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On Demand: 10 Things that Drive Agents Nuts Working with Carriers

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Stressful and frustrated Asian manager talking on telephone in oWhat better way to learn what drives Agents nuts than straight from the horse’s mouth? And that’s just what happened when Foy Insurance president, Mike Foy, and the head of our Agent Insight Team, Caleen Alexanderson, got together with ACORD  for the webcast “The Top 10 Things that Drive Agents Nuts Working with Carriers.” And it’s now available on demand!

Louisa RogersOn Demand: 10 Things that Drive Agents Nuts Working with Carriers
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The ACORD Innovation Challenge Up Close and Personal

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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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Rethinking Millennials

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Drones, driverless cars, and robots, oh my! While exhibiting at the IASA Annual Conference in Las Vegas this week, I had the opportunity to attend the session Disruption/Vision 2030 facilitated by Bill Freitag from Majesco. The objective of the session was to facilitate a discussion about these and other new industry phenomena, and how they could help carriers distinguish themselves from their competition.

During the session, Freitag posed the question, “How do you see the new generation of Millennials disrupting the industry?” (For the record: the term Millennials is competing in the overuse category with Innovation and Configuration.  A real Disruption would be finding a way to avoid the word Millennials!) As “an individual with a birth year between the 1980s and early 2000s,” this questioned piqued my interest. What do carriers think my generation brings to the table?

The answers shocked me. Rather than considering any technological knowledge or fresh outlook we might bring to a relatively slow-moving industry, the focus became the world view that (apparently) all of us possess. The consensus was that Millennials do not like face-to-face conversations, we want to make our own hours, we prefer to work from home, and (my personal favorite) we expect free food in the office. Sitting in the back of the room listening to Baby Boomers stereotype my generation, I decided to try to set a few things straight…

Dear Insurance Veterans,

Millennials are not here to throw a monkey wrench into this venerable industry. Quite the opposite. With your help, we see some great opportunities to make it better. In many important ways, we’re just like you. In fact, a recent survey from IBM Institute for Business Value compares workplace preferences and behavior patterns across multiple generations, and it turns out that most “individuals with a birth year between the 1980s and early 2000s” want the same things that our older colleagues do. For example, the study indicates that despite misconceptions to the contrary, employees from all three of the groups studied—Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials—share the desire to add value to their organization and to work with colleagues from varying age groups and backgrounds. Similarly, though Millennials suffer from a reputation of needing to do everything online, the study indicates that, like other generations, we prefer to learn by attending conferences, receiving training in the classroom, and working alongside colleagues—all face-to-face interactions (IBM Institute for Business Value).

IBM Institute for Business Value's study on The real story behind Millennials in the workplace

Source: IBM Institute for Business Value’s study on The real story behind Millennials in the workplace

We newcomers can’t compete with the years of industry experience of our older colleagues—the trends, the cycles, the nuances, the lessons resulting from failures and successes. But we can offer new ideas and perspectives that might improve things a bit. How might some of the technologies that we have been raised on provide a competitive edge? Could our social- and work-style preferences foster bigger and better ideas? Could we help speed processes?

At Agencyport, I’ve experienced first-hand practices that keep our younger staff engaged, creative and energized around a 350-year old industry. While they might not be perfect fits for all insurance-related companies, surely some elements could breathe fresh life into many business practices:

  • The environment supports applying our fresh outlook to past and current problems. Regular Hackathons and dedicated time within the workweek for special projects and creative ventures help prevent stale thinking.
  • We’re encouraged to work hard and play hard. After-work sports teams, company outings and feisty Pictionary competitions foster strong and trusting relationships between colleagues.
  • A variety of seating options and casual living spaces cultivate collaboration and teamwork.
  • Competitive salaries and benefits help keep us motivated and serious about our work.

The world is changing faster than ever before—technologically, socially, and business-wise. One of the greatest challenges that the Insurance industry faces is keeping pace with that change. Let us be your partner.

Louisa Rogers

Agencyport Software

 

 

Louisa RogersRethinking Millennials
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Hackathon ’15

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IMG_1040Agencyport hosted its first Hackathon back in 2007, an all-day event dedicated to employees and customers crowd-sourcing innovation for P&C carriers. And we’ve been going ever since. Starting with day-to-day industry hurdles, teams brainstorm and develop solutions that they then present to a panel of judges in a variety of categories. Our twice-a-year Hackathons are great for customers, the company in general and engineers (like me!) who love to problem-solve. Whether it’s entirely new product categories, incremental upgrades to existing products, or new internal tools and processes, in many cases, the solutions that come out of the day become industry-improving products and services.

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog reaching out to our customers and partners asking them to send ideas that they would like to see hacked. On April 2nd, we had our biggest Hackathon yet. With 14 entries this time around, our judges had a lot to choose from. Here is a roundup of the teams and their entries:

Patrick Sigafelz (Jamie Sigadel, Scott Surette, Matt Felzani, and Patrick Scott)

Patrick Sigaflez showed the world a better AgencyPortalÒ homepage experience. User interface updates included: a to do list, news feed, reports from amCcharts and a revamped lines of business selection.

The Underwriting’s on the Wall (Shane O’Donnell)

Shane finally got a chance to flex his nerd muscles in front of a large audience. He proved that he’s got this JavaScript thing down by putting together an amazing training web app powered by an AngularJS front end, talking to a Node.js/MongoDB backend (via a homegrown REST API no less).

Gone Sailing (Darren Bradford)

Darren hooked up a workers comp transaction to ClarionDoor’s cloud based rating solution. Cloud rating in a day. Not bad!

Shaolin Monks (Yong Shao)

Yong showed us all how to customize a portal to add global alert functionality. She demonstrated how an administrator could log into the portal and create an alert message (with an expiration date) that could be shown to specific groups of users when they log in.IMG_1042

Dashboarders (Peter Gawle, Shekar Kaithi)

The Dashboarders allowed us to delve into the mindset of an underwriter. The team created mock-ups for a user-friendly underwriter dashboard to help with assessing risk.

Cat Bunker (Kevin Spiers, Courtney Lloyd)

The Cat Bunker team explained to us why the world needs more cats and why and how agent portals could use gamification-centric user metric collection. Gamifying a portal would allow carriers to create incentives for agents based on real portal usage statistics and, ultimately, help carriers drum up more business.

 Turnstilers (Sriram Varadharajan)

Sriram proved to us once again just how obsessed the TurnstileÒ team is with PDFs. “Who needs a portal when you can just perform data corrections on an eform?!” Sriram demonstrated a Turnstile proof of concept feature which would take in a scanned form, strip the data from it, and place it into an eform with highlights on fields with low confidence scores. Ultimately, a user would be able to correct the data in the eform and re-upload it to Turnstile.

Anthonimuthus (Doss Anthonimuthu)

Doss toyed with the idea of tighter EWS integration for Work Item Assistant calendar syncing but ended up going back to Google+’s sign on api into a portal. Doss gives Google’s documentation a thumbs up.

Cyberbots (Caleen Alexanderson, Alyson Manning)

The Cyberbots presented an ACORD Cyber Liability template complete with Turnstile mapping. I guess Caleen interpreted the name “hackathon” too literally. Not all hacking is illegal Caleen!

Gone Fishin’ (Jeff Renshaw)

Jeff explained to us why he was feelin’ groovy. He plugged a homegrown servlet that would dynamically evaluate a Groovy script into the debug console. This tool offers endless opportunities for both debuggers and hackers alike.

Quizmasters (Jamie Sigadel, Patrick Scott)

The Quizmasters reimagined the AgencyPortal questionnaire from a UI perspective. Jamie and I illustrated a questionnaire that has a better visual relationship between questions, their follow ups and support for more than two types of field.

French Toast Mafia (Matt Sordello)

Matt told us why he likes graphics cards more than CPUs. Seriously. He learned about the world of parallel processing while the rest of us learned that he’s a little crazy.

West Coast Ballers (Frank Akridge)

Frank illustrated the parallels between ACORD standards and the mortgage standards body (MISMO) and showed us how our product suite could apply to a different industry.

 Seems leGit (Shane O’Donnell, Scott Surette)

Shane and Scott asked us if we even Git it. Turns out we don’t. And we totally should! Engineering shops around the world are abandoning SVN in favor of the much more flexible Git and, who knows, Agencyport might be next!

After three hours of presenting and a rigorous deliberation, the judges announced the IMG_1048winners:

  • In the WTF category: The Dashboarders (Pete and Shekar)
  • In the integration category: Gone Sailing (Darren)
  • In the industry changing category: West Coast Ballers (Frank), Turnstilers (Sriram) – tied
  • Technical Prowess Award: French Toast Mafia (Matt Sordello), The Underwriting’s on the Wall (Shane) – tied
  • Best in Show: Cyberbots (Caleen and Alyson)

Stay tuned for our next Hackathon! Have an idea or industry hurdle you are looking to solve? Leave a comment on this post. We would love to hack it for you!

Patrick ScottHackathon ’15
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In Search of the Elusive 10

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norm-achieving10

Norm Baker, AP’s Chief Architect, clearly excited about making our customers happy

Come on, admit it. Deep down we all want the perfect 10… the recognition that we did the best work possible. At Agencyport, this drive comes into play every time we interact with a customer. It’s a daily goal for each of us to provide as flawless an experience as possible—to provide a product that wows and service to match.

Though we have always kept a close eye on our customers’ experiences with us, two years ago, we decided to institute formal monitoring—leaving nothing to chance. Using the Net Promoter Score (NPS) customer loyalty metric we began to measure our performance through our customers’ eyes by having them focus on a simple question: How likely is it that you would recommend Agencyport/Agencyport products/Agencyport service to a friend or colleague?  The premise is self-evident: if our customers like our products and/or doing business with us, they’ll share that experience with others.

Since day one, customer feedback has directly influenced important changes and developments at Agencyport. In the last year alone, we completely revamped our Developer Zone, introduced additional Integration Kits, restructured our sales organization and enhanced our process of staffing projects in professional services all based on survey feedback.

So, while we continue to stalk those perfect 10s, let us know what you think. What are the biggest issues that you’re going to face this year? Where is P&C headed? What should we be working on? How can we make your lives easier? What simple product feature have we overlooked? Your open, honest, critical thinking can help fuel big industry change.
White Paper on Next-Gen Portals

Colleen Anne WellsIn Search of the Elusive 10
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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 Overstock.com 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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Our Challenge: Share What You Know

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dev-zone-at-the-lake-blogAfter unveiling our new Developer Zone to our customers at our recent conference in Stowe, Vermont, we are now proud to officially announce its availability to everyone.  That’s right, everyone.  No usernames or passwords. Open access to our entire volume of technical content. Because that’s the way we think it should be, and we’re urging other vendors to do the same.  Learn more about our challenge from Mike Albert, SVP of Product Strategy at Agencyport and other steps that Agencyport is taking to try to move our historically closed industry to one that thrives on openness.

Tara DurheimOur Challenge: Share What You Know
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Annual Conference 2014: Your one stop shop for seriously bold insurance IT thinking

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vermont-signWe are less than two weeks away from the annual gathering of our customers, partners, prospective customers and industry thought leaders—by far the highlight of our year. If you’ve never been, there is still time to make the trip to Stowe.

But why, exactly?

Come face-to-face with face-melting technology

Yes, that’s right, face-melting. As we do every year, we use our fall event to showcase our latest and greatest solutions and exciting plans for the future. This year, we will be launching version 5.0 of our AgencyPortal solution, with its entirely new design and architecture—something to see firsthand.

Learn from the industry’s best

In addition to sharing what’s going on under the Agencyport roof, we also use this event to spark conversation about the Big Questions facing today’s insurance IT leaders. Connect with peers on the challenges you are all facing. More importantly, work with us and other leading vendors to help make the business of P&C insurance better for everyone.

Meet the users

When it comes to understanding how well your technology really works, we think it’s best to go straight to the people who use it every day: your Agents. That’s why we regularly invite them to tell us what it’s like doing business with you. We hear the good, the bad and the ugly—they don’t hold back. Talk about being able to make an impact when you get back to the office!

Huddle with your project team

In-person conversations really can’t be beat. Take the opportunity between sessions to meet with your Agencyport team. Not a customer yet? Ask other carriers who are what it’s like working with us. We have no doubt they’ll give you the straight scoop.

Have fun!

We get a lot done during our conference, but we balance the hard work with plenty of fun. Fly through a fall-tinged forest on a zip line. Play a beautiful mountain golf course. Enjoy apple cider by the bonfire with us. Whatever you decide to do, we look forward to seeing you in Stowe.

Still need to register or book your hotel room? Visit our event website for all the details.

Tara DurheimAnnual Conference 2014: Your one stop shop for seriously bold insurance IT thinking
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