Independent insurance agents are pursing two e-services agendas with carriers, one that has existed for the past two or three years, along with an emerging wish-list of new capabilities."The requirements agents have had over the years have always been high, but there's really been a higher degree of intensity over the past year," says Ann Randall, vice president of automation for Seattle-based Safeco Personal Insurance. "It's a make or break proposition: They want a competitive price on insurance products, but they'll pick their trading partners based on the efficiencies and workflow capabilities that insurers bring to the table."

In what appears to be a consensus among insurers, independent agents are seeking three core IT capabilities from their carrier-partners: Real-time policy information pulled from a carrier Web site and linked to an agency management system; agent-dedicated Web sites that enable them to access endorsements and payments, view policy, billing and claims information and e-mail quotes directly to customers; and around-the-clock Web-based customer support for policyholders.

Agents have indicated other electronic capabilities are on their radar screen. "Independent agents had been satisfied with basic e-services, but they have raised the bar over the past year," says Bruce Fiori, second vice president commercial operations, for the newly merged St. Paul, Minn.-based St. Paul-Travelers Inc. "Being able to download e-mail alerts, for policy or claims issues, has become one priority."

Real-time quoting has been an elusive capability for independent distributors, says Safeco's Randall. Without real-time quoting, agents must type customer information into comparative rating systems and then bridge to each carrier Web site to complete questions unique to each company's application process.

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