Applied Systems Client Network sharpens its focus on system utilization for member agencies
By Nancy Doucette
If former sportscaster John Madden knew Brian Bartosh, CIC, LUTCF, chair of the Applied Systems Client Network (ASCnet) and president of Top O' Michigan Insurance Agency, he might consider Bartosh a kindred spirit. Madden would travel back and forth across the country during football season in his 45-foot motor home in order to reach the various stadiums for his television broadcasts. Since Bartosh became chair of ASCnet in January 2011, he has been traversing the country, often in his motor home/mobile office, making good on his goal to visit all 70 local chapters during his tenure. When we spoke with Bartosh in mid-June, he said he was on pace to meet his goal by the close of 2011.
As the principal of a highly automated agency himself, Bartosh walks the walk. He's a proponent of using technology to work smarter, not harder. "I use my agency like a kind of laboratory," he says. "I'm always trying out new technology and keeping up to date. I have a son who joined the agency last year. For his future and for future generations, we need to make sure we embrace technology in the right way."
So why not help other agency principals understand what their management systems are capable of doing, enabling them to increase their agency's value and profitability?
Bartosh answered his own question by developing a session titled "Ten Factors that Influence Agency Value" that he presents when he visits the local chapters. He says he had ASCnet's recently created vision statement in mind when he decided to put together the session. "ASCnet's board of directors created a vision statement—an outgrowth of our strategic plan—during our January meeting," he recalls. "We want to focus more on system utilization."
He finds that the agency principals who attend the local chapter meetings often are surprised to learn all that their agency management system can do in terms of driving better service, boosting sales, and managing staff.
Bartosh explains that he bases his presentation on the top agency value drivers identified in the 2010-2011 edition of the "Growth and Performance Standards" (GPS) study, published by the National Alliance Research Academy. He says retention is the number one agency value driver, so he kicks off his presentation by discussing just that—what retention is, what good retention numbers are, and how to use the agency management system to track retention.
He recalls a presentation he made during one of his recent local chapter visits. "There were about 30 agencies represented at the meeting," he begins. "These are really good agencies...some are Best Practices agencies. I asked how many knew what their retention rates were. Many of them didn't know, and those who did know did not know the specific retention rates."
Not only did they not know what their retention rates were, Bartosh says the agency principals attending didn't know what their closing ratios were—by carrier, by CSR, or by producer—or what the cost was to win a personal lines account. "These principals haven't gotten to the point where they're using technology to know all the details. So if they had a weak area, they wouldn't know where to focus," he says.
"People are surprised when I tell them that there are agencies that use only 30% of their management system's capabilities. But when I start to ask principals these sorts of direct questions, they begin to realize they're not using the system the way they should," he notes.
Some of the other topics touched upon during the Ten Factors presentation include account rounding, commercial lines download, front-end scanning, performance tracking, pipeline management, and real time capabilities. "Everything I talk about during this session is readily available in their management system," Bartosh emphasizes. "Not one thing has to be purchased."
If it sounds like Bartosh is speaking exclusively to principals, he declares he's not. "As an organization, ASCnet is expanding its demographics," he says. "We're still going to present our education offerings to CSRs and IT professionals as we always have, but we're going to ramp up the amount of education we offer to producers and principals because we believe the entire agency/brokerage needs to be using the technology tools that Applied Systems offers—not just one or two sectors of the agency."
Maximize your technology investment
The annual Technology, Education and Networking Conference (TENCon) is ASCnet's foremost education event for users of Applied Systems' solutions. At last year's TENCon, the Education Committee added more learning tracks, tiered sessions and Pathway Series in response to input from members who were expressing concern that they weren't using all the capabilities their system had to offer.
Given ASCnet's new vision statement and Bartosh's insights from attending the local chapter meetings, TENCon 2011, (September 20 - 23 in Orlando), will include new sessions in a track developed especially for principals. Bartosh will lead a half-day session specifically for producers that will focus on pipeline management and the use of agency automation for submissions. TENCon will also include a track for large agencies, classes that qualify for continuing education credits, and system-specific courses. In all, there will be more than 150 education sessions in nine tracks that address business and technology issues.
"We want TENCon attendees to look at the conference as a one-stop shop," says ASCnet CEO Steve Johnson.
He adds that ASCnet's new tagline: "Ask us. ASCnet" furthers that idea. "The 'Ask us' portion of the tagline advances the idea that the user group exists in order to help users get the most out of the system they've invested in."
As for the education offerings, he says: "We are tying our education to business results, rather than 'press this button to get this report.' We want to reach across job functions and get everyone in an agency or brokerage involved in the results."
Johnson says the new tagline is coupled with ASCnet's new logo, both of which were developed with the help of industry branding firm Aartrijk. "The revised brand identity reflects the strengths that are central to ASCnet," Johnson states. "The logo and tagline were inspired by the collaboration and communication that take place among members as they work together to reach shared goals of greater efficiency and profitability." (See the sidebar below for more on Aartrijk's Brand Assessment.)
"We are re-establishing our brand identity with our members," Bartosh says. "And with the new vision statement, we are going to focus more of our activities on system utilization—helping ASCnet members make the most of the system they already have."
As the saying goes: Nothing succeeds like success. Bartosh reports he is traveling with a Flip Video™ camera to capture comments from staff at some of the agencies he visits en route to local chapter meetings. These are agencies that have already implemented some of the capabilities he discusses during his Ten Factors presentation and are reaping the benefits of increased agency value and profitability. The videos will be presented during TENCon.
"The future has a lot of unknowns," Bartosh observes. "Even if an agency has a successful past, that doesn't guarantee a successful future. ASCnet is trying to prepare agencies for the future. The times are changing and we want to show our members how technology will enable them to change with the times."
ASCnet's new vision
"ASCnet's vision is for our members to increase System Utilization resulting in increased Agency Value and Profitability. We will provide opportunities for our members to achieve this success through Advocacy, Education and Networking."
ASCnet's chair Brian Bartosh says the recently created vision statement (above) will enable ASCnet's agent board, volunteers, and chapter leaders, in addition to the paid staff, to think more long-range.
Peter van Aartrijk, CEO of industry branding firm Aartrijk, explains that an organization's brand is a relationship that is driven by the sum of all its contacts with customers and prospects. He says these contacts are also referred to as "touch points."
He adds that brand identity, including an organization's logo and tagline, is a significant touch point. "We like to look at a brand identity as you would an employee," he says. "Is it working hard enough for you? What story is it telling you about the brand? Is that the story you want it to tell?"
Aaron Moore, Aartrijk's design partner, worked with ASCnet on the development of the new logo. He explains that the logo emphasizes the "relationship between the individual (asc) and the organization (net) to illustrate the user/network connectivity. This connection point is represented visually between the 'c' and the 'n.'"
For more information:
Applied Systems Client Network
Web site: www.ascnet.org
Web site: www.aartrijk.com