Insurance Networking News, May 6, 2014 | Joe Mckendrick
For carriers, cloud computing offers a way to enhance and accelerate communications with agents, and agencies can benefit from better access, ease of use and efficiency gains.
For years, carriers and agencies have looked for ways to better connect and share information as quickly and seamlessly as possible. There has been notable progress in the development of agent portals and extranets, which offer access to customer data, applications and ancillary information. However, many agents still rely on e-mail and a mix of online and offline connections to interact with carriers.
Cloud computing brings a new dimension to the carrier-agent relationship. By putting information and functions out on clouds, carriers have a single, managed environment that is potentially accessible to every agent. At the same time, carriers don’t have to worry about the technical or hosting issues that can arise with such widespread connectivity.
“Agents are looking for a self-serve portal and ease of doing business,” says Richard Hallman, SVP and CIO of Employers Insurance Co., a workers’ compensation carrier. “Moving to the cloud gives us more flexibility around security settings and better availability when our systems go down for maintenance.”
Benefits to Carriers
For carriers, cloud platforms offer a way to enhance and accelerate communications with independent agencies. “We aren’t using the cloud necessarily for the transactional aspects of business, but for more informational purposes,” says Stuart Tainsky, SVP and CIO for P&C insurer PURE Group. PURE’s cloud, built on Salesforce.com, is a conduit to members and agents, Tainsky explains. “They have full transparency and see everything that is going on with a member’s account: billing information, policy information and claims information.”
Employers’ cloud solution, E-ACCESS, is an agent portal created on Oracle’s cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) system, Hallman says. “We provide real-time agent data to our sales force when they’re out meeting with the agents and the agencies,” he says. Previously, sales representatives and agents needed to print paper copies of documents for such meetings, he adds. E-ACCESS speeds up quote generation and helps agents manage accounts and offers access to a customizable dashboard, claims information, loss runs, marketing materials and a rapid quoting system.
Agency Management Systems
Along with carrier connections, the cloud offers new ways for agents to manage their internal business operations. The typical independent agency allocates its staff to operations, customer service and production, observes Martina Conlon, analyst with Novarica. “They very rarely have any significant IT staff or anyone responsible for managing their technology on a full-time basis,” she says.
Cloud services offer a range of benefits to agencies, says Jim Schubert, leader of Southern States Insurance Agency. “We have fewer moving parts that can break, such as in-house servers, multiple versions of our agency management system and multiple phone systems,” he writes in a recent blog post, simplifying the administration of and access to the company’s agency- and document-management systems, e-mail and telephony. And the agency now can make quicker acquisitions, he says. “As soon as the ink is dry, we can have a new office up and running in days, not weeks or months.” Plus, Schubert says, the agency is able to get more work done with fewer employees, and cloud computing also helps keep the agency operating during disasters. Most major agency management system players now offer cloud-based options.
There are also vendor application interfaces that integrate with cloud-based agency management solutions, as many agencies subscribe to agency management systems. “The carrier provides upload and download services to a specified number of agency management systems,” Conlon says. “In most cases the carrier needs to support all of the major agency management systems in order to address the needs of their agents.”
Along with basic CRM capabilities, Employers’ cloud enables sales agents to access documents. Data is stored both locally and in the cloud, Hallman explains. “Some information is retained locally, depending on the sensitivity of the data, and some is pulled from a cloud-based CRM application. When the agent logs in and looks at their submissions and book of business, they get a single consistent view of what the book looks like. It doesn’t matter where that data’s coming from or how it’s being leveraged.”