AMS Users’ Group Hits the Right Key at Annual Conference

By | May 21, 2001

Three major forms of American music are deeply rooted in the rolling green landscape of Tennessee—blues, rock ‘n’ roll and, in the grand old city of Nashville, country. It’s no wonder then that the theme of the AMS Users’ Group (AMSUG) 25th National Conference, held at the Opryland Hotel from April 22-25, had a musical flair—”Your Future in the Key of e.”

Of course, in this context, that “e” primarily refers to all things technology-related, but it could have just as easily represented the numerous educational offerings for which the annual event is noted. This year, more than 170 sessions, ranging from agency management and workflow to hands-on workshops were provided to an estimated 3,000 independent agent attendees.

Soon after the conference got underway, AMSUG 2000-2001 President Bev Coats, of the Illinois-based Colton Downey & Hubbard Insurance Agency, addressed attendees to discuss the evolving relationship between the not-for-profit trade association AMSUG, and AMS Services Inc., whose management systems are used by the approximately 11,000 agencies represented by AMSUG.

“Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to work with [AMS Services President and CEO Loren Parsons] on quite a few projects,” Coats said at an AMS Corporate Presentation. “What I know to be true is, during my tenure as your president, Loren and his capable management team have worked very hard to gain the support and loyalty of AMS customers and employees.”

It was then Parsons’ turn to go over recent major changes at the AMS Holding Group, which were announced in March of this year. These included a reorganization, which separated AMS Holding Group into four separate business units (AMS Services; AMS Rating Services/TowerStreet/iiX; Silver Plume; and Allenbrook) all of which gained operational autonomy. He noted that there has been a move away from a “closed system,” and he termed the year 2000 as a major turning point in terms of profitability, increased customer satisfaction and a normalization in employee turnover.

Parsons also provided an AMS services update, including updates on products like Afw Online, AMS’ first ASP offering announced last year, which he said was “so far turning out to be a big winner for AMS.” Parsons also emphasized that despite recent dot-com failures, “We see a big future in the Internet.”

The next day, at the Business Meeting/Awards Breakfast, Coats recognized numerous AMSUG members honored with “Most Valuable Player” Awards by their respective chapters and the AMSUG Host Committee and its volunteers, who lent their support to the conference.

Several Presidential Citation awards were also presented that morning. Individuals recognized this year for outstanding contributions to AMSUG were: Sandy Darcy, manager of Electronic Data Interchange for AMS Services Inc.; Kathe Donlan, marketing director for AMS Services Inc.; and Mike Randles, president of Insurance Center Associates, San Pedro, Calif.

The recipient of the James M. Gibson Award, given to a volunteer whose contributions to AMSUG have gone above and beyond the call of duty, was Anthony Martone, of Levine Webster Insurance in Waterford, Conn.

The Louie E. Woodbury Jr. Leadership award, recently renamed in honor of a man known as one of the founding fathers of the users’ group, was presented to Susanne Ruffner, a 20-year veteran of AMSUG who serves as its executive director.

The Wade S. Dunbar Award, bestowed in recognition of an individual’s efforts to benefit the insurance industry as a whole, was to be presented by past president Don Jordan, assisted by Wade Dunbar III and Jeffrey M. Yates. During the introductory speech, it soon became clear that the recipient who had “spent much of his career negotiating agreements that benefit today’s independent agent” was none other than Yates himself.

Also announced during the course of the national conference were names of individuals who had been elected to the AMSUG Board of Directors. Those were: John Fortman, of Fortman Insurance Agents & Brokers, Glendale, Calif.; Michael Gray, of Lehr Insurance Agency, Pittsfield, Maine; Susan Hendricks, of Hart Insurance Center, Federal Way, Wash.; Mark Thayer, of Marvin Johnson & Associates, Columbus, Ind.; Frank Van Leeuwen, of Hanson and Ryan Inc., Totowa, N.J.; and Gary W. Williams, of The Williams Insurance Group Inc., Shreveport, La.

Before introducing AMSUG’s new president, Coats took a few moments to reflect on her direction during her past year as president.

“It was pretty simple—to work on the projects the members desired,” Coats explained. In determining those projects, Coats referred to a survey questionnaire members were requested to complete during last year’s conference. She said that in addition to reinforcing the idea that many ongoing projects needed to be continued, the survey revealed new areas of direction to explore.

“Regarding the Internet, we made headway,” Coats stated. “The user’s group has endorsed various products to assist your agency with online education.”

In terms of SEMCI, Coats added, “We all know that has been on our list for the past 20 years. We’ve all heard that SEMCI is dead, or the acronym…is outdated.” However, Coats emphasized that “the concept is still desperately needed in our agencies today.” She also stated that there is probably more new with SEMCI that ever before, adding that AMS was hosting demos of their form of upload: IVANS/Web SEMCI, passing unedited data for import into a carrier’s local or web rating/issuance software; and TowerStreet.

Coats also noted that an online job bank had been developed to assist users with hiring qualified employees.

“This past August, the formation of the ACORD User’s Group Information Exchange (AUGIE)…. took place,” Coats said, explaining that AUGIE is composed of all users’ group leaders who have joined forces in the spirit of establishing cooperation within the insurance industry.

After an initial boost from the IIAA, Coats noted that “The first of five AUGIE meetings was held at this conference…Sixty-five attended, which included Users’ Group leaders, ACORD, AMS, carriers and other vendors. AUGIE aims to work with vendors and carriers who will listen to our needs and involve agents in the product development process.”

Coats then introduced the new president of AMSUG, Baton Rouge, La. native Dirk Boudreaux, senior vice president and treasurer of the Louisiana Companies Insurance Agency. Boudreaux joined in 1995, becoming involved in the Sagitta design review committee. Three years later, Boudreaux became a board member, and in 1999, he assumed the responsibilities of vice president for the group.

Boudreaux delivered a short anecdote to illustrate his perception of how a number of insurance agencies have solved their automation issues.

“They went down a path, not really knowing where they were going to end up—so we have a system of disjointed, dysfunctional automation tools in our agencies,” Boudreaux stated. “We even have workflows that do not trust the automation, so we wonder why we are not as efficient as we can possibly be.”

Boudreaux said that during the coming year, the users’ group’s “short and focused list of priorities” would begin with TowerStreet.

“Have you determined what TowerStreet is and what function it will perform in your agency?” Boudreaux asked attendees. “Do you understand how it interfaces with your system? Do you know what components it will replace or enhance in your current product lineup?” If not, Boudreaux strongly advised attendees to take advantage of the opportunities still available during the remainder of the conference to garner some answers to those questions, advising, “Do not leave this venue wondering what is TowerStreet!”

Secondly, Boudreaux said there will be a future focus on the promotion of ACORD XML standards.

“As a users group of traditionally non-political agencies, we have not been able to exert any type of leverage with carriers and vendors to follow established standards,” he commented. “Through our involvement with AUGIE, we can present one voice that will truly represent the magnitude of these issues upon the processes within our agencies.”

The third issue on Boudreaux’s list was user advocacy. “We will continue to fight for competent and professional solutions for our office environments,” he stated.

He also referred to AMSUG as a group in transition.

“It is our intention to use our national conference as the premier showcase for AMS products,” Boudreaux said. But he added, “while you will never see competing management systems providers at our conference, we must allow for the inclusion of complementary products that enhance our agency’s automation requirements and efficiencies.”

To sum up, Boudreaux stated that the user’s group “must continue to meet the needs of both the small and the large agencies” by providing education and traning opportunities for all users “including the principals, agency managers, automation specialists, CSRs and producers.”

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Insurance Journal West May 21, 2001
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