Insurance and financial services companies don't produce shiny new cars for their customers to drive away-or big-screen TVs for their customers to take home and show off to the neighbors. Essentially, they sell agreements-promises described in documents that they deliver to their customers-traditionally in paper form, but more and more in electronic versions.Ameritas Acacia Cos., a diversified insurance and financial services firm comprising Ameritas Life, Acacia Life and their affiliates, is one such company. "The end product we produce for the customer is a document," says Kirk Dietrich, document composition analyst at the Lincoln, Neb.-based firm.

Realizing that a high-quality appearance and electronic availability of its documents is essential to customer service, the company in 2002 implemented document composition software that has vastly improved the "look and feel" of its documents.

The software-from Lexington, Ky.-based Exstream Software Inc.-has helped Ameritas Acacia Cos. improve the presentation of its agent statements and customer quarterly statements-two of its highest volume applications.

Better-looking output

Prior to installing the new system, these statements were generated from the company's mainframe administration systems, which didn't produce the most refined print-outs-and sometimes took too long.

"We wanted our output to look better. It was in green-bar format with no font changes," says Dietrich. "We also wanted to be able to handle high volumes," he says. "Some runs used to take days, and that wasn't feasible."

The document composition tool accepts data files from any system, creating high-quality documents in print and PDF formats. "We're not tied to any particular administration system," says Dietrich. "We're working with our retirement department, our group department and our individual department. We can pull data from anywhere."

Creating PDFs is much simpler now, he says, because it doesn't involve converting documents. Instead, the user simply selects the output format, which is Postscript for printed documents and PDF for electronic copies.

What's more, the end product looks more professional, Dietrich says.

Tables and variable data-such as names, addresses, and dates-flow seamlessly. "You can't decipher the variable data from the rest of the text anymore," he says. "It's almost invisible that the document is personalized."

The document composition tool also enables Ameritas Acacia Cos. to send batch jobs consisting of thousands of statements to the printer, while also archiving each statement as an individual PDF file in the company's imaging system.

This feature enables Ameritas Acacia Cos. to offer its agents and policyholders secure electronic Web access to documents-as well as customized delivery options.

"Maybe one policyholder doesn't want his statement printed and mailed anymore," says Dietrich. "Or, maybe another person wants both the electronic and the print version. The software has enough intelligence for us to code for those personal preferences."

Lower postage costs

Using the tool, Dietrich can also customize insertions into the company's mailings. For example, he can code a print job to insert a promotional brochure for a retirement plan into a quarterly statement to a policyholder who is over the age of 50.

Dietrich also uses the system to optimize the placement of names and addresses, and the insertion of additional materials, such as privacy statements, for the most cost-effective postage and handling.

In fact, reducing postage and mailing costs was a primary reason the software investment was justified, according to Dietrich.

"Instead of producing 10,000 policyholder statements that cost 27 cents apiece to mail, we could get rid of that cost right off the top by having the documents available online," he says.

Although reducing that cost is taking longer than the company originally anticipated-because many policyholders and some agents continue to prefer mail delivery-the system is definitely paying itself off, says Dietrich.

The vast majority of the company's agents are receiving their statements online now-not in the mail. And most agents access their customers' quarterly statements via the Web if they want to view them. With recent runs of 95,000 quarterly policyholder statements and 2,700 bimonthly agent statements, that's a significant savings, he notes.

In addition to producing agent and quarterly statements, the two-person document composition team also has implemented 60 other print applications using the tool, including confirmation statements for account changes and many marketing promotions.

In the future, the company plans to process billing statements and perhaps dental claims using the tool, according to Dietrich.

"Everything an insurance company produces is personalized," he says. "It has your name on it. It's your policy. It's your number. We've been personalizing documents for years. Now, we're just doing it much better."

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