Spread the word
By Doug Johnston
Want to know the insurance industry's best-kept secret? Read on.
In today's insurance world of rapid-fire interactions and margins as thin as an iPhone®, two elements still stand as crucial to running a profitable agency or broker business: quick access to information and operational efficiency.
No single function of agency automation delivers on both of those elements with more impact than policy download from carriers. In fact, policy download has worked so well, for so long, that many current agency staffers don't remember what it was like to work in an agency before download (perish the thought).
More than just policy data
In other good news, policies are not the only information that agencies can receive via download. While policy data makes up a big chunk of the data that needs to be updated every day, it represents only part of what agents need to properly service, advise and manage customer needs. To see a full view of customer accounts, agents also need up-to-date billing and claims information.
Scads of agencies already appreciate the tremendous efficiencies of direct bill commission download. (You aren't still paying to manually calculate producer commissions, are you?)
But what about (here's the secret) claims download?
Today, claims are not always reported to the agency. Insureds sometimes go directly to the carrier. In some cases, right from the scene of the accident, they use a smartphone app, complete with pictures and GPS coordinates.
Imagine having your agency system automatically updated with all of the latest claim information, including activity notes, payments, adjuster assignments, and more. Imagine eliminating those embarrassing moments when your customer calls about the status of a claim you didn't even know about.
Haven't heard about claims download? In just the few years since it was introduced, claims download has really enjoyed tremendous success. That's even more impressive when you consider that it's available from only 32 carriers so far and ,to date, it's supported by only two agency management software vendors (Applied Systems and NASA).
According to IVANS® (the industry's download mailbox service), 9% of all mailbox messages sent from carriers to agencies in January 2011 were claims download messages. That's a big number—9% of messages sent from hundreds of carriers to thousands of agencies.
Those claims download messages came only from the 32 carriers that make it available, and the messages went to only half the number of agencies that exist. Translation: There is tremendous uptake from the agencies able to receive claims download from the small number of carriers who offer it.
Talk to your carriers
If you already receive claims download from one or more carriers, you "get it." Most likely, you want it from more carriers. If you don't receive claims download, maybe it's because none of your carriers offer it—for your state, your lines of business, or at all. In any case, it's up to you to let your carriers know you want it.
• Start by going to the Web site of your agency management system vendor and downloading a list of all download carriers. Determine which of your carriers offer claims download and which ones do not.
• Next, contact your carriers and let them know how important claims download is to the role your agency plays in helping insureds through the claims process. You know that just being able to answer a simple question for a customer can make a world of difference to that person during the claim process.
– Also, think about the right person within the carrier organization to approach about claims download. Underwriters and adjusters who work with your agency are most likely very good at their jobs and help enhance the value of your relationships with customers. But you probably should not grill them on agency interface.
– Ask your carriers for a written response including an estimate of when claims download will be available.
One last thing: For carriers who do provide claims download to your agency, send a letter to the president and CEO, thanking them for their commitment to your relationship. Remember to "cc" your agency representatives, underwriters and claims managers.
The lowdown on claims download
The experts at IVANS report that agents love claims download. They say it's one of the easiest download transactions to set up, and it doesn't require training, as some other apps do. Agents feel strongly that having access to claims data in the system is critical to excellent customer service. The following numbers provided by IVANS tell the claims download story: Agent and carrier adoption are growing at a steady rate, so watch for transactions numbers to rise accordingly.
Percentage increase in claims download transaction volume in January 2011 over January 2010.
194,000 vs. 88,000
Percentage increase in claims download transaction volume in 2010 over 2009.
1.8 million vs. 400,000
Percentage increase in number of active agents doing claims download as of January 31, 2011 vs. year-end 2009.
2,500 vs. 890
Percentage increase of carriers offering claims download in February 2011 over January 2010.
32 vs. 22
Doug Johnston's career in insurance includes more than two decades at Applied Systems, where he is vice president of Partner Relations & Product Innovations. He is among the insurance industry's most stalwart advocates of ACORD XML and the Web services movement.
For a quick, informative primer on the general download process, visit http://tinyurl.com/6a2e4ug