“Making it easier for agents and brokers to work with us,” and “the ability to change (adapt) business without being constrained by legacy technology”—this what carriers believe will most help them to grow and differentiate their companies, according to survey findings from FirstBest.

At the 2010 MarketScout E-Symposium held in Dallas last month, FirstBest surveyed a group of 20 carriers and 20 agents/brokers to hear about their business objectives, productivity priorities and their wish list for the ideal agent-carrier communication platform. The demand for integrated systems that simplify workflow, eliminate re-keying and speed processing is reaching new heights, reports FirstBest.
When asked about their business objectives and ideal agent communication system, a third of the carriers surveyed focus on underwriting, another third on marketing and 20% work primarily in management roles. Ninety percent of the group indicated that they work with commercial lines of business, with 70% working primarily or solely with commercial lines.

Carriers were asked, “If you could wave a magic wand and design your own agent business and communication system, what would capabilities would it have?” FirstBest recognized several common themes:

•    Unified and Integrated—House data and reports in one system that can be used by all divisions (underwriting, marketing, management, etc.); bridge policy data from agency management systems (AMS) and retiring legacy systems

•    Efficient—Enable data upload and download between AMSs, producing ACORD and other documents

•    Real-Time—Facilitate rating, underwriting decisions and access to claims and billing system info

•    Disciplined—Give underwriters qualitative data to make informed decisions

•    Interactive—Offer chat, meeting requests, broker profiles, prompts for calls and even blog functions

•    Multi-Platform—Work on PCs, Macs and tablets, and make accessible from anywhere at any time

•    Market Savvy—Incorporate relationship-marketing tools, provide CRM dashboards and make it easy to add lines of business.

“It was interesting to see that several carriers envision the same integration and marketing potential for an agent business system,” says Meira Primes, VP of Marketing, FirstBest Systems. “This survey shows how much Web 2.0 technologies are needed in the insurance industry. Agents and carriers recognize the possibilities and are starting to demand the same level of social media interaction used in their personal lives. Collaboration is important, and technology should be an enabler, not a barrier, to business communication.”

FirstBest asked the group of agents and brokers—60% work largely with commercial lines of business; 15% indicated their mix of business was split between personal and commercial lines—a similar set of questions. The agent and broker group was asked to select the business improvement that would most help them to be more productive. Many were torn to select the single-most critical improvement amid the five options, but ultimately the top two choices were clear, FirstBest says. Forty-five percent of the agents felt that “spending less time submitting applications and chasing down answers” was most important. “Spending less time on manual and redundant tasks,” was selected by 38% of the agents, and a combined 20% of agents felt “visibility” most needed to be addressed—whether into their business with carriers or real-time visibility into their carriers’ risk appetite.

Agents and brokers were asked, “If you could wave a magic wand and design your own carrier business submission and communication system, what would it do?” Carrier system integration and ACORD form completion quickly surfaced as top functions, FirstBest says.  Other common requests for an ideal system were:

•    Single Integrated System—Provide one system for collaboration with every carrier, house forms and data in a single location, and integrate with carrier rating systems

•    Online and Real-Time—Deliver an easy online platform for quotes, submissions, issue and endorsements, offer real-time carrier chat/response, frequently update carrier risk appetite and let brokers check account status (rating, underwriting, review and more)

•    ACORD-Form Upload and Download—Use standard ACORD applications for underwriting, provide AMS upload for any size account, provide download for ACORD applications and other forms, and accept ACORD and supplemental data directly into carriers’ rating and underwriting engines

•    Automation and Simplified Workflow—Make it easy to learn and use, eliminate re-keying and paper submissions, include checklists, provide alerts for new or updated submissions, make files searchable and return quotes formatted to populate the AMS.

“We were a little surprised, but very happy, to see so much overlap this time between carriers’ and agents’ wish lists for the functions of an ideal underwriting and business collaboration system,” Primes says. “It’s also important to note that carriers and agents better understand how technology can be aligned and leveraged to help achieve their business goals. Technology is more recognized as a strategic resource versus a support center.”