It’s that time again—autumn of an election year. As politicians make the final big push toward Election Day, voters weigh the merits of individual candidates and decide which way their votes will go.
It is in the spirit of that environment that the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA), on the eve of its annual convention, has chosen to host an ‘Elect SEMCI’ (single entry, multiple-company interface) campaign. Agents, companies and agency management system vendors visiting the website, www.independentagent.com, can click on a link and be transported to a ‘ballot’ where they can register a ‘vote’ for SEMCI.
There are some who would say that, at this point, such a campaign is merely preaching to the converted. Indeed, there are many in the industry who seem downright tired of hearing or talking about SEMCI.
Jeff Snider, chairman of the recently launched InsureTrade, voiced some of the lingering quandaries held by industry professionals with regard to SEMCI. ‘A question like, “Who’s in favor of single entry?’—How do you vote against that? It’s really a non-question. If there’s been 15 years of time and lots of resources and money committed to a single entry solution, it’s just too easy an idea to affirm for it to be this hard to apply.’
But others, specifically those who have rallied behind the IIAA in this most recent endeavor to promote SEMCI, view the timing for the promotion as fortuitous. While admitting that SEMCI has accumulated a lot of negative baggage over the years, such supporters say technology, in the form of recent developments in ACORD XML (extensible markup language) standards for the insurance industry, has finally caught up with the concept.
‘The most predominant issue is that the technology has now reached a point where SEMCI is possible by following ACORD XML standards,’ said Len Brevik, senior vice president and CIO for the IIAA. ‘That standard protocol, if followed within the industry and if backed within the industry, will truly allow SEMCI to happen now.’
Brevik explained that the ‘Elect SEMCI’ initiative, started last May by the IIAA in conjunction with the Agents Council for Technology (ACT), now includes the involvement and support of both AMS Users Group and ASCnet (Applied Systems Client Network). In addition, four insurance companies—SAFECO, Heritage Mutual, The Hartford and Traveler’s Property Casualty—were recently recognized by the IIAA for their implementation of successful SEMCI and XML tools for agencies.
‘We’re following the whole campaign theme,’ Brevik said. ‘IIAA is very much a political organization—very much an advocacy organization. Our states and agents understand that kind of campaign methodology, so we thought that would be a good way to motivate the troops. This really is a grassroots move. It’s not a high-end advertising campaign; it’s truly grassroots agents talking to the companies.’
Beverly J. Coats, president of AMS Users Group, pointed to certain other elements which, in the past, hindered progress toward the delivery of SEMCI’s full promise.
‘The parties involved forgot to work together,’ Coats stated. ‘Companies
developed transactional functions, most of which were proprietary, none of which worked with other companies. Agents held fast to traditional business practices, many using technology, none of which worked with multiple companies. The truth is companies and agents are not far apart on this. Carriers recognize “one and done’ will help them quote more business, more competitively. Agents recognize that SEMCI eliminates cumbersome workflows and costly inefficiencies.’
Brevik said another important aspect of the campaign is to make SEMCI ‘tangible,’ which the IIAA hopes to accomplish at this year’s convention with the assistance of more than a dozen vendors. Each company will demonstrate an XML, SEMCI-type approach within their technology or service, providing agents with a direct look at how XML and SEMCI work and what can be achieved in the marketplace through the efficiencies they provide.
Brevik said participating companies have been asked to basically provide a three-minute snapshot on their product. ‘Then [the IIAA] will actually be doing the demo,’ he said. ‘We’ll be showing what the technology is, what it means for agents and then basically point to the company so that if agents want follow-up information or additional information, they can go to the web or the other resources available.’
One of the major criteria to enable a vendor to demonstrate in the special event is that the product has to be in existence now as opposed to something still on the drawing board.
‘We realize that if we can’t show something tangible, people say, “Well, what’s in it for me? Why should I do it?” Brevik said.
In fact, the issue of incentive would seem to be key, not just to the agents, but perhaps even more so to companies.
‘There is no incentive, insurance company to insurance company, to share platforms,’ InsureTrade’s Snider said. ‘Single entry is a nice idea, but it’s not a compelling one— It may do something for someone, but that self-interest group hasn’t been identified. If it’s just a work-saving idea for agents, that’s not good enough—I don’t see the self-interest issue being addressed that would compel the insurance companies that have resources to devote themselves to this.’
With the agencies and user groups behind the issue and no impediments presented by automation vendors, the question of what kind of leverage will be placed on companies to fully rally behind a group effort has yet to be answered.
‘A lot of companies have been going in the proprietary approach, and agents say they can’t have their CSRs and themselves learn 10 or 12 different company web type approaches,’ Brevik said. ‘Part of the new SEMCI, or the new vision we’re looking at, is to have a streamlined process and to ultimately get away from the individual proprietary approaches.
‘It’s really the agents and companies working in concert together to make it happen,’ Brevik concluded. ‘Eventually, it’s going to become a competitiveness issue. It’s not agents strong-arming the companies—it’s more agents pointing the way—now this is possible, and it’s a win-win for all of us.’
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