Agency Technology – Beyond Belief: Agents Council for Technology (ACT)

(Reprinted with permission from Your Virtual Insurance News – June 4, 2002,
published by

The agency universe of the future gill not only leverage technology but will
integrate technology to a degree that 20 years ago was beyond even our imaginations.

First and foremost, the cumbersome and space-robbing agency
management systems once housed at agent locations will likely be replaced by
“centrally” located application service providers, or ASPs.

ASPs provide many benefits. One of those is avoiding
staying up-to-date with technology upgrades while also avoiding the late nights and
weekends that were once required to salvage the system after failed in-house updates.

Real-time interaction between agency and company computer
systems will accelerate response intervals, and integration platforms will be enabled
through standards translators such as XML and IVANS Transformation Station. Collaborative
computing will allow parties separated by miles and even countries to work together on a
project located in a virtual electronic location.

These developments present the possibility of mass
customization of value-added services to our customers. Finally, the development of a
variety of wireless capacities will allow all of us to be interconnected and accessible to
our business partners and customers anywhere and anytime.

For us all to realize these benefits, we will need to push
the envelope of progress and implementation. The Agents Council for Technology is deeply
engaged in the development of and participation in this collaborative process.

While it is always interesting to creatively brood about
our future, it is perhaps even more interesting to contemplate real-world implementations
that are already a part of the landscape of technology reality.

In that spirit, let’s take a look at some of today’s
technologies that are creating opportunities for tomorrow’s independent agencies:

Digital Cameras:

Digital cameras provide the opportunity to graphically
communicate a risk to an underwriter or convey a realistic image of damage to a claims
representative in just moments. Both agents and consumers are developing digital photo
capabilities, allowing agents to produce submissions with graphic clarity and
comprehensiveness within hours and even minutes of the occurrence.

These digital photos of insured property attached to client
files make it possible for a customer service representative to achieve instant identity
and familiarity with client property that we would never have thought possible.

In addition, digital cameras have a rapid return on
investment for required activities such as claims validation or property inspection even
before we begin to think of new service applications. Add the benefit of photographic
images of a customers personal property for future inventory preparations and the customer
can begin to distinguish value added in a new way.

Scanning Technology:

Remember when the fax machine was the new innovation of the
early 1980s? New applications now enable us to fax, scan and file any document from our
workstations without ever leaving our chairs. Technology that combines the capabilities of
both the scanner and fax machine has largely replaced the conventional fax machine.

This technology is affordable enough to be supplied at each
workstation and has eliminated much unproductive time, while simultaneously providing
better documentation of transmission and faster customer service than was possible with
the old, conventional fax machine models.

If you can remember the phrase “Paper Free In
`83,” it’s finally a reality in 2002. It is, in fact, a practical reality today for
any agency. Scanning technology has moved to a level of affordability for everyone, and
scanning solutions are available for any size agency In the digital forum of today’s
reality, paper can be tossed out the same day it arrives in the office. A customer can
arrive with a damage repair estimate, have it scanned and receive the original back as
their copy, and have that estimate e-mailed or faxed with a permanently stored copy in just moments.

In the future you will be able to retrieve and re-send the
document to another location or print it to paper for display, if necessary. With scanned
documentation, file retrieval is instantaneous.

Wireless Connections:

In the future, agents will be wirelessly interconnected.
Already, there are a substantial number of wireless devices available. For example, the
newest cell phones allow us to receive and reply to e-mail from any location. Furthermore,
they can track our stocks, provide us with weather reports and sports scores, and even
gain access to our remote contact lists. Wireless PDAs grant us even more options. The
tech dreams of yesterday are today’s reality. These examples help illustrate that the
future is approaching very quickly, and we as agents must adapt and change to succeed.

The Agent’s Council for Technology has explored and
summarized many of these trends in its report, “A Vision of the Future for Agency
Technology.” Furthermore, ACT members will continue developing educational programs
and tools enabling agents to embrace and integrate technology into meaningful business success strategies.

More information is available through the ACT Web site at

Together, the agents, company and vendor partner participants in ACT will work to reaffirm
the unique value of the independent agency distribution system to the insuring public.