Working Through Workflow

Real-time transactions are the name of the game, but are brokers ready to take advantage of the latest technologies?

Before The Precept Group Inc. conducted a study of its own business processes, the brokerage probably already knew that the latest real-time technologies would be faster than the phone or a carrier’s portal for policy transactions. But the company probably wasn’t expecting the differences to be as big as they were.

Waterloo, Ont.-based Precept found that real-time transactions via Applied Systems Inc.’s WARP technology took 24 seconds; using insurer portals took two minutes; and phone calls took eight minutes.

Real-time technology could be one of the answers for brokers fighting for a place in this evermore competitive industry, says Wendy Watson, Precept’s VP operations and co-chair of the Organization of Real-Time Brokers in Transition (ORBiT — see sidebar, “ORBiT aims to help brokers…” on page 10).

She references an Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) survey that showed that a number of people are gravitating away from brokers to other communication avenues, like carrier agents.

Watson and her Precept colleagues figure the shift results from a simple fact: customers want once-and-done service; direct-connect agents offer the very thing.

“That is frightening,” Watson says. “We have got to do things differently.”

In this day and age of shifting business patterns, new policy challenges and novel competitors, doing things differently might be easier said than… well, done.

To facilitate change, we gathered comments from a handful of industry insiders for their thoughts on what brokers might do to improve workflow efficiency.

1. Get to know your broker management system
Experts say brokers often fail to see just how rich their broker management systems (BMSs) really are–and how far the software might go to alleviate workflow issues.

“Investigate the capabilities of your broker management system,” says Steven Kaukinen, president of the Centre for the Study of Insurance Operations (CSIO). “There’s a lot more that can be done today in terms of real-time functionality than before.”

Inquiry, new business, endorsements and policy changes have all entered the realm of real time–but time itself is a persistent challenge. Kaukinen notes that customer service representatives “don’t have enough time to explore the functionality.”

Consider appointing someone within the organization–perhaps an IT worker or a CSR who’s keen on technology –to stay abreast of BMS developments, say Nancy Covel and Bryan Bedford, the assistant VP marketing and broker technology analyst (respectively) at York Fire & Casualty Insurance Co.

On the other side of the coin, brokers shouldn’t limit the number of people allowed to access the BMS and carrier portals, says York’s VP and CFO Katherine Evans. Otherwise brokerages risk hindering business, especially as electronic transactions become even more common.

“They need to have adequate coverage,” Evans says.

2. Get involved in real-time discussions
But how does “adequate coverage” manifest in an industry buffeted by an unsettled economy, nervous partners and price-wary clients? Brokers are encouraged to speak up about their workflow issues, sources say.

Too often in the past, brokers left transaction technology and process development up to carriers, portal makers, and BMS vendors. Now organizations like ORBiT help brokers get their wants and needs across.

ORBiT is a good starting place to find out more about real-time transactions and the technologies, Watson says. “Don’t miss out on joining because you think you don’t know enough about real time. This is the place to come and learn.”

3. Watch your data quality
Education is the name of the game, experts say. And it’s not only a matter of understanding carrier portals and BMSs–it’s also a matter of understanding your internal processes.

Greg Purdy is the managing partner of broker-management consultancy Pathway Partners Ltd. He notes that data quality is an important issue that some brokerages overlook. It’s crucial in times like these, when brokerage mergers and acquisitions are common. “They don’t realize that the quality of the data stored can dramatically affect the quality of the merger–how quickly it can happen.”

After a merger, brokerages often waste time cleaning up their data–filling in details and reformatting information for consistency. If the data were handled in a standard way from the get-go, the cleanup wouldn’t take as long, and the brokerage could get on with the business at hand, Purdy says.

4. Don’t borrow benchmarks
But the business at hand is even more difficult when brokers use the wrong benchmarks to measure success.

“There’s a lot of anecdotal information about the number of policies that a CSR can handle. Those numbers are generally inflated,” Purdy says.

When customers say they want communication once a year, that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be a phone call.

If you’ve heard that a CSR can handle 1,200 policies, think again. It might be fine if the CSR is assigned a single carrier and a specific sort of policy. “If you’re dealing with different types of policies with various carriers, and you’re attempting to provide a higher quality of customer service, do you really want to reduce yourself to a call centre metric?” Purdy says.

5. Use technology wisely
One measurement seems to ring true: studies suggest that customers want to communicate with their insurance reps at least once a year, Purdy says.

Can brokers reconcile high-touch service with high-speed efficiency? With technology, yes, he says.

“When customers say they want communication once a year, that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be a phone call. You can use your technology to send a letter, an e-mail, invite them to learn something about your business–something to let them know you’re thinking about them in some other respect than ‘here’s your new premium.'”

Using technology to its fullest, employing standards, and staying on top of the latest developments might be the best ways for brokers to stay in the game. As direct insurers ramp up their efforts, brokers might need all of these tools to support their businesses. “Their longevity is tied to their ability to be agile,” Evans says.

© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the February 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance magazine.

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