TRANSAMERICA RECEIVES SIX 'BEST IN CLASS' RANKINGSAs a testament to its relationship with its clients, Los Angeles-based Transamerica Retirement Services received six "Best in Class" ratings from the Chatham Partners' 2005 Client Satisfaction Analysis. Transamerica received "Best in Class" ratings: timeliness of contributions, distributions and loans, accuracy of contributions, overall satisfaction with processing of employee transactions, accuracy of participant statements, clarity of participant statements, and courtesy and professionalism of personnel.

CIGNA ADDS CONSUMER TOOLS ON WEB SITE

Americans say they need more information to make better health care decisions, yet many lack access to information about the costs and value of health care services. To address this growing need, CIGNA HealthCare, Bloomfield, Conn., is expanding its online cost and quality information for a wide range of health care plan options. Notably, CIGNA HealthCare's information will focus on quality and cost variation data among medical providers; situations where there are sufficient numbers of providers to offer consumers real choice; and procedures where there is adequate time for consumers to use the information to make decisions.

JOHN HANCOCK OFFERS CHARITABLE PLANNING SALES TOOL KIT

Boston-based John Hancock's Advanced Markets group has launched a charitable planning virtual sales tool kit to demonstrate how clients can use life insurance to benefit their favorite charity, while enjoying tax advantages for themselves. The materials, available on CD-ROM, cover simple charitable planning strategies, such as the direct gift of a life insurance policy to a charity, as well as more complicated techniques, such as charitable remainder trusts, charitable lead trusts, charitable life estates and gift annuities. John Hancock is a unit of Toronto-based Manulife Financial Corp.

BCBSA LAUNCHES MEDICARE BLUE PLAN FINDER

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Chicago, is offering a new Web tool to consumers to connect them with Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans offering Medicare products in their local communities. The Medicare Blue PlanFinder is designed to help consumers navigate the complex maze of Medicare offerings. In 2006, 29 Blue Plans will sponsor Medicare Advantage products and 24 Blue Plans will sponsor Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. Using the PlanFinder tool, consumers enter state and county information and learn which Blue Plan Medicare options are available in their area, linking them to the appropriate site for information about benefits. The tool will be located on a Web page devoted to news and information about the Medicare program.

THE HARTFORD CALL CENTERS RECEIVE J.D. POWER SEAL

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Hartford, Conn., has received certification for call center operation customer satisfaction excellence under the J.D. Power and Associates Certified Call Center Program. The Hartford property and casualty sales and service centers are the first in the insurance industry to be certified under the program. Through its direct Personal Lines business, which partners with AARP to provide members with home and auto insurance, The Hartford handled more than 10 million telephone, e-mail and fax interactions in 2004 from its call centers in Southington, Conn., Allentown, Pa., Santee, Calif., and Oklahoma City. The operations successfully passed a detailed audit of recruiting, training, employee incentives, management roles and responsibilities, and quality assurance capabilities.

BROKERS WANT GOOD SERVICE, NOT A FREE LUNCH

A study of insurance brokers and consultants' attitudes about relationships with group life insurers shows they place high value on good service and little value on freebies. Among the findings of the study, conducted by Minnesota Life Group Insurance, St. Paul:

* Carriers must be service-oriented and A-rated or better by A.M. Best, Standard & Poor's, or Moody's.

* Intermediaries enjoy an occasional lunch with a carrier's rep, but far more important is the carrier's ability to meet the client's needs. Intermediaries discourage dinners, golf outings, sporting events, or trips.

* Technology is important to intermediaries and their clients. Clients want to do everything on-line, and intermediaries would like the same, or similar, access to provide better service to their clients.

SUN LIFE PRODUCES CD-ROM ON EQUITY INDEXED ANNUITIES

Wellesley Hills, Mass.-based Sun Life Financial conducted focus group research earlier this year with 60 equity indexed annuities (EIA) producers and found that they needed easy-to-use educational tools. In response, Sun Life developed a CD-ROM, which provides an overview of how equity indexed annuities work. It can be ordered on the Sun Life Financial agent Web site at www.slfd.com.

QUALITY ISSUES WITH INSURERS' EXPOSURE DATA

A recent analysis of insurers' exposure data by AIR Worldwide Corp., Boston, determined that the quality and completeness of most insurers' commercial policy data is insufficient for a detailed and accurate assessment of their catastrophe risk.

"Nine out of 10 commercial properties analyzed had replacement values significantly less than the amount estimated by our construction specialists," says Karen Clark, president and CEO of AIR. "The variability in the quality of data among companies was also significant with insurers' average replacement values ranging from 20% to 80% of values derived using a standard engineering-based cost estimation process."

AIR's analysis examined four data elements critical for accurate catastrophe loss estimates: replacement value, construction, occupancy, and location. The analysis reviewed exposure data from companies representing more than 50% of the total U.S. property market. The full AIR report is available at the company's Web site at www.air-worldwide.com

HIGHMARK OPENS NEW DATA CENTER

It has enough disk storage space to hold the data equivalent of five Libraries of Congress. It can function for three days without outside supplies from any utility service. And it is capable of withstanding wind gusts equal to a Category III hurricane. It's the new Highmark data center, which officially opened in November in Camp Hill, Pa.

"Security, cost-effectiveness and leading-edge technology are three of the most important qualities of our new data center," says Kenneth R. Melani, M.D., president and CEO of Highmark Inc., a Philadelphia-based health insurance company. "It provides us with the technology infrastructure required by our core health insurance business as well as our subsidiaries to operate in a global marketplace."

The facility currently provides electronic connectivity with more than 100 hospitals and 15,000 health care professionals for membership and claims transactions. Highmark processes more than 500,000 claims daily and responds to 33,000 customer inquiries each day.

Besides a computing infrastructure that includes mainframe computers, there are also hundreds of UNIX and Windows servers and more than 200 high-speed tape drives. This computing power provides support to thousands of Highmark employees, and it also provides Internet access to Highmark's data and systems for members, employers, medical providers and other business partners.

When it comes to protecting the health information of Highmark members and security, the grounds surrounding the physical plant at the data center are protected by perimeter fencing and day and night electronic surveillance.

Access to internal data-processing resources is protected by a card-swipe system that must be satisfied multiple times before even the building's lobby can be accessed. Biometric security readers that verify fingerprints are also part of the security measures.

The new facility cost $27.9 million to build and will house about 50 Highmark employees. The structure is 87,000 square feet and sits on 11 acres.

SURVEY REVEALS EXTENSIVE SERVER DISASTERS

A recent survey provides clear evidence that a large number of organizations are experiencing Exchange Server failures. The survey, which was directed at organizations that rely heavily on e-mail as a driving force in communications, was conducted by Lucid8 LLC, a Bellevue, Wash.-based provider of automated disaster prevention and recovery software for Microsoft Exchange Server.

More than 360 IT managers, messaging and Exchange specialists participated in the study, providing a highly representative base of respondents. The results revealed the following facts about the current state of e-mail maintenance and archiving at major US companies:

* Nearly three quarters of the respondents had suffered from an Exchange disaster; 70% of these firms stated that their Exchange Server was down for at least eight hours, and 45% said it was down for more than 24 hours per incident.

* Almost half of the respondents stated the cost of lost opportunity was more than $5,000 per incident, and 23% reported that they had experienced permanent data loss from server disasters.

* Only 25% of organizations reported using an e-mail archiving solution. However, half of the survey respondents stated that they are either in the process of researching an archiving solution or are planning to make a purchase in the next 6 to 12 months.

* 56% of the respondents regarded corporate e-mail compliance regulations as a major concern, and 42% felt it was critical to adhere to Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and SEC 17a4 regulations

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