Building Deeper Customer Relationships Starts with ‘GPS’

by Scott Addis

GPS-BlogYour ability to establish deep, engaging relationships with your clients and prospects is an essential element in your quest to create a memorable customer experience journey. So, it’s not something you should take lightly. That said, building “magical” relationships isn’t something you have to be a natural at. It’s a learnable skill, something that can be developed over time and nurtured until it becomes second nature.

Keys to Building a Memorable Customer Experience Journey
Research has shown that more than 50% of customer experience is predicated on how you make the customer feel – their subconscious. Impacting your customers’ feelings and creating positive emotions are the keys to building a memorable customer experience journey. This “journey” is the sum of all experiences the customer has with you and your firm – the actions and results that make them feel important, understood, heard and respected.

How to Know What Drives Your Customers
Don’t worry; you don’t have to read your customers’ minds. The best way to find out what’s going to positively impact your clients and prospects  (and therefore the best customer experience) is to get to know what drives them. Ed Wallace, the author of Business Relationships That Last introduces us to a concept called, “Relational GPS.”

GPS stands for:

  • Goals: Short- and long-term professional objectives.
  • Passions: Personal and professional causes that your clients and prospects care so deeply about.
  • Struggles: Obstacles holding them back from their goals and passions.

People will not share their goals, passion and struggles with you until they feel confident and comfortable in the relationship. They must trust you. Your credibility, integrity and authenticity open up the GPS of your client or prospect. Once your customer allows you to navigate his or her GPS, you have the road map to a long term relationship and a distinguished customer experience.

Become Unique and Indispensable
It is especially important to note that addressing some of your customers’ struggles – whether through recommending products, strategies, services, or simply listening – will deepen the relationship and give you crucial insights to keep their needs at the forefront. An intense focus on your customer with the mission of alleviating pain points is the best way to demonstrate your unique value proposition.  Without a compelling value proposition, you are ordinary and disposable – a commodity. With a distinguished value proposition you are unique and indispensable.

The outcome of an exceptional customer experience is that you will have differentiated yourself from the others in the industry. Don’t you want your customers to feel as though you and your firm are the only ones that can truly give them what they want?

Essential Steps to Differentiation

  1. Listen to the customer. What do your clients and prospects enjoy more than anything in the world – talking about themselves, their goals, passions, hobbies, family business, etc.? Your listening skills will create a positive first impression and get the relationship off to a great start. This is a critical first step of your customer experience journey. By the way, this simple technique has been neglected by generations of well-intended professionals.
  2. Exploit the differences between your offerings and that of your competition. This step is pretty straightforward. You must articulate how your process differs from the others in the market. And, highlight the tangible results your customer or prospect will receive, the unique benefits that you bring to bear that others cannot. If you cannot achieve this step, you are simply another face in the crowd.
  3. Demonstrate the value of your offerings. Because you understand the pain points of your client or prospect, you are positioned to prove that you have solutions to mitigate them. By tailoring your offerings, you will elicit emotions from your customers that affect their decision making process. The emotions include fear, greed, pride, envy, anger, pain and guilt to name a few. In the business of insurance, compliance, employee benefits and risk management, fear is a real motivator. Fear of losing something. Fear of lawsuits. Fear of injury. Fear of risk. It is also helpful to give specific examples of how your products, strategies or services will combat the fears of your clients or prospects.
  4. Include creativity and passion when you’re building your customer solutions. Think outside the box. This should go without saying, but sometimes we get set on using original formulas as opposed to what your customers really need. Focus intently on how you can customize the services you offer to fit their goals. Cecil Beaton, the English Academy Award-winning photographer said it best: “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose, emotion and imaginative vision against play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
  5. Demonstrate your personal commitment to ensure that your customers achieve the proposed outcomes. That’s what it’s all about – your customers put their trust in you for a reason, so make sure to show them that you’re fully committed to helping them achieve their goals.While your clients or prospects surely value each member of your team, it is your personal commitment that matters the most. Personal commitment is an essential component of the customer experience journey.
  6. Shoot for your customers’ hearts. To truly engage with your customers, you must go right for their hearts as it is here where their deepest emotions are stored. Earning the trust and loyalty of those you serve is well worth the effort because at the end of the day they will continue to come back to you time and time again well as refer you. It is also why they prefer what you offer over the competition.

Scott-AddisScott Addis, CPCU, CRA, is CEO of The Addis Group and President/CEO of Beyond Insurance. Beyond Insurance is a coaching and consulting firm whose purpose is to transform the process that insurance agents, brokers, and carriers use when working with their clients. To learn more, contact Scott by phone at (610) 945-1019 or email.


9 Essential Apps for Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers

by Applied Communications

Apps for smartphones and tablets have forever changed the way we work and do business. No longer just games and photo editors for personal use, mobile apps can help you and your staff be more organized, efficient and productive. And the resulting time-savings can be significant allowing your staff to shift their focus to activities that drive new business and increase client retention.

But which apps should you use? There’s almost nothing that there isn’t an app for, so to narrow things down, we’ve pulled together a list of essential apps that can help your agency better manage communications, customers, documents and more.

What apps do you use to keep organized and be productive? Share by commenting below!


8 Reasons Why You Can’t Afford to Miss Applied Net 2015

by Applied Communications

Applied Net is right around the corner, in fact, it’s less than 10 weeks away! If you are still on the fence about attending, here are the top 8 reasons why you CAN’T miss the world’s largest gathering of independent agents, brokers and insurers.

  1. Expansive learning opportunities
    Choose from more than 200 educational sessions in 20 different tracks that address business and technology challenges your agency or brokerage faces today and in the future. Sessions cover a variety of topics including:

    • Thought Leadership: Effectively plan for the future and learn key management strategies.
    • Products: Discover new ways to maximize your Applied software and learn about new solutions to enhance your services.
    • Technology: Drive business success with IT and online strategies and solutions.
    • Insurer Strategies: Learn about the latest advancements in insurer technology.

    Inside Scoop: Some of last year’s top sessions were Applied Epic and Applied TAM Tips and Techniques, 10 Reports Managers Should Know, and Roadmap to Success: Looking Ahead at Applied CSR24. Get the full list of the education sessions and descriptions >

  2. Network with peers and friends
    Network with fellow Applied software users and product experts to share experiences and exchange ideas about how to get the most from your agency or brokerage’s Applied Systems technology.

    Inside Scoop: If you’re a first-timer, don’t miss out on the First-Time Attendee Reception on Monday night! The Applied Net Exchange is another great forum to network with industry peers.

  3. Gain exclusive access to the latest software releases and innovations
    This year’s theme, The Digital Future of Insurance, focuses on opportunities for growth and increased profitability for agencies, brokerages and insurers worldwide through the enhanced use of software to power the business of insurance. Test drive and learn about the latest technology innovations and meet one-on-one with Applied technology experts.

    Inside Scoop: Be prepared to demo the latest products released exclusively at Applied Net.

  4. Drive business success
    The Executive Management Program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for agency and brokerage leaders to engage in high level discussions on insurance industry trends and business strategies to drive success at your business. Hear from agency/brokerage leaders, consultants and influencers on best practices enabling you to run your business better.

    Inside Scoop: This year’s Executive Management Program is the best yet! 2015’s sessions are presented by the industry’s most knowledgeable experts including Forrester research, MarshBerry Consulting and Strategy Meets Action. See the full list of Executive Management Program sessions >

  5. Inspiring keynotes by Dr. Madeleine Albright and Horst Schulze
    Applied Net 2015 presents remarkable keynote speakers, providing you with unique perspectives and strategies on leadership, business and customer experience. Dr. Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State, global strategy consultant and best-selling author, will serve as the featured keynote. Horst Schulze, legendary leader renowned for creating a culture of service as founding president and COO of Ritz-Carlton, will share his insights on successful customer experience strategies.

    Inside Scoop: Schulze is a legendary leader in the service world whose vision helped the Ritz-Carlton Group win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The Ritz-Carlton Group is the first and only hotel company to win even one such award. This keynote is not to be missed for those who want to improve their agency or brokerage’s customer experience!

  6. More insurers, partners and solution providers then ever at the Applied Net Exchange
    This year, the Applied Net Exchange promises to be the biggest ever, with more vendors and a larger exhibit floor. Open daily throughout the conference, the Applied Net Exchange provides you with the opportunity to experience the complete Applied product portfolio and network with industry experts and leading solution providers.

  7. Get your accounting and reporting certifications
    Earn your Applied software certifications at Applied Net. Programs are designed for you to easily earn your certification during the conference, while leaving time to attend other sessions of interest. Both Applied Epic and Applied TAM users can receive certifications in Accounting and/or Reporting.

    Inside Scoop: Each registered attendee who completes the four-session certification program will receive a certificate of completion. Learn more >

  8. Unforgettable entertainment –
    Cirque de Soleil: The Beatles LOVE & Drai’s Nightclub
    When the days draw to a close, the evenings are just beginning. This exciting selection of events provides the perfect opportunity to engage with fellow attendees against the backdrop of beautiful Las Vegas.

    • Monday, Oct. 19: Welcome Reception in the Applied Net Exchange
    • Tuesday, Oct. 20: Cirque du Soleil: The Beatles LOVE – Exclusive Applied Net Peformance
    • Wednesday, Oct. 21: Live Music and Dancing at Drai’s Nightclub

    Inside Scoop: The entire Beatles LOVE show has been reserved exclusively for Applied Net attendee private viewing!

Already attending Applied Net 2015? Tell us what you’re looking forward to by commenting below!



The Insurance Producer’s Secret to Managing Risk

by Sarah Ratcliffe

Risk-Analysis-BlogProducers today need to be well-versed in a variety of risk to provide customers the service and products they need and expect. A key factor in meeting the needs of your customers and providing a quality customer experience is to assess their insurance needs effectively. It’s important that you as a producer have a tool you can use to educate yourself about risk types you might not be familiar with.

Consider this situation: You are going to meet with a new business referred to you by a current client. The prospect is in the crop dusting business and you have never quoted this industry before. You think – Aviation risk? Agribusiness risk?  What do I need to know in order to quote accurate coverage for this prospective client?

That’s where Risk Analysis tools, like the one provided in Applied MobileProducer, come into play.

By using Applied MobileProducer, you can:

  • Access narratives, surveys, coverage assessments, and supplemental data about a specific type of business, providing better risk education for seasoned producers and enhanced training for new producers.
    Applied Mobile Producer, Access Narratives, Surveys, Coverage Assessments
  • Get quick access to SIC and NAICS codes allowing you to easily look up risk associated with a specific industry.
    Applied Mobile Producer, Quick Accesss to SIC and NAICS Codes
  • Ask relevant risk questions, providing an informed experience to both clients and prospects.
    Applied Mobile Producer, Ask Relevant Risk Questions
  • Propose more accurate coverage proposals based on more precise risk.
    Applied Mobile Producer, Accurate Coverage Based on Precise Risk

Applied MobileProducer shows you details on all of the above categories of risk, and it’s the first independent agent app designed specifically for producers to access and manage client and prospect information anywhere, anytime via a mobile tablet.

Our customers are using the risk tool within Applied MobileProducer to:

  • Provide new producers better training for client meetings. By reviewing the risk questionnaires, producers are better prepared for meetings.
  • Expand producer’s market base, allowing them to feel more comfortable assessing new types of businesses and risks.

Creating a superb customer experience is not a one-time event, but an on-going  activity that your agency will continue for the rest of its existence. The key is to ensure that you are monitoring the buying behavior and risk needs of tech-savvy consumers to ensure you are delivering the policies, service and experience customers want.

How would you leverage Applied MobileProducer’s risk analysis at your agency? Leave your comments below.

Sarah Ratcliffe Sarah Ratcliffe, vice president of product management, agency/broker solutions at Applied Systems, oversees enterprise software solutions and listens to the strategic needs of customers to guide them to the right solutions for success. Sarah Ratcliffe began her insurance career 15 years ago and has held various agency positions in small to large agencies & brokerages. During her agency tenure, she was also actively involved in the user community, including time as the National Education Chair for ASCnet.


Champion Change – Key Considerations When Adopting New Insurance Agency or Brokerage Technology

by Kris Hackney

Today, you are currently facing a number of changes in the industry – increasing industry consolidation, the evolving workforce and new consumer experience expectations. You are required to do more with less time, particularly smaller agencies or brokerages where individuals are asked to fill multiple roles and manage many disparate tasks. To ensure maximum productivity and technology gains, agencies and brokerages are reviewing their internal technology strategies to ensure their systems are advanced and flexible enough to respond quickly to new market opportunities.

Adopting or switching technology can be a daunting task – there are a number of associated resource requirements and expenses with these projects that require thoughtful consideration and planning. When evaluating implementation approaches and methodology, there are two distinct ways to view the move-forward strategy: one is focused on the best steps to champion change and the other lacks clear focus and purpose which can lead to a challenging transition. As shown below, these are two diverging paths – one ultimately leads to recognized benefit from the technology investment while the other leads to team frustration and adverse productivity.


Click to Maximize

How to Become a Change Champion at Your Agency or Brokerage

When evaluating if it is the right time to make a technology change – whether adopting a new self-service software or switching management systems – consider the following stages to success to become a change champion within your agency or brokerage:

  • Awareness and Understanding:
    Provide compelling business reasons for the change
    As agencies and brokerages continue to evaluate their growth strategies – both organic and acquisitive – they are in tandem assessing their internal infrastructure to ensure it can support expansion. To support growth goals and continue to attract and retain new clients and employees, they require integrated software that delivers consistent workflows, standardized data, and a modern architecture that is scalable for growth. Consistent workflows provide your business with universal procedures across locations and office branches, as well as simplify employee on-boarding and training. Standardized data provides a single view into your agency’s or brokerage’s book of business, enabling you to better service your clients and identify opportunities to cross/upsell. Finally, as technology continues to become even more embedded across all enterprise functions, your business needs to look to  software best built to integrate additional technologies such as mobile applications,  business intelligence (BI) tools and customer self-service portals that will further drive business efficiencies and support superior client servicing.
  • Engagement and Acceptance:
    Change is a team effort – get everyone on board
    In any organization, change management requires well-defined business benefits, objectives, and structured steps to be successful – and adopting new software is no different. Clearly communicating why change is needed and the benefits of implementing new software to all stakeholders in the transition helps to build buy-in from the start. Teams need to foster a partnership approach, examining strategic areas of the business to make operational, process and training improvements based on insurance technology best practices. Throughout the implementation process, your business will discover insights that increase ROI by optimizing business operations and service practices. Change is never easy, but by setting expectations and preparing your staff thoroughly, you can quickly derive benefits from your investment.
  • Testing and Action:
    How to avoid bumps in the road
    Key focal points in your transition should be centered on data, workflows, staff education, and business continuity, ensuring that you maintain daily business operations to continue supporting clients and prospects. When beginning any software conversion, you should consider what data needs to be transitioned. When evaluating moving management systems, look at the process as being similar to moving to a new home: you take the time when moving to consider what items to move into your new home and what you no longer need; you don’t simply move everything from your existing home to the new one. When making the transition to a new management system, data quality is critical to your success. Also, focusing on workflow development can be critical in driving overall efficiency and reducing time spent onboarding employees to a new system. As implementation of a new management system can take up to several months, it is critical to involve employees consistently throughout the process. In doing so, your business can obtain critical insight on how your technology has been used to date and identify opportunities to better leverage your technology investment. Additionally, employees then feel more involved in the decision-making process and are motivated to support adoption of the new management system within your organization. I encourage you to identify “champions,” those eager and excited about the change, early in the transition process and involve them in every step along the way.
  • Commitment:
    The means are worth the end
    Many agencies and brokerages have been on the same systems for well over a decade, and their users are comfortable with the status quo. However, the benefits of modernizing agency and brokerage technologies outweigh the challenges of change. Advanced, integrated technology enables businesses to customize and automate operations, further improving staff productivity and allowing you to focus more time on attaining and servicing customers. The key to success is going in with realistic expectations, strong executive sponsorship, and a focused commitment to change.

What hesitations does your agency or brokerage face when it comes to changing technology, processes or procedures?

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.


Advice on Data Migration from the Experts

by David Degroot

Everyone’s been talking about data this year – how to secure it, analyze it, and why you should pay attention to it. It’s an important topic.

So what’s the key to improving the overall health of your business? Clear, accurate data.

The best way to streamline and organize your workflows? Managing your data.

Need to get everyone on the same page and boost client and agent relationships? Data again.

Data-Migration-Blog_ResourcesIt’s definitely a big concern, and for those of you who are in the midst of or considering moving to a new management system, maintaining the health and integrity of your data is critical. As the VP of Technical Services at Applied Systems, I live, eat and breath data. Over the last five years we’ve managed more than 3,800 data migration and merger projects from multiple systems. This represents over 10,000 individual databases delivered within that same time period. We’re very familiar with some of the most common issues that agencies face. Some agencies see data migration as a daunting challenge and let this delay their conversation to a new system. Following a well-defined process makes this transition much smoother with less time and a faster return on investment.

Evaluate the Data in Your Current System
To make your move to a new system successful, you will need to spend time taking a thorough inventory of the data in your current system. Why? The answer is simple.

I recently read an article by Oracle that calls accurate data “the raw material that maximizes the value of enterprise applications.” In short, it’s what makes your new system worthwhile. Taking time to evaluate, organize and update your data at the beginning of the move will maximize the return once your new system is in place.

It’s likely that you’ll have data from the very beginning of your business and from every employee you’ve ever had. Not all of it will be necessary to move to the new system, so I recommend that as you evaluate, you determine the value of each portion of data, and make sure you keep a record of it.

Next, ask yourself some questions. When is the last time you examined your data? Have entries been kept up to date, or have they been duplicated or saved in different locations? How accurate is your policy and coverage information?  What about lists of clients and prospects? You can utilize the reporting tools in your current system to generate a more accurate look at what data you have, and what might be missing.

That brings me to the next step: updating. This is something you’ll need to determine early, because there are two ways to do it. You can clean and modify your data prior to conversion, or you can manage it as part of the conversion process.

The key here is to acknowledge that the data conversion process is one of the most critical elements of the migration, and you will most likely have to make updates to your existing data. Be sure that your timeline includes enough time to make any and every correction you might need.

Develop a Data Transition Plan
Planning is one of the key steps to transitioning your data. You won’t just need to move it to a new system; you may also need to convert it into a new format that works better within the new framework. Creating a solid overall timeline with completion dates will help you lay out a roadmap to the conversion and migration process, and ensures that you include ample time to test your data.

In a recent article, Steve Forte of OneNote recommends doing “dry-runs with large data sets to flush out inconsistent source data,” and I couldn’t agree more. You’ll want to identify the areas where data is incomplete and inconsistent as early on in the process as possible to allow you time to run these tests.

Investing the time to make sure that the data you are migrating will be as accurate as possible in your new system is possibly the most important step you’ll take in this process. Treat the conversion of your data from the old system to the new with as much care and attention to detail as possible, and you’ll be much more likely to have a successful implementation.

Get Staff Up to Speed
Naturally, migrating to a new system will involve training for your employees, but you can significantly ease the process of transitioning by carefully planning the training process from the beginning. Besides ensuring that everyone is up to speed at the right time, requesting additional training for your staff creates additional resources when reviewing the data conversion process. When scheduling training courses, consider the dates of completion and aim to have all training completed by the time you’re ready to perform your data testing.

Remember, you have options with how you choose to manage getting data into your new system. Oracle recommends that you move your data to the new system in stages, and use both systems together until the new one is fully functional.

*In the implementation phase I recommend there should only be 1 system of record. Meaning, there is only 1 true production system. Prior to an activation date on the new agency management system, the system of record is the current agency management system. As data is converted, the data review and new system workflows should be tested repeatedly from the new system. This approach gives you additional time to ensure that staff are fully trained and comfortable with the new system. It also allows you to ensure that you have fully completed evaluating your data. You can catch any remaining gaps or incongruences that may need to be addressed prior to system activation.

Regardless of how you choose to go about the final implementation, making sure that your data is as accurate and up to date as possible is going to smooth the process immeasurably. It will also put your mind at ease. If you’ve taken care to ensure that everything is as complete as you can make it, then you’ve already done the hard part.

What tips do you have when it comes to data migration?

Dave-DegrootDave DeGroot, vice president of technical services, is responsible for data migrations, integrations, and infrastructure assessments. DeGroot joined Applied in 1989, and since that time has participated in numerous product development initiatives including Applied TAM, Applied Vision, Applied Epic, and many custom development projects.


3 Ways Technology Can Boost Agency Productivity

by Michael Howe

T-23010_Resources_ProductivityEbook_v2In the not too distant past, consumers went to independent agents for all of their insurance needs – whether simple or complex – because insurance was often an elusive concept to the man on the street. At the same time, insurance coverage was considered something everyone must have so when insurance-related questions came up, many consumers’ initial instinct was, “I have to talk to my agent.”

Over the past few years, this paradigm has shifted toward consumers being much more willing and able to build an understanding of their needs. This trend is broadly seen across nearly every industry and is accelerating in Insurance. While the trusted relationship with an agent is often still crucial, insurance consumers today are researching, purchasing and interacting with the insurance industry in new ways, and increasingly on their own terms. In working with agencies and end consumers around the industry, we think the shifting behavior of consumers can be summarized in two key ways:

  • The Knowledgeable Consumer
    This consumer actively researches insurance online and consults their peer network prior to purchasing policies – either online or in person. How can you quickly and effectively service this consumer before they research other options or take their business elsewhere?
  • The Always-On Consumer
    This consumer wants information anytime, anywhere via any device be it smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. This consumer doesn’t want to stop by your office for an auto ID card or certificate of insurance. How can you give them access to their insurance information when and where they want it?

One thing these two types of consumers have in common is the expectation for instant access to information and we see this expectation playing out in insurance: consumers expect similar servicing from their insurance agent or broker. From an agent’s perspective, providing a mechanism for online service allows for an improved experience by allowing consumers the flexibility to interact you’re your agency when and how they want. And while there may still be a window of opportunity for this to be considered as a differentiator for the agency, the day is approaching where nearly every consumer will expect and demand it of the agency. Consumers that don’t have this immediate accessibility and flexibility will take their business elsewhere. Further, by pushing common transactions online, agencies can free up resources to focus on higher value service interactions with consumers.

Of course, as seen across nearly every industry, advanced technology can and should be a key elements of the agency strategy to meet these business objectives and the evolving expectations of insurance consumers. Agencies and brokerages are able to become more productive with relative ease thanks to enhanced data, mobility, better communication, and increased adoption of third-party apps and other tools.

As an agency considers their business strategy, I’ll suggest there are three key considerations when it comes to the role technology solutions can play:

1. Standardize and Dissect Your Data
First, ensure data accuracy within the agency management system and in workflows:

  • Standardized Workflows
    To the extent it makes sense for your business, workflow consistency can yield real productivity gains and help capture comprehensive and better customer risk and demographic information your agency can use to better market, account round and engage customers. By leveraging standardized workflows, agency owners are ensuring data entry is consistent across an agency – regardless of location. Additionally, standardized workflows reduce the number of workarounds conducted by staff – increasing productivity at the outset and reducing any potential time spent rectifying workarounds at the back-end. The end result will be improved quality and completeness of the underlying data.
  • Business Intelligence
    Over time, agencies and brokerages generate an immense amount of data – yet it can be difficult to access, analyze and understand that data and meaningful ways. Business intelligence (BI) solutions are one way to help turn all of that data in to information. For example, principles can identify which of their producers are using their time most efficiently and driving the most revenue for the business. Principals can also evaluate how effectively their business is cross-selling and quickly identify new market opportunities. While traditional reporting can take hours if not days, BI solutions present your information in immediate and visual ways that drive new insights, enabling you to make more effective decisions to improve productivity and business growth.

2. Think Easy Access

  • Mobile Technology
    New mobile technology affords producers all of the benefits associated with management system access within an office, without having the producer tethered to a desk. This allows them to be more productive and to respond to clients and prospects more quickly and in the manner current and prospective customers want and expect. For smaller agencies, where employees wear multiple different hats within the organization, giving your employees access to tools when they’re away from the office is critical.
  • Online Access
    Consider how your business can leverage the cloud to drive productivity gains. The ability for service staff to work from home via the cloud, when needed, supports work-life balance and allows business to go on regardless of unexpected events.

3. Time Is Money

  • Paper No More
    Evaluate ways to become an all-digital agency and eliminate paper. Agencies and brokerages should leverage electronic signature and delivery of client documents, which reduces the time and expense of mailing paper copies.
  • Carrier Information Exchange
    Productivity gains have increased over the years as carriers improved their interface and as agencies better understood how and where to enter data in carrier systems. The vast majority of agencies use personal lines policy detail download to reduce rekeying of data, saving, on average, 81 minutes a day per employee. In addition to download, using real-time for service and rating saves agency employees up to an hour per day. Policy download yields daily time-savings of nearly an hour and a half per department employee for personal lines and nearly an hour for commercial lines. Take the time to automate communications with your carrier on the front end to save more time over the long term.
  • Online Client Self-Service
    As mentioned earlier, today’s insurance consumer increasingly expects information anytime, anywhere. Agencies need to provide clients the ability to access policy and billing information on their terms, which helps strengthen relationships, ensures high retention rates and drives revenue gains. Self-service functionality can increase staff productivity and decrease costs in commercial lines, as well as personal.

Technology will allow you to work faster and, in-turn, will redefine the products and services you offer to your clients. While working faster is one thing, using technology to provide mobile access, enhanced communication and streamlined procedures to more quickly serve clients will also drive new business and customer retention.

How does your agency use technology to stay productive?

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.


[Podcast] What You Should Know About Data Security

by Applied Communications


Tim Sander
Senior Vice President
IT and Cloud Services
Applied Systems
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.

[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.


[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?