Empire Life Insurance Co., Kingston, Ontario, has gone live with the first phase of a broad initiative to reduce costs using Web self-service for its group life products. Empire implemented Atlanta-based DWL Inc.'s Insurance for Group, an application that will enable more than 1,500 Empire brokers to access requests from Empire's back-end administration systems. The application also will provide real-time online sales and service functions, and will support access via wireless devices. Empire also has begun the second phase of the project, which will provide Web self-service capabilities to employer administrators. "Empire must offer self-service capabilities to our group clients to allow them to gather information, determine eligibility and ultimately to make changes to their plan data," says Jake Hilberdink, Empire's vice president, employee benefits.Zurich NA Unveils Small- Business Finance Center

The small-business unit of Schaumburg, Ill.-based Zurich North America has developed a Business Finance Center (BFC)-a customized online commercial lending marketplace for small business loans, commercial real estate loans and equipment lease financing. Provided through a strategic alliance with a provider of financing solutions on the Internet, the BFC is available to customers exclusively by referral from Zurich Small Business' national network of independent insurance agents. The BFC is a revenue-generating customer service tool that enables Zurich Small Business' agents to offer their commercial customers access to commercial financing from more than 200 lenders through a single application. Financing from $5,000 up to $500 million is available through the BFC. Lenders include banks, Wall Street firms, insurance companies, finance companies, other financial institutions and private investors.

Royal & Sun Alliance Improves Web Site

Royal & SunAlliance USA, based in Charlotte, N.C., has launched a new corporate Web site to provide easy access to the company's product, claims and agent information. The new site, located at www.royalsunalliance-usa.com, offers enhanced usability and a more intuitive design and navigation. It provides multiple paths to key information, including a new agent match function and claim-reporting information. Behind the scenes, the new site is supported by a customized administration system that eases content management and provides a communications tracking workflow to increase the overall quality of customer service. Built upon a Microsoft.NET platform, the XML repository, XSL style sheets and object-oriented design increase reusability while decreasing overall development time.

Jefferson Pilot Unveils Advisor Tools

Jefferson Pilot Financial, Greensboro, N.C., has introduced two tools for financial advisors. LifeLINC is an asset transfer program that enables financial professionals to illustrate the financial advantages of transferring certain "idle" assets, such as annuities, certificates of deposit or individual retirement accounts to a life insurance policy. Jefferson Pilot Financial also has introduced Gateway to Wealth, an Internet-based suite of marketing resources for financial advisers. Positioned on JPF NET, the company's producer Web site, Gateway to Wealth provides financial advisers access to resources to serve their clients and to run their businesses, including expert packages in the asset accumulation, asset preservation and business planning markets. These introductions come amid a rating downgrade by investment bank Merrill Lynch, which cut its rating on Jefferson-Pilot Corp. to "sell" from "neutral," citing concerns over the company's earnings throughout next year.

Nationwide Launches 10-Minute Mortgage Service

Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide has launched a residential mortgage service offered by its Nationwide Advantage Mortgage subsidiary, which features 10-minute approvals, lower rates, reduced fees and a simplified application process. The new mortgage solution is powered by Fannie Mae technology. In addition to offering the solution to mortgage consumers, Nationwide Advantage, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa, plans to offer the new mortgage technology to its industry partners and to employers as an employee benefit or relocation service. Nationwide also will offer the solution to its 7,000 exclusive and independent agents and on a co-branded or private label basis through its large network of relationships with banks, financial planners and others.

Agent Group Urges Companies To Adopt Password Guidelines

New guidelines for password formatting have been recommended by the Agents for Council Technology (ACT), an affiliation of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), Alexandria, Va. The guidelines are designed to address the difficulties independent agents and brokers face with the multitude of different Web passwords and password formats they must employ to access companies they represent. If adopted by the industry, the guidelines will enable agency employees to use a common password for several company and vendor systems. "Ultimately, agents would like to see company passwords handled automatically in the background by their management systems," says Jeff Yates, ACT executive director. "But in the current environment, widespread adoption of ACT's recommended password guidelines would be a big step forward."

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