As the oldest insurance company west of the Allegheny Mountains, Cincinnati Equitable Companies, Inc. (CECI, founded in 1826, $50 million in annual premium), is proud of its past. But it also understands that competing with national P&C carriers into the future requires providing competitive levels of service, economically, to its independent distribution force.
CECI decided in 1998 that the way to do that was to build an agency portal interface to support and allow branding for CECI's two Cincinnati-based subsidiaries, Cincinnati Equitable and Lakeland Insurance, as well as its Southern Michigan Insurance Co. (Marshall, MI) unit. "Our objective was to find a way to pass more of the servicing onto agents without having to raise our costs significantly," says Terry Brown, vice president, information systems.
Not having the capability in-house to perform the task, CECI turned to local consulting firms, first in 1999 and then in 2000-each time without achieving its objectives. "We hit two vendors in a row who didn't understand the insurance business," Brown laments.
Third Time Lucky
Selling a third consulting firm to senior management wasn't easy, Brown recalls, but Oak Brook, IL-based IBS arrived in November 2001 with domain expertise and apersuasive presentation. "Instead of it being a one-sided IBS talk with management just sitting back and listening, IBS went through an exercise with the whole group regarding what each executive was looking for," she says.
By the time work began in December, the portal had been designed to achieve agent service improvements including extension of the carrier's Applied Systems (University Park, IL) Diamond system for real-time policy, billing and claims inquiry; online payments (via credit card and EFT); claims reporting and inquiry; and management reports, according to Brown. It would also provide business process optimization by extending workflow to agents, thus eliminating re-keying of data into multiple systems and reducing costs associated with phone/fax and mail.
In December 2001, IBS began the first phase of work on the agency portal, which included providing access to policy information, and the capability to print generic forms from an online resource library. By April 2002, the agency portal development was complete, although not all policies were immediately available. "We were held back by our internal structure because we were moving data from one Diamond system to another," Brown recounts. CECI went live with the new Web-enabled, N-tier architecture (Diamond 4.0) system in 2000 and began converting all policies over from the old (3.5) system.
Over the summer of 2002 IBS completed a second phase, which included real-time underwriting and agency management reports and the ability to view and print specific policy-related documents.
CECI is currently piloting two rating and quoting options, one to quote directly from the site, and one for agents who prefer to use third-party software. "IBS has implemented middleware to upload that business and convert it to ACORD XML," Brown relates. To accommodate CECI to the Diamond system's move to .NET architecture, "IBS will develop all future pieces of our system in .NET," she adds.
CECI has spent about $350,000 so far and expects to have paid a total of $500,000. Factoring savings in software licensing, service efficiencies, printing and mailing costs, the portal "will have paid for itself by the end of 2004," Brown asserts. Agents have been "thrilled" with the portal so far, she says. "Usage increases monthly, and our field reps report only positive comments."
Case Study Closeup
Cincinnati Equitable Companies, Cincinnati, $50 million in annual premium.
LINES OF BUSINESS:
Preferred and specialty auto, property; life and health insurance.
Applied Systems' Diamond 4.0 policy processing system; IBS (Oak Brook, IL) consulting and development services.
Create an agency interface portal.
Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio