Resources & Toolkits

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Agency Management Systems

What is the best agency management system? This is a common question asked by all agencies – large and small.

But there’s no one size fits all. Instead of asking what is the best agency management system, agencies should be asking, “What is the best system for our agency?”

Selecting an agency management system is a daunting task, and it is one of the most important decisions your agency will make. Choosing the wrong platform can be an expensive mistake.

It is important to spend the time and effort to find the right solution for your operation.

Determining if you need a new agency management system

Consider this:

  • Have you had the same agency management system for over 10 years?
  • Is your current system not web or browser based?
  • Are you still dealing with paper everywhere?
  • Is your staff complaining about backlog?
  • Does your current system lack a client portal or mobile app?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it might be time to conduct a review of your agency management system. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your current system is wrong for you. But it might mean that you need to consider an upgrade, either with your current vendor or new vendor.

To help you determine if it is time to consider that replacement you can use this self-assessment.

Assembling your agency management system search team

Choosing a new agency management system should not be left up to a single person – no matter the size of the agency. For smaller agencies, the owner should enlist the help of one or two people who regularly use the system to manage their workflows. For larger agencies, the search team should include one or two people from each department.

When selecting the team members, don’t just pick your best people, but include a range of skillsets. Also include a mix of ages; although longer-term agents may be your best producers, you also want to include newer agents.

The five-step selection process

When choosing the agency management system for your business, you should go through these five steps:

  1. Start with defining your strategy
  2. Establish system requirements
  3. Select your options that meet your requirements
  4. Conduct vendor demonstrations
  5. Make a decision

We will review each of these steps in more detail below. While it might be tempting to jump right into vendor demonstrations, the initial steps are the most important. Skipping these steps can cause you to select a system that does not meet your needs.

Step 1: Define your strategy

There are many reasons why you might decide to get a new agency management system. These include wanting:

  • Improved service capability
  • Better system performance
  • Stronger security and controls
  • Reduced costs
  • Data security compliance

Before you even think about what system to purchase, consider why you need a new system and how it will impact your business. Questions to consider are:

  • Where are you going? Are you bringing in new producers and looking to grow? Or maybe you’re a single location, with a steady book of business, but not many new clients. Perhaps you are looking to sell as part of your perpetuation plan. Your system should help you achieve your business goals.
  • What are your markets? Do you sell personal or commercial lines – or a mix of both? Do you do any benefits work? You want to make sure your new system can handle the products you sell.
  • Why are you looking? Is there a particular problem or issue your current system is not addressing? You want to identify what processes are a must in whatever new platform you choose.
  • Are there other options? Replacing an agency management system is not easy. It costs both time and money. Employees need to be trained and new processes need to be developed to fit the new system. You might want to explore if there are work arounds or upgrades you can make to your current platform before you make the switch to a whole new system.

 

Step 2: Establish system requirements

What do you need out of the new system? Make sure the key processes that are vital to your operations can be replicated. If they can’t be replicated, make sure they can be replaced. Have an open mind when thinking about what you require from a system. By nature, a new system will require you to change your processes and adjust your workflows. It will be different. Identify what you absolutely cannot change and what you are open to adjusting. Key items to consider are:

  • Outputs: reports, certifications, client portals, mobile apps
  • Inputs: schedules, rating, excel importation
  • Processes: new business, renewals, endorsements, certifications, audits
  • Communication: real time, downloads, eDocs & messages
  • Controls: security, financial, accounting

To determine what requirements your new system should have:

  • Interview employees and ask them what their biggest frustrations are
  • Conduct a document review
  • Observe how your employees use the agency management system and their current workflows
  • Have your staff complete a questionnaire which asks about issues they experience and processes they would like to improve
  • Review current work product

Step 3: Select your options

How many agency management system vendors should you look at? The answer – though it may seem daunting – is all of them. Yes, there are 46 products from 27 different vendors – but looking at all of them doesn’t mean you have to do in-depth analysis of each. On initial review, you might be able to rule out some immediately. To decide which vendors to explore further:

  • Research websites, industry publications and user forums
  • Consider your agency size and type of business to make sure the platform can support your current operations
  • Compare the platforms against your list of requirements and make sure they have the right offerings

In your initial conversations with vendors make sure you are clear about what you are looking for, what issues you are currently facing and want to resolve, and how you want to move forward.

Make a list of the vendors you want to learn more about. It doesn’t have to be short. There might be 10 to 15 that you want to move into the next phase of vendor demonstrations.

Step 4: Conduct vendor demonstrations

Before you even start reviewing demonstrations from vendors, remember it is okay to take as long as you need. Do not let them rush you into making a decision. Demos typically run 60 to 90 minutes. But if that time is not enough to get a feel for the system, don’t be afraid to ask for a second or third demonstration especially as you are trying to narrow down your options to a more manageable list.

There are two types of demonstrations: general information and overview and specific workflow scenarios. General overviews will help you narrow down a list of 10 to 15 vendors to the two or three finalists. You can then move forward with these finalists and do a deep dive into the platforms to see how they will work with your agency.

To get the most out of the demonstration follow these tips:

  • Let them show you the system – but be mindful: The vendor knows their system best and they will be able to show you all it can do. But remember, they will be showing you the best parts of their system and minimizing the areas they know that they are working on improving or that need improvement.
  • Know what you want: There is a lot of cool, new technology out there and it can seem really impressive especially if you have been on the same system for more than 10 years. But don’t let the bells and whistles make you forget the basic underlying workflow processes that you need.
  • Stay in charge: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If they showed you something quickly, and you didn’t catch it, ask them to show you again. Make sure they address your requirements and issues.
  • Debrief with your team: After each demonstration, take 10 to 15 minutes to discuss the platform with your selection team to gauge what they liked and did not like about the system.
  • Keep score: Create a grading sheet for every vendor on functional areas such as customer service, audit flow, endorsement flow, accounting, policy management, and new business flow. Have everyone on the selection team, go through each functional area and give the vendor a score on each one and note what they liked and did not like. The more detailed the notes the easier it will be to compare different vendors.

Step 5: Make the decision

At the end of the day, the main question to consider is, “What agency management system will work best with your agency?” Use the notes you took from the demos and the scores you assigned each system and rank them. What do you like? What don’t you like? There is not a perfect agency management system. They all have good and bad qualities.

When reviewing vendors also consider:

  • Vendor’s direction: Think of this as a 10 year+ decision. This is a long-term partnership and you want to make sure the company is actively making enhancements, keeping up with new technology, and opening up the platform to integrate with other technological solutions providers. Also consider if the vendor has a user group and if they provide training to their customers
  • Vendor size: Consider the financial stability of the vendor. Are they going to be around in two years? Five or more? You don’t want to have to go through this process again in just a few years because the company fails.
  • Support: Seek out others who are using the platform and ask them what they think of the customer service support the vendor offers.
  • Get input from others: At a minimum, get references from the vendor and call them. See if you can find out who else uses the system and ask for honest opinions on what they like and don’t like. If possible, visit current users so you can see the platform in action.

Once you have done your due diligence you are ready to make your decision. Remember, it is okay if there is not a clear winner. There might be two or three options that all look like a good fit. Review all of the information gathered. Talk with your selection team. Once you select the vendor you can move forward with contract negotiations and implementation planning.

Claims Download

Filing a claim can be the defining moment in the insured relationship. For the insured facing a loss from an auto accident, property damage, or business issue, compassionate, knowledgeable support from the carrier and the agent/broker is critical. But for agents and carriers that rely on email, fax or even regular mail to share information about the claims, there can be gaps and delays that can damage the client relationship.

Claims Download is a simple technology that enables carriers and agents to share detailed, up-to-date information on claims. Using Claims Download, critical information is integrated directly into the agency management system. The entire process is automated from initial reporting until the claim is closed.

It’s an easy-to-use, easy-to-get-started tool that can greatly change the way agents and carriers serve the insured. But according to the recent Insurance Digital Transformation Survey, 60% of agents are still not using it.

Let’s take a look at how agents can work with carriers to make Claims Download a more widely used technology throughout the industry.

Understand and share the benefits:

  • Provides significant opportunity to strengthen the insured-agent relationship.
  • No lag time waiting for the agent to be notified of the claims.
  • Ensures most up-to-date information is right in the agency management system so the agent has the full picture of the claim status.

Just get started:

  • It’s easy, and the majority of agents already have access through their agency management systems. Agents should contact their vendors to ask how to begin.
  • Engage carriers who are not on board yet. Claims Download requires participation from the carrier and the agent.

If one of your carriers doesn’t offer Claims Download, you should:

  • Contact your agency field representative and let them know it’s important to you. Most importantly, commit to using Claims Download if they make it available. Many carriers simply don’t add new technologies because they’re not sure large numbers of agents will use them. Share the benefits, including improving communications, reducing calls to their call centers, and better insured satisfaction.
  • Let IVANS know. You should already have an IVANS Exchange account. You can login by clicking here. Through your account, you can customize your agency’s Connection Report. If one of your carriers does not offer claims download, enter a “W” into the appropriate cell on the grid. The carriers will receive a consolidated report showing all the agents who want this capability.

 


 

For additional information

Claim Download for Agents

Claims Data Guide

Claims Download Guiding Principles

Claims Download – and other Forms of Download, for that Matter – Must Continue to Grow if the Agency System is to Respond Efficiently to Customer Needs

Caring Claim Handling: Why agents should be actively involved in their insured’s claim.

IVANS Exchange Login Page: Access to your agency’s Connection Report showing which of your carriers offer Claims Download.

Creating a Strong Agent/Carrier Partnership

The agent/carrier partnership is a strong foundation of the insurance industry. Carriers provide the different products for the customer, while agents work the client relationship helping them to find products that fit their particular situation. Even as the market evolves, this relationship will still be at the core of the business. A large number of consumers still prefer to conduct insurance transactions through agents. But this agent/carrier partnership can sometimes face battles.

According to a study from JD Power and IIABA, agents’ overall satisfaction with insurers is just at 696 based on a 1,000 point scale. Agents’ issues with carriers include coordinating claims services, defining ownership of a particular customer, and wanting to work with insurers with a broader risk set. But the key overarching issue affecting the value of the partnership is carrier effort in helping agents gain access to the right technologies to improve customer service.

With the rise of competition from insurtechs, agents need access to digital tools to provide the on-demand service that consumers’ desire. They need to implement client facing tools such as interactive websites, mobile apps, client portals, 24/7 service, online chat and social media. They also need to speed up the insurance process, reducing the time it takes to quote, rate and bind policies. This involves access to e-signature, claims download, eDocs & Messages, instant raters and other tools which can quicken the workflow and improve efficiency. Carriers have the ability to help agents with these technological advancements.

Working together to improve customer service and increase sales

Carriers often have access to technologies that are out of range of smaller agencies, such as customer portals or mobile apps. One idea is that carriers can help to aggregate the buying power of their network of agencies, working with technology providers and offer agents key solutions at a discounted rate.

Carriers also are accustomed to implementing digital solutions and can share best practices and offer training sessions to familiarize agents with the new technology and make them comfortable incorporating the digital solution into their workflows. One of the key challenges with adopting new tools is persuading employees to use them. With the right training, carriers can help to make the transition easier.

There are also tools that agents can only access if carriers give them the capability. For example, claims download, allow carriers and agents to share detailed claims information in real time. With eDocs & Messages, agents can receive changes to a policy as soon as it happens. Information is also attached directly to the client’s file in the agency management system. It eliminates the need to print, mail and file documents. These tools can save agents time and speed up key insurance processes such as filing a claim or changing a policy – but not all carriers offer them.

FOR AGENTS: Working with carriers to improve the agent-carrier relationship

So how can you enhance your relationship with your carriers? Communication is key. You have to let your carriers know what digital tools you need and commit to regularly using them. Also let your carriers know the benefits they will receive if they help you increase your use of technology. These include:

  • Providing the on-demand service customers require will allow you to continue your relationship, introduce them to additional products for their other risk areas, and increase your sales – ultimately allowing you to sell more of the carrier’s products.
  • Adopting agent facing tools like claims download and eDocs & Messages will save you time by automating mundane tasks, alleviating your workflow so you can spend more time on selling products and servicing customers’ complex needs.
  • Saving carriers money eliminating the costs to print and mail documents.

Also take advantage of other platforms that allow you to communicate your desire for certain technologies to carriers. IVANS Exchange platform is a good example. It allows you to let insurers know directly what download tools you are missing but want to use. Through your account, you can customize your agency’s Connection Report. By clicking the “A” on the form you can change your option to “Want” to indicate your preference for the tools listed. Your carriers will then receive a report showing all the agents who are interested in a particular tool.

 


 

For additional information

The Changing Nature of the Agent-Carrier Relationship in a Customer-Centric World The J.D. Power 2017 Large Commercial Study also found 34 percent of the risk managers who responded to the survey based their buying decisions on their agent’s recommendations, while 38 percent of the small commercial buyers (J.D. Power 2017 Small Commercial Satisfaction Study) looked to their agent to recommend which carrier to go with.

Satisfied Independent Agents Are Growth Engines for P/C Carriers: JD Power: independent insurance agents still control the lion’s share of P/C premiums and represent a significant growth engine for insurers that get the independent agent satisfaction formula right

How Agents Are Using eDocs and Messages: webinar which discusses how eDocs and Messages can help your business increase insurer-agency connectivity

eDocs and Messages

Insurance is a paper-intensive industry. Many documents are exchanged between carriers and independent agents including policies, billing notices and claim notifications. The downsides to all that paper are many:

  1. It slows down the response to clients creating a risk of losing them;
  2. Agencies must find places to store all the paper or destroy it securely after it’s been entered into systems; and
  3. Agency staff must spend time scanning, re-entering data into their systems

eDocs and Messages allow carriers and agents to reduce errors and improve workflows. It is a form of download that enables carriers to send documents directly from their systems to the agency management systems. Documents that can be sent include: declaration pages for policy action such as a quote, new policy, renewal, endorsement, cancellation or reinstatement; billing notices and commission statements; claims information; carrier bulletins, such as changes to product availability; and spending cancellations or non-renewal notifications. eDocs and Messages are also more secure than email, fax or postal mail.

Why use eDocs and Messages?

One way to assess how eDocs and Messages will benefit your agency is to ask yourself these simple questions:

  • How much time do you spend going to individual carrier websites pulling the information that you need?
  • After you have pulled the necessary documents, how much time do you spend scanning and indexing the documents and then shredding the paper?
  • Do your customers sometimes know about changes or issues with their policies before you because you haven’t received the information from the carrier yet?

eDocs and Messages can help eliminate issues like these. Since carriers can send documents directly to the agency management systems, the information is automatically downloaded in real-time and attached to the appropriate policy or client file. If your agency offers customers client portals or mobile apps, these documents can then immediately become available to your clients through these platforms.

There are benefits beyond making your agency more efficient. It creates an auditable document trail so you will be able to easily identify when documents were received and quickly locate necessary information. It also helps reduce errors. Since information automatically downloads to the agency management system, the risk of re-keying data into the system is eliminated.

Finally, eDocs and Messages can help grow your business. By saving your staff time by eliminating the need to visit carrier websites and upload documents, agents can be in touch with customers leading to new business sales and improved retention.

Improve customer service

eDocs and Messages not only improve agency workflow, but it also enables agents to provide the service customers want. Clients want their insurance agents to know about recent changes to their policies the moment they happen, so if they have a question, they can call the agent and get help. Moreover, in the digital world, customers are accustomed to speed. eDocs and Messages give agents access to information in real-time helping to quicken the quoting and policy inquiry process.

Finally, with eDocs and Messages you can assure your clients that you are not wasting their money. Agents and carriers spend thousands of dollars every year on printing, mailing, and processing documents. eDocs and Messages eliminate this large overhead which can then be given back to the customer through lower premiums.

How does it work?

Both your agency management system and your carrier partners must participate for you to have eDocs and Messages capability. Currently, seven different agency management systems offer the tool. If both you and your carrier support eDocs and Messages, a typical workflow follows this simple path:

  1. Documents are downloaded from the carrier and processed into the agency management system.
  2. Based on the policy number, eDocs and Messages will attach the documents to the appropriate client and then policy.
  3. The agency management system creates an activity for the agent alerting them to the new document.

Convincing your carrier partners

Unfortunately, agents cannot use this tool if their carriers do not offer it. Talk to your carriers. eDocs and Messages offer them many benefits. Two main points to promote are:

  • eDocs and Messages save money:Carriers spend thousands and thousands of dollars each year printing, packaging and mailing documents to their independent agent partners. eDocs and Messages eliminate the need for paper not only saving them money on paper and postage but also envelopes, printer maintenance, and the labor required to mail all the information.
  • More time to sell the carrier’s products:With eDocs and Messages, agents no longer must waste time pulling documents from carrier websites and indexing them in the system. This gives them more time to pursue prospects and service current clients leading to more sales of the carrier’s insurance products

How to get started

First, see if your agency management system provider offers eDocs and Messages. Next, see if your carrier also offers this tool. If your agency system provides eDocs and Messages, and your carriers do too, sign into IVANS Exchange and indicate that you “want” the eDocs and Messages download on your agency’s Connection Report.

If your carrier currently does not offer the tool, ask them to implement it.

  • Let your marketing or field rep know it is something that you use with other carriers. Explain how much time it saves your staff and how much of your staffs’ time their company’s paper shipments or online posts wastes.
  • Also log into IVANS Exchange, and indicate that you “want” the download. An entry in the blank box will appear as “WF” indicating to the carrier that you want eDocs and Messages in the future. The more agents who indicate this, the more influence our collective efforts will make on convincing the carrier to provide eDocs and Messages.

 

 

For additional information

eDocs and Messages – Breaking it Down document

eDocs and Messages excel – add attached excel

eDocs and Messages – IVANS Use Cases

eDocs and Messages – List of Carriers Providing

IVANS Connection Report need assistance, contact connections@ivansinsurance.com.

eDocs Day Collateral – November 16 2018

The Changing Nature of the Agent-Carrier Relationship in a Customer-Centric World

eDocs & Messages – What you need to know

eDocs and Messages – NetVU University (Note: Will need NetVU login credentials to access)

Why Your Business Should Be Leveraging Automated Servicing Technology

IVANS Download Calculator

Industry Resources

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Partner Platform is a leader in providing agency management tools, websites, and digital marketing expertise to the insurance industry.

NetVU

NetVU’s Industry Playbook provides an overview of the priorities that the industry-at-large is impacted by. The Playbook provides insights on how these initiatives are affecting NetVU Members / Vertafore Users, and provides guidance for how to consider options that will lead to efficiency, effectiveness and profitability when these initiatives are adopted.

See NetVU’s list of the various initiatives and links.

Associations and User Groups

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Agency Management Systems

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Resources & Toolkits
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