A Summer Garden: For the Broker’s Eye

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(reprinted with permission from Oct-Nov 2002 issue of Alberta Broker)

August 2002, by Doug Grant, Principal, Insurance-Canada.cay

The days are just starting to noticeably shorten, the fresh garden produce is abundant, and the CNE is in full swing. Insurance-Canada.ca’s third annual summer seminar focusing on brokers’ use of technology brought a great group of speakers representing firms from all aspects of the industry. The trend is back to basics. Herewith a few blossoms from the garden.

Craig Tilford, Aon Reed Stenhouse – formerly company person, broker, consultant – occupies a fascinating niche as an insurance person with a technology interest who looks for benefit and whose title and job description has to do with “process”. Two points:

  1. People don’t receive enough training on the tools they use to perform the process steps they are responsible for. As a result they don’t perform to their capability, and the mundane administrivia overshadows the skills they should display. The processes you have in place then under perform for you too. Gartner says you will get back five hours of net productivity for each hour invested in training. Not bad.
  2. The process need not be intergalactic. Craig in the department where he works reduced printing by over 75% – think of the benefits: paper, toner, copying, filing, retrieving, customer service, customer satisfaction�
    Craig’s ultimate point is that there are lots of little and effective ways to help people be better, and get a quick return on an investment.

Pat Vice and Robert Bradaric from FigmentSoft looked at the communications paths we use daily. The Internet and the web added to the To mail, telephone and fax we added Internet and e-mail. We had established processes to manage the former effectively, but too frequently, not the new ones. Technology is arriving to help us bring the various media and channels into a unified messaging environment. When your Web site messages, emails, voice mails, faxes etc. can all be stored in one message centre, then you have a unified environment, which you can manage more effectively. You can get your messages, or information about them, from your technology of choice at the moment – cell phone or PDA while in transit, lap top while visiting, desktop at the office. People are demanding the capability to effectively manage their environment – technology is begrudgingly, slowly, responding.

Arvin Jain, President, Noble House International noted that we are increasingly dependent on our technology infrastructure. With in-depth training and sophisticated tools, outside services rather than part-time staff can better keep us focused on our core business, cost-effectively. From traditional outsourcing to the ASP model, the industry trend is towards computing as a utility. In parallel, those outside services can also tackle the smaller, targeted, quick return on investment implementations for which internal resources are not available.

Broker Management Systems vendors are focused on providing computing and communications tools described thus far. Michelle Cole-Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy from Applied Systems noted a number of initiatives, from support for the CSIO Insurance Portal to customer and prospect information via the web, and everything in between. Applied in Canada is broadening into consulting services, while making greater use of technology within their own environment to better support their customers. Caroline spoke about e-learning, relative to traditional education, as a way of reducing costs while improving effectiveness. A new CSR hire for example can take frequent small education bites from a structured education program including computer based training, distance learning, webinars etc. and develop much deeper skills in a shorter period of time at less cost. A winning scenario, addressing one of Craig’s points.

Klaas Westera CSIO reviewed the Portal status, and described near-term steps. For the portal, things are happening every week, so check our www.insurance-canada.ca Web site for current data. CSIO is collecting requirements for future phases to prioritise before deciding what to implement in Phase II.

In last month’s issue I described CMD’s Document Centre. Rick Dresher spoke about this as an effective use of simple technology in their office. He then described the transaction process in his office for paper, traditional EDI and XML-based immediate transactions that the CSIO portal could potentially deliver. They analysed workflow looking for potential error points, where they developed management processes, to both identify and then correct errors. Error points will be dramatically reduced, and so will the time and effort to manage them.

Some P&C brokers sell a variety of financial products and services. Pascale Mapleston from Global IQX (www.globaliqx.com) described how their portal helps brokers and advisors who are selling benefits packages to small groups. Global IQX connects to several life and health insurers to provide instant comparative quotes and product features for this special market segment. Once a package is sold, it then helps with initial enrollment too. The service created quite a buzz in the audience, and you might wish to understand it if you are in this market space.

Lee Romanov, President Consumers Guide to Insurance and Chris Mildon EVP of The Insurers Financial Group, both spoke about acquiring new customers using the web. Lee’s perspective was from advertising and responding to consumer wants and needs. Technology, be it the telephone or the web, has tremendous potential, but much of that will come to nought if you don’t focus on the consumer. Chris addressed more of an internal perspective – what segment IFS wished to pursue using a Web site, www.e-insurers.com – and how that strategy should conform to their policy of taking well-underwritten business to their markets. Although each quotation is manually reviewed, the end-to-end process is electronic and work minimised.

Terry Neilson, President Insurance Systems Inc., addressed the approaches that insurers are taking to web-enable for brokers their special and niche products. By extending the base underwriting rules and rating to the web, the simple higher volume items can be processed cleanly for quotes, and then submitted when appropriate to issue. Cases which need underwriting can be passed directly to the underwriters. Everyone wins – brokers get immediate or rapid response, underwriters spend their time underwriting and the customer sees much better service.

Bruce Rabik, Cookson Walker described how they have worked extensively with brokers. Their analysis suggests that technology by itself makes no difference to the success of a brokerage. Quality of management is much more important. Good management with good people can then make optimal use of technology, be it simple or sophisticated. It is this attention to all the resources of a firm and deploying those resources effectively which makes the difference.

Technology for technology’s sake does nothing. Technology as a tool can be a great lever, and the P&C Broker channel is using it in new neat and exciting ways. The key is using those tools in a manner which helps the customer and the brokerage.

For a delightful garden, there is a wide array of success factors and components. The same holds for a successful brokerage.

(note: Canada’s leading Insurance Internet Resource Centre is there for you at www.insurance-canada.ca)