If life insurers had to concoct new mission statements to enhance their new-business selling strategies, one for consideration could be, "A picture's worth a thousand words."For years, life providers and their agents have relied on obtuse, text-heavy sales presentations to their individual customers--using these raw tools to make a case for why a client should acquire life insurance--and why they should acquire it now. Too often, poor presentation tools fail to enlighten individuals concerning the magnitude of a life purchase.

But carriers such as Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers Life & Annuity have determined that there are indeed more effective ways to make life and annuity product more palatable to potential customers.

In 2002, Travelers Life upgraded its existing desktop sales presentation system. This upgrade was intended to provide Travelers Life's 700-plus independent agent network with electronic sales and marketing tools that could resonate with skeptical clients about the power of life and annuity products.

A "story"approach

"We wanted to offer a sales presentation system that could be delivered in a 'story' approach, combining pictures, text and numbers. It could provide a snapshot of an individual's insurance needs and would also be easy for them to grasp-and it would be customized for them," says Mark Teitelbaum, second vice president, advanced sales, Travelers Life & Annuity, an operating unit of Citigroup.

Indeed, using illustration tools to build life insurance sales is a smart tactic. Unlike other lines of insurance such as auto, homeowners and health, illustrations lend themselves to life insurance because coverage revolves around life stages. Dynamic illustrations that can depict these stages get the message across better and faster to prospective customers of what their insurance needs are.

"Life insurers must move from a dot-matrix environment that produces tabular reports to a Web environment, which has the ability to support the numbers with graphs and images," says Dennis Pfiffner, vice president client relationship management, Brookfield, Wis.-based information management solutions provider Fiserv Corp.

"Insurers have to find a way to create savvier marketing element for life presentations. More agents are getting access to the tools they need to create glossy and graphic-rich presentations within a more robust marketing strategy," he says.

Travelers Life & Annuity saw the need to migrate to a better illustration system that would benefit both clients and producers. Starting at the producer level, agents have struggled mightily with the manual preparation aspects of life sales presentations.

"Often, producers dump numbers into an Excel spreadsheet to create a client sales presentation, which is very labor-intensive. In its day, Excel was a very powerful tool for reporting and graphing, but we had to take the next step," says Teitelbaum.

That next step was moving to a Web-based illustration solution. After exploring its options, Travelers Life selected a solution developed by Eagan, Minn.-based pTeraDac Web Systems.

"We wanted a branded, customized sales tool where producers could avert having to manually prepare proposals for client presentation," Teitelbaum explains.

The solution, WebStory Presentation Management System, is a Web-based program licensed by Travelers that provides the carrier with several advantages over its existing desktop system.

For one, the program offers flexibility. WebStory enables an insurer to operate from one unified presentation platform for all distribution channels. Moreover, if an agent wants to use his desktop and not the Web to generate presentations, he can do so seamlessly.

And, WebStory offers customization since insurers such as Travelers can establish a branded look for sales presentations. The solution also enables insurers to instantly update product information because WebStory resides on the Web, and not on the desktop, where product modifications occur via CD-ROM diskettes.

"We have actually worked with Travelers Life & Annuity for several years, offering them the desktop version of our product for sales illustrations," says Fred Zachman, vice president of Web systems for pTeraDac. "Over the years, we've provided various iterations of illustration software to insurers before developing a Web-enabled version."

As his team engaged Travelers in late 2002, Zachman took note of Travelers' internal competencies regarding automation. Integration of WebStory to Travelers systems architecture was performed quickly due to this, which isn't always the case, Zachman observes.

"Illustration engines must be linked to corporate mainframes," he explains. "The key is to find a quick and seamless way to take illustration system software tied to the desktop and migrate that to the Web-without having to re-write coding."

With the new system in place, Travelers currently oversees the program internally, mainly relying on pTeraDac for occasional systems support. Travelers performs all the page branding and modifications that dictate the look and feel of the program, according to Teitelbaum.

Even though Travelers has a customized program in place, WebStory can be further customized at the producer level, enabling them to create illustrations above and beyond Travelers core program.

"We have producers who might want to customize a proposal cover page, or customize a disclaimer or even opt for a color scheme that's different from the core template we offer," Teitelbaum notes. "When we push this out to the field force, producers have the option to implement their own customized presentations to suit their client needs."

Travelers Life & Annuity began laying the infrastructure for WebStory in late 2002 and went live with the program in February 2003. Among Travelers' independent producers, about 325 regularly activate WebStory to create sales presentations.

At the outset, Travelers selected five life sales products to integrate within WebStory for producers to access and then design presentations around. The provider has since added three more to the platform. Among the life and annuity products offered within the WebStory platform are supplemental income, family income trust, dynasty trust and annuity funded life.

"I can't get this product to market quick enough due to the high demand of our producers," Teitelbaum says. "The thing we like about WebStory is that it's custom-built for Travelers. We have complete control. And it's not an off-the-shelf piece of software."

Smart approach

Industry analysts believe that the way Travelers Life has approached implementing an illustration system is smart. "The view over the years is that illustration solutions have been a standalone product, but it has to be a part of a bigger new business process," says Craig Weber, a senior analyst with Boston-based research and consulting firm Celent Communications Inc.

"Agents run illustration software on a local PC, and as they do there is often a lack of connectivity to a carrier's system. So when agents get product data on life products from insurance companies, they often have to re-enter it into their new-business system to produce sales illustration documents for clients. That's counter-productive."

What Travelers agents appreciate about WebStory are both the management protocols as well as the customization features built within the system. pTeraDac combines WebStory with its SmartLinks Content Commander and Tracker Metrics systems to simplify the sales process.

"SmartLinks evaluates policy values and sales channel parameters, compiling a list of relevant product and sales documents," explains pTeraDac's Zachman. "The resulting list is presented in a context-sensitive selection screen so agents never have to search for a carrier's advanced marketing materials.

"Basically, SmartLinks, enables users to tune their sales material for the specific selling scenario at hand, delivering branded presentations for each of their various sales channels. SmartLinks can also be used to suppress presentations from areas or states where material is not suitable," he adds.

Connectivity issues

Insurers' strategies for life illustration are indeed gravitating to the Web. However, migrating to the Web is not feasible for all insurers.

"The movement to 100% Web-based illustration is clearly occurring," says Celent's Weber. "But a complete shift to a Web environment has been difficult to this point because most agents, when meeting with clients, will sit in a client's home to conduct a needs analysis."

If an agent experiences problems securing a Web connection, this greatly undermines their ability to produce illustrations on the spot, says Weber.

He adds that advances in Wi-Fi technology will be essential in helping insurers move to 100% Web-based illustration platforms.

Because of these uncertainties, some insurers offer what Weber calls a "hybrid" solution: Agents can develop sales illustration programs from their new-business processing systems at their offices and later present them to clients.

Most of Travelers' producers that use WebStory have had success working remotely within the system at a client's home or places of business, Teitelbaum notes. They can make modifications to sales presentations thanks to high-speed Internet capabilities.

There are other considerations that must be accounted for when mulling Web-based illustrations. Insurers must continuously deliver to agents information on product lines. In the life segment, features of existing products constantly change.

Therefore, if insurers are supported by traditional desktop solutions in creating sales presentations, they must regularly update CD-ROM diskettes before making them available to the field-which is a costly proposition. Moreover, one group of producers might have access to a current version of the product line on CD-ROM while others might have the outdated version.

"Life insurance is very rigid when it comes to product releases. If there are modifications, we often have to wait for the next desktop version to become available before making it available to the field," Teitelbaum says. "But having the system function from the Web, we can make instantaneous changes to our product line, test and review those changes and push them out immediately to the field."

There is also the question of system security. Zachman says security is essential for these types of programs because if a hacker infiltrated a company's network, they would be able to get access to confidential data on individuals applying for life insurance.

"In building WebStory, we have designed it with an architecture that's able to withstand all threats that can occur when operating within a Web environment," he explains. "I think our security standards entirely meet or exceed those established internally by a client's IS department."

Clearly, Web-based illustration is a concept whose time has come because consumers not only want it; they expect it. "Customers demand a higher level of sophistication when it comes to illustration software," says Celent's Weber. "Other industries have helped set the bar higher, and it's up to insurers to get up to speed. The selection of fonts, for instance, is just one consideration.

"But I think one of the most crucial things insurers have to do is offer a sales presentation system designed in such a way that a client wouldn't know that the presentation was designed from a template, but that it was customized especially for them," Weber adds.

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