Curt Stevenson

Cultivating ACORD Implementation Talent

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Yesterday morning I had the honor of participating as a panelist in a webinar hosted by ACORD about cultivating ACORD implementation talent within an organization. In addition to ACORD leadership, the panel consisted of Jim Rogers from The Hartford, Suzanne Brazeal from Ebix Consulting (a solution provider to Life Insurance carriers), Enrico Alessandri from Swiss RE, and myself. We were all chosen because of the respective accomplishments of our organizations in the ACORD and ACE communities.

Curt StevensonCultivating ACORD Implementation Talent
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Agents’ Views on Growth, Productivity and the Future

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I was honored to moderate a panel of agency owners last week at the Valen Summit. The agency owners/CEOs on the panel, Mike Stromsoe of Stromsoe Insurance and Rob Cohen of IMA Financial, are both highly successful, outspoken, and dynamic entrepreneurs who were happy to share their expertise and opinions with the industry leaders gathered at the Summit.

The conversation provided tremendous insight that is too lengthy to capture in detail in a blog post, but I’m excited to share some highlights.

Curt StevensonAgents’ Views on Growth, Productivity and the Future
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A Look Back at 2015

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Spreading holiday cheer to the kids at DCF Roxbury

Spreading holiday cheer to the kids at DCF Roxbury

As we count down the final weeks of 2015, there is a lot to be thankful for at Agencyport:

  • Seven new customers
  • Surpassing of our financial goals for the 2nd year running
  • The addition of Fil Firmani, SVP of Product and Strategy, to the team
  • Articulation of our digital and omni-channel strategy
  • The most robust three-year, fully-funded product roadmap in Agencyport history
  • Two new AgencyPortal releases adding UX functionality based on Agent Insight to satiate the needs of our 125,000+ agent users
  • 18 Agent Insight visits
  • Our 200,000th Turnstile form in production—with over 130,000,000 keystrokes saved
  • Five ACORD awards
  • The addition of enough ACORD Certified Experts (ACEs) for us to claim more ACEs than any other vendor
  • A milestone 10th Agencyport Annual Conference—according many, the best yet
  • An official partnership with policy administration leader Accenture Duck Creek
  • The launch of our Customer Insight program, with four customers already signed on
  • Two successful hackathons, resulting in dozens of new ideas and more than ten solutions added to our Shared Solutions Repository

Not bad for twelve months. I’m extremely fortunate and proud to be a part of this team, and fired up about what is around the corner in 2016.


Curt StevensonA Look Back at 2015
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Annual Conference Gold Nuggets

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It’s been extremely gratifying over the last couple of weeks to hear so many customers call our recent Tenth Annual Conference “the best one yet.” I’ll admit, I have to agree. And that admission is much less boastful than it sounds. The conference’s success reaches far beyond Agencyport’s role. What put the event over the top was the dynamic, multi-directional idea-sharing and learning among its attendees—our carriers, prospects, partners and user communities. It was the most energetic I have experienced at an AP conference–everyone eager to learn from everyone else.

Over the course of two and half days, there were a number of themes that emerged. Some we expected (and even planned), and others we did not. Here is a tasting:

  • People no longer need to be convinced that disruptive change is coming to the Insurance Industry. It’s here. Now. Rather than speculating about whether it is coming, or even when, carriers are figuring out how to either compete with the change or participate in it.
  • Newer dilemmas join not-so-new ones:

– The delicate trend of direct-to-consumer… Everyone acknowledged the consumer demand—both in personal and small commercial, and to some degree, even mid- to large-sized commercial risks—and the varying degree to which insureds want agents involved in purchasing and servicing. The consistent new reality? Consumers want to interact with carriers and agents on their terms. While agents’ perspectives on direct to consumer run a broad spectrum from denial to whole-hearted embrace, agents’ at our conference indicated that they just want to be informed (in real time) by the carrier—not just so they have the opportunity to up-sell (a win-win, by the way), but also so that they can meet their fiduciary obligations to their insureds. This increasingly complex relationship fully supports the digital omni-channel vision we have been discussing with our customers.

– Though not new, the tradeoffs between sticking with industry-standard fields versus asking carrier-specific questions during the application process remains a debate and challenge. Clearly, asking strictly “standard” questions makes carrier participation in third-party solutions such as comparative raters, Google Compare, and other marketplaces much easier—a clear advantage. But how do carriers weigh that against the potential risk of losing the “Secret Sauce” to your underwriting and profitability, namely carrier-specific questions?

  • At a time when very little about the future of P&C Insurance seems certain—whether the quickly evolving hardware and software technologies and consumer buying trends or carrier and agency business models, weather patterns, and M&A trends—more and more of our customers and partners are seeing the value of collaboration. The fear of disclosing secret sauces is fast giving way to the benefits of story-, challenge-, solution- and idea-sharing. Group problem-solving is being seen less as an agent of competitive erosion and more as a necessity for ongoing industry strength.

Thanks, once again, to our Conference sponsors: Ivans, Lexis/Nexis, Silanis, Valen Analytics, Capgemini, E2Value, Accenture Duck Creek and Guidewire, without whom ours would be just another conference. And, of course, our amazing customers, without whom we wouldn’t exist. We look forward to many more years of bright, exciting problem-solving and market shattering solutions.

Curt StevensonAnnual Conference Gold Nuggets
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Casting Call – Open to Customers!

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Curt and the Guru

Myself and The Guru in Last Year’s Video

Ever considered the possibility of acting on the big screen? This could be your chance to make that dream a reality! To celebrate our Tenth Annual Conference, we are entering uncharted territory by inviting you, our customers, to star in our opening video with us.  If you aren’t familiar with The Guru, Kenny Frawd or any of our other characters, make yourself a bowl of popcorn and check them out.

I don’t want to unveil too much of the plot for this year’s cinematic feature, but we’ve again enlisted our friend and highly-overqualified producer/director, Jeff Boedeker, to take some time out of his intellectual, award-winning film-making schedule for National Geographic and the Discovery Channel to help Agencyport Studios create something like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles meets Weekend at Bernie’s meets West Side Story meets National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Sound interesting? You don’t need acting chops, a SAG card or even a sense of humor–we just want you. To participate, you must be able to come to Boston on either July 29 or 30 (we’ll pick the day that is best for our volunteers). Filming will take about two hours, and you’ll be welcome to work out of our Boston office for the rest of the day (maybe even with your project team!). Of course, lunch is on us!

If you are interested, please email our event coordinator, Louisa Rogers, to get all the details.

Curt StevensonCasting Call – Open to Customers!
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The ACORD Innovation Challenge Up Close and Personal

Caleen at ACORD Innovation Challenge

Agencyport’s Caleen Alexanderson at the Innovation Challenge

Exhibiting true market innovation, ACORD hosted a broad industry Innovation Challenge this week at its headquarters in Pearl River, New York. The best part? I got to be a judge in the Shark Tank-like forum for innovative ideas in Insurance.

The 37 live pitches covered new thinking across a broad range of areas. Some were hardcore, capital intensive projects, like one creating Autonomous Marine Systems (aka water drones) to ultimately replace the NOAA weather buoy system, to more lightweight tech projects like the pitch from Social Intelligence, who developed an algorithm for mining social media to assist with predictive underwriting data. One potential game-changer came from Haven Life, a really cool startup (backed by 150-year-old Mass Mutual), which has developed a life insurance platform that allows people under 45 years old to purchase life insurance completely online. Another one of my personal favorites came from Splice Software, a company that’s already mastered customer engagement in retail. Splice has an insurance solution that can receive alerts from Google Nest and other sensors, alert the homeowner (and carrier), and even dispatch a plumber or other service provider.

The rest of the entries were either innovative evolutions of existing products or technologies, or process improvements. All together, the pitches proved to be thought-provoking and a really positive sign that there are people in the industry who are not only ready for disruption, they’re working on creating it. ACORD will host a “virtual” session on Monday for 11 presenters who were unable to attend the event in person. The winners will be announced around July 1st.

My fellow judges were as diverse a group as the presenters. We had the usual suspects: solution providers, industry analysts, and insurance media members, but also representatives from a new sector that cares about innovation: the insurance accelerators. The accelerators included Brian Hemesath from the Global Insurance Accelerator, an entity backed by seven Iowa-based insurers that is committed to launching innovative insurance startups; and Drew Aldrich from Axa Strategic Ventures, the €200M fund backed by AXA, with an impressive portfolio of startups.

Creativity was palpable throughout the event, and it was expressed with a spirit of collaboration that ACORD encouraged from beginning to end. Not only were accelerators and solution providers able to talk with submitters after their presentations, conversation was encouraged. This meant that if AXA liked an idea, or I saw a partnership or M&A possibility, we all could swap business cards, schedule follow-ups, etc. Major kudos to ACORD both for providing this unique platform for industry disruption and for fostering such an open exchange of ideas. I think we can all agree that it was about time for an event like this.

Curt StevensonThe ACORD Innovation Challenge Up Close and Personal
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Consumer Experience in Enterprise Technology

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Consumerization of enterprise software is something I think about a lot. Today’s consumer is used to really slick daily online experiences. Yes, I’m talking about technologies like Dropbox, Evernote and Uber, but even apps that I use to interact with my cable company (I can DVR anything from my iPhone) and my bank (I hardly ever need to go to a branch anymore) are highly intuitive and make my life easier.

Insurance agents and underwriters have the same slick consumer experiences with technology outside of work that I do. They can scan something in a store and automatically price compare with Amazon, start watching a show on Hulu on their laptop and finish it later on their phone, etc. So why do most insurance software vendors continue to think it’s OK to force agents and underwriters to use products that looks like this? (To be clear, this is NOT Agencyport software.)

From day one, Agencyport has made it a mission to provide our software users with the simplest, most intuitive and efficient experience possible—a critical attribute for many of today’s most successful consumer businesses. We see no reason why processing insurance shouldn’t be as easy as using Dropbox, Uber or Amazon.

In a recent post, Jenn Parker cited some new enhancements in our new 5.1 release of AgencyPortal that specifically evidence the consumerization of insurance processing workflow. Are they radical concepts? No. We see similar capabilities all the time as individual consumers. But for enterprise software, they’re state-of-the art. We don’t believe there should be two standards, and are working hard to erase the line.

Curt StevensonConsumer Experience in Enterprise Technology
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ACORD 20/20: Standards Future Thinking

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ACORD_logoEarlier this month, Mike Albert, Agencyport’s SVP of Product Strategy and R&D, and I were invited to attend a roundtable as part of the ACORD 20/20 strategic planning process. ACORD 20/20 is a community of forward-thinking executives and thought leaders that represent agents, insurers, reinsurers, and solution providers. The mission is to identify the challenges encountered in standardization—both today and tomorrow—and shape a shared future view. Parts of the forum gave us the opportunity to network and listen to carriers and agents (which we love to do) discuss some of their biggest challenges today and, more importantly, what they envision as their biggest business challenges on the horizon.

We also spent a half-day solely with other solution providers. In addition to Agencyport on the portal side of the house, there were representatives from a leading Policy Administration Systems provider, a leading Agency Management System provider, and a leading integration technology vendor. The workshop was facilitated by industry legends Frank Sentner and Bill Hartnett.

As a group, we agreed that the following would be heavy influences on our industry in the near future:

  • Disruption via technology is coming (and in some cases, it’s here): Telematics and the internet-of-things are changing underwriting in a significant way. Self-driving cars will essentially eliminate the need for traditional auto insurance.
  • Changing demographics are making omni-channel strategies a necessity. Social media and gamification are becoming must-have channel tactics and can no longer be ignored.
  • New “outside” entrants into underwriting and selling continue to be of interest. We’ve already seen and Walmart enter the space. Does anyone think Google has access to enough data to do a pretty good job at underwriting and predictive analytics? (My personal prediction is that we will see an announcement soon from Google on this…)
  • Demand for consumer self-service is growing extremely fast. Even when we broadened the discussion to include the agents and carriers, we all acknowledged it is coming. Carriers and agents have some commercial lines issues to work out, but there was no question that we all need to support self-service.

Like the entire industry, ACORD needs to evolve to define relevant standards for this next chapter. I commend the organization on taking a proactive stance to stay ahead of the industry through the 20/20 initiative. Agencyport is honored to be a part of it.

Curt StevensonACORD 20/20: Standards Future Thinking
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True Portal Success Requires Alignment

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As you may remember, I recently hosted a roundtable discussion about Agent and Consumer portals at the Guidewire Connections conference. During the conversation, I discussed a diagram that Agencyport uses to illustrate the extreme value that a modern, decoupled agent or consumer portal can provide if Carriers align key elements behind it.

PortalAlignmentDiagram_AgencyportTo achieve optimum portal adoption and success, Carriers must carefully consider and align:

  • Clear business strategies and goals
  • Different end user expectations
  • Latest technologies, both inside and outside of the industry

The participants at the roundtable all agreed that understanding and employing these elements were critical—whether they were working with a vendor or not. While the elements can be challenging to define, doing so is well worth the effort.

Creating clear business goals and associated strategies for a portal initiative is imperative. Carriers should be addressing questions like the following and prioritizing efforts to answer them:

  • Which lines of business would benefit the most from automation? Why?
  • How can efficiency be improved?
  • Growth achieved?
  • How do we compare with our competition in commercial lines? What’s behind the differences?
  • What specifically are our agents and brokers complaining about when it comes to applications and quoting?

Another important area to consider is user expectations. Does your agent portal behave anything like a shopping experience on Amazon? Do you know what top three things matter most to Agents in their online experience with you? How about CSRs? Your underwriters? Do you think they all value the same things in a web experience? You might be surprised. If you’re unsure on this one, I recommend digging into it. Even a small workflow detail can make a big difference.

Finally, are you still supporting people using versions of Internet Explorer 8 or below? Are your Agents scanning and faxing forms to you? Technology is advancing every day. Those who embrace and employ it smartly are leaving their competition in the dust. While it’s an enormous task to stay on top of all of the advancements being made, Carriers can make significant strides by leveraging one or two new advances that make the most sense for their business.

At Agencyport, we think about this stuff all the time. In fact, it’s all we think about. What specific benefits are Carriers looking for from an Agent portal and how can they be measured? What do Agents love and hate about Carrier portals? What Technologies are making the greatest impact in this space? The best part for our 66 customers? Because we worry about this stuff around the clock, they don’t have to.

White Paper on Next-Gen Portals

Curt StevensonTrue Portal Success Requires Alignment
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Guidewire Roundtable: Stand-Alone Portal or Extend Policy System?

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Illustration by noted polish artist Piotr Lesniak for Guidewire Connections

Illustration by noted Polish artist Piotr Lesniak for Guidewire Connections

I had the honor of hosting a roundtable about Agent and Consumer Portals yesterday at Guidewire’s Connections conference. About 30 people from roughly 15 insurance carriers attended the session. The carriers represented a good cross-section of personal and commercial lines insurers.

Most of the carriers had some kind of portal in place, mainly serving their agent channels. Many were considering a consumer portal—especially to provide self-service capabilities to their insureds—either policy endorsements or basic policy, billing and/or claims inquiry. Only a few actually had a consumer portal in production today.

Of the carriers with a portal in place, roughly two-thirds were using a vendor portal.  The remaining third had home-grown solutions. Notably, most of this latter group had plans to replace these in-house portals with vendor offerings at some point, citing that keeping up with rapidly evolving user experience demands and the technologies to support those experiences was not a core competency for most of them. They also noted that the costs of modifying a home-grown portal every time the carrier needed to make a product change was cost prohibitive.

Another hot topic (throughout the Guidewire conference) was whether carriers were opting for “stand alone” portal vendors or using the agent-facing capabilities of their policy administration system vendors. There were two schools of thought on this one: the majority felt that a best-of-breed approach was critical.  They wanted the best policy administration system for their back offices, and the easiest, most intuitive system for agents and consumers to use in their front office. A smaller group believed they lower their TCO with a one-platform solution and/or that they had relatively captive agent channels so ease-of-doing-business was not as high a priority as it is might be for carriers distributing through independent agents.

Obviously, Agencyport sides with the best-of-breed philosophy. Modern, well-designed policy administration systems like Guidewire’s PolicyCenter are built to support internal carrier users and are architected from that internal perspective.  And they are amazing at what they do—administering policies. When it comes to serving external users—the agents, brokers, MGAs and consumers trying to do business with carriers—it is their perspective that is important in a solution.  Agencyport’s extensive, focused experience and insight with hundreds of agents, brokers and other external users over the years has proven that those users prefer a web experience designed expressly from their perspective and with their needs, goals and workflows in mind—not those of the carriers.

Guidewire solutions are unsurpassed for P&C policy-centric requirements and tasks.  They’re modern, flexible, scalable and highly intuitive. It is why we are extremely proud to partner with them to transform some of the leading carriers in the industry—carriers with complex distribution requirements and an understanding that the coupling of systems designed from an internal perspective and those designed with external users in mind is a match made in heaven.  Thank you to our friends at Guidewire for another great Connections event!

Curt StevensonGuidewire Roundtable: Stand-Alone Portal or Extend Policy System?
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