As always, discord roils the insurance industry. Factions battle over issues ranging from flood insurance reform and surplus lines legislation to state vs. federal regulation.Yet the splinter groups seem to agree on a couple of things. One is the desire to reduce regulatory involvement in day-to-day business. Why? Because, many carriers say, removing the compliance monkey wrench would reduce costs, increase the bottom line and make it easier to compete in our global marketplace.

"Insurers want to comply because of incentives rather than because of restrictive laws," says one insurer. Others (mostly outside the industry) argue that regulatory compliance exists because of the unprincipled actions of a few. In their opinion, this is our just reward.

Regardless of the reasons, our regulatory environment is here to stay-at least for now. And insurers agree they don't like it. Think of it as an island of agreement in a sea of discord.

But they can agree on something else, too. Many believe that in our free enterprise system, the notion of agreeing to work together toward a consistent, common goal, has merit. In the insurance business that tendency to cooperate is most apparent in the standards we help create and use-voluntarily.

The self-regulated environment of standards is often associated with several analogies: a finely tuned orchestra, the rising tide raising all the boats, or a shared, common language.

The importance of standards cannot be overstated, and their use-as an option rather than a requirement-is one of the keys to their success.

From an industry-building perspective, adoption of standards leads to improved workflow, enhanced business reporting, streamlined communication with your distribution network and more.

Several years ago when the Association for Cooperative Research and Development (ACORD) first modeled the data captured on the typical insurance application and related supplemental forms, they took that shared common language analogy and leveled the playing field.

Today, insurers who choose to play the standards game give themselves an advantage. By agreeing on a data standard and using that common language to create and present a particular insurance product, they make it possible for a broker to pick and choose the features applicable to a client's requirements and push the transaction through the pipeline. ACORD greased the pipeline by completing a workflow process that modeled the flow of information during the issuance process.

Because brokers have a choice of where to place their business, ease of doing business is key. Bottom line: The carrier that does not adhere to standards is last on the broker's list.

At a time when the insurance industry struggles with ongoing issues, operating in a self-regulated environment of voluntary standards (not just ACORD, but all industry and technology-related standards), is a second island of agreement in the sea of discord. Standards help the insurance industry find new and better ways to do business.

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