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Nick O'Connor
Nick O'Connor
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Arbella Enables e-Submission

Boston-based Arbella Insurance taps AgencyPort agent/carrier interface products to move from hard-copy to paperless policy submissions.

ArbellaInsurance Group ($1.2 billion total assets) in just two years has made the leap from hard-copy to paperless policy submissions. Until recently, Arbella's 630 active independent agencies submitted the bulk of new policies and endorsements by hard copy and fax, according to Chris Steward, Arbella's CIO. "We did have what we called an 'upload' process, but it was a kludgey thing that wasn't adopted much by our agents," he relates. "The most we ever got was about a 25 percent adoption. It was poorly designed for users."

Steward explains that the Quincy, Mass.-based P&C carrier's Massachusetts auto PPA (private passenger auto) line of business operates on a legacy system that includes COBOL code from the late 1970s. In 2004, Arbella began to consider vendor solutions for replacing the legacy system. "There wasn't really a crisis," Steward points out. "It was recognition that this is the direction in which the world is heading, and we need to get there sooner or later."

Changing Directions

After an initial screening of a half-dozen vendor offerings, however, Arbella failed to find a suitable solution, so in early 2005 the carrier's thinking changed. Its early goal had been to replace systems one line of business at a time, according to Steward. But in consultation with agents and agent advisers, Arbella "decided to attack the front end first," he says. This change was due to both a realization of the agents' primacy and a desire to deliver functionality in all lines of business. By revamping the system "left to right," as Steward puts it -- starting with the agent management portion and then making changes, in respective order, in the Web server, Web application and database tiers -- the restructuring would reach the legacy system and mainframe last.

Arbella had already established a relationship with Boston-based AgencyPort through an earlier, unrelated engagement, Steward says. And AgencyPort's technology directly addressed the project's biggest technical issue -- the integration of agency management systems and the Web site. Also, AgencyPort understood agency management systems, according to Steward. So the carrier hired AgencyPort to help rebuild the agent/carrier interface for electronic submissions.

The goal was to improve both efficiency and quality of submissions, Steward relates. Specifically, a paperless, seamless means for agents to submit new business would save time. The integrated link between agency management technology and Arbella's system would automatically fill in data fields, eliminating data entry and most carrier-caused errors.

The approach was to incrementally deliver functionality to agents. The rollout (which is continuing) eventually will replace the entire infrastructure and operating software, Steward says. At this point, the new Web front end is feeding the legacy system.

The Web server layer and application server layer are both running Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) Windows on Intel (Santa Clara, Calif.) boxes, which were purchased for the implementation; the database runs Unix. Arbella also has integrated into the new front end third-party services that, for example, automatically validate VIN numbers and plug them into the submission package.

In December 2006, Arbella brought its biggest line of business, Massachusetts auto, into the fold of electronic submissions. Initial expense savings became apparent almost immediately, Steward says. In 2007, the percentage of new business coming in by electronic submission has grown each month, from January's 25 percent to 75 percent in April. Steward says he expects the surge to level off at around 90 percent.

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