Robert D. Woods Jr. needed a faster, more efficient and less costly process for getting first-notice-of-loss data received from independent agents entered into his high-tech claims processing IT system.So when he saw a presentation featuring fax scanning technology from Piscataway, N.J.-based EasyLink Services Corp., the vice president of personal lines claims for the Massachusetts office of OneBeacon Insurance Group LLC, got excited.
"It (the scanning technology) was fascinating and intrigued me," says Woods. "They showed us samples of ACORD first-notice-of-loss documents that were handwritten or typed. The technology was still able to convert them to data that we could use in our claims management system.
"For us the name of the game is speed-to get to the customer with a claim fast. This technology not only helps us do that but it is a perfect adjunct to working with our independent agents, not working around our agents," says Woods.
Easy Does It
Using this IT claims solution, ACORD first-notice-of-loss forms that are faxed by OneBeacon's independent agents are rerouted to a never-busy toll-free number at EasyLink. So rather than having the faxed images going directly to OneBeacon where clerical staff would manually enter the information into the insurer's claim processing system, the EasyLink network captures the faxes.
Its optical character recognition system then "scrapes" information from the ACORD notice and places it into one of about 90 data fields. Then the system converts the data to an ACORD XML format and forwards the electronic files to OneBeacon's Massachusetts claim system, all within 30 to 60 minutes of receipt. In addition, the EasyLink system sends a digital picture of the fax image to OneBeacon, allowing for electronic archiving of the original faxed documents.
"We have lowered our costs, improved our quality and accuracy and increased customer satisfaction because our policyholder response times have improved," says Woods.
The scanning technology has produced a 50% savings in the clerical payroll, improved document accuracy to between 90% and 95%, and requires fewer technical staff to handle special claims situations.
Though he has no hard numbers, the personal lines executive believes the accuracy of data entered into the claim processing system is far superior to the former manual process. Most times less than 5% of claims that go through the EasyLink system fall into a "fix-it" queue at OneBeacon, according to Woods.
The old process that called for agents to take claims information from customers and then "pick up the phone and repeat that same information to us was frankly, stupid," says Woods. "We're paying agents to be our partner and then we ask them to take 10-15 minutes to call us and read the claims information to an operator," adds Woods. The EasyLink process "is a great way around that because it enables the agent to take the report and then upload it to my office," says Woods.
In the past, OneBeacon needed telephone operators available 24 hours a day for the agents to call, a fairly expensive proposition. The EasyLink scanning technology costs less than 20% of the outlay that the OneBeacon Massachusetts claims facility spent to have a call-center operator take the report, according to Woods. (OneBeacon has a separate claims office for Massachusetts and it writes $220 million in annual premium.)
Overall, the automated scanning technology will handle the majority of the faxes that would have been routed to a call center or data entry staff. "I'm getting to our customers just as fast as if I had spent the extra 80% and had the calls go to live operators at a call center," points out Woods.
In addition, the OneBeacon claims office has reduced its technical staff that many insurance firms use to key in certain data fields in the claims document. "Before we needed technical people to determine who might be a witness to a claim and key that information. Now this information is scanned into our system by EasyLink, saving us the expense of (some) technical staff and time," points out Woods.
The personal lines claims center for OneBeacon in Boston receives some 200 ACORD first-notice-of-loss faxes each day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
With the old system, when first-notices-of-loss faxes arrived after OneBeacon's staff had left for the day at 4:15 p.m., they would literally pile up on the floor. When the staff arrived for work the following morning, they would begin manual data entry that could take a day or more. The inefficient process led to slow customer response times.
Today those faxes are automatically routed into the OneBeacon claims processing IT system around-the-clock, bypassing the manual process and reducing the need for daytime clerical support.
Moreover, the EasyLink system provides for remote access by authorized staff. "When my office closes at 4:15 p.m., I have four home-based remote adjusters who can check claims arriving in the system's processing queue between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.," explains Woods.
Even if an agent faxes in a claim at 5 p.m., and it takes one hour to upload it into the claims processing system, "I still have two hours in which to contact the customer. I no longer have to wait until the next day," points out Woods.
The system informs the adjuster about the nature of the claim, provides customer contact information so that if warranted, the adjuster can call during the evening hours.
With the EasyLink system in place, 90% of the time the independent agent will record the first-notice information and fax it in. About 10% of the time, the agent will be directed to have the customer call into the call center, i.e., cases of possible personal injury or a water claim. "Water claims today have a lot of visibility because of the potential for mold," says Woods.
"For years the challenge for me has been to work with our agents not around our agents," says Woods. "A lot of agents like to take the claim report directly from the customer. But some carriers say 'that's nice and warm and fizzy' but it delays our (the carrier) ability to talk with that customer immediately," points out Woods.
The EasyLink system keeps the agent in the loop yet gives OneBeacon the option of responding quickly to its customers who have filed more serious claims.
The Massachusetts claims office of OneBeacon implemented the claims solution in April 2003 and introduced it to its agents over the course of six months. "The agents love the system," says Woods. "In the past, the agent talked to their customers but they hated to have to call in claims. We put our money where our mouth is because we do want to work with our agents. We created this process especially for them," adds Woods.
Need ACORD XML
The EasyLink electronic procedures require a modern claims' processing system that is fluent in ACORD XML first-notice-of-loss data. OneBeacon's Massachusetts's claims office has such a system designed by Bermuda-based Accenture.
The EasyLink scanning technology "won't benefit your organization unless you have claims processing with an ACORD XML standard, " points out Woods. "Because we already had the Accenture IT system in place, we were able to provide the EasyLink scanning technology with a catcher's mitt," he adds.
"If you don't have a way to put the ACORD XML data from EasyLink into the various fields of the Accenture claims product, you would lose a lot of the productivity gains because you would need technical people to key in certain data," says Woods. "The EasyLink system captures that information for us so we are able to populate many of the data fields that technical people had to populate in the past," he adds.
With its modern claims processing system in place, the implementation of the EasyLink scanning system took about three months. The reason it even took three months was because EasyLink had to first understand and then to map all of the fields of the ACORD XML document, according to Woods. The majority of the time was spent capturing every piece of information that's on the ACORD notice so they could use their scanning technology to populate those same fields in my claims system. OneBeacon's ACORD XML document has about 90 data fields.
The insurance executive points out that for any other insurance company, the implementation would proceed much faster because EasyLink has now completed all of the mapping. "For others, it would be like flipping a switch and turning the EasyLink system on," says Woods.
In fact, the OneBeacon Insurance Group LLC just completed the implementation of the EasyLink scanning technology for its enterprise-wide claims processing operations on February 12, 2004.
"I can't see how you can beat this process," says Woods.
"As the quality of the process has grown, I'm now actually using some of the people that had fixed data entry errors in the past in our customer service department to contact our policyholders when we get the first-notice-of-loss."
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