Earlier this year, we received an email from a broker who retired a few years back. He had just read one of the Canadian trade magazines which focused on recent efforts to establish industry standard interface between broker and carriers. His comment was: “Didn’t we settle these issues 20 years ago?”
To be clear, our friend has the credentials to ask. During his working days, our friend was very active in using and promoting what we all called SEMCI (single-entry, multi-carrier interface). He went so far as to undertake an expensive system conversion to effect this for his own office, And, it worked to improve workflow for the carriers in his office that supported it. Not perfectly, but it worked. And that was in 1990.
So, here we are in 2011, and what are we talking about? A recent thread on LinkedIn’s Canadian Insurance Brokers Strategy Group informs. Here’s some quotes:
- “a broker who’s business is concentrated with two major insurers both with portal systems…. pointed out that refusing to use the portals as some brokers do results in clients waiting weeks or even months for policies to be issued”
- “Having to log onto multiple portals to get a single quote is an inefficiency that is a disservice to the client”
- “once companies build the portals they are 80% of the way to real-time transaction. It is this last 20% that is killing us now in Canada.”
- “IBAC, Orbit, CSIO and (IBAO) need to make sure everyone speaks with one voice … They need to champion the ideal workflow and educate brokers, vendors and companies on the merits of developing and getting them working”
Change a few words (swap ‘dedicated terminals’ for ‘portals’, e.g.), and it’s the same discussion as occurred in 1990. The reality is that there will not be one solution for the industry. Not because of technology, not because of mis-alignment, but because of the highly competitive and fragmented nature of the industry.
Several writers on the thread posited that the US is ahead of Canada in implementing technology to benefit independent agents. In our mind, the jury is still out on this. One thing that is clear, however, is that US agents have been working (with the help of organizations such as IIABA/ACT, that we commented on recently) on optimizing their own workflows with the technology that is currently available, while continuing to push for better technology from carriers and suppliers. They are not waiting for perfect anything before proceeding.
Brian Bartosh, a US agent who has been a leader in a number of initiatives in the industry, describes one of his operations in a comment in the same group: “We have streamlined the workflow where we, the agency have control and then pass this information to our carriers …. Some companies return rates, others provide a bridge, both we find efficient. Because we are partnering with our carriers and moving data to their portal …, we can then issue with a quick turn-a-round to our clients.”
As well as advocating perfection, Brian is pragmatically using the available technology with carriers, which have differing capabilities, to streamline his workflow and improve service to his customers. Much like our friend did in 1990.
We think this was, and will always be, the way forward for those who wish to move in that direction. So, we will have to adjust to living in the past to some extent.
As Jethro Tull would say (or sing):
Oh, we won’t give in,
let’s go living in the past.