Insurers are challenged with providing policies at the lowest possible production cost, and customers expect the same service from any carrier, whether it's a national operational or a regional carrier. Executives at Worchester, Mass.-based Allmerica Financial found a solution to the challenge by implementing an agent portal.
In September 2003, then-new CEO Fred Eppinger decided to grow Allmerica Financial's ($3.2 billion in assets) property/casualty business. To do that, however, the carrier had to improve the efficiency of its operations, according to Mike Clifton, Allmerica vice president for information technology.
"We wanted to give agents much better tools so they could write policies using as much straight-through processing as possible," Clifton says. "We wanted a way for them to quickly write policies without our [executives'] direct involvement," which would drive costs down, he notes.
The first step was deciding to use existing IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) WebSphere portal technology - which Allmerica had acquired three years earlier for use elsewhere in the company - for the agent portal. The application enables user customization through application program interface (API) technology. But that type of customization requires programming knowledge and significant development time. Allmerica needed a tool set that would enable management to customize the WebSphere-based portal quickly and easily in order to allow agents to select different plan features (e.g., coverage amount, deductibles, etc.) and design and deliver policies for customers via a centralized, automated system, Clifton relates.
"The two biggest drivers were reusability and time to market," Clifton says. "We wanted something that we could work on once and reuse across all of our lines of business."
Management chose the Bowstreet Portlet Factory from Tewksbury, Mass.-based Bowstreet in March 2004 to develop the agent portal, which was launched in July. Allmerica agents now have a single source to write, process and endorse policies, rather than the three to four systems that most insurance companies use, Clifton says.
The Bowstreet technology and related services cost Allmerica a little less than 1 percent of its $100 million IT budget, relates Clifton, who adds that agents gained a 5-to-1 advantage in terms of efficiency - supported by the new portal, agents need one-fifth the time that they needed before to handle questions. That efficiency gain, he says, was a major reason that Allmerica's P&C sales doubled in the last year.
Using the tools also saved Allmerica $1 million in development costs, Clifton adds. The technology enabled Allmerica to build the portal in four months, whereas using API technology would have taken about 16 months, he estimates.
The portal not only makes current agents more productive, it also lures new agents to carry Allmerica product lines, Clifton continues. Independent agents want to work with companies that provide them with the tools to be the most efficient because it gives them the opportunity to make the most money, he contends.
Allmerica's success with Bowstreet has prompted it to add the vendor's Management Dashboard - which gives managers an overview of business that agents are writing via the portal - and examine Bowstreet marketing applications, which Clifton says "are worth considering."
Case Study Profile
Allmerica Financial (Worchester, Mass.; $3.2 billion in assets).
Lines Of Business
Personal and commercial property and casualty, variable life.
Bowstreet Portlet Factory from Bowstreet (Tewksbury, Mass.).
Provide agents with a single portal to write policies and service customers quickly and efficiently.