Core insurance systems—policy administration, claims, reporting and billing—frequently were designed as industrial-strength carrier processing systems. Each system typically would handle all functions for each type of business the carrier writes. But as carriers move policy processing out to their distribution channel, they look to extend access to their core systems to non-traditional users, such as independent agents. That exposes the limitations of these systems.

Typical independent agents use at least five carrier systems to quote, qualify and perhaps even issue and service policies for their clients. That leaves them increasingly sensitive to the usability of the various systems. In response, carriers have customized their policy administration systems (PAS) for agent use by removing access to confusing options, or by providing alternate quoting or submission components.

But even a custom path in a PAS doesn’t necessarily provide views of data that agents require, such as claims and billing information, nor does it quickly direct agents to components that meet their specific needs. For instance, a PAS typically provides great detail on policy-centric transactions, but may not provide a summary of the customer’s entire account or an overall status, including billing and claims summaries.

To get the information they need, both agents and internal users have to log out of one limited system and log into another equally limited system.

The solution is a Web portal—not simply a Web page on the carrier’s site with links to core systems and notices. Taking advantage of service-oriented architecture and Web services, Web portals let users access multiple underlying systems and serve as a customized hub for players in the policy lifecycle.

MANY BENEFIT

Different users can extract and aggregate data and view their specific information in dashboard format. Each different user—underwriters, claims adjusters, agents, billing staff and executives—gets a customized presentation, accessed through a single log in.

The portal also can provide links to data in context. For example, drawing on data from the underlying PAS, a portal might contain a queue of quotes coupled with their status in the submission process. That enables agents to click a link within the list of quotes and go directly into the quote in the PAS without additional searching.

Similarly, routine functions that are more difficult to locate and process may be pushed out to portals. Providing a portal function that enables quick endorsements, for instance, can allow agents to pick from a list of simple policy changes (such as add an additional interest, add/delete vehicles), pick the desired policy, capture the necessary information and pass it to the PAS, all without leaving the portal.

One of the keys to well-designed portal functions is a configurable “library” of parts: various dashboard reports, work queues, summaries, tools and links. Custom views can be created by drawing appropriate parts from the library. Moreover, the portal can integrate other software, such as Microsoft Outlook and instant messaging, resulting in additional productivity gains for both agents and company users.

Numerous studies show producers are inclined to favor carriers that offer the most useable process or system. A slick, powerful agent portal can help cement agent loyalty by providing easy system access. That helps agents get quotes more quickly, while facilitating better communication in the back-and-forth underwriting process. Additionally, a portal can enable agents to service and manage all of their accounts with that carrier, smoothing the process of pushing out traditional carrier policy-processing functions to agents.

Portals also can serve as the hub to integrate policy administration and agency management systems. For example, once an agent uploads data from his system, a portal could serve as the next landing place, versus going directly to the PAS. The portal could display a status queue of uploaded policies, give information on new carrier programs that might fit the insured, and provide the status of issues the agent needs to address before moving to the quote.

Portals can also help company staff, such as underwriters, claims adjusters and billing personnel, do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. For instance, the portal can integrate tools and data, such as mapping software to enhance. For example, an underwriter might be given a queue of referrals that require his signoff. By viewing a map that shows proximity to a flood zone or highlights claim activity, the underwriter may be able to approve the quote from the portal without going into the underlying PAS or undertaking otherwise time-consuming research. Underwriters, claims representatives, customer service representatives and other carrier specialists may be able to eliminate 80% of their trips to underlying systems with this approach, coupled with dashboard reports targeted to managing their specific roles.

This “supercharged portal” isn’t a fantasy; it’s available today. The technology is here. It’s ready to be deployed, and the potential uses are almost unlimited.

Robert Burns is director, product management, at Insurity, a ChoicePoint company, in Hartford, Conn.

(c) 2008 Insurance Networking News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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