The first generation of insurance portals launched in the '90s was supposed to change the insurance industry forever--from both B2B and B2C perspectives. But the reality is that they did not transform the industry and were, in fact, dismal failures. However, a number of insurance carriers are drawing valuable lessons from the painful demise of the generation-one portals, and are starting to have measurable success with new portal offerings.
For starters, the industry realized that the previous generation of portals would have to overcome a carrier/user functionality disconnect in order for the new offerings to survive. For instance, early portals were chock full of glitzy offerings, fancy logos and extras that were meant to attract users. "Successful portals in B2B have emphasized features that make it easier for the agent/broker to conduct business with the carrier," according to Andrew Jackson, general manager and chief marketing officer at InSystems (Markham, ON). "Over-featured portals may appear to have more sizzle, but the 'extras' may have little business impact."
Also, notes James Watson, president, Doculabs (Chicago), "the processes portals are intended to automate are complex, entrenched and poorly understood, all of which have resulted in the limited success with portal initiatives. Many firms experienced great success with internal HR-type portals, letting users perform basic functions, such as updating an address, or allowing them to access training documents -- fairly simple tasks with a very controlled audience," he says. "Yet with business-to-business interaction, the difficulties in implementing an effective portal solution become apparent. An array of processes need to be taken into consideration, many of which we cannot control or are difficult to change, either because of inertia or because the underlying infrastructure is fragile."
And since a portal involves complex transactions from many different parts of the enterprise, it is important to get the entire organization behind a portal initiative, points out Chuck Cornelio, executive vice president and chief information officer at Jefferson Pilot Financial (Greensboro, NC). "Integral to our success has been the fact that our marketing and IT units have maintained a solid working partnership since the inception of the initiative three years ago," he reports. "The two essentially became one team, achieving great synergies and team orientation. Essentially, our entire organization played a role in the development of the portal. From new business to distribution, contributions were made from so many different units within the company that it really got the entire organization behind the project. Senior management endorsement has also been vital."
By gaining a collective consensus from all internal stakeholders, today's insurance portals have better prospects for success than did previous incarnations, especially when the functionality actually addresses user needs, according to Gail McGiffin, associate partner, Accenture (New York). "Priority capabilities that should be offered by portals include: product and service information, access to experts, inquiry handling, claims information, and quote-to-issue for personal lines and small commercial lines for agents with high-volume with the carrier," she says. "Also, self-service offerings, including certificates of insurance, auto ID cards and certain risk management tools, should be available."
Andrea Anania, executive vice president and chief information officer, CIGNA (Philadelphia), says that the company's new portal addresses many needs of the user. "For example, since introducing our employee portal the number of users for our medical self-service tools has tripled and use of our retirement plan educational tools has doubled," because those items provide functionality that users require, she adds.
At Jefferson Pilot, Cornelio says, personalization is also very important for producers. "Not only do we provide access to forms and marketing programs today, but we are also expanding the amount of customization for our producers," he says. "The technological infrastructure we're implementing will allow users to personalize the portal with their own preferences, eliminate many redundancies in maintenance and support, and enable content to be posted more quickly."
But most of all, says InSystems Jackson, portals must provide easy-to-use functions for producers and policyholders. "Customer and partner retention is achieved by making it easier to conduct business 24/7," he says. "Internet users are demanding convenience and efficiency. We're finding that employers are demanding easy-to-navigate group insurance portals that reduce the burden on plan administrators and value self-service over price."
More information about how insurers are developing next-generation portals will appear in the February 2003 issue of Insurance & Technology, and is available at www.insurancetech.com.
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio