About one hundred people, the largest audience ever, attended the CLIEDIS AGM and Seminar on May 1 in Toronto. A review of how things have changed in the last two years, a plea for more and faster adoption of the business transactions and a priority-setting session which evolved into an education session for all highlighted the half day.
Less than two years ago, NewLink on behalf of CLIEDIS surveyed the industry to determine the trends on the use of the electronic data standards, and priorities of the various participants looking ahead. A similar survey was conducted before this seminar and the results were presented in a summarized fashion by Byren Innes. This year the responses came from 17 of the biggest distributors, 8 insurers, 5 vendors and 4 suppliers.
Progress has been made in many areas since the previous survey. For example, new business application upload is now being used by 21% of the respondents, compared to 5% previously. Pending case feeds is up from 45% to 66% and the first, and although few, users of agent contract and licence status are underway.
Looking ahead over the next two years, the numbers using pending case feeds should grow to 76%, while in-force business is predicted to increase from 14 to 59% and commissions from 28 to 62%. While the numbers indicate growing acceptance and usage, the subjective comments are equally supporting �Where there are standards, we can implement any new feed in one twentieth of the time [that was required before standards]�.
In previous years since the CITS (Canadian Insurance Transaction Standardization) iniative began, the industry has focused on a number of uses or applications of the standards. Eight of these uses were prioritized and ranked by the current survey.
- The survey showed that the most important was electronic applications. However, by industry segment, this was ranked the highest by insurance carriers, but was ranked third highest by the distributors. Factors such as the value of the application to the different businesses and the challenge of implementation contributed to the different relative rankings.
- The second ranked priority for both parties was document imaging, which seems to have increased in importance recently. A distributor described the main issue with document imaging as being one of different format requirements for each insurer. Although document images are being forwarded today to five different insurers by that distributor, each requires a different naming convention and a different transfer process. Although no one argues with the underlying business value that document imaging represents, until a single common workflow and process can be used for images destined for all insurers, the full value cannot be realized.
Some of the issues which are slowing adoption of the standardized electronic data exchange are:
- Implementing a new or revised process takes longer than anticipated.
- In many cases, there are still issues among the various parties as to what is really needed.
- Stakeholder resources are scarce.
- The take-up of a particular transaction impacts the benefit ie as long as some transactions have to be processed in the �old� way, multiple process paths are being used and this causes inefficiencies.
A Plea for More, Faster
John Hamilton, President of Financial Horizons, enthusiastically made the case that the potential value of the use of standardized electronic data exchange has only been scratched. He emphatically noted that invariably information flowing between an insurer and a distributor or vice versa still does so on paper or via fax. Most of the time the information comes out of one computer system and then is manually entered into the computer system of the other party. This is all wasted energy and cost.
He noted that a distributor with about 70,000 clients would have in the order of a million different things to track � policies, beneficiaries, contracts, agents and so on.
In his own company�s case, he has more than two people dedicated to inputting commissions into his computer system, and all of this data has been gathered from insurance company websites. Similarly he has some three people doing contracting and in many cases, the insurers already know the same agents through previous relationships, but contracting process has to be done all over again.
With some three hundred MGAs in Canada but relatively few insurance companies, John suggested that the distributors pool their resources to push for more and faster action by their insurer partners. An ensuing discussion noted that this action cannot be done solely by the technical groups like CLIEDIS, but must be made front and centre by the day to day business communications at all levels between distributors and insurers.
The pain is being felt at the distributor level where the opportunities are also becoming apparent. The highest number of distributors ever attended this year�s seminar and three took out membership in that same week � a sure sign of growing interest.
Prioritization of Transactions
In 2008 at the same CLIEDIS Annual General Meeting, a fun exercise was used to prioritize the dozen different transactions, as a way of getting some sense of the most and least importance, at least to those in the audience. An evangelist for each transaction was appointed in advance of the meeting and during the workshop, each briefly presented the characteristics and value of their transaction. The same exercise was undertaken again this year, but a deeper discussion arose. Several noted that the whole ocean could obviously not be boiled at once, so each trading partner needed priorities. Of course each has some differences but more importantly those who are some way into the development and implementation of these transactions cannot change the sequence and priority each year. In many cases, the sequence is influenced by a company�s internal systems, by other management priorities, by one transaction being a pre-requisite for another etc.
The lively discussion was a great way to conclude the meeting; it illustrated how important the potential efficiencies and level of customer service enabled by these improvements is to the various industry participants.
Perhaps a key factor in the evolving level of interest is a change in one of the industry dynamics – distributors a few years ago were primarily sales managers but today they have taken on a much more significant administrative role to the business. As a result their focus on efficiencies, quality, expenses and customer service will only continue to grow. Commensurate with that evolution, the need for and use of the electronic business transactions enabled by CLIEDIS EDI standards and CITS evangelism will only continue to grow in importance in this competitive marketplace.
�.by Doug Grant, Insurance-Canada.ca Inc.
The Canadian Insurance Transaction Standardization (CITS) initiative, which began in 2005, is a cooperative effort between CLIEDIS member carriers, distributors and vendors to develop implementation guidelines acceptable to all key industry players. A reasonable scope, with participants working together putting needs of the group ahead of individual needs for a common goal, have led to the success of this initiative. For more information visit http://www.cliedis.ca/cits.php
CLIEDIS, the Canadian Life Insurance Standards Association, has been coordinating Canadian interests in the development of public standards for the Canadian life insurance industry since 1995 and is a partner with ACORD, the international body responsible for XML for Life data standards. CLIEDIS members consist of carriers, distributors, associations and their business partners. For more information, visit visit www.cliedis.ca.