Product help agents deal with underwriting demands
By Len Strazewski
From left: Becky Clegg, PS4 Plus Sales Manager and Carrier Account Manager, and Kim Smith, PS4 Plus Product Manager, share the feeling that the PS4 Plus is as unique as the world's only floating green that is found in PS4 Plus's home of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Am I asking the right questions? Am I getting all the risk information? Am I offering the client all the right coverages?
Am I covering all the bases?
Agents and brokers struggle with these questions every day--particularly when they deal with commercial clients and their increasingly complex mix of property and casualty insurance coverages. And sometimes, agents say, they need a little help.
Every commercial lines producer has to be certain he or she is getting it all and getting it right all the time, explains Keith Riley, chief marketing officer of Peel & Holland Financial Group, a 79-year-old multiline agency headquartered in Benton, Kentucky.
But that isn't easy in an insurance marketplace driven by an increasingly diverse set of insurance products, underwriting restrictions and service demands, he notes.
Peel & Holland producers market commercial and personal lines as well as financial services products and, on any given day, they have to be all things to all clients. But no single agent can know every aspect of every risk or guess all of the information that underwriters want in this difficult and complex market, Riley explains.
And no single application guarantees that a commercial insurance client is going to get the right coverage at the best rate.
"In today's market, an imperfect submission doesn't get a look from underwriters, let alone the best available rates," says Riley. "An agent needs complete information and an informed analysis of the risk to make sure he's asking for everything the client needs and giving the best picture of the risk to underwriters."
Peel & Holland uses PS4 Plus, a commercial lines sales system from AMS Services, Inc., in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to automate a wide range of sales, risk analysis, submission and commercial lines support--and fill in the information gaps that are the bane of all commercial agents.
The software, which integrates with Peel & Holland's AMS Sagitta Browser management system, allows producers not only to automate the application and submission process, but also to review risk information and proposed coverages against industry-specific errors and omissions checklists.
"It's a wonderful tool for the independent agent," he says. "Without it, we would have to spend twice as much time and double the effort just to keep the same book of business and serve the same client base--let alone grow."
Riley says the agency has been using the software for many years--back to the days when the first version was released for the venerable but now long obsolete DOS personal computer operating system. But like the commercial lines market, the software had evolved steadily into a more comprehensive and flexible support tool.
Originally designed to just manage the application and submission process, the early versions of the software allowed producers and customer service representatives to enter client information into relevant ACORD forms for uploading as submissions to commercial insurers.
Integrated into an agency management system, the software eliminated duplication of data entry and also automated service functions including generation of certificates of insurance, binders, and auto coverage identification cards. The early versions also included some simple risk analysis checklists that allowed producers to capture information more completely and efficiently for entry into the ACORD applications.
The latest version of PS4 Plus, version 2.5, available this month, incorporates Internet technology such as hypertext linked documents to improve the natural flow of information, according to Becky Clegg, PS4 Plus sales manager and carrier account manager. The Internet links will provide additional market and coverage information, including The Rough Notes Company's Insurance Marketplace, which includes a detailed description of more than 650 programs and coverages for difficult-to-place exposures. Hypertext links to SilverPlume's Sage are also included.
The comprehensive package of commercial sales, risk management and client support tools also includes:
* Industry overviews. Each overview contains detailed information on specific industrial categories with key underwriting and coverage considerations and SIC/NAIC codes.
* General liability and workers compensation codes. Worksheets detail the codes and profile underwriting needs for these coverages.
* Risk questionnaires. Provide detailed risk analysis questions for 650 risks that extend beyond ACORD applications.
* E&O checklist. Identifies critical coverages that are often overlooked by agents and their clients and helps document completion of the coverage review by both the agent and client. The checklist includes an expanded coverage definition library with 1,200 listings and agents' notes highlighting alternative coverages or common problems for each coverage definition.
* Safety programs. Provide value-added safety designs for key risk categories that can be customized by clients to meet their specific needs.
* Loss control applications. Supplemental to 300 standard ACORD applications, these industry-specific applications and worksheets help complete submissions to insurers by detailing loss control plans.
Users pay a license fee of $2,200 per location and a monthly support fee based on use. The database is updated at least twice yearly, Clegg says, but often more frequently to accommodate industry innovation and changes.
"What we have tried to do is give agents what they have been asking for," says Kim Smith, PS4 Plus product manager and architect of the new data tools and checklists. "Commercial lines and related services have become increasingly more complicated over the years, and it's not just the insurance itself or the underwriting. Legislative changes, OSHA regulations, and increased litigation have made an agent's job more demanding than ever."
The new tools, particularly the industry-specific background, risk analysis questionnaires and E&O reduction checklists, give producers more information about their client risks and help guarantee that they are offering the right collection of coverages as well as submitting the best risk information to underwriters, he says.
"The database helps producers become instant experts in their clients' business, allowing them to not only be more efficient in client visits but also to project the confidence that clients require of their agents," Smith says.
The risk information database built into the PS4 Plus software allows agents to respond to client coverage questions during a single sales engagement and capture all of the necessary risk information for an application--eliminating much of the need for follow-up calls and additional appointments that slow the submission process, he says.
Smith adds that more and more state and federal entities are also requiring business owners to develop and maintain written employee safety programs. The safety program database provides sample programs for various industries which can become the outline for a customized client program.
The software integrates directly with AMS agency management systems but can also be used by agencies with other management systems or as a stand-alone commercial lines tool, Clegg notes.
Gosling & Sachese in San Antonio, Texas, uses an Applied Systems agency management system to automate most agency functions, but it uses PS4 Plus as a support tool for commercial lines, says Vice President Tim Thompson.
"It's helping us write new business and retain our present business by allowing us to work in an informed, professional manner for each client," he says.
For this agency, the detailed risk analysis questionnaires and E&O checklists have become a standard resource for its commercial lines producers, Thompson says.
"The risk analysis database is an excellent tool for commercial lines producers. It's rare that we don't find an applicable questionnaire in the database for our clients."
The software also helps the agency manage its E&O exposure, he says. "By following the E&O checklist for each of our clients, we can better control our E&O exposure and work more professionally in making sure we're reviewing all relevant coverage issues for our clients.
"When we complete this review with our clients they know and we know that we have taken every reasonable step in making sure their insurance coverage needs are met. The software gives us the documentation we need to be certain we have followed a professional review process."
Thompson says the agency does not use some of the post-sales support tools which do not integrate with its agency management system, but PS4 Plus integrates with Microsoft Word, the agency word processing software, he says. As a result, producers can save much of the information they enter into the software as a Word document which does integrate with the agency management system.
PS4 Plus is also used by some insurance companies as a way to manage their relationships with producers and provide a consistent flow of risk information, Clegg says.
For example, The Wausau Insurance Co. Sales Business Center, an in-house agency that coordinates 130 direct writer producers for the insurance company, has used PS4 Plus since late last year, says Business Manager Sue Schreiber. In June, the company began to integrate use with the AMS Sagitta Browser to provide more seamless entry of application information.
"The software makes filing an application easy and saves duplication of keystrokes in the data entry process," she says. "Overall, it creates about a 50% time savings for our producers and account managers."
Version 2.5 also contains a market location tool that identifies appropriate risks for Great American Specialty Human Services, the division of Great American Insurance Co. in Cincinnati, Ohio, that provides package coverage for nonprofit organizations. The specialty insurer works with about 2,000 producers in 600 agencies nationwide.
The identification tool is embedded in the software application process and triggers pop-up windows whenever a risk meets the prerequisites for the packages available from the division, says John Sullivan, senior divisional vice president of Great American Specialty Human Services.
The pop-up windows introduce a list of 10 to 15 supplemental questions used with the standard ACORD application to pre-screen risks. When completed, the application can be directly uploaded to the insurer for expedited consideration.
Sullivan says the integrated supplemental application is designed to be a resource for agents who may have difficulty understanding and placing the special risks, not simply a marketing device for the company.
"In this difficult market, agents often have trouble quickly locating willing markets at competitive prices. The software quickly identifies appropriate risks and automates the application," he says. *
Len Strazewski is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in marketing, management and technology topics. In addition to contributing to Rough Notes, he has written on insurance for Business Insurance, the Chicago Tribune and Human Resource Executive, among other publications.
Peel & Holland, Benton, Kentucky, uses PS4 Plus to automate a wide range of sales, risk analysis, submission and commercial lines support--and fill in the information gaps that are the bane of all commercial agents.
For more information:
Phone: (800) 444-4813, option 2
Web site: www.ams-services.com/PS4plus/