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Portals or Real Time: What Do Brokers/Agents Prefer?

What do brokers/agents prefer when it comes to electronic linkage with carriers?  Two recent reports give what appeared to be diametrically opposing view points based on survey data, and raised the volume of the debate.  We’d like to know what you think.

ACT, the technology arm of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA), published findings of a survey of 3,100 agencies which concludes that its 5 year campaign to promote ‘Real Time’ connectivity between agents and carriers had been an unequivocal success. The IIABA defines  ‘Real Time’ as:

… the ability for you to click on a button from a client file in your agency management system or comparative rater for immediate access to carrier information on that client. The transaction may be a quote, billing inquiry, claim inquiry/loss runs, policy view, endorsements or a request for information.  This approach provides a single workflow for servicing or quoting with multiple carriers.

Selected results of the IIABA survey support the penetration and efficacy of the Real Time approach:

  • 63 percent of agency management system users employ real-time rating on comparative raters and management systems to access multiple carriers at once;
  • use of real-time rating tools for personal lines saves agencies an estimated 68 minutes per employee per day;
  • 62 percent of those using real-time rating also use real-time inquiry and service transactions through management systems, most often for billing, policy and claims inquiries, but also for endorsement processing;
  • Real-time inquiry and servicing are saving 50 minutes daily for those employees using the functionality.

Agents involved with ACT greeted the report with enthusiasm.  Stu Durland, co-chair of the ACT campaign and co-owner and vice president of operations for Seely & Durland, Inc., a Warwick,N.Y. agency, was quoted in PropertyCasualty360’s coverage of the report’s release:  “It’s encouraging to see a continued growth in the use of real time.  Even more positive is the significant impact real time has on agency and brokerage operations.”

However, a recently released report from Novarica provides a different view based on a July survey of 541 agencies.  In a review of that report,  Insurance & Technology’s Anthony O’Donnell wrote: “Novarica found that 42 percent of agents preferred a carrier’s portal, versus 26 percent preferring their own agency management system.”

O’Donnell noted that employees in different roles had different opinions.  Agency principals seemed to prefer using the agency management system, while CSRs preferred using the carrier portals.  Producers in the agency were willing to work with either, and had preference based on ease of use.

Interestingly, the following day, Insurance&Technology published a follow up piece by Nathan Golia, titled “Do Agents Really Prefer Portals?”  Golia cites conversations with agents who strongly endorse the IIABA approach.  He also notes a conversation with Doug Johnston, VP of partner relations & product innovation for Applied Systems, and strong advocate for Real Time, who references the Novarica report itself to provide explanation.  Johnston says:

Given a choice between a really bad interface between the agency management system and the insurer, or the carrier portal, I might say that [I prefer the portal].  But if I had a preference between a good AMS interface and the portal, things would be different.

Golia concludes that at the end of the day, the true agent preferences will prevail. Agents will vote with their choice of markets to support.

One additional thing seems clear, this conversation is far from over.  We’d welcome your thoughts.  Hit the comment button and let us know where you stand and why.