Posted on 23 May 2011
We recently spoke with Bill Bunker, president of Agency Markets for Vertafore, to gain some insight into the technology trends that are underway in the agency marketplace and how Vertafore is taking the lead on many of these trends.
Headquartered in Bothell, Washington, Vertafore is a leading provider of software, services, and information to the insurance distribution channel, including independent agents, brokers, MGAs, carriers, and reinsurers. Vertafore leverages a unique industry presence to deliver meaningful solutions — powerful technology, critical information, and robust insights to help organizations effectively respond to business challenges and capture new opportunities. The Vertafore product line includes: Management Systems, Content Management & Workflow, Information Solutions, Producer Lifecycle Management, Policy Administration & Billing, and Connectivity and Rating.
Bill joined Vertafore in September 2005 as senior vice president, product management and marketing, and served in that position until 2008. He was promoted to president, agency markets, in 2009. He holds a B.A. in economics from Dartmouth College and an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management.
In speaking with Bill, he stressed three major trends that are affecting the solutions agencies are looking for from their technology: a focus on greater efficiency, a more integrated, seamless approach with carriers, and on-line solutions that allow them to move away from IT to the business of insurance.
“Across the entire industry there is a push for greater efficiency and getting more done with less time and effort,” said Bill. “Agencies — small, medium, and large — have been focused on gaining efficiencies during the last few years because of the soft market and the need to find new ways to do more with less. In addition, they want to grow their top line by streamlining their internal operations and routine activities so that they can focus more of their investment and human resources on going out and getting more business and delighting their customers,” explained Bill.
One example of a Vertafore product that allows for greater efficiencies is WorkSmart, which provides agencies with a clear picture of the work its staff is doing, who is doing what, and helps the agency get its workflow under control. An agency using WorkSmart can see the bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and delays in the various processes involved in its operation, such as endorsements, renewals, certificate issuance, and reduce the number of steps it takes to get things done.
“If you look at the larger agencies, those with 50 or more employees, this is one of the key areas that they’re focusing on today,” said Bill. “The larger agencies are turning to WorkSmart because it allows them to be more efficient and gives them greater visibility into the health of their business and what’s happening within their business.
“What’s more, if you also take a look at the other pieces of the puzzle that we deliver, the entire technology landscape, whether it’s a rating product or carrier connectivity, you will again see a huge focus on agency efficiency. In some cases that comes down to advancements in application usability so that when a user needs to accomplish a routine task, he/she can do it more quickly, intuitively, and efficiently. We’re investing a great deal of money in that regard and helping agencies substantially.”
Vertafore’s personal lines rating product also affords agencies an opportunity to realize greater efficiencies in their operations. “From a pure efficiency standpoint, our personal lines rating system dramatically reduces the time it takes to quote new personal lines customer policies,” explained Bill. “Agencies don’t have to go to each of their carrier’s website in order to get a quote. With the rating product, they essentially enter the data once into the system and then in real time the product reaches out to all the carrier websites, gets the quotes, and brings them back into a single view for that particular client. An agency no longer needs to spend hours determining what the options are for a customer…instead in the course of minutes he/she can reach out to multiple carriers and immediately get the quotes he/she is looking for,” said Bill.
INTEGRATED, SEAMLESS RELATIONSHIP WITH CARRIERS
Another key trend is to help agencies realize a more integrated and seamless relationship with their carrier partners. “In competing effectively with direct writers, part of that involves agencies and carriers working in an environment that is seamless and responsive to client needs,” said Bill. “This involves an agency being able to get rating information easily and providing those quotes to clients while giving them various options. It’s not spread-sheeting the companies, with the capabilities of each carrier partner being reduced to just numbers. The tools available enable individuals to collaborate in a sophisticated way so that an agency can go back to a Commercial Lines client, for example, and with quite a bit of color, describe the alternatives and recommend what’s the best option -- not just based on price but based on the various components of what that carrier has to offer.”
Additionally, Vertafore’s TransactNOW solution provides agencies with the ability to connect with insurance carrier databases in real time from their agency management system. This provides more efficient agency-carrier communication, faster access to personal and commercial lines information, shorter transaction processing times, and more responsive customer service.
“When a customer calls, let’s say with a claims question, the agency through TransactNOW can access the carrier’s database to see the status of the claim,” said Bill. “The lag time between having to call the carrier and then getting back to the customer is diminished…the information needed is at the agency’s fingertips, allowing for a seamless sharing of information.”
A significant trend that has been underway for a number of years and continues to gain momentum is the shift to on-line solutions by agencies. “This may seem like old news as it’s been going on for four or five years now,” said Bill, “but we continue to see a huge move of agencies looking for on-line solutions. Basically, they’re saying, ‘we’re insurance agencies, we’re great at being insurance agencies, and that’s what we want to be… we don’t want to be technology people. We rather have you run the technology for us.’”
Vertafore’s web-based solutions shift the responsibility and operational cost of systems management, data backup, system updates, and hardware management from the agency’s team to its own. “Certainly for smaller agencies, whether you have 3, 5, 10, or 25 employees, the vast majority of them are looking to move towards host solutions,” said Bill. “But we’re also seeing a good number of companies with more than 100 users that are now saying that they would rather have us run the technology. We support either model: If customers want to run software inside their organization and their facility, we provide support, but we also support a tremendous number of on-line customers as well, and this area keeps growing.”
We also spoke with Bill about how Vertafore is helping agencies use technology to implement a multi-channel strategy to communicate with clients. “We are now giving agents the ability to offer on-line pre-quoting, so customers can visit their websites on their own time, submit some basic information, and get pre-quotes to begin engaging in the insurance process,” said Bill. “The vast majority of Personal Lines is going online to at least shop and look around, so making sure that each agency has the ability to capture those on-line ‘kickers’ or buyers on their website and pull them into the sales process is important.”
One the cornerstones of Vertafore’s long-term strategy is to provide solutions that allow agents, brokers, MGAs, and carriers to collaborate increasingly more while providing them with efficiencies to better serve customers. “We provide broad solutions to all communities and integrate those solutions together so that not only is one individual efficient in his/her piece of the puzzle but is also collaborating with the people with whom he/she works to effectively serve the customer. We think it’s very important that you’re not an island unto yourself. When we conceive solutions it’s done in a way that is beneficial to all the participants in the value chain and not from a one-sided perspective. When we sit down and design new connectivity solutions, we say to ourselves, ‘What’s important to carriers and how can we make this work for them; what’s important to agents and brokers and how we can make this work for them.’ In essence, that is how you deliver a viable solution for connectivity.”
For more information about Vertafore and its portfolio of products, please visit: http://www.vertafore.com/. You can also contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.444.4813.