Jun
25

[Podcast] What You Should Know About Data Security

by Applied Communications

 Guests:

Tim-Sander_1
Tim Sander
Senior Vice President
IT and Cloud Services
Applied Systems
David-Gerlach_1
David Gerlach
Director of Information Security
Applied Systems

Data security is more important than ever as information has become increasingly digital. Insurance professionals need to be aware of the risks to their business and how to safeguard their data against cyber threats. In this podcast, Tim Sander and David Gerlach of Applied Systems discuss data security in the insurance industry and how agencies and brokerages can protect their data against cyber threats. Sander and Gerlach speak to data security measures you can take at your agency or brokerage, including mobile security, software patches, antivirus solutions and best practices to create a safe working environment.

Here are highlights from our conversation:

  •  Applied Systems: Why is data security more important than ever?
  • Tim Sander: Data security seems to be a very big topic for everybody. At this year’s World Economic Forum, cyber attacks landed on the global risk list for 2015. This risk is heavily evaluated in the United States and government is pushing corporate America to do more to protect their information. Yet, we continue to see an increased number of breaches.In the report by the California Attorney General there were 187 breaches documented within the state of California just in 2014 and 75% of those come from small to medium businesses. Hackers aren’t just targeting the large Home Depots, Target and the IRS (situations you hear about every day); this is a growing problem for all of corporate America. This means that we have to spend more time on educating, not only the general public, but also the insurance industry. Specifically, agents need to become more aware about what exposures are within their systems and how they can provide better coverage options for their insureds.
  • Applied Systems: Do you think insurance professionals are generally aware of the risks their businesses face against cyber threats?
  • Tim Sander: Overall, the industry is doing a better job addressing the needs of their customers as it comes to cyber risks with various policy options. However, I don’t believe that agencies and brokerages are necessarily taking the right amount of time to evaluate their own risks.Agency management system databases contain tens of thousands of records with personal information. With the cost of data breaches on the rise, (documented by the 2015 Ponemon Institute report) it’s now $259 per record for the financial services sector. This is a risk that can’t be overlooked.It’s no longer about hackers attempting to get to specific things. It’s more about hackers firing off a million requests in hope that they receive a 1% response. Whatever that information is, that data then becomes the subject for the next big story. This means that the old methods of placing a firewall and installing anti-virus software on a workstation or PC are no longer enough. Protecting against threats today requires continuous evaluation of the risks, the measures to protect those risks and requires investment in people, process and technology.
  • Applied Systems: Are insurance professionals starting to take action to safeguard themselves against cyber threats?
  • Tim Sander: I think there’s a false sense of protection that it (data breaches) “only happens to the big guys.” It’s important that we continue to evaluate what’s necessary to protect our own business. Applied can provide strategic counsel on how to help you evaluate and leverage technology to better protect data. We have solutions within our offerings that help decrease the risk by moving data out of localized environments.
  • Applied Systems: How are we addressing some of these risks here within Applied, both from our own corporate perspective and then in our Applied environments?
  • David Gerlach: One of the first things we do is we conduct a thorough risk assessment of the environment. We look at asset profiles. We look at the business impact of those profiles being compromised. We understand the threats that those assets face, as well as calculate that risk and then try to mitigate those risks.We’ve also moved into taking that information and really developing a strategic plan around our security program. As Tim had mentioned, Applied invests a significant amount of time and money and resources into continuing to improve our security program.A few things David noted from the security program:

    1. Backups:
      Traditionally, a lot of companies leverage a paid backup system. We understand the risks around paid backup from both a security and a business continuity perspective and therefore we’ve moved to what we call a replicated disk-to-disk technology. What that allows us is two things. One, faster uptime, faster recovery. Two, getting away from taking tapes, a physical asset and sending them offsite and procuring a very detailed asset management program to understand where every tape is and where it’s offsite at. By moving away from those tapes, we’ve really killed two birds with one stone.
    2. Encryption:
      All our customer databases in our online environment today are encrypted with ADS-256 encryption. That really helps prevent any accidental loss of sensitive or protected information.
    3. Physical security controls:
      Within our Applied online data centers, we have very advanced security facilities. We use biometrics, complex video surveillance and we have strict access control policies.
  • Applied Systems: What should agencies do to address cyber threats?
  • David Gerlach: It’s about understanding your risks. You need to identify those risks and have, what I would call, an in-depth risk assessment strategy.A few steps David mentioned to build a strategy to address cyber threats:

    1. Leverage cloud solutions
      Leveraging technologies like the Cloud is really not a bad thing (as some people have come to think). It’s actually a good thing as long as it’s a reputable cloud solution.
    2. Understand your system and software
      If you’re not securing your work stations, your laptops, your phones, etc. that’s a potential breach point for you.
    3. Know what your employees are downloading
      One of the things we see in the security industry is a lot of people are downloading software from less than credible sites. Sometimes pirated sites. That software almost always includes additional items that you don’t know you are downloading. A lot of malicious software; viruses, spyware, malware, you name it. Always be very careful what you and your employees are downloading. Always make sure it’s credible.
    4. Educate your users
      I was at a conference yesterday and the FBI was there and they said, “If we could just stop users from clicking on attachments, URLs and emails, we’d probably cut down 98% of malware that exists in the world today.” Before you click on that email, look at what that email says and who it’s to. If it seems malicious, urgent or just doesn’t seem right, don’t click on it. Just delete it.
    5. Create an acceptable use policy
      What can they (your employees) do with the information they maintain and what can they do with the information assets that they’re using? What can they not do? That’s part of an acceptable use policy. Something that I’ve always encouraged every agency to pursue.
Jun
19

[Video Blog] Productivity Insights from a Best Practices Agency

by Applied Communications

Frank SwingleGuest: Frank Swingle, CEO, Swingle Collins & Associates, IIABA Best Practices Agency
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Swingle Collins & Associates CEO Frank Swingle has worked in the insurance industry for more than 30 years so he knows how to run a successful agency. With summer approaching, we wanted to find out how Swingle Collins & Associates keeps operations on track because interestingly, U.S. statistics have shown a sharp decline in workforce productivity during the summer months. Watch this video to learn how Frank defines productivity and what his agency does to stay productive year-round. Frank also discusses how insurance has “turned into a real-time business” in order to meet the increasing demands of today’s digitally savvy consumers and shares insights into agency business practices.


Jun
03

[Podcast] Mark Breading – Business Intelligence Is Changing the Game

by Applied Communications

Mark Breading HeadshotGuest: Mark Breading, Expert in Advanced Technologies for Insurance
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Length: 14:54

Mark Breading, partner at Strategy Meets Action and a recognized expert in advanced technologies, has more than 30 years of insurance and information technology experience and is known for his perspective on innovative uses of technology in insurance. In this podcast, Mark provides insight into Strategy Meets Action’s recent “Maturing Technologies Report,” which highlights that more agencies are adopting business intelligence (BI) tools to promote growth and transformation of their business than ever before. He discusses key trends driving business intelligence adoption, including greater system integration, expanded insights and advanced analytics, and explains how BI solutions can give you critical insights to help your business get ahead.

“I truly believe agencies that don’t invest in BI and try to run the business the way it’s always been run, are going to be at risk.”
–Mark Breading

In this podcast, Mark answers these questions around business intelligence:

  • (00:20) What business intelligence trends are you currently seeing within the insurance industry? Do you think that these trends have any implication on independent agencies?
  • (02:41) You reviewed survey findings last year regarding independent agencies and their adoption of BI tools. Since last year, have you witnessed any sort of increased adoption of BI tools?
  • (04:18) Are there any specific hurdles agencies are going to need to overcome to implement BI strategies?
  • (08:03) What key business insights can agencies gain through BI tools beyond the traditional reporting capabilities?
  • (10:51) How do you think agencies leverage BI tools to enhance their competitive value?

 

May
28

Your #1 Priority When Disaster Strikes

by Greg Shiple

Hurricane season is right around the corner, running from June 1 through November 30, 2015. Is your business prepared? Recently I’ve read a lot about how 2014 was the least expensive year for natural catastrophes, resulting in 38% fewer insured losses than the 10 year average. I decided to dig into the research around recent catastrophes to see if disasters really are impacting the insurance industry less. If you look at the chart at below from Sigma World Insurance Database, you’ll see that in the last 30 years, total insured catastrophe losses have more than DOUBLED. And not only that, there is minimal trend towards a decrease or increase in insured losses over the years; each year varies dramatically.

Insured Catastrophe Losses

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Despite the optimism of the press, catastrophic events can happen anytime, anywhere. And you can never be too prepared for the unexpected, be it bad weather, a data breach or civil and economic unrest. A recent Travelers study found that 48% of small businesses are operating without any type of business continuity plan, yet 95% indicated they felt prepared. After the recent earthquakes in Nepal, tornados in the Midwestern United States, and massive snow storms in the Northeastern United States at the end of 2014, it’s difficult to imagine a business not having some type of crisis plan. When disaster strikes, people are your number one priority – whether it’s your family, friends, employees or clients – and their safety is the first thing that crosses your mind. From a business perspective, your ability to service your clients is a critical factor – positioning you not just as a trusted advisor, but a loyal partner in a time of need. The business of insurance is about protecting property and assets, and with any business continuity plan, being able to reach customers and be easily accessible is imperative.

Why a Business Continuity Plan Is Essential
Even if you aren’t in an area prone to extreme weather, the increasing connectivity and complexity of growing organizations means that being prepared is more critical than ever. Consider the fact that when disaster strikes, small businesses can lose $3,000 a day, and larger companies $10,000. If that isn’t enough to convince you, close to 75% of businesses without a business continuity plan fail within three years according to the book, “Blindsided: A Manager’s Guide to Catastrophic Incidents in the Workplace.

What You Can Do to Make Clients a Priority During a Disaster
A business continuity plan ensures that you’ll be there for your clients regardless of the situation, and can mean the difference between being ready on day one versus several weeks later (too late, I might add).

Two things you can do to make sure you can effectively service your clients when they need you most:

  1. Protect your data
    One of the best ways to protect your clients’ assets in the event of a disaster is to protect the data in your management system. With cloud technology, you and your staff can access client information from any location using Internet-enabled devices. Employees can retrieve the data they need and return customer calls and emails. Embracing the latest technology provides a solid foundation for your business continuity strategy.
  2. Open the channels of communication
    Proactively communicating with clients is crucial before, during and after a disaster. Once a disaster strikes, restoring lines of communication as quickly as possible is central to being able to support your community as they assess the damage to their homes and businesses. Consider implementing multiple communication channels including:

    • Social Media
      Communicate with your clients on their preferred social channels:

      • If you know of an impending weather event or emergency, post tips on how your clients can get prepared; what items to stock up on, where to go for safety, etc.
      • Tell clients that you are available for assistance and provide them with the ways they can contact you (phone number, email, self-service portal, etc.)
      • Advise clients that you are proactively reaching out to assist them
    • Phone/Email/Text Message
      Actively reach out to clients who might be in distress. Using your management system data, identify clients directly impacted by the disaster and connect with them to show your compassion and concern.
    • Customer Self-Service/Mobile Device Access
      During serious weather- or infrastructure-related events, your clients may be on-the-go to avoid a disaster and/or may have been evacuated. If this is the case, the ability to access your website via a mobile application can be extremely useful. An online customer portal can keep the lines of communication open with self-service capabilities, allowing clients to access their policy information and contact your agency through a 24/7 call center.

Protecting the assets of your clients is the reason you’re in business. And when the unexpected happens, your clients rely on you to be there when they need you most. With a business continuity plan in place, you safeguard not only your own assets and operations against any threat, but ultimately those of your clients.

For more resources to prepare your business for the unexpected visit appliedsystems.com/protectyourbusiness

How has your agency or brokerage helped a client in the midst of disaster? Share your stories with us!

Greg Shiple, Sr. VP of Support at Applied SystemsGregory Shiple, AIS, senior vice president of support, heads the Applied division servicing clients’ technical support needs, support operations, and client retention in the United States, Canada and the UK. Shiple began his Applied career as a programmer in 1986 and was responsible for developing a variety of leading Applied solutions.

May
11

Brokerage of the Future: Adapting to 21st Century Technology

by Jeff Purdy

Brokerage-of-the-Future_Image-In-Blog30 years ago, Universal Pictures released Back to the Future, the classic 80’s comic sci-fi adventure film that took Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett L. Brown back and forth through time in their famous DeLorean time machine. In the sequel, Back to the Future Part II, the characters travel to 2015 where they see inventions ranging from high-tech innovations like hover boards and flat screen TVs to 3D technology. In 1989, those things seemed pretty far-fetched, but 26 years later, nearly every invention in the film exists today.

So what does Back to the Future and the insurance industry have in common? Change. Consumer demands are changing, the marketplace is changing, the workforce is changing – and so too must the ways in which insurance brokers manage their business to begin adapting to the technological shifts and opportunities present today.

Technology enables you to streamline operations, drive efficient business operations and reduce E&O. Simultaneously, it is evolving insurance consumer expectations for constant communication and customer servicing through multiple channels. Like in Back to the Future, the key is embracing technology changes to meet evolving demands. The 21st century brokerage will continue to transform into a digital workspace that’s mobile savvy and data-driven.

Characteristics of a 21st Century Broker:

  1. Stays ahead of the curve
    By leveraging a modern brokerage management system, brokers can quickly scale business operations across multiple locations and easily integrate acquisitions. And through the use of digitally driven interactions and optimized workflows, leading brokerages have gone paperless – cutting costs associated with paper filing and creating additional physical space to expand their employee base. Standardized data also provides a single view into a book of business, empowering the 21st century broker to service clients better and identify opportunities to cross- and upsell.

    Consider this:
    Ensure your systems are modern and flexible. Technology such as the cloud provides anywhere, anytime access to information while protecting important data in a secure online environment away from a physical office. Investing in cloud technology delivers remote access to data, lowers costs associated to maintaining your IT infrastructure and increases business continuity.To improve broker productivity, mobile technologies are breaking down the traditional workspace and enabling brokers to deliver personalized client service away from the office while maintaining access to the latest client information. Consider mobile applications that enable access to your brokerage management system, as the next wave of insurance professionals are more mobile-connected than any other generation. Leveraging mobile can help you attract and retain top talent to drive business growth and profitability.

  2. Meets clients online
    A recent Ovum study found that 74% of consumers now use more than three channel’s when interacting with an enterprise brand or organization for customer-related issues. To deliver superior client servicing, leading insurance brokers have expanded their online presence by building out their company website and amplifying their social presence. This multichannel servicing allows companies to provide the best all-around customer experience, differentiating their business proposition from that of aggregators.

    Consider this:
    To deliver a superior customer experience, empower your employees with the latest software to ensure they can reach their clients at multiple touchpoints, like social, mobile and online. Provide business updates and advice via social media to encourage client engagement. Consider a customer self-service portal that delivers 24/7 online access to policy information and documentation and the ability to initiate and track claims processing. By delivering a multichannel customer experience, you will be able to remain connected to your clients on their preferred channel, increasing client satisfaction, retention and future client growth.

  3. Is data savvy
    According to Forrester Research, data volume in the enterprise will grow 50 times year-over-year between now and 2020. With the exponential growth of data, leading brokers and insurers are evaluating ways to extract and analyze pre-existing data in an easy-to-consume visual format to make more informed business decisions. Brokers can evaluate their book of business to better understand retention rates, growth markets, and leading lines of business. Business intelligence solutions also provide information about business metrics such as how efficiently a business operates, how quickly tasks are being completed, workflow bottlenecks, and how many employees hit their sales goals.

    Consider this:
    Take advantage of brokerage data to better understand your customer and accurately segment. Invest in technology that can enable you to more quickly and effectively analyze data to cross/upsell and determine which clientele are fit for certain products.

Technology is leading brokers into the future. The ability to harness the power of innovative software to automate business operations and meet changing consumer demands will elevate your role as a trusted advisor and further differentiate your business. By implementing technology innovations and becoming a 21st century digital broker, independent brokers are well positioned to accelerate an organization’s growth, profitability and agility both now and in the future.

“Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.”
–Dr. Emmett L. Brown, Back to the Future

JeJeff-Purdy-Blogffrey D. Purdy, senior vice president of international operations, is responsible for Applied’s Canadian and UK operations. Purdy began his Applied career in the company’s Canada operations in 1989. In 1993, he was named president of Applied Systems Canada, assuming responsibility for Canada product development, sales, implementation and customer support. In 2002, Purdy relocated to Applied’s U.S. headquarters as vice president of Diamond Implementation and Account Services, departments within the carrier division then operated by the company.

May
06

Keep Your Feet on the Ground and Head in the Cloud

by Kris Hackney

Business-Continuity--Kris-Hackney-Blog-1Has weather ever kept you off the roads and away from the office? Have you ever feared that your data and clients’ data has been exposed to external threats? If the answer is yes to either question, it is more important than ever for your organization to develop a business continuity plan to ensure your business remains financially and operationally viable regardless of external factors or unforeseen events.

Market intelligence firm IDC’s recent survey reported that 72% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) expect to increase their investments in business continuity over the next 12 to 24 months. And 81% of SMBs are considering improvements to their existing business continuity strategies. Business continuity plans require you to assess and adopt technology, tools, and processes that ensure your business continues to operate at all times – particularly when customers need you the most.

From a systems standpoint, the cloud enables agencies and brokerages to protect important data in a secure online environment within off-site data centers. The cloud is a delivery mechanism for IT services and data exchange over a secure network, providing on-demand, remote access to information. Data centers deliver a high level of security and also provide redundancies for power and back-up sites, so in the event a data center is in a disaster location, the redundant site will take over to ensure business continuity.

Moving core software applications to the cloud is fundamentally a decision about how to maximize your investment in the people, systems and strategies to grow your book of business more profitably. With a cloud solution, agencies and brokerages can increase their return on investment as applications and supporting software update automatically, so your business continually runs the latest software without incurring delays or extra expenses that may be required for manual updates.

5 Reasons Why You Should Adopt the Cloud
With spring weather season in full swing and cyber threats on the rise, I encourage you to consider adopting the cloud for these five reasons:

      1. Improve your business continuityWith the cloud, your critical applications and data reside in a secure data center, which provides redundancy for power, Internet access and a physical infrastructure that offers greater protection from natural and man-made disasters and other unpredicted business interruptions. The ability to remotely access and use your core business systems in the event of a disaster enables your agency or brokerage to maintain operations and continue to serve your clients anywhere, anytime.
      2. Reduce costs to maintain and manage IT infrastructure
        The average agency or brokerage staff has .5 dedicated IT personnel, meaning that many insurance agencies and brokerages operate without dedicated IT personnel and lack the expertise to deploy and manage multiple IT applications required in business today, as well as the hardware and software needed to run these systems. Cloud technology eliminates many requirements for hardware and software on-site and can significantly reduce your budget and capital costs for IT. It also reduces the need for personnel to manage IT infrastructure, freeing up time and money to focus more on core insurance activities.
      3. Increase information security and data management
        With weekly news stories on the latest corporate data breach, maintaining data protection has become table stakes for business success and client loyalty. In the cloud, you gain an extra layer of data defense by maintaining critical business information in secure data centers. In addition, your business benefits from implementing more efficient data management and data access processes. The cloud ensures you are running the latest version of your software applications, including any antivirus programs. By offering an exponential amount of data storage, the cloud allows you to focus on growing your business and clients without the concern of running out of storage space.
      4. Provide better customer service
        If weather keeps you at home or travel has you on the road, the cloud provides you and your employees remote access to up-to-date client and policy information using virtually any connected device, enabling you to reach and service clients at any time regardless of location. Instant access to information enables agents, CSRs, producers and others to provide clients faster service that can lead to higher productivity. In addition, reduced staffing for IT allows you to assign more employees to client-facing activities that improve customer service and satisfaction.
      5. Increase your ability to grow fast
        The flexibility of a cloud solution can be ideal for insurance agencies and brokerages that need to scale their business quickly to meet changing needs, such as a business acquisition or rapid growth, without the time and expense of adding or integrating new IT capacity. Since applications are hosted remotely in data centers and accessible via the Internet, new users can quickly connect to systems of record and gain access to data across your business enterprise, improving collaboration and productivity.

Today’s insurance marketplace continues to move at an accelerated pace, requiring you to provide information in a more timely and effective manner in order to enhance your competitive value and serve as a trusted resource. Integrating cloud solutions and emerging communication channels enables businesses to increase their operational flexibility and security while reducing downtime and bolstering connectedness to both an agency or broker’s internal operations and clients, enabling you to uphold your role as a trusted advisor and better service clients at times when you are needed the most.

Learn more about why the cloud makes sense for your business >>

How is your agency using the cloud for business continuity? Share your thoughts below.

Kristin HackneyKris Hackney, executive vice president of customer experience, is responsible for Applied’s customer delivery strategy and operational execution for the company’s Professional Services, Support and cloud-based solutions. She is the former vice president of Worldwide Enterprise Solutions & Services for Chicago-based SPSS Inc., a leading global provider of predictive analytics software and solutions, now part of IBM.

Apr
30

The Mobile Moment: Winning Customers in the Moment of Need

by Ed Higgins

It’s 9 p.m. on a Friday night and I’m stranded in Newark. With my flight canceled and no knowledge of the Newark area, I pick up my phone and say “O.K. Google, find a hotel near the Newark Airport.”  Then, “O.K. Google, find train transportation from Newark Airport to New York City.” Within minutes, I’m able to book alternate transportation by train and bus to arrive at my final destination. Although I arrived at my destination a little less than 12 hours after originally scheduled, I was able to find transportation and book accommodations before the airline had re-booked my flight, which would have been 3 days later!

This moment makes me wonder how we ever functioned before mobile technology. Consumers like you and me have the capacity to access services that assist us at our moments of need, and insurance customers expect the same experience from independent agencies and brokerages.

Making Mobile a Priority
I think the first time I realized my agency needed to become more engaged from a mobile perspective was when I queued up for an airline departure and realized that several other passengers had digital boarding passes on their smartphones. Later, I saw iPads used to display digital menus and integrated flight update information in the food service areas of a major airline terminal – no waitresses to take orders and the opportunity to get immediate flight updates while you waited, plus access to the Web for anything else you wanted.

Today, limited understating among independent insurance agents of the potential of mobile technologies has kept many from adopting this technology even though mobile can be an incredibly useful tool. The market paradigm has changed and an alarm is sounding for independent agencies and brokerages. When clients have fender benders, can they take pictures and submit claims to your agency via mobile? If your clients are on vacation with no computer access, can they use their smartphones to make a few quick changes to the policies? Does your agency or brokerage offer these options?

Starbucks Knows Mobile
When people are on-the-go, they expect information to be relevant and timely. Starbucks has mastered the art of delivering targeted information at tiny little moments. In a book I recently read, “The Mobile Mind Shift: Engineer Your Business To Win in the Mobile Moment,” author Ted Schadler discusses the mobile movement across the globe. A compelling example he shares is Starbucks’ mobile strategy. Realizing that many of their customers already use mobile devices to surf the Web while in their stores, Starbucks saw an opportunity to “connect with customers” who were already online.

Starbucks identified three types of mobile moments:

Starbucks Mobile Moments

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Loyalty Moments
Starbucks’ capitalizes on customer loyalty by  providing a mobile payment option for customers already at their stores. The company recognized additional loyalty opportunity moments by analyzing traffic patterns throughout the store and plotted specific opportunities to create a loyalty moment.  (Image at right shows the identified moments)

Manufactured Moments
A manufactured moment occurs when you can help a customer with a problem. Another word that describes a type of manufactured moment is “Youtility.” A new buzz word, Youtility occurs when a business helps consumers with problems that are not directly related to the products and services the business sells. By being useful, we can elevate our brand in the minds of the individuals we help. Then, when it comes time for those individuals to buy our products, they will think of us first because of the Youtility we provided in their time of need. For example, Clorox has an app called MyStain that provides practical guidance on how to manage clothing stains. Say you’re at a restaurant and you spill spaghetti sauce on your white shirt. No worries because the Clorox MyStain app tells you how to use products that are most likely available at the restaurant to manage your stain until you can return home to treat it properly.

Borrowed Moments
Finally, a borrowed moment is when you engage someone who is already “someplace else” like on Facebook or some other mobile application. An example would be purchasing advertising space on the mobile app of your regional newspaper.  The “reader” was not there to see you but you “borrowed” their attention from the forum to which they voluntarily subscribed.

Overall, what has become incredibly evident is that we have only BEGUN to see the tip of mobility’s potential and, because it provides opportunities to create truly customized experiences or “moments,” it is changing the world. At my business, Thousand Islands Insurance Agency, and as in the Starbucks’ example, it’s about delivering a small snippet of information at just the right time. Being able to identify, for instance, details of a client’s physical damage coverage and servicing that client at 10 p.m. on a weekend is a great way to build loyalty and a long-term relationship.

No Longer a “Nice to Have”
Mobile is here to stay and the sooner we adopt ways to become “mobile-ly engaged” with clients, the sooner we can take advantage of the benefits that mobile access can provide. An example is the availability of an insurance identification card through a customer self-service portal. We live near a military base where vendors are barred access to the base if they cannot provide proof of insurance at the entrance gate. On numerous occasions, we have driven to the base gate with an insurance ID card to accommodate a client. Now, our customer self-service portal allows clients to retrieve electronic identification cards on demand with their mobile device hence satisfying their moment of need.

Mobility is no longer just a nice to have and independent agencies and brokerages need to think more about staying connected 24/7 – both in the field and with customers. At our agency we use Applied MobileProducer, a mobile insurance app for producers that brings client, policy and sales information to iPad or Android tablets because our producers need to stay connected when they’re on the go. We use it to retrieve information from the management system regarding recent transactions and activities and to confirm coverage when providing clients our 24-hour claim service. It also allows us it to complete documentation during out-of-the-office in-person meetings with clients.

To close, I challenge agents and brokers to better and more comprehensively understand the electronic mobile landscape. Personally, I’ve committed to learning and implementing at least two new useful applications every month for 2015. In these first few months, I have discovered how wide the spectrum of mobile applications is and the variety of solutions that they provide. I encourage you to take the challenge yourself!

Is your business using mobile technology? How are you finding it beneficial? We welcome your thoughts below.

Ed HigginsEd Higgins, vice president of Thousand Islands Insurance Agency in Clayton, N.Y. and chair at Applied Client Network, has been an active independent agent since 1974.  Ed is a Past President of the Independent Insurance Agents Association of New York (IIABNY) 1995-1996. He has also served at the national level of the on Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc. as State National Director representing New York (1998-2002) and as chair of the Agents Council for Technology (A.C.T.) (1998-2003). Ed does insurance agency automation consulting on practical applications of agency automation and other technologies to enhance agency workflow & maximize customer service.

Apr
16

Breaking Down Business Intelligence

by Michael Howe

Michael-Howe-BI-Blog--Image-in-BlogIn an industry that generates an immense volume of data every day, insurance agency and brokerage executives are increasingly turning to new business intelligence (BI) strategies and solutions that provide additional, data-driven visibility into their clients, prospects, internal operations and carrier relationships.

For many executives, business intelligence solutions build upon the established capabilities of traditional reporting. Traditional reports typically allow executives to examine “what happened” using data based on a defined set of criteria as of a specific moment in time. By contrast, BI solutions extend traditional reporting to focus on  “why something happened” by using visual representations of data over time that are both interactive and multi-dimensional, allowing agencies to drill into a particular aspect of the business for deeper understanding.

Crucial capabilities and insights at your fingertips
BI solutions put these crucial capabilities at your fingertips, with easy-to-understand visual illustrations of key performance metrics such as retention rates and hit ratios, as well as complex analysis of client growth, book of business trending, carrier response rate and employee productivity. By looking at data from multiple perspectives, you can gain greater business insights and better understand the cause and effect of what drives your business and how to respond to new business and market opportunities.

For example, when evaluating your organization’s book of business, you can cross-examine and splice data to:

  • Identify coverage packages that are popular and profitable within one industry and determine new industries that need identical coverage
  • Track active regions for business expansion and net growth
  • Know the best insurers with the highest likelihood of writing specific types of business
  • Measure business activities against book of business trending, identifying efficiencies and improved productivity

To get a better idea of just how a BI solution could help your agency or brokerage, let’s take a look at some specific scenarios.

Location, location, location
First, let’s examine an issue related to servicing your customers. Consider your agency or brokerage is operating in a region that has experienced a natural catastrophe, like Napa Valley’s 2014 earthquake. As soon as the catastrophic event hits, an owner can instantly tap into their BI tool to visually identify which of their clients could be affected in the geographic area where the event hit. A BI tool can drill down into geographical maps to provide instant access to the critical information (think:  who is impacted, what type of coverage do they have, when did the event happen and were they covered, where are their assets) agents and brokers need to proactively reach out to their clients to provide the level of personalized service and guidance expected from their role as a trusted advisor.

Second, let’s take a look a typical challenge related to evaluating new business development. Geographic business intelligence can also visually identify marketing campaign success by region. For instance, an agency or brokerage might be focused on expanding their client base in a specific suburb in their main city of operation. To increase awareness and drive new sales, the owner decides to run an advertising campaign, including local print and TV, for a month targeted at this specific suburb. Following the campaign, an owner can evaluate sales in the region leading up to the campaign, during the campaign, and thereafter to identify any change in the sales trend that could be a direct result from increased marketing activities.

People make or break your business
Insurance has always been a people-oriented industry – defined by personal interactions, relationships, and services. BI solutions can also help with a better understanding of the most important determining factor of your agency’s success:  your people.  To better understand the growth and profitability of an agency’s or brokerage’s business, executives have to closely evaluate employee productivity and revenue-generating activities to better understand their impact on the growth and profitability of their business.

Executives often consider these questions:

  • What is the average revenue per employee at my firm?
  • Who are my top performing producers?
  • How has adding an additional producer added to business development activities?

While straightforward questions, obtaining this information can take several manual steps, including pulling the data from multiple sources, inputting it into a program like Excel, manipulating it to produce the desired results, and building out simple graphical comparisons. With a BI solution, executives can dynamically evaluate employee performance and business development activities through dashboards that can be adjusted to visually provide different cross-comparisons of data. One view can provide an overall snapshot of how each producer is driving revenue. Another view can rank producers by revenue, added lines, retention, attrition, or a number of any other key business metrics. The ability to quickly toggle between information sets provides executives a user-driven experience to better understand how their staff is driving business growth and profitability.

Collaborating with carriers
When researching services for clients, agencies and brokerages engage with a number of insurer partners to find the best policy for their clients. Agencies and brokerages frequently place more business with insurers that are most responsive and provide the most competitive service. The key to effective negotiations and profitable relationships with your insurers is factual data. How often have insurers provided their own numbers from their own limited or adjusted perspectives, and used their data to attempt to negotiate higher results and/or lesser commissions? Executives now have the ability to track the performance of submission responses, declines, and ultimately what policies were written with each of their insurer partners. With a BI solution, executives can quickly review insurer responses rate to provide clear visual proof that the agency is trying to actively engage with the insurer. Executives can evaluate specific success metrics for their insurer marketing activities, as well as compare multiple insurers down to the submission activities for each policy type.

BI solutions have become a necessity for companies of all sizes, industries and verticals to be highly competitive in today’s marketplace. BI brings insights that will refine an agency’s decisions, permeate client, carrier and employee discussions, and ultimately create new business opportunities and more profitable relationships.

Data Analytics_Blog_Applied Systems
What are your thoughts on business intelligence? Do you feel your agency or brokerage could benefit from visually understanding your data?

Michael HoweMichael Howe, senior vice president of product management, is responsible for the strategic direction of the Applied product portfolio. Howe joined Applied in 2013 with more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software. He formerly served as senior vice president of Marketing and Product Management at Aptean, a global provider of industry-focused enterprise software. Prior to Aptean, Howe held senior executive management positions at SAP and other leading software companies.

Apr
02

3 Tips Applied CSR24 Users Should Know

by Bob Zaczynski

CSR24-Blog-TipsEverywhere we go we see people glued to technology. Whether it’s getting directions from point A to B, searching for a great place to eat or browsing Facebook for status updates, the expectation for instant access to information is ubiquitous. This holds true for your clients as well. In addition to phone and in-person contact, today’s insurance consumers expect 24/7 self-service access via mobile or Web. Applied CSR24 delivers that technology, allowing agencies to offer clients immediate access to certificates and auto IDs.

But multichannel client service is only the tip of the iceberg. From the agency perspective, many Applied CSR24 clients find instant gratification in streamlined certificate processing, saving time and resources. With my 25+ years of insurance automation experience and more than 14 years assisting with implementation and training for Applied CSR24, I thought I’d share some thoughts on how you can get the most out of the application.

Sync
During implementation, Applied sets up the extract to pull data from your management system into Applied CSR24, saving time for both your staff and clients when filling out forms and requesting information. However if your agency uses Applied CSR24 with Applied Epic or Applied TAM, you can set up Sync, a real-time connection that interchanges data in both directions. This Sync ensures that all information seen by staff and clients is the most current available from the management system, and conversely that any data that originates within Applied CSR24 automatically gets added to your management system’s activities.

With Sync, you can:

  • Enable activities along with their related attachments to be automatically written into your Applied management system from portal-initiated transactions. Your staff will get greater visibility into client interactions conducted in the portal, all within your Applied Epic or Applied TAM management system.
  • Give your clients access to documents and attachments through the online portal. Never manually send a document to your insureds or upload into the portal again. Instead, click one checkbox in your management system to allow your clients to view and/or retrieve documents stored within the management system in real time.
  • Provide a “Claims View” option to your clients through the online portal. Customer service around the claims process is a huge factor in client retention and satisfaction. Give clients visibility into claims status directly from the portal so they can have 24/7 access to the information they need.

Mobile
More and more people are visiting the Web from mobile devices to conduct insurance transactions. For this reason, Applied CSR24 is mobile-friendly and reformats the user interface of your self-service portal so that clients can easily tap and touch from a smartphone or tablet. To see for yourself how it looks, simply visit your agency’s portal from your smartphone.

And you can brand your portal with a mobile icon:
CSR24_Your Logo

Within the system administration tools, you can add branded icons to make sure that when clients save the webpage to their smartphones and tablets, it appears as a branded icon for your business.

Providing a mobile service option can set you apart from the competition. Visit the Help File within Applied CSR24 to get a communication template that can be used to announce to your clients that your portal is mobile-friendly.

Single Sign-On
Did you know that within Applied TAM and Applied Epic you can set up Applied CSR24 as single sign-on (SSO)? Once the SSO is set up, your staff will never have to launch Applied CSR24 as a separate browser session and sign in. Their Applied TAM or Applied Epic credentials will also give them direct instant access to Applied CSR24.

Applied CSR24 enables your staff to easily access the premium certificate processing capabilities directly from your management system. With direct access to the client account within Applied CSR24, staff can begin the certificate issuance process instantly without navigating to the client file or closing out of the management system. It also allows them to efficiently create and modify client accounts for the Applied CSR24 portal.

I hope this information helps you to get even more value from Applied CSR24. For additional resources, check the Help File within your system or the Applied Client Portal, and watch this video on the latest features.

Do you have additional tips to share with fellow users? Share your ideas below.

Bob ZaczynskiBob Zaczynski, senior vice president of implementation/support services at Applied, directs the implementation and training for various products including Applied CSR24, Applied MobileProducer, and Applied certTrax. He also heads the support teams for Applied certTrax, Applied WebEngine websites and Applied InsWorld publications. Bob joined Applied Systems in 2010 and has more than 25 years of insurance automation experience.

Mar
25

[Podcast] Steve Anderson – Why Customer Service Is No Longer Enough

by Applied Communications

Steve andersonGuest: Steve Anderson, Insurance Technology Expert
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Length: 16:13

Steve Anderson, executive editor of The Anderson Agency Report and recently named a Top 150 LinkedIn Influencer, has been a licensed independent agent for more than 30 years and educates insurance organizations on how understanding and applying technology can help them navigate transformation in the marketplace. In this podcast, Steve breaks down what’s driving the insurance industry online and how agencies can meet consumer demand for online customer self-service. Having studied customer experience among insurance agents for 12+ years, Steve discusses why building an experience through digital technology is pivotal to sustaining long-lasting customers and driving business success. Steve also dives into his recent customer experience survey based on independent agents’ adoption of online self-service applications.

Here are highlights from our conversation:

  • Applied Systems: Delivering a superior customer experience at all customer touchpoints is a trending topic in insurance. Are you seeing this trend take shape in the independent agent channel?
  • Steve Anderson: Well, I’m certainly seeing the conversation being started around the difference between customer service and what I phrase as “creating a compelling customer experience.” Many agents, for so many years, have thought that what they provide is customer service and frankly they did, and most of them did a very good job of it. But I think in today’s age, certainly with the changing expectation of consumers, customer service isn’t really enough anymore. It really is about creating an experience with an organization…What is an agent going to have to do to create an experience that builds and sustains a relationship that will keep a customer coming back to them?…

“…With the changing expectations of consumers today, customer service isn’t really enough anymore.”

  • Applied Systems: Direct writers and comparison sites are requiring independent agents to change how they engage with their clients online. What are independent agents doing in response to this?
  • Steve Anderson: Well, again, I think more and more agents understand that they do need to be online; it is a communication channel that more and more people are accessing and using. In fact, I was just reading earlier this morning, in one of the industry trade publications, an article about the new Affordable Care Act and the people that have signed up online for that medical health coverage. The article’s  statistics said that 1 in 5 people used a mobile device to actually sign up – either a smartphone or a tablet. I think that’s pretty significant [and] that there is a percentage of people out there who expect to be online…. At the same time, there are times when I really do want to talk to somebody, but balancing that out is actually a difficult process. Perhaps a little more difficult for older agency owners who built their business on either people walking in the door, calling them on the phone or interacting with them in person. I think that’s a hard transition. One of the comments I hear all the time is, “Well my clients don’t want online access.” That may be true, however, are you really sure that is true? I think that’s an area where agents need to be thinking “it’s not what we like or don’t like, but what do [our] clients like and don’t like.”

“…Agents need to be thinking, ‘it’s not what do we like or don’t like, but what do [our] clients like and don’t like.’”

  • Applied Systems: Do you see mobile devices driving the need for self-service?
  • Steve Anderson: Oh absolutely…A high percentage of iPad tablets or Android tablets [are] coming out… I think that adoption of technology is driving mobile usage and people just expect to be able to get information, to do things whenever they have a few minutes. Be that waiting at a stoplight or sitting on their porch and just pulling their phone up to say, “Oh, I should have paid that bill” or “I should have done this” or “I wanted to look up this information.” …I would say a majority [of consumers] are used to accessing information and doing things using whatever device makes sense to them at the time.
  • Applied Systems: How have you seen agents adopt and leverage online portal solutions?
  • Steve Anderson: …I’ve been tracking this literally for probably 12 years now, at least… This whole idea of online – I’ve been talking about it and frankly, agents have been resistant, saying their clients don’t want it. I actually conducted an online survey, and I had over 250 responses to the very simple survey.

    The first question was: Does your agency have an online client portal? …Of those responses, 41% said yes and 59% said no… I go back to the statistics, and what I’m reading and the changes in consumer’s attitudes, expectations, [or] what consumers consider a good customer experience, more and more of that is online access. I know agents are afraid of losing the relationship and those are certainly some points to keep in mind, but the reality is, that may mean we need to be more proactive at how we interact and build relationships with customers.

    Then the second question I asked [was]: Of the 59% that said no, why not?… Almost 42% of those 60% that don’t have [a client portal] said, “Our clients are not asking for this capability.” Again, I pause and I guess, are you asking whether they want [it] as an agency?

    The other question I asked was: How many are planning to add it in 2015? Only 8% said that they were planning on adding it this year.


    The final question was: What technology platform do you use? … [We saw] that Applied CSR24 represented 54.5% of those that had said yes. …Applied CSR24 has been around for a very long time, it’s built a great solid base, it has lots of functionality, it allows customers to do certificates and auto ID and get documents or request changes.

    I would say [agents] are not nearly fast enough at responding to this changing expectation that is going on with consumers…I should mention at this point, when I say consumers, I mean personal lines, individuals; I also mean businesses because I’m absolutely convinced that people who buy insurance at the very largest businesses are just people and they’re consumers too – they have expectations of what should or shouldn’t happen.

“I would say [agents] are not nearly fast enough for responding to this changing expectation that is going on with consumers.”

  • Applied Systems: When you mention mobile apps, are there other channels that you see increasing in importance for agents when interacting with their clients online? Would mobile apps be part of that or are there other technologies that you would include?
  • Steve Anderson: I think the other “channel” that I might say that we need to pay attention to is texting. That’s a whole other area [for agents] but, more and more people… are using text messaging as a means of communication. “I’ve had an accident and I’m at the corner of this or that” and texting that information in. That opens up a whole bunch of questions – How do you respond? How do you get notified in the office? Can you get enough information in a small 160 character text message?

What are your thoughts on independent agent adoption of online communication channels? We welcome your thoughts and questions below.