Embracing modern technology key to increasing productivity

Ditching the paper piles and embracing a digital lifestyle will allow brokerages to increase productivity and streamline general office operations, said participants during a seminar at the Canadian Signassure Users’ Conference (CSU).

The advantages of going paperless

The most important reason for creating a paperless office is that doing so will make your brokerage more competitive. Judy Bell, a 30-year industry veteran and office manager at Beyond Insurance Brokers in Whitby, ON, told attendees at the conference, held in Toronto September 25. Bell sees the transition as the final step in a series of technological advances that have consistently given her a competitive edge. Remembering the first desktop computer that she used in the early 1980s, she says that the ability to instantaneously look up client information “took me over the top in regards to customer service, my clients thought I was absolutely amazing!” Seeing how much more productive she became, Bell was eager to spread the word to the rest of the brokerage. “From that point in,” Bell says, “it became my personal mission not to use paper files.”

Making that transition is often easier said than done. Though computers are now widely used in almost every office, some people have a hard time believing that a virtual collection of bits and bytes is as reliable as a tangible and touchable piece of paper. In her own experience, Bell found that staff often raised concerns that the computers would crash and erase all the client information. Another hurdle to overcome was the perception that the more papers a person had on their desk, the harder they were working.

However, the biggest challenge usually revolves around convincing brokers that the tools they use to do their job are as important as the job itself. As Bell recalls: “The thing I got from most producers is: ‘I’m an insurance broker, I’m not a technician, I’m not a computer guy. Why do I have to learn this?’”
Changing that mindset is paramount to any successful office overhaul. Drawing on her own experiences, Bell found that the easiest way to convince hesitant employees to buy into the company’s paper free policy is to stress just how much more efficient they would become under the new system. If that approach failed, a stricter tone may have to be adopted. “My line was that if you want to be a bus driver you have to know how to drive the bus,” Bell says, “If you want to be an insurance broker, you need to know how to use the tools that are available to you to be efficient, to be competitive and to help us as a brokerage and as a business to provide better customer service and obtain profitable growth.”

If there are still those who are skeptical about the brokerage’s strategy after the new technology is put in place, seeing their coworkers’ newfound success may be enough to change their minds. Recounting an early transition that saw the brokerage adopt the then revolutionary policy of inputting all client information into a computer system rather than writing it down by hand, Bell says that there was a noticeable divide between the brokers who embraced the new system and those who stubbornly refused to change. After a few weeks, it was clear that the brokers who adapted to the new technology were outperforming those who did not. The ones who followed Bell’s lead “wrote more business, dealt with more clients and were more up to date in their daily processing. These were the employees that became more valuable to the brokerages, and in most cases were compensated accordingly.”

With the technology available to today, those starting a new brokerage can skip messy transitions by making their brokerage paperless from day one, which is what Bell did when a chance to start her own brokerage popped up in 2008. ”At that time I made the personal decision that I would never have a filing cabinet in our office,” says Bell, “and I still don’t”. However, having led transitions to a paperless environment at four different brokerages, Bell is confident that everyone is capable of making the switch. “I feel that I am living proof that if you have the right staff, the right system and the right processes in place, it is possible to operate this business paperless.”

A leaner, more efficient office

An internal company website can go a long way towards helping brokerages organize the non-insurance data in their office, said Ken Hrabchak, Chief Financial Officer at Ranger Insurance in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

A lot of time and office space can be saved by storing a brokerage’s manuals and forms in one electronic location. “I use [our website] as a central area to share all of our documents,” Hrabchak says.

The documents in question can include such varied items as a vacation request form, a copy of the brokerage’s employee manual and photos from the latest company picnic, easily accessible to everyone at any time.

The internal website can also be used to schedule and keep track of appointments. Meeting rooms and times can be booked online for all to see, and synchronizing the website with the company’s internal E-mail applications allows notifications to be sent out whenever a change is made.

Different teams and departments within the company can also each create their own websites, where they can post their own meeting minutes and any other documents and links that may be useful to them.

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