Over the last two years, a number of Web sites have formed expressly targeted to brokers with expertise in the small-business insurance segment. One of the providers that has withstood the dot-com purge is BenefitMall.com, a Dallas-based online exchange for small-business employee group benefits plans.The provider, which saw its premium volume increase 40% last year, owes its success to a couple of strategies, chiefly the formulation of an internal executive management team that combines experience in both IT and insurance. With a proprietary rating and quoting engine in place, brokers can get quotes from multiple carriers and submit an application through BenefitMall in the format that a particular carrier requires. Brokers don't pay a fee to conduct business with BenefitMall, but carriers do-paying a commission based on premiums sold.

Targeting companies of 1,000 or fewer employees, BenefitMall enables a broker to finalize a policy for a small-business owner in one business day. The company currently has 35,000 brokers registered to use the service.

"We take a carrier's rating algorithms and reproduce them within our own internal engines, in essence duplicating their rating systems and connecting it to the Web," says Scott Kirksey, chief financial officer. "In the end, we can provide a broker with the same quote as if they went through the carrier directly."

BenefitMall's technology can cut through the complexities of SIC codes, ZIP codes and other employer classifications, enabling brokers to drill down to find the coverage that pertains to their customer's needs.

As a broker's request for coverage is being processed, BenefitMall e-mails or faxes more detailed data on the carriers that can provide the coverage. "We can return multiple choices for the broker to perform side-by-side comparisons, and do it in about five minutes," says Michael Gomes, BenefitMall's vice president, carrier sales relations.

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