A grand strategy
Glatfelter Insurance Group listens to its agents and delivers money saving technology solutions
By Nancy Doucette
Just as common sense isn't common—not everybody has it—conventional wisdom isn't necessarily wise.
In the insurance industry, conventional wisdom says that ACORD standards can't work in the MGA marketplace. It holds that MGAs can't provide download or real time inquiry, something that's been available in the retail space for years. Conventional wisdom has it that MGAs can't help agents save keystrokes and improve efficiency.
Conventional wisdom suggests that because MGAs handle specialty business, their data needs are equally special, and won't fit the industry standards. Conventional wisdom prevents most MGAs from even trying to catch up with the rest of the industry. Status quo prevails.
But guess what? The lines of business and transaction types that MGAs handle are quite often the same as standard carriers. Compare an ACORD vehicle application to a specialty lines auto app and you'll come up with only a few supplemental questions.
The widely-held notion that ACORD standards can't work for MGAs is starting to dissipate, thanks to the pioneering efforts of organizations like Glatfelter Insurance Group (GIG), a retail and MGA/program manager, based in York, Pennsylvania.
John M. Belanger II, AINS, AIM, AIT, CIOP, director of insurance applications for GIG, says discussion of commercial policy download for its specialty program business began informally in 2007. "We asked ourselves: 'If our overall strategy is ease of doing business, how does technology become an enabler of that?"
"With ease of doing business truly as our focus, we recognized that we needed to listen to our agents first and foremost," he continues. So GIG formalized the conversation and invited about two dozen of its independent agents and brokers to be part of Glatfelter's Technology Advisory Council. Belanger says feedback from council members gave GIG a path to run on. Agents wanted improvements around ease of doing business, reduction of redundant entry, greater agility and flexibility, and adoption of industry standards.
Council member John Hamer, division president at Horton Select Insurance which focuses on association and trade group business for The Horton Group, notes, "GIG powered through the perception that program or niche business doesn't lend itself to moving data using ACORD standards. They've taken advantage of the specialized and limited product mix they have, rather than letting that be a deterrent to trying. The pace of implementation has been impressive."
Glatfelter's flagship platform is the VFIS program for emergency service organizations such as fire departments, ambulance and rescue squads, and 911 centers. Hamer says Horton Group was first introduced to the program in 1986. Although insuring the emergency service community isn't exactly the stuff of standard lines, Belanger points out that "a vehicle is a vehicle. A Pierce pumper like what we insure in the VFIS program has a VIN; it has a make and model, just like vehicles insured through standard insurers."
So rather than looking at a glass half-empty—those elements that aren't covered by ACORD standards—Belanger recommends that MGAs focus on the common elements. He admits, though, that ACORD standards can be a bit daunting at first. "There are variations and nuances to the standards," he notes. "The standards were new to us; we didn't know much about them. However we knew there were opportunities to use technology in order to respond to the feedback we'd gotten from the Technology Advisory Council.
"We could see how embracing ACORD standards would fit into our broader strategy (ease of doing business), but we didn't know how to bring that to fruition. We recognized that we needed to get some help in order to accomplish that," Belanger explains.
Success breeds success
Rather than take the time for internal staff to learn the ACORD standards, Belanger decided to partner with NxTech. He says he chose NxTech because of their industry experience and the menu of services it offers. (See sidebar on page 82.) "At the time we were investigating a partner, we found some that could help in one area, but not another. NxTech covers all the bases," Belanger says.
Founded in 2004 by Bill Tedrick and Thad Bauer, NxTech is a software and services company dedicated to P&C interface and integration solutions. Both Tedrick and Bauer have extensive experience with industry interface issues. Bauer, who is president of NxTech, reports that NxTech has completed more than 350 interface projects and, as such, can bring both a business and technical balance to clients.
The industry has recognized NxTech's solutions by bestowing numerous awards. Among them: ACORD's "Most Compelling Case Study" in 2011 and 2012, and "P&C AL3 Download Recognition Award" for 2012. The Applied Systems Client Network awarded NxTech its "2011 Industry Standards & Initiatives Achievement Award." And just before press time, Novarica's 2013 Average Customer Experience (ACE) Rankings™ were released and cited NxTech's score of 100—the highest ranking in the Agency Connectivity category—for a fourth consecutive year.
GIG's Belanger recalls that Bauer counseled him to break down this project into manageable phases. Bauer says the preliminaries are essential to the success of a project so NxTech's systems specialists took time to learn about the VFIS program as well as Glatfelter's system, to make sure the mapping was done properly. Belanger says Technology Advisory Council members were sent a handful of transactions so they could assess them for accuracy. "Doing it that way, you minimize exposure to problems and manage expectations," he says. GIG further managed expectations by phasing in the download capabilities by line of business, beginning with auto, followed by property and then package, GL, and excess. While Glatfelter has been providing download and real-time policy and claims inquiry for more than a year, the roll out to its retail agents and brokers is ongoing.
Horton's Hamer says the incremental approach worked well for his operation. "We began to accept download a policy line of coverage at a time," he says. "Doing so let us adapt our workflow and our methods gradually."
Time spent on system analysis is always time well spent, Bauer says. "We never want people to feel like they're getting a black box. We will utilize the systems they have in place and round out whatever they are missing to give them a robust final solution."
Belanger says: "We're getting positive feedback in terms of how download has improved agent workflows, but it's difficult to quantify because each of our agent/broker partners has different internal workflows and processes. On our end we track the amount of data characters that go out in our downloads. It's a rough approximation of how many keystrokes we're saving the agents/brokers who are accepting our download.
"It looks like we're saving them about 400 hours a month," he continues. "So instead of keying in the same piece of data multiple times, they key it in once via our agent portal and the policy data flows back into their Applied or Vertafore management system."
Horton was paperless but that didn't mean it was paper-free, Hamer points out. "Before we started receiving download from Glatfelter, we would receive a paper policy which we would have to disassemble in order to scan it into our TAM system. Receiving policies and endorsements electronically is a big time savings. Additionally, our access to information is quicker, which our VFIS clients appreciate. Working with Glatfelter has come right back to our bottom line."
From Glatfelter's perspective, Belanger says offering these electronic capabilities helps with retention and enriches the relationships it has with its distribution partners. And as agents and brokers evaluate their MGA and carrier partners, ease of doing business is generally one of the considerations. Glatfelter expects the multi-year implementation plan to culminate with real-time submission bridging to create the full roundtrip workflow.
With that in mind, Bauer encourages MGAs and carriers not to delay any longer in their adoption of ACORD standards. "If you wait until the technology is 100% perfect, you're going to wait forever," he says with a smile. "There are some tremendous gains you can make by utilizing what's out there."
For more information:
Glatfelter Insurance Group
Web site: www.glatfelters.com
Web site: www.nxtechcorp.com
What's on the menu?
According to Thad Bauer, president of NxTech, "We remove the hurdles associated with interface, data management, and system integration. Our framework goes beyond traditional data management and provides for a completely integrated environment allowing our clients to move their businesses into the future with little to no interruption in daily workflow.
"We work with download, real-time inquiries, FNOL, rating requests, bridging requests, working with Transformation Station™, TransactNOW®, and direct Web service connections, working with MGAs and brokers, carriers and retail agents," he says.
"NxTech uses common programming languages for all data translations, including download, not a proprietary language or scripting," Bauer says. "So our clients have a choice of support by NxTech, to be self-sufficent, or a combination."
On the menu of Services
• The Total Interface Solution ™, powered by NxTech's ConneXt software suite and expert services, which enables real-time inquiry, real time rating and bridging, download, and agent portal development.
• Download solutions (development, testing, and operations).
• Real-time transactions (rating, quoting, bridging, inquiry, first notice of loss, real-time third-party information provider interface, and comparative rater interface).
• Portals (full function or submission).
• System to system data migration bridge.
"Glatfelter powered through the perception that program or niche business doesn't lend itself to moving data using ACORD standards."
Horton Select Insurance
"If our overall strategy is ease of doing business, how does technology become an enabler of that?"
—John M. Belanger II, AINS, AIM, AIT, CIOP
Director of Insurance Applications
Glatfelter Insurance Group