Beyond the night shift
ReSource Pro grows beyond remote staffing to optimize agency operations
By Rod Hughes
When an agency has an ace sales team, a proven training program and a respectable renewal rate, how could it be that profits are underperforming?
ReSource Pro CEO Dan Epstein has two words for that agency: process inefficiency.
In 2006, when Rough Notes reported on a small start-up called ReSource Pro (see "The night shift" in the April 2006 issue), the company leveraged technology and English-speaking Chinese professionals to provide remote staffing for a growing roster of retail and wholesale brokers. Today, ReSource Pro has expanded into a full-service provider of productivity solutions that target process inefficiencies at more than 160 brokers, carriers and TPAs.
"As an organization, we did some soul searching to find out what we wanted to be best at," explains Epstein. "We decided we wanted to excel at transforming insurance operations into a source of competitive advantage and profitability for our clients. This, we found, was actually a radical concept."
Agencies are not accustomed to seeking profits within their own insurance processes, but Epstein says gaining 20% to 40% productivity growth across service employees is both achievable and the fastest way to drive business growth.
"Eighty percent of inefficiency—things like errors, rework, rekeying data, waiting for missing information—comes from 20% of activities," he says. "Much of this can be resolved through streamlining workflows and standardizing procedures."
Epstein says that even routine tasks like invoice preparation and policy reviews add up to valuable time that could be redirected to proactive client service and developing new business. ReSource Pro specializes in documenting and optimizing these tasks and workflows. Their U.S. team works with agencies to improve internal efficiencies while their offshore team performs routine insurance processing.
"Improving process efficiency and delegating routine tasks allows agency employees to refocus on the client relationship and how best to achieve agency objectives," he says.
Freeing up producers and CSRs
Paul Hanson Partners, a Napa, California, agency specializing in the transportation sector, has worked diligently to increase their employees' time spent on business development and customer service. Since 2006, their revenue has risen by approximately 150%, while their U.S. staff has grown moderately. During the same time period, they have significantly increased their ReSource Pro staff to 110 remote employees.
Paul Hanson began working with ReSource Pro in 2004, when agency President Lisa Paul reached out for help with a backlog of administrative tasks. Today, their "night shift" in Qingdao handles all routine tasks, while key Napa staff work on the tasks most satisfying for them and most profitable for the agency.
"What we try to use ReSource Pro for is everything that is not a direct communication with the customer. ReSource Pro mimics, on a larger scale, Paul Hanson's operations here in Napa," explains agency CFO Matt Schiefferly.
No one in Napa has lost his or her job due to Paul Hanson's relationship with ReSource Pro. In fact, local staff members have seen their responsibilities and compensation grow as a result of the relationship.
The employees in Qingdao and Napa collaborate as part of the same team and visit each other's offices in exchange trips. ReSource Pro employees provide feedback on process improvements, and Paul Hanson employees rely on their counterparts in Qingdao to support continued agency growth.
"We really have developed a great partnership with them [ReSource Pro], being innovative about the type of resources we need and what they offer," says Schiefferly.
Meanwhile, Paul Hanson has made being lean a priority among Napa staff members.
"They have been on the cutting edge, not just about staffing, but how to drive efficiency in the operation," says Schiefferly. "We get a lot of business and big opportunities with limited time. If you can make a quick and educated response, you get opportunities to write business that you wouldn't usually get a chance to write."
Small tasks add up to real value
ReSource Pro's model of taking on tasks and improving process efficiency without replacing agency employees has been key to the company's growth and the increase in services they provide to their clients. As its client base grew, ReSource Pro built a library of tasks and standard operating procedures, which allowed them to anticipate agency needs and facilitate knowledge transfer. While agencies were struggling with the economic downturn and a soft market, requiring them to write more business to stay in the same financial place, many were seeking new solutions.
Epstein says ReSource Pro's research revealed that "few agencies had resources or expertise to improve process efficiency and agency capacity. The organizations that did were invariably industry leaders," he says. "They had processes in place to align people to the agency's strategy and were more efficient in executing effectively."
Bruce Cochrane, president of Renaissance Alliance, a New England-based coalition of independent insurance agencies, understands the competitive advantage process optimization can provide. "Most local independent agencies can't create that scale by themselves. We're using ReSource Pro in order to achieve this scale," he says.
Renaissance works with a team of 13 ReSource Pro employees in China to process routine tasks overnight while U.S. employees are sleeping. Renaissance's mission is to extend the reach of small agencies. ReSource Pro's lean processing approach has become an important factor in achieving this mission. With a new program called "Resource Maximizer," Renaissance has worked with ReSource Pro to bundle, automate and integrate workflows across member agencies. Rather than individual agencies delegating individual tasks, Renaissance helps agencies bundle various tasks into larger functions.
"The ultimate goal of this program is to redirect a lot of the processing work put on agencies by carriers, so the CSRs are able to focus on customer service," says Renaissance COO Janet Cochrane. "ReSource Pro does a great job of being a CSR's assistant."
The effect of this is to standardize workflows across Renaissance member agencies according to a single best practice. One workflow Renaissance recently rolled out integrates and automates lead generation. The ReSource Pro team cleans up a large list of purchased leads and coordinates pipeline development with individual agents.
The Renaissance workflows optimize agents' time, while providing real-time reporting on the completion of workflows delegated to ReSource Pro employees.
"We are able to aggregate all the data," Cochrane explains. "On a daily basis, we are able to report back to agents the number of tasks that have been assigned and view the level of productivity."
Optimizing and realigning agency resources
As ReSource Pro has grown, its focus has shifted to operational analytics. "Creating value isn't just about lowering the cost of individual transactions, but about optimizing throughput across the agency," says Epstein. "The big opportunity for agencies isn't based on labor arbitrage, but on what we call 'process arbitrage': increasing the contribution of everyone in the agency by reducing inefficiency and creating new capacity to write and retain business."
One way to improve profitability is to eliminate unprofitable accounts, Epstein says, but few agencies know how to identify unprofitable accounts. While lean process analysis can provide these analytics, it's easier to get started by eliminating the sources of unnecessary agency cost and inefficiency. By standardizing, triaging and segmenting tasks and workflows, agency staff have more time to handle new sales and provide value-added service.
For Matt Schiefferly at Paul Hanson Partners, this is the bottom line: "The sales force gets to focus on the things they enjoy, the reason they got into the business—which is to drive business development."
Rod Hughes is vice president at Kimball Communications. Before joining Kimball, Hughes was a newspaper reporter and newsletter editor. He also spent five years as the editor and publisher of Legal Assistant Today and Law Office Computing magazines. Rod is an active public speaker and blogger and can be found on Twitter @RodHughes.
"Creating value isn't just about lowering the cost of individual transactions, but about optimizing throughput across the agency."