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Single Sign-on Viewed as Biggest Tech Challenge for Agencies

Robert Regis Hyle | August 04, 2014

Independent insurance agencies face significant challenges, particularly when it comes to technology, but the biggest voice for agencies facing technology issues believes single sign-on for carrier websites is the biggest issue facing these insurers.

Ron Berg, executive director of the Agency Council on Technology, points out it is not just an agency issue, though. Single sign-on offers great benefits to carriers as well, in the form of fewer password/ID calls from agencies.

“The plethora of IDs and passwords that are out there for any given carrier to their agency and the sharing of IDs and passwords is one important issue,” says Berg. “The high percentage of password calls that any carrier gets just for that issue is something the industry has to work on as well.”

There are different flavors of the single sign-on issue and Berg maintains three entities need to work together on this—carriers, agencies, and technology providers—to reach an agreement on what is best for everyone.  The best answer thus far, according to Berg, comes from the ID Federation in the form of a product called SignOn Once.

“As SignOn Once is adopted and implementations reach critical mass with the carrier partners and with the vendors, that is the solution the industry will get to when it comes to IDs and passwords,” he says. “It creates benefits not only for the carriers in almost wiping out calls for ID problems, it provides far greater security in that an authenticated user in an agency cannot take that ID when they leave that agency and go to another agency. De-provisioning happens immediately. This is the single highest initiative in our industry. It’s where we’ve needed to be for a while and is a major pain point with agents. SignOn Once provides a template for all participating carriers and vendors and one template process for agents to use.”

New to the Job

Berg has been involved in ACT for the better part of 13 years. Initially, he represented Met Life Auto & Home as a member of some of the technology-based work groups. When Jeff Yates retired as executive director late last year, he turned to Berg as a candidate for the position of executive director.

“At MetLife, I was the advocate for the voice of the independent agents,” he says. “Now, I’m the advocate for the independent agents for technology for the entire industry.”

There are some technology avenues the independent agents need to come up to speed, according to Berg. Carriers have provided functionality to improve the agents’ ability to service customers and quote prospective clients, but there is a great deal to be done from more optimized use of their agency management systems with tools such as business intelligence and analytics and on the front end with the use of electronic signatures and the marketing tools that are available such as tying social media into their business process, making their agency websites optimized for mobile, and potentially offering mobile apps.

Agents have to reach out to prospective clients in the way clients are looking for and expecting,” says Berg.

Berg isn’t sure how much carriers will be able to help independent agents from the mobile aspect. Many carriers offer a mobile app specifically for their customers, and agents want to keep their customers in the conversation, continue to be a trusted partner, and maintain touch points with them.

“Having individual carrier apps goes against that to a degree,” he says. “There are those of us that are engrained around our workflows and around email. You might not classify that as the cutting edge trend of using your phone or social media for everything, but we have to understand the majority of the upcoming customer base is going to be centered on mobility.”

ACT works with the ACORD e-signature community collaboratively to make sure there is a consistent message going out to the agents. They are putting transparency around what the carriers are offering from an e-signature standpoint.

“There are some carriers that are looking to develop a proprietary or a co-opted solution,” says Berg. “A number have come out and said they will accept e-signatures from agents in whatever format they want if the agents follow some carrier guidelines. Insurance vendors are integrating e-signature solutions on their platforms with various vendors. There are agents looking for clarity around all of that to understand what’s going on. We are trying to put as much clarity around this for the carriers and the vendors so agents can make intelligent decisions about ROI, turnaround time, and improved close ratios.”

Security in Place

ACT works proactively to communicate with its members on security issues such as data breach, system errors, and the need to be cautious around viruses, malware, and holes. ACT has a security and privacy work group that has been active with a strategy around providing a refreshed best practices. The work group also is looking at current carrier and agency agreements to find out what technology holes there are in those agreements.

“Agreements even five years ago didn’t contemplate things like data breach, e-signatures, and a number of things, so we are finalizing an updated recommendation on what those agreements should look like to include the emerging technology issues,” says Berg. “Between industry advocacy as far as knowledge on security and privacy issues and a best practice document that would cover a lot of the issues, we are updating technology agreements to provide some width and breadth of assistance to agents on those lines.”

Berg reports it is not difficult to convince agents the importance of security and privacy, but what needs to be done is to provide the agencies with more information.

“There are all these things they know they need to address,” says Berg. “It is so easy to say they’ll look at it later or there is so much information they don’t know where to start, so it gets delayed, but agents are well aware there are security and privacy threats out there. There’s just so much that agents have to plan for and address. I can appreciate how difficult that is for them.”

The Future Agency

Berg believes in five years many independent agencies will become less brick and mortar and will respond to the needs of the incoming workforce who want more work/life balance and more flexibility.

“The agent of the future is going to have to be more mobile,” he says. “We’re going to have to tap into the ability and access a larger array of data that’s available from state and local databases, and from providers that give background and analysis on what’s available on individuals and provide that BI. We’re going to have to, as an industry, react to some of the changing things that will impact our industry—things like the Google driverless car once it becomes more of a reality. We’ll see things like the Amazon drones. What does that mean for commercial lines insurance?”

Where agencies are going in the next five years as far as automation and technology advancement is going to affect every aspect of personal lines and commercial lines, explains Berg.

“We’re going to see far more acceleration and expectation of the end user and the customer experience when and where they expect it,” he says. “The agencies that are fully automated and mobile enabled and have active social and web presence are going to be the ones that get the business.”

 

 


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