Despite all the progress that has been made in developing agent-carrier interfaces, insurance agents, particularly those who are independent, want more workflow support than they're currently receiving from the insurance companies with which they conduct business.In a survey conducted by Scituate, Mass.-based Deep Customer Connections (DCC), there's a gap between agents' expectations and carriers' performance-a gap that has widened since DCC's first survey last year. The Web-based poll was sent to more than 40,000 independent insurance agencies and brokerages nationwide.

"The gap between expectations and performance tripled on five of the 10 factors of ease of doing business," notes Paul Croke, one of DCC's founding partners. DCC advises corporations across multiple industries on the strategies to foster strong relationships with their customers. The firm counts Allstate and Prudential among its insurance clients.

According to Nort Salz, another founding partner of DCC, carriers' performance in the 10 "ease of doing business" categories (see chart, right) actually improved this year over last.

"But these improvements were dwarfed by a large increase in agents' expectations, leading to overall significantly larger performance gaps," he says.

Phasing out paper

In addition to the DCC findings, other industry reports corroborate DCC's findings about insurer-carrier relationships.

The Agents Council for Technology (ACT), a partnership of independent agents, vendors, user groups and associations dedicated to enhancing the use of technology, discovered that as carriers phase out paper documentation and replace it with electronic information, agents and brokers are confronted with a new set of workflow challenges-challenges that can significantly undermine agency efficiency, according to ACT.

These workflow challenges will remain unless carriers take specific steps to improve the electronic information they provide to their sales forces.

The report's predominant recommendation is that a carrier should not mandate "the shutting off of paper to the agent unless there is an effective download in place," says Jeffrey Yates, ACT executive director.

"Download continues to be very important to agents in this new environment even though the electronic information should also be accessible to agents on the carrier's Web site," he says.

Where there is an effective download, agents should be able to rely on "spot-checking" the downloaded items for accuracy and viewing the electronic documents on the carrier's Web site when needed, ACT suggests.

The Agents Council for Technology (ACT), which is affiliated with Alexandria, Va.-based Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), was formed to develop recommendations on the use of technology for carriers, agents and vendors.

Agents' Top Ten Priorities

Ten "ease of doing business" factors were identified by Deep Customer Connections based on its work in the insurance industry. These factors were validated by independent agents and carriers. The factors are:

1. Understanding and acting on the needs of agency personnel.

2. Responsiveness in underwriting.

3. Flexibility in underwriting.

4. Timely and accurate policy services.

5. Effective, user-friendly information technology.

6. Handling claims promptly.

7. Handling claims fairly.

8. Providing marketing support.

9. Providing insurance industry technical support.

10. Making it easy for the agency to do business with its customer, the insured.

Source: Deep Customer Connections Inc.


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