3 Steps Toward Becoming a Paperless Agency

This article was written by Will Jones, IA Assistant Editor, and originally published by IA Magazine.

Slowly but surely, the insurance industry is waking up to the idea that paper isn’t the only way to do business. In 2016, more than 80% of small and midsize businesses said they want to cut paper out of their business, according to a study by Device Magic.

The reasons for dumping paper are clear: It wastes money, slows down processes and diverts time away from generating new business. Moreover, paper builds up over time, and so does the cost of managing it. An organization’s paper consumption grows an average of 22% per year, which doubles the cost of storing and managing it every 3.3 years, according to Device Magic. Most astonishingly, in total, U.S. companies spend over $120 billion each year printing forms.

Agencies can implement a host of technologies to make the switch to paperless, such as e-signature, fillable PDFs, agency management systems and downloadable applications. But given the array of options out there, as well as the growing number of InsurTechs entering the increasingly crowded marketplace, the choices may seem overwhelming.

If you’re confused about how to ring in the changes, start by taking these three easy steps toward becoming a paperless agency:

Change your mindset 

Paper is going out of fashion. Even though a portion of your insurance customers may still want to receive paper documents, business expectations are changing—and you must too.

“Right now, there’s a mindset problem that’s preventing agencies from embracing or trying to implement paperless ideas in their workspace,” says Steve Anderson, insurance industry thought leader on technology, productivity and innovation, and president of the Anderson Network. “It’s what I call playing a paper mindset in a digital world.”

Change never seems natural, but it is often necessary to ensure your business doesn’t get left behind. Still, accepting that your business can do things without paper as effectively, if not more effectively, is one step. Instilling the idea throughout your agency is another.

“It starts at the top,” says Patricia Lamb, president of Select Insurance Services Agency Inc. in North Royalton, Ohio, which went paperless five years ago. “When staff sees your commitment—the owners, managers, supervisors and all the way down—that sets the bar. Out of all the people in your business, the people who lead need to be there first.”

Ask why 

The effect of asking this question is two-fold. First, it leads you to truly understand why paper still exists in your operations. Second, it helps you understand the best process for replacing it.

Anderson recommends a technique called “The 5 Whys.” This is the process of asking why five times, with each response forming the basis of the next question. “You really peel away the onion of why you’re doing something,” he explains. Of course, “the proper answer is never, ‘Because we’ve always done it that way.’”

As Lamb’s agency weened itself off paper, staff improved agency operations by questioning what they were doing. “We were scanning documents and then we were filing everything, as well,” she says. “You just have to take a step back and say: ‘OK, why are we doing two things?’”

Create new processes 

Digitalizing your files and day-to-day tasks will involve creating new processes. Without the intention to implement a new framework for your agency and staff when handling materials, such as policy documents, applications and client information, you will not easily realize the benefits of going paperless.

“It’s a matter of finding a way to scan, email, sign and file documents in a way that makes them easy to get to so you can better serve your clients,” says George Page, Jr., president of Page Insurance in Guilford, Connecticut. “Ultimately, it’s just organizing the workflow around some sort of structure that lends itself to getting the job done for your client.”

Additionally, if your agency is struggling to decide what type of software to invest in, remember: “Agency management systems are important, but I don’t think a specific one is as important as how you use it,” Page says. “Going paperless is a progression toward getting better at what you’re in business to do.”

The Next Frontier?

While becoming a paperless agency will no doubt revolutionize the way your agency operates, it could also play into an even bigger picture as big data continues to transform the insurance industry.

“We want to branch out to work with partners that our AMS will allow us to use, which is maybe going to require sharing some of our data,” Lamb says. “Then, we could become even more efficient and provide a different level of customer service to our clients.”

“For that to happen, we need to have good, solid, clean data to share, because now it’s going to go outside of our walls,” Lamb adds. “That’s where our efforts are right now—making sure our digital data is accurate for others to understand so that we can launch an effort to provide more services.”

Will Jones is IA assistant editor.

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4 Common Misconceptions About Accepting e-Payments

This article was written by Todd Sorrel, co-founder of ePayPolicy, and originally published by Agency Nation.

With 40% of online transactions happening on mobile*, one of the biggest conveniences an agency can offer to their clients is collecting premium payments online. It’s one of the simplest but most effective way to improve the overall client experience. 

As co-founder of ePayPolicy, every day I’m talking with agency decision-makers across the country and field the many questions about offering an e-pay option.

Currently, there are many electronic payment misconceptions across the industry, but today I want to dispel the top four so you can see how simple it is to meet your clients where they want you to be, digitally.

Checks work

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?”

On the surface, accepting check as the only form of payment may not seem broken, but sometimes what’s broken isn’t always apparent.

Take typewriters; they work great and can still be used today. But why don’t agencies use them? That’s a no-brainer. It’s easier and way more efficient to communicate and do business with a computer.

Like typewriters, accepting e-payments is a similar transition.

Sure, paper checks work, but the cost of paper-check processing is hidden: you have to bill your client, you wait for the check to arrive, you have to wait for the check to clear, and you have to endure all the excuses that come with them—slow pays, partial pays, not filled out or signed, no non-business hours processing, etc., which can make the process of managing them feel about as slow as molasses running uphill in the winter.

On top of the potential hassle of check processing, your personal and commercial insureds want the convenience of online payments, including credit card and ACH (automated clearing house) options.

And last but not least, the cost of processing paper checks is a hidden drag on your bottom line.  There are various studies out there that estimate the cost of check processing, which varies from a few bucks up to $20. A good middle of the road estimate by the Aberdeen Group places the cost at $7.78—5x more than e-payment processing.

With a digital payment option, you can cost-efficiently fix your agency’s hidden ‘broken’ revenue leak lost to check payment processing and managing related hassles.

I can’t afford to eat the 3% processing fee

In insurance, where most revenue is commission-driven, you can’t afford to give up 3 percent just to accommodate a client wanting to rack up points and miles.

We get it.

That’s why, with our system, all fees are passed through to the payer. Plain and simple.

You can offer your clients two e-payment options, with a 3.25% fee on a credit card transaction or $3 per ACH. Plus, clients aren’t the only ones who appreciate the convenience of online pay. Accountants do too because we only net-fund the amount you are seeking from the payer. This amount lines up with your outstanding agency invoice, so there’s no sweep later for transaction fees. In a nutshell, it’s simple funding.

Onboarding online payment technology is a nightmare

Raise your hand if you’ve heard from others that automating your online payment system with your local bank is an absolute pain to onboard and implement.

Or your concerned that tech implementations are hard on your agency staff.

Or you don’t want the hassle of accepting credit card information or dealing with swipe machines at your office.

You can toss those concerns out the window. We’ve streamlined our online sign-up process to just five steps, so getting started with our system is the easiest thing you’ll do today. Plus, there’s no set up fees, no cancellation fees and no contracts. And if you need a hand, you can call in and speak to a person about getting started or hit our chat window—whatever works for you.

Bottom line: There’s no tech to onboard, no added fees to you and no contracts for our service. It couldn’t be simpler.

Online payments can be unsecure

We know that you want zero liability associated with accepting online payments, and we defend against your risks by eliminating them, in various ways.

When you empower your clients with online payment options, you eliminate the paper shuffling that comes from having to manage client’s sensitive payment data via email or phone. No more encrypting, collecting or exposure to their data.

At the same time, your agency-branded payment page is hosted by ePayPolicy. Payments are run through ePayPolicy’s system, so there’s no sensitive data touching your agency’s system. And when integrated with your preferred AMS system, everyone benefits from an extra layer of security through double-authentication.

Security is our top priority and we’re proud to be PCI level 1 compliant, which is the highest level of e-commerce security certification required by the payment card industry. This is a third-party audit we go through on an annual basis.

Meet your clients where they are

Taking online payments may seem optional today, but there’s no getting around the fact that we’re living in an on-demand, get-it-now digital economy.

Why put a potential wedge between you and your client when you can add an easy and fast digital payment option? There’s no better time to meet your client’s expectation today than with online payments.

* Google Analytics, U.S., based on data from Google Analytics accounts that have authorized Google to share aggregated website data, June–Sept. 2017.


7 Ways to Maximize the Opportunities of Private Flood Insurance

This article was written by John Putnam and originally published by Independent Agents & Brokers of America, Inc.

When it comes to reevaluating the flood exposure, agents will need to change their entire approach to selling this coverage.

Rather than just offering coverage to those in “higher-risk” flood zones, agents will need a continuum of options to offer to clients, as well as a new narrative in which history is not the only criteria for determining whether someone needs this protection—and the private flood insurance market will be an important part of the solution.

In the past year, three separate processes have expanded the private flood insurance market.

First, ISO filed a standalone personal flood policy, approved by many states, which, when added to ISO’s commercial flood policy from the prior year, provides insurers and agents with “standard” policies with many more coverage options than the traditional NFIP policies.

Second, some company partners have filed their own proprietary forms to provide this critical coverage for more of their customers.

Finally, in January 2019, federal banking regulators issued new rules that allow financial institutions to accept private flood insurance policies for federally backed mortgages as required by Biggert-Waters. While this took considerable time to finalize, the rule is a critical element in advancing private flood insurance.

Is it time for you and your agency to take advantage of these important changes? Here are a few steps to consider undertaking to develop your agency’s capacity for maximizing the opportunities of private flood insurance:

Acquaint yourself with the new ISO flood forms and any company proprietary flood policies. Your review should include all eligibility, underwriting and rating rules applicable to these policies.

Reach out to your carrier partners to determine their appetites and plans to provide flood coverage.

Discuss with your carrier partners how to value unusual flood exposures. Make sure to touch on the vast array of coverages indirectly related to flood insurance, including business income, extra expense, additional living expense and more.

Set realistic goals to expand your flood production over the rest of the year. Consider adopting the recent “moon shot” goal of doubling your flood policy production in the next five years.

Share your successes with the industry. Report policy hurdles to your state’s technical affairs committee.

Obtain the hazard reports filed by your community and region to learn how they describe the local flood risk.

Become a go-to local flood consultant for not only your clients, but also your local press and emergency management departments.

How do you think we can make flood insurance more meaningful and practical for clients? Share your thoughts.

John Putnam is a consultant for Putnam Assurance & Risk Services in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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3 Reasons Why Agents Lose Clients

Attraction, acquisition and retention are the three legs of the client continuum stool. Agents tend to focus their energy and resources on the front two legs—attraction and acquisition—because they believe that once a prospect becomes a client, their relationship will likely last a decade or more.

Supporting that belief are industry retention rates, which continue to hover around 87%, according to the 2018 Future One Agency Universe Study. But unfortunately, these numbers are just part of the retention story. Buyer surveys tell a different tale—one that smart agents should heed.

Business owners are not happy with the majority of their professional service providers. Complacency, failure to provide insight into new and emerging risks, and the inability to grasp the unique challenges facing them frustrate today’s decision-makers.

Surprisingly, these same issues also contribute to the high retention rate many agents enjoy. Why? Because most prospective agents are rarely skilled in addressing these issues and, as a result, the buyer falls into the status-quo mindset that their current provider is good enough.

But clients leave, and when they do, it hurts financially and emotionally. Often, agents are caught off guard, believing that the relationship was strong because no issues had been discussed.

The goal should be more than retention—it should be retention with intention. Here are three reasons why clients leave, and what you can do about it:

Commoditization

Out of all the reasons agents lose clients, this one is the most predictable. Many buyers believe all agents and carriers are the same. This belief is reinforced by agents who are unwilling or just don’t know how to lead prospects to a new way of thinking during the sales process.

If the buyer isn’t shown that the commodity mindset is harmful to their business and prevents them from getting what they really want, they will remain a commodity buyer—and that means they’ll be easily persuaded to leave their incumbent agent for a lower price, because that is how they are measuring the relationship’s value.

To avoid the commodity trap, agents must master a sales process that disconnects their value from price and leads their prospects through an approach that focuses on risk identification, mitigation and management. This strategy will yield far greater value for the client and ultimately loyalty for the agent.

Complacency

This occurs when processes aren’t in place to prevent it. Complacency arises not because agents are lazy, but because they do not have a process for remaining engaged with clients outside of renewal time.

To effectively combat complacency, agents must establish a front-end sales strategy that assesses their prospects’ risks and threats. Then, by leading prospects through risk assessments and gaining agreements on how to address issues, agents can develop an action plan.

As the framework for client engagement, the action plan holds both the agent and the client accountable and becomes the antidote to complacency. Quarterly meetings to assess processes and address previously discovered risks, coupled with a mid-year review to identify new and emerging risks, not only prevents complacency, but also guards against competition from other agencies.

Change

The biggest threat to losing a client is when the buyer or key decision maker changes. A new buyer within an existing client relationship can pose a significant threat to maintaining and growing the relationship because they had nothing to do with selecting the incumbent agent and therefore have limited loyalty.

In fact, many new buyers try to prove themselves and their value by assessing existing relationships to determine if they are effective and efficient. In addition to their personal agenda, they have an obligation to their company to ensure the resources for which they are now responsible are being protected.

Too often, agents are defensive when a new buyer enters the picture. They struggle to convey the value they have brought to the relationship, often because that value is not part of a formal, documented ongoing action plan.

Upon learning of a new buyer, agents must reach out and bring them close. The first conversation should assess the goals, objectives and priorities of their new client—not extol the benefits they and their agency bring to the table. Then, they can incorporate any new goals into the existing action plan and start executing programs to meet them.

Losing a client is never easy. But implementing strategies that help build ongoing, meaningful and measurable relationships will limit unpleasant surprises and the unexpected loss of good clients.

This artilce was originally written by Susan Toussaint and published by Independent Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. Susan Toussaint, partner and co-founder of Oceanus Partners, provides agents and brokers with strategies that help them more effectively pique the curiosity of business owners and decision-makers and lead them away from the flawed process of bidding and quoting insurance, toward a more effective client engagement strategy.


Is your agency data driven?

The average adult makes 35,000 conscious decisions in any given day.  It’s true! Don’t believe me – I didn’t believe it either until I found multiple credible sources citing the same crazy number!

Think about that 35,000 decisions.

I did the math, and in order to make 35,000 decisions in one day we are deciding something every 1.85 seconds (provided you sleep an average of 6 hours a day.) That’s crazy!

Have you ever thought about what is driving your decisions? 

The only way to make that many decisions in a day is to use your instinct, so the real question is what is driving and informing your instinct? 

We all know that we live in a world of overloaded information.  The amount of data that we all consume through social media, internet, TV, ads, and other sources is exponentially higher than it was even 5 years ago.  This is fueled by the sheer volume of hours we spend in front of screens of all types and the wider access to various data sources that is created by that behavior.

So we have access to massive amounts of data and we are making an astronomical number of decisions – but have you ever stopped to think about whether the data you are consuming is the data that you need to inform your decisions?  Do you even know where to go to find the data that you would need to make an informed decision?

In so many instances, I believe that while the data we need exists – it is just not packaged in a way that we can consume easily and quickly to help inform our decisions. This is changing rapidly in many industries, but in some that change is a slow and tedious process.

OIA recognized that we had access to data that could help our agents make informed decisions and our unique position in the marketplace allows us to see a different view, and that collective view could be very helpful to agents when they are making decisions about their agency. 

For instance, knowing what the fastest growing agencies' mix of business looks like could help you decide about your product mix strategy.  Same goes for your carrier strategy, staffing philosophy, compensation structure or even your agency’s philosophy on market access. OIA has invested in a data analytics team to organize the data that we have into meaningful insights that agents can use to act on in their own agencies.  The data that we have is specific to the Ohio marketplace – not a national study, so the insights will be incredibly personal to you.   

We know that your time is precious and there are many decisions that need to be made in order to continue to compete in the changing marketplace.  Consumer needs are different, carrier needs are different, and our agents must change as well by investing in new areas, rethinking technology, marketing, staffing, etc. In order to change with our consumers and continue to provide customers with the advice that they need to get the best coverage will require change, and we are here to help inform your decisions as you make that journey.

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