As independent agents identify the best ways to download files from carriers, a controversy is brewing that pits the established value-added agency download technology against emerging alternatives.Over the past couple years, many property/casualty insurers have used download technology developed jointly by Old Greenwich, Conn.-based IVANS Inc. and Applied Systems, a University Park, Ill.-based agency management system vendor.

Carriers gravitated to this technology, called IVANS Transfer Manager, because of its common, multi-carrier communication capabilities. Independent agents have complained for years about having to use multiple, proprietary carrier platforms.

While agents continue to value IVANS downloads, a growing number of insurers are weighing other options that eliminate fees, such as telecommunication, byte and mailbox charges.

Over the past year, a number of small to mid-size insurers have implemented a non-IVANS download technology, including one offered by Houston-based Connective Technologies Inc. (See "Grange Eliminates Middleman Download Fees," October 2004.)

Connective offers a fee-free Internet-based upload and download solution to property/casualty insurers.

Team-Up Download has garnered the endorsement of not only insurers, but of independent agents as well, according to Connective, including those that use Applied agency management systems.

However, opponents of the technology believe Team-Up Download is a "one-off" download system that lacks common, multi-carrier communication and complicates agency workflow.

A series of problems

In particular, Applied's agent users' group ASCNet in February issued a statement warning that agents will pay the price for unconventional download.

"One-off" download creates a series of problems for agents, including manual processing obstacles, potential exposure to errors and omissions, new (office staff) support requirements and security concerns, according to ASCnet's interface committee.

But Connective refutes this charge. Insurers who have used IVANS Transformation Station for downloads are migrating to Team-Up Download because it eliminates fees, and provides additional agent features, such as real-time archiving, according to Brandon Hilton, vice president and chief technology officer, for Connective Technologies.

Connective is not a "one off" solution that impedes agent workflow, he argues. In fact, 80% of agents surveyed about their experience with Connective's system said there was no difference in their workflow compared with IVANS, while the other 20% said Team-Up Download actually enhanced workflow, he says. And some of those agents use an Applied agency management system.

In addition, he says, carriers that have switched to Connective's solution had their agents' best interest in mind. "We surveyed our customers who came on board (about a dozen to date) and their goal wasn't only to avoid costly download fees, but also to enhance agency workflow," he says. "'One-off' download can create problems for agents, but we shouldn't be placed in that bucket."

ASCnet responds

ASCnet's interface committee believes that fledgling download technologies detract from progress made over the years to establish a single, unified download interface. The committee disputes the suggestion that they're trying to suppress competition to IVANS.

"We've never said that IVANS has to be the download solution of choice. We don't condone a monopoly," says Donna Barr, assistant vice president for New York-based Marsh USA Inc., who oversees ASCnet's interface committee. "At the same time, we want a download solution that optimizes agency workflow," she says.

"For years, IVANS, trade associations, carriers, agents and vendors have worked side-by-side to integrate common, multi-company communication, develop file retrieval and update processes, and establish clear agency support services," Barr says.

Going backward

"We all saw the advantage of an industry solution. Competing on technology in this space did not make economic or business sense then-and it still doesn't make sense. In essence, we are going backward from a simple process to one that can potentially become very complex," she says.

Groups that represent independent agents have an open mind about agency download solutions. The common denominator: It should improve operational efficiencies.

"Agents want to conduct download in a consistent manner and have it all come though a common mailbox," says Jeffrey Yates, executive director for the Agents Council for Technology (ACT), a part of Alexandria, Va.-based Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA). "Agents do not want to go to multiple, proprietary company Web sites to get downloads."

In an effort to stop insurers from migrating to unconventional download technologies, ASCnet's interface committee is planning to release a paper that describes the differences between IVANS and non-IVANS download processes, says ASCnet's Barr. At press time, the group planned a meeting in March and a detailed study by the ACORD conference next month.

To add to its efforts, ASCnet is collaborating with The ACORD Users Group Information Exchange (AUGIE) on the matter. AUGIE consists of a far more diverse user constituency and offers an additional voice, according to the interface committee, which will add considerable cache to its cause.

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