Glenmont, N.Y. — Insurance industry experts keep talking about Real Time, but are agents and carriers really warming to it? Members of the Professional Insurance Agents associations in four states are using Real Time transactions and comparative rating in greater numbers this year than last, according to data gathered by a PIA membership survey.

In the 2008 survey, 432 respondents said they used Real Time, as compared to 157 in 2007. Sixty-nine percent of respondents with agency management systems employ Real Time, up from 63% last year. For all survey respondents, Real Time use increased from 56% to 59%.

Agents using Real Time found that they can do real-time transactions with a growing portion of the insurance companies they represent; this holds true for every type of real-time transaction.

“The focus is not so much that employing Real Time gives carriers an advantage, but that not implementing Real Time puts them at a disadvantage in a competitive market,” Ellen Kiehl, PIA’s senior research analyst tells INN. “Agents are starting to use Real Time transactions in their standard workflow, and the carriers not enabling Real Time become exceptions in that workflow.”

While Kiehl tells INN she hasn’t seen or heard of any agents refusing to work with carriers not enabling Real Time, she does expect to ask this question and related questions in a follow-up survey. 

Administered during fall of this year, and compared with the same survey done in 2007, PIA’s survey found:

• More agents are using Real Time
• Agents transact in real time with more of their companies
• Comparative rating use increased more than other transactions
• Comparative rating accuracy is improving
• Agents are much more likely to quote companies they can rate via a comparative rater

“Technology—particularly real-time functionality—has become a critical factor in agency-company relationships, and in an agency’s ability to meet the needs of customers,” says Diane Fowler, CAE, executive director of the Professional Insurance Agents of Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York State Inc. “Clients expect instant information and pricing. By learning how agents are utilizing technology currently, we can better address the needs of our members and help them work more effectively to maintain market share.”

Real Time users reported using the technology with at least half of their companies for the following functions: policy view (70% ); claims status (64%); billing inquiry (76%); endorsements (60%); and single-company quote (63%).

Nearly 90% respondents said they are either “much more likely” (66%) or “somewhat more likely” (18%) to quote with carriers that enable comparative rating.

The use of comparative rating increased at a greater rate than other transactions, up to 44% compared to last year’s 31%. Though more than half (52%) of respondents reported “some accuracy issues” with comparative raters, this is down from last year’s number (58%). Reports of “big accuracy issues” fell from 8% to 4%. And, there is further proof of improved performance: last year, 35% called their raters “very accurate.”

A greater portion of users’ companies also are participating in comparative rating, the 2008 survey found. Users who can comparative-rate half or more of their companies for personal lines runs from 64% to 90%, depending on the system used. “This further illustrates the advantage for carriers to enable Real Time,” Kiehl says.

After a marketing and sales effort to improve agency relationships, The Harford Mutual Insurance Co , realized the need for comparative rating.

"Most of the feedback we got from agents, as well as from watching industry trends, was consistent: We needed to provide the capabilities for online rating and policy submission," Steve Fabian, assistant VP for IT told INN in October 2008. "Our larger agents already did some in-office comparative rating. They were telling us that it was a necessity in order for them to push more business to us."

The Harford started work on its inquiry-only portal, and began laying the groundwork for RapidWrite, its rating and policy submission system, which replaces paper, telephone and fax communications. Agents log onto RapidWrite and enter basic information about a prospective insured and his requested coverages. The system responds with the premium, schedules and so on, and then lets the agent print a quote for the customer. It then saves the information. If the prospect wants to continue, be it immediately or some future time—the agent completes the application data.

Sources: Professional Insurance Agents, INN archives

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