing on servers managed by and located in AMS data centers. The functionality of the AfW system will be available without the agent needing to purchase an expensive database server or software licenses. Instead, the agent will effectively rent the server and software as part of a monthly subscription fee.
We believe that many agents will prefer AfW Online due to its primary benefits: reduced complexity, reduced start-up cost, and more level and predictable automation costs. Not insignificantly, AfW Online can be easily accessed from the office, from home or from a client’s office.
Recognizing that many agents will not want to move to an Internet-based solution, we will continue to offer our three traditional management systems: AfW for mainstream agencies, Sagitta Browser for very large agents, brokers and MGAs, and Prime 2000 for not-so-big agencies.
Introduced last year, Sagitta Browser has now been installed by more than fifty of our larger clients. Sagitta Browser is accessed using browser-enabled PCs connected to an NT server running Microsoft’s IIS software. Our Browser customers report considerably higher use of client and policy data by producers who find the easy-to-use user interface more inviting than traditional agency management systems.
In general, we are taking advantage of the Internet where it makes sense to do so. AfW Online and Sagitta Browser are two major initiatives toward that end. These major initiatives are supplemented with our new Client Access software that allows agents using AfW and Sagitta Browser to connect selected insureds to their databases for access to policy information, certificate issuance, and other self-service functions. Client Access is currently in beta test with a handful of agencies and is expected to be in general release by early in the third quarter of this year.
AMS will also continue supporting Argo, PathFinder Plus, Pioneer Plus and Premier for as long as practical, while offering incentives to move agents from these older platforms to our contemporary products.
AMS Services, a division of the AMS Holding Group, provides software and automation services to insurance agents, brokers, carriers, banks, MGAs and other distributors of insurance and financial services. The AMS Holding Group companies include Allenbrook, Inc., Rating Services, Insurance Information Exchange, LLC (iiX), and Insurance Reference Systems, Inc. (Silver Plume).
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