Allied World Assurance Co., a Bermuda-based provider of professional underwriting insurance, puts more control of the policy administration process into the hands of producers who can then write new business via the Internet, anytime and anywhere. To accomplish this, the insurer has been building and perfecting an automated, Web-based platform that takes new policies from the initial application through the underwriting process, in many cases, delivering approved policies in a matter of minutes.
The system has been evolving since its first launch in 2003, when Bob Asensio, EVP, information technology for Allied World, first proposed and designed a self-service tool that would serve producers selling professional liability insurance to the small to medium-size business market. At that time, Asensio and his team were part of Darwin Professional Underwriters, which was eventually acquired by Allied World in 2007.
"We wanted to enable our producing partners to go online and be able to automate small and medium-size business, which wasn't being done at this level," says Asensio. The challenge was to deliver an online product that both streamlined traditionally labor-intensive endeavors, and assured proper underwriting and risk assessment for excess and surplus lines.
The product Asensio's team developed, called i-Bind, enables producers to write a line of insurance products online, including managed care errors & omissions (E&O), professional services E&O, privacy, directors and officers liability (D&O), network security, media, employment practices liability and fiduciary. i-Bind is built on OneShield's Dragon Policy Administration platform, which functions as a core processor.
By automating the rules process as well as underwriting, i-Bind is intended to enable producers to complete an end-to-end insurance transaction. The system delivers a set of interview questions that helps producers walk through the process with clients without having to go to an underwriter. The result, in at least half the cases, Asensio says, is an almost instantaneous quote in the field. On the back end, Allied World's underwriters are notified in real-time that a quote has been submitted and can review anything that comes in with a red flag.
"i-Bind is our proprietary tool for our producer partners," Asensio explains. "We sign up wholesalers, and we give them some exclusivity in the region, and we let them work with their retailers in a co-branded way. They don't have all the back and forth with an underwriter."
Once i-Bind was put in the field, the process to rate, quote and bind certain risks was shortened from 30 days to less than 15 minutes. The tool generates a quick answer on what coverage is available, as well as a quote, says Asensio. When exceptions occur, Allied World underwriters "are able to go in and see why i-Bind referred an application, and take appropriate measures. Sometimes they may come back and ask a couple of questions, override what i-Bind says, and produce a quote that the producer would still have within a few hours."
Asensio's team was also able to eliminate redundant data entry and speed the process even further by providing potential policyholders limited access to the system. Potential customers are able to enter information into an online form and even submit the application with the help of a producer.
Initially, the challenge for Asensio's team was selling the automation of business, risk selection and pricing, "all things no one had really done before," he explains. Even the Web-based insurers "basically had somebody behind the curtain," he adds. "People could put in submissions, but all those accounts were underwritten. We wanted to automate the underwriting process entirely."
The i-Bind platform started with E&O insurance for lawyers, and was soon expanded for the broader small business market. Eventually, Asensio's team had developed 12,000 different rules in an "intelligent interview" tool, he continues. The insurer was able to refine and simplify the rules engine as it gained more experience with the offering. "We've been able to take that process, automate it, keep refining it, keep changing it, keep making the workflow more streamlined, and more simple," Asensio says.
Acquiring the right internal skills to maintain and upgrade i-Bind is another challenge Asensio's team has been addressing as the product evolved. At first, the company relied on OneShield's staff to help configure the policy administration engine. Eventually, however, Asensio says his own staff was able to pick up most of the heavy lifting of development and maintenance. "We built our team up, and for the past four years, our internal team here has been handling all that." He adds that "it's helpful to have an object-oriented background. We have pretty good developers who can develop in multiple languages. They know how to solve problems, they know how to work with the business, and they understand the concepts. Also, it's helpful to have an Oracle skill set. We do our rating within the tool, and there are a lot of Oracle stored procedures."
The online offering provided compelling results for Darwin-to the point where it made the company an attractive target for acquisition. As part of Darwin, i-Bind delivered impressive levels of business growth with the online product, doubling the insurer's written premium business in the first years offered. This initial success caught the attention of Allied World, which eventually purchased the company. Allied is currently standardizing all of its U.S. business on i-Bind and OneShield Dragon, starting with general liability and then moving to property. "We helped revolutionize the way small business is handled," says Asensio.
Much additional work has gone into supporting i-Bind over the years. "We now do various flavors of professional liability and management liability," says Asensio. "As a company, we've also expanded beyond professional liability to 40 or 50 products. In the i-Bind world, we've come up with new packaged products, with eight different coverages. This can get pretty complicated when you think about the rules for automating how you're going to do risk selection and pricing on something where there could be eight different coverages. It's the kind of thing where the tool has been really good for us."
The platform also helped streamline underwriting operations, Asensio says. "When we were Darwin, we were doing a little over a million dollars of business per employee. All along, our CEO really focused on automating what we could automate. i-Bind and the OneShield platform was a piece in that puzzle."
There are additional benefits as well with i-Bind, providing a training ground for new innovations and talent. Asensio continues to see i-Bind as "an incubator for technology, in that we're pushing the envelope on automation of not only workflow but also pricing. It's also definitely an incubator for underwriters. We're able to hire the younger people who are just starting out, get them in an underwriting process, and get them started supporting i-Bind. As they get trained, there are other opportunities within the company for more traditional underwriting jobs. That's just one of the intangible benefits." INN
Joe McKendrick is an author and consultant specializing in information technology, based in Doylestown, Pa., and a regular blogger for insurancenetworking.com.
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Corrected January 4, 2011 at 1:18PM: yes