For many insurance companies, large and small, moving to a paperless environment is desirable, but no easy task. Many employees still derive comfort and a sense of control from tangible paper files, and moving to electronic functioning carries with it a certain sense of anxiety.The employees of Eustis Insurance & Benefits, a 60-year-old New Orleans provider of personal, commercial, and benefits lines insurance, have proven themselves the exception.

A little more than three years ago, the New Orleans agency, as part of a larger effort to foster sustainable competitive differentiation, involved its 90-plus employees in a larger project. Their task: examine and provide recommendations on how to foster improved overall business functions, reduce cost, and improve productivity and communication with policyholders and partners.

Early in the company's six-month exercise, the type of investments required to accomplish this objective became obvious: the company needed to simplify and improve the agency's document and record-keeping system. So the agency, which boasts annual premium volume of more than $114 million and represents some eight major carriers and 20 brokers, paid a visit to a smaller agency where paperless was the name of the game.

"As we investigated references from different records management companies, we were given the name of a smaller agent, and were impressed with what they were doing," says Keith Oufnac, director of information systems. "The smaller agency scanned all documents that passed through its doors, and they were successful in retrieving information quickly and accurately. We decided paperless was the way to go."

LONG TERM STRATEGIES

They are not alone. More than 7,500 agents participating in the 2006 ACORD Users' Group (AUGIE) Agency Technology Survey, (see chart, p. 41) confirmed their intentions to move to paperless operations.

Reducing paperwork is one of many ongoing long-term strategies of agents trying to simplify processes in order to focus on customer acquisition, customer retention and customer service, according to Jeff Yates, executive director of the Agency Council for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (Big "I"), Alexandria, Va.

"It supports the agent's ability to operate with consistent workflow in a multiple company environment and cooperate with all partners to move to effective real-time capabilities," he says.

From idea to production took one year, during which time employees were trained in the nuances of scanning and working with its new document management system, PaperVision Enterprise, provided by Digitech Solutions Inc., Greenwood Village, Colo.

"We scan everything: policies, endorsements and all appropriate mail that comes in," Oufnac says. "Scans are electronically indexed and filed, so as we got the nuances of the system down, our employees learned to function with less and less physical paper."

PaperVision Enterprise supports viewing of more than 250 file types, from graphics to word processing to presentations. The system's check-in/check-out and versioning control ensures that users are working on the latest, most accurate version of the document.

"It functions in similar fashion to an actual file cabinet, where policies, proposals, endorsements, forms and questions from customers are all housed, time-stamped and available for viewing at any time by other employees," says Oufnac.

Eustis ties the PaperVision system to its TAM (The Agency Manager) agency management system from Applied Systems, University Park, Ill.

SUPPORTING SCALABILITY

For Marie Hart, who serves as the agency's vice president, director and commercial lines manager, the systems' ability to scale was an important factor in the decision to choose PaperVision. "We plan to add accounting and may want to add additional records, especially for commercial lines, and the system supports that. Plus, our carriers know we are communicating with a higher level of accuracy, so our apps are processed faster, and we are able to e-mail-rather than snail-mail-critical documents."

Use of e-mail, 24/7 access to the carriers' Web sites and general use of the Web are primary concerns for all producers, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by Boston-based Celent LLC. The researcher studied what carriers can do to help improve agency transactions and communications.

"Independent agents consistently rank service levels as the primary driver of carrier choice," notes Celent analyst Craig Weber, author of the survey. "But one size does not fit all in terms of supporting technology. Producers work in a variety of ways, so carriers need to support a variety of tools."

While agreeing on the importance of the role carriers play in making it easier to do business, Oufnac and Hart put the onus on Eustis to do what it could to make the marriage work.

Oufnac points to the organization's original dilemma-the need to overhaul its client contact management system-as an illustration of how the document management software opened doors to a level of efficiency that helps the agency, the carriers, business partners and ultimately the policyholder.

"For example, we are all aware that documents can be misplaced," he says, "and let's face it: mortgagees lose stuff. They often call looking for additional copies of a policy or endorsement. In the past when our own employees couldn't find the documents that the mortgagee was looking for, they'd put the caller on hold, then run around asking 'Who has the file? Who has the folder? Where is the paperwork?' There is no more of that. The documents are available for anyone right from the desktop."

The system leverages technology from ImageSilo, Digitech Systems' Web-based document repository. An administration console provides security configurations for all customers, while the application provides function-level verification on each transaction.

A LIFESAVER

Since implementing the PaperVision system three years ago, Eustis has recorded a 60% reduction in the time it takes employees to find information and a 30% improvement in productivity. The company also eliminated the need for an annual 2-day audit.

"We predict our surplus line audit will be easy for us," says Hart. "We pay the auditors by the hour, so we want it to be quick."

The system's audit trails provide detailed security logs and specifics regarding productivity and utilization. A full-text search engine helps make finding documents easier and faster. E-mail, fax and print are supported, as are migration tools for data portability.

Perhaps the most important benefit of the PaperVision suite, however, may lie in its use of a company Intranet to house its documents. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit, taking 2,600 panes of glass at its corporate headquarters with it, Eustis, unlike other agencies, was able to maintain continuous business operations.

"During Katrina we operated from a trailer in Baton Rouge for more than two months," recalls Hart. "And during that time we all functioned as claims people."

Ultimately, the company was able to move into a building next door in Baton Rouge while its headquarters was rebuilt.

"In the midst of a lot of devastation, we didn't experience any significant business interruption," says Oufnac. "We were able to access policy information, confirm coverage and deductible levels, and even create ACORD forms from that information."

In the months following the storm, the agency relied even more heavily on e-mail to work with claims adjusters and the carriers to verify loss information, payments and more.

The bigger picture, notes Hart, was the company's ability to maintain customer service levels during a chaotic time.

"This is one project that everyone seems grateful for," she says. "In the aftermath of Katrina, our ability to service the customer, which was our original goal, paid for the system."

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