If you build it, they will come. But, if you want to make sure they flock to it, ask them to design it for themselves. Essentially, that's what Zurich North America did when it began developing its state-of-the-art underwriting workstation-an integrated online platform that the Schaumburg, Ill.-based commercial insurer began rolling out last year.Currently, approximately 250 large-account property underwriters are using the workstation, which houses the company's best underwriting practices, provides underwriters access to data they need from internal and external sources, and enables collaboration and knowledge-sharing between risk engineering, claims and field offices.
The insurer also is in the process of developing specific workstation configurations for its other lines of business, including small business, middle market and specialty coverages.
"A key ingredient to making this project work was to get significant involvement from the business units," says Chet Daigle, project manager in Zurich NA's manufacturing services business unit. That was accomplished by enlisting the input of approximately 35 "Zorbackers," large-account property underwriting experts selected from the field offices for their business knowledge and credibility with their peers. The Zorbackers' mission: to help design and support "Zorba," the workstation for the large-account property business.
"One of the first tasks given to the Zorbackers was to envision a best-practice (underwriting) workflow," Daigle says. Then, the Zorbackers were asked to choose, prioritize and design the points in that workflow where technology could be applied most effectively.
When the time came to present the system and train end users in the field, the Zorbackers introduced it, focusing on how the workstation helped underwriters perform their jobs-"instead of systems people saying, 'You enter this, then you do that," says Rick Harold, director of workstation development for Zurich NA's manufacturing services business unit.
The result is an underwriter's dream machine-an integrated online "workbench" that enables underwriters to perform their tasks from a single portal. With only a few mouse clicks for each step, underwriters receive submissions from brokers, validate property values using third-party software, request risk engineering and catastrophe management reports, rate coverages, and generate quotes and policy documents.
Integration, ease of use, and streamlined workflow are the key features of the system. Large-account property was the first version of the workstation deployed because many of the necessary components already existed. Underwriters use a previously existing clearance and registration application, which ensures no other Zurich office is working on the same submission.
Brokers can submit an electronic spreadsheet containing thousands of locations and values for each account-enabling underwriters to spend more time analyzing data rather than rekeying it.
A powerful concept
Underwriters validate location values using a third-party product launched from the portal, and they send requests for catastrophe-management and risk-engineering assessments using Lotus Notes via the workstation.
"The underwriters have all this data in front of them, they fire information off into different services, and the results are brought back in front of them," Harold says.
"The risk engineering report comes back. The cat (catastrophe) management assessment comes back. So their understanding of the account grows with every function-eventually leading to a decision of risk selection and pricing," he says.
After rating coverage, generating a quote, and binding the policy, underwriters then generate policy documents via the workstation as well.
And, in and effort to share knowledge across the enterprise, those policy documents are housed in a corporate repository, along with blank policies, which enables claims adjusters and other professionals to access them.
"We also have introduced a very powerful concept of a 'knowledge center,'" says Harold. This is a central repository integrated with the workstation that contains underwriting guidelines, rules and information about Zurich NA's various market segments. And, collaboration tools enable the underwriting community to share best practices and lessons learned-even across different market segments.
"Underwriters have the collective experience of the organization at their fingertips," Harold says. "From the customers' perspective, they get the benefit of the best possible thinking, which leads to the best possible pricing."
The workflow design for the large-account property workstation is structured but flexible, providing underwriters a significant amount of freedom due to the complexity of the risk.
As Zurich NA develops additional configurations of the workstation for its other lines of business, however, flexibility will vary.
In the high-transaction world of small business accounts, for example, underwriting workflow may be less flexible, says Harold. "The workflow may be locked in because that's how we want the underwriting community to behave."
The evolution of the workstation is a continual, staged process at Zurich NA. Because the system is component-based, modules developed for one workstation configuration can be rolled out to other businesses as the modules are completed.
For instance, the catastrophe management functionality is deployed in other property lines of business, and the policy repository and knowledge centers are available across platforms.
As additional configurations of the workstation are rolled out to more Zurich NA businesses, the company will be well-positioned when the next soft market cycle returns, according to Rob Fishman, chief underwriting officer and CEO of manufacturing services, the unit spearheading the project.
"We recognized the merging of the best underwriting thinking with technology would reap benefits for us both in terms of efficiency . . . as well as in reduction of loss ratios," he says. "The timing of our focus on this is also key-given where we are in the market cycle and where we will be as our workstations are fully functioning across our enterprise."
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