YOUNG INDEPENDENT AGENTS WANT MORE TECHNOLOGYYoung independent insurance agents identify technology to help them more easily write business and service customers as the second most important thing-after competitive rates-carriers can offer an independent insurance agency. Drive Insurance Group of Mayfield Village, Ohio-based Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. discovered this while conducting a survey of more than 750 young (40 years of age or younger or those who have been in the industry less than 10 years) independent agents. The majority of young independent insurance agents (79%) say technology has been significant in helping them grow their business. Other results from the survey showed 11% have an interactive Web site where customers can quote, buy and contact them. Thirty-four percent have a static Web site where people can learn more about their agency and the services they provide, and 40% don't have a Web site at all.

HELPING CONSUMERS UNDERSTAND HEALTH INSURANCE

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) created a consumer education Web site called "Insure U" (www.InsureUonline.org) to help individuals clear up confusion and gain a better understanding of the costs of their health insurance coverage. Recent research conducted by Kansas City, Mo.-based NAIC indicates that cost and confusion regarding health insurance are significant issues for consumers across all life stages, even for those with access to health insurance through their employers or government programs, such as Medicare.

ZURICH NAMES NEW HEAD OF CEDED REINSURANCE

John LaGrassa has been named senior vice president and director of ceded reinsurance for Zurich's North American operations. In his new role, he will be responsible for all of the placement and analysis of all treaties for Zurich North America Commercial business units and Zurich Global Corporate in North America. LaGrassa also will have governance responsibility for treaty, captive and facultative reinsurance.

LaGrassa joined Zurich in 2003. He previously served as underwriting director at Gerling Global Financial Products in New York.

ISO ACQUIRES XACTWARE ASSETS

ISO Properties Inc., Jersey City, N.J., acquired assets of Xactware Inc., a provider of estimation software and services for the property insurance, remodeling and restoration industries. Terms were not disclosed. The privately held company and its more than 230 employees will continue operating at its current headquarters in Orem, Utah, as a stand-alone entity, serving its extensive customer base of property insurers, contractors and service providers throughout the United States and Canada.

BLUES UNVEILS HEALTH INTELLIGENCE DATABASE

Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, Chicago, created a database of claims information (with no personal identifiers) from 79 million lives. Called Blue Health Intelligence (BHI), this resource is designed to help to improve health care quality through sharing critical health information initially with employers, and in the future, with consumers and providers. The secure, HIPAA-compliant database is currently being pilot-tested and will be operational by 2007.

IBM ACQUIRES WEBIFY SOLUTIONS

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM Corp. acquired Webify Solutions, an Austin, Texas-based, provider of industry-specific software and SOA services. Financial terms were not disclosed. Webify technology will be immediately integrated into IBM Software Group under the WebSphere brand. It will also be available through IBM Global Services offerings. IBM hopes to better solve common business problems in a given vertical industry by combining IBM's use of open industry standards and Webify's semantics experience.

IT SALARIES AND JOB TRENDS

After years of IT departments having to cut costs, businesses across North America now are upgrading systems, developing new products and restarting projects, according to "Robert Half Technology 2006 Salary Guide," a report from Robert Half Technology, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. "To successfully move forward with these initiatives, technology executives are once again hiring-in many cases filling positions for the first time since the end of the dot-com boom," according to the report.

Robert Half Technology combined its ongoing CIO survey results, information from its account executives and other research within its offices when placing full-time employees in IT positions, to provide comprehensive data on average starting salaries for IT professionals, as well as a review of trends and developments that are expected to impact the field.

The job titles with the largest percentage increase from 2005 to 2006 were IT auditor (11.2%), lead applications developer (5.3%) and network security administrator. The smallest percentage increase were desktop support analyst and help desk, both at .7% change. Just as in 2005, the highest-paid job title is CIO at $114,750 to $196,000, and the lowest-paid position in 2006 is help desk at $27,250 to $36,750

The salary ranges provided reflect the national averages for each position. The complete report, which can be found at www.rht.com, provides formulas to calculate the salary ranges for your local market.

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