Boston — Just as a cell phone is as much an arbiter of style as it is a communication device, an insurer’s portal is not strictly utilitarian.

A new report from Boston-based Celent says, as producer portals have become de rigeur, carriers must make a concerted effort to make them differentiators.

More than 90% of all insurers offer at least an informational portal for their producers, the report notes, and more than 73% of life and health insurers and more than 84% of property/ casualty insurers offering a transactional producer portal. “With such an overwhelming presence of producer portals within the industry, the burden to produce a quality site has become much heavier for the insurer,” the report, authored by Celent senior analyst Jeff Goldberg states. “No longer can an insurer simply put up a minimal amount of content and expect it to serve as an industry differentiator.”

According to Goldberg, producers are wise to avoid eye candy and concentrate on providing the portal’s users with a simple, functional place to do business. “Independent producers work with multiple portals on a daily basis and gravitate toward carriers who make their job easier,” the report states. “Note that a mature and elegant user interface is not necessarily flashy or colorful. Some of the best sites are very simple and straightforward, with little to clutter them aside from the functionality needed by producers on a day-to-day basis. Unlike the corporate Web site, a producer portal is a Web application where producers will be going to transact business.”

This report also details a three-stage maturity model for a producer portal. Phase 1 is where a portal is the cost of doing business. Phase 2 is defined as a competitive portal, while a phase 3 portal will differentiate a producer from its peers.

Even insurers that utilize a captive channel need to provide a quality portal, Goldberg stresses, because it is still a major factor in employee effectiveness and retention. Moreover, the report notes, the importance of the portal will continue to increase as the incoming generation of Internet-savvy employees enters the workforce.

Goldberg’s research seems to dovetail with announcements from insurers trumpeting improvements to their portals. In March, Schaumburg, Ill.-based Zurich Financial Services announced changes to its portal that enable agents to process quotes and proposals directly from their agency management systems without the need to re-key the data into a point-of-sale system. Agents can electronically upload client data, obtain quotes, generate proposals and issue policies in real-time for their customers purchasing a business owner's policy, and commercial auto, commercial umbrella and workers' compensation coverage.

Sources: Celent, INN archives

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