What Makes the Perfect Portal?
by Karl Greenlaw, President and CEO of Brovada
It seems like every six months or so the insurance industry starts hearing about the “next big thing,” the silver bullet that will make carriers more productive, agents able to write more new business, and claims easier to handle. So far, none of the “next big things” have turned out to be the silver bullet they were originally purported to be, and they soon morph from silver bullet into over-used buzzword.
It wasn’t too long ago that portals were touted as the next big thing, but poor planning, lack of training for users, and capabilities that just didn’t measure up to expectations made agents resistant to using them. To some, “portal” became something of a dirty word. Similar to outsourcing a couple of years ago, portals fell out of favor in spite of the promise that the technology, and more importantly the idea behind portals, would become more useful and usable for all parties.
Unlike outsourcing, which experienced a backlash largely due to its combination with off-shoring, portals have continued to evolve, and today the perfect portal is within reach. Let’s explore what makes the perfect portal a little further. Today, the perfect portal is actually a portal alternative with considerable capabilities.
A portal alternative sits outside the insurance company and agency management systems. It is not owned by a single insurance company or agency, but instead is developed and maintained by a third-party. Such an alternative system can potentially offer agents single sign-on capabilities for multiple insurance company interfaces, while providing branding and customization opportunities for individual insurance companies.
Virtually invisible to the agent and capable of processing multiple lines of business for several insurance companies at a time, a portal alternative:
- Integrates easily with all the major agency management systems, as well as with existing insurance company policy and claim systems and portals;
- Utilizes an easy-to-understand and use, simple, intuitive navigation;
- Processes new business transactions in less than minute;
- Provides conversion functionality and sup-ports book transfers from agencies;
- Can accept a delta of the policy change from the agency system or the entire image;
- Allows for consumer to insurer quoting and binding from a direct writer and agent based model;
- Has the ability to process download data in batch and real-time, with or without the need to utilize solutions such as Ivans;
- Supports industry standards, such as ACORD and ISO; and
- Is fully capable of processing an endorsement upload.
The perfect “portal,” or portal alternative, for lack of a better name, has the flexibility necessary to add additional value and functionality. It allows for the comparison of the insurance company and agent records by the agent prior to submission, and it enables agents and insurance companies to move away from the transactional model inherent to most portals available to the insurance market today.
The future is not in portals, but in the next evolution of portals, and for once, agencies may well be sitting in the driver’s seat. As the main distribution channel for the majority of the industry’s carriers, agencies must start requiring the insurance companies with which they work on a daily basis implement portal alternatives for ease of doing business. The message is that without this technology, carriers risk losing top producers, losing business to competitors that offer portal alternatives, or losing the efficiency game to the directs.
In Canada, some insurance companies are already moving in this direction by changing existing portals to work as portal alternatives. Other insurance companies are enhancing existing portals by incorporating real-time connectivity capabilities. These capabilities are critical for endorsements and new business uploads in particular, and insurance companies utilizing portal alternatives are beginning to reap the benefits.
While endorsements using this model have not gone live yet in Canada, it is expected to happen this year, and Canadian agent associations are heavily pushing the case with the insurers. Further, preliminary reports indicate agencies using portal alternatives for new business upload are saving up to two days each month, and that new business transactions can be processed in less than a minute. Transactions that take a minute or less to process compared to those that take three minutes or more could be the difference between profit and loss.
In this instance, it seems the Canadian insurance market may have a lead on the U.S. Perhaps the proof is in the pudding so to speak. U.S.-based agents are undoubtedly experiencing the same challenges with the portals that caused this transformation to occur north of the border. It is just a matter of time until this streamlined upload process makes its way into the U.S. Will your company lead the pack, or get left behind?