The Agents Council for Technology (ACT) has published The Real-Time Revolution: Redefining How We Work, a comprehensive report to help independent agents and brokers and carriers better use real-time technology to improve workflows, customer service and sales, and understand the broad reach technology is likely to have in the industry.
ACT, affiliated with the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), formed a work group to study the potential of real-time transactions and to help agents and brokers and their carriers keep pace with the efficiencies provided by technology that allows the agency system to effectively compete long-term with other distribution systems.
“The insurance industry’s general workflow, customer service and technology infrastructure is undergoing an overhaul,” says ACT Executive Director Jeffrey M. Yates. “The solution is called ‘real-time,’ and for many agencies and carriers it supplies current information at the desktop that assists in providing better customer service tailored to each client’s needs. Real-time saves steps in workflows, eliminates backlog and can result in more sales.”
The report notes that real-time interface, in its simplest terms, means that a user can make a request electronically and promptly receive a response. The transactional request typically is a policy quote, service inquiry, policy view, request for information or billing query. The user’s electronic response can be in the form of a message, direct access to the requested information or the initiation of an online process.
“The long-term goal of real-time interface is that the entire business process—in response to the request—be completed immediately, and that the agency and carrier databases both reflect the changes that have been made,” says Angelyn Treutel, chief financial officer of Treutel Insurance Agency in Bay Saint Louis, Mo., who chaired the work group.
The report also shows that momentum for more real-time functionality is building. Specifically, the number of real-time inquiries and transactions is increasing by as much as 30 percent per month. Additionally, in one year real time reached an activity level that the traditional batch model needed 17 years to achieve. Also, more carriers are in development to make real-time interface universally available to their agents.
The report cites examples of the many benefits of using real-time technology:
* Consumers would receive better customer service and get immediate answers from their carriers, agents and brokers;
* Independent agents and brokers could handle inquiries and transactions in a “once-and-done” manner, eliminate multiple data entries, save time, shorten training efforts, eliminate mailing costs and file space, and dedicate more time to sales activities;
* Managing general agents would receive complete, legible submissions, rather than the handwritten faxes with missing information many receive today;
* Carriers would have billing, claims and policy inquiries automatically handled, and could transfer books of business from other carriers electronically.
The ACT report also identifies that the real-time revolution is likely to impact future insurance communications, database sharing and processing.
For example, both agencies and carriers could alert the other party, as well as the client, to the actions they are taking in real-time. Agents also could pull information from third-party computers and use it to reduce data entry and enhance agency efficiency. The report contains a comprehensive list of additional ways in which real-time technology might enhance the insurance business processes.
ACT will work with AUGIE, ACORD’s organization of user group leaders, and other interested industry groups to further investigate the potential real-time applications.
“Our industry has made good progress with real-time functionality in the past few years, and the pipeline of new carriers and expanded transactions in development for a 2004 rollout is truly exciting,” says Treutel. “However, the momentum must continue to build, because real-time is critical to the competitive positioning of our distribution system. It is crucial for agencies, carriers and vendors alike to embrace this revolution and continue to work together to implement it.”
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