In the face of intensifying competitive pressures and the increased importance of investment products within the life insurance business, Halifax-based Maritime Life Assurance Co. decided it needed to improve the flow of information to its Canada-wide, 6,000-strong independent financial advisor distribution force.
Maritime had created InfoCentre, a client/server application that delivered product and policy-level information to support the needs of that force, but distributing and supporting the application was becoming onerous. "For each new release you literally had to be stamping CDs, getting them distributed to your user base, and then putting support procedures in place," says Gerald MacNeil, InfoCentre project manager, Maritime Life. "This was often challenging because of the diversity of computer systems users would have at their locations,"MacNeil notes.
Maritime believed that by converting InfoCentre to a Web-based application it could simplify maintenance as well as provide a more efficient, powerful and scalable information conduit to its sales force. "By having policy-level information readily available to financial advisors, they can spend more time selling," MacNeil says. Maritime contracted e-business solutions firm Qunara Inc. (Winnipeg) a year ago to vet Web reporting tools and to direct the redesign and implementation of InfoCentre. Then, "based on simplicity of implementation, cost and some other considerations, we chose Crystal Decisions' (Palo Alto, CA) Crystal Reports 8.5," MacNeil explains.
Converting InfoCentre was a "major implementation," according to MacNeil. "Because of all the back-end systems that were feeding InfoCentre, we couldn't maintain the two systems in parallel. So it was a major cut-over from our old client/server system to our new Web-based one." The project required a team of 25 to 30 people, 40 percent from Qunara and other vendors, he relates.
Five distinct legacy back-end systems had to be tied to InfoCenter's database, including those of Aetna Canada, which Maritime purchased in 2000. "Pulling together that data from all those legacy systems and getting it to a consistent format to provide a consistent look and feel to the advisors was a challenge," MacNeil says. The resulting Sybase (Dublin, CA) ASE 11.5 database has a capacity in the eight- to 10-gigabyte range, according to MacNeil.
One unanticipated problem accompanied the December 2001 launch. "We would have been fine on most technical issues if we'd only had the advisor acceptance rate we'd anticipated," MacNeil recounts. During the launch, Maritime had user response at nearly four times the expected rate. "It was kind of a nice problem to have, really," he continues, explaining that the system was able to accommodate to those numbers by late January 2002.
The Web-based InfoCentre gives advisors access to Maritime's entire product line, and enables them to create PDFs of customers' statements on the fly, as well as giving them a query capacity for lead generation. In addition to making Maritime more agent-friendly, the solution has enabled the firm to reduce IT costs and cut eight to 10 full-time employees in the call center, according to MacNeil.
Maritime is working on enhancements to the Web-based system. "We're going to consolidate all the information from a customer's view and expand the user base to give customers direct access to their policy information," MacNeil says. "We envision it will be particularly beneficial for our investment product policy holders." A further project will enable both financial advisors and customers to execute transactions such as fund transfers and address changes.
Case Study Closeup
Maritime Life Insurance ($14.1 billion CD in assets), Halifax.
LINES OF BUSINESS:
Individual life, living benefits and investment products.
Qunara (Winnipeg) e-business services; Crystal Decisions' (Palo Alto, CA) Crystal Reports 8.5.
Move to e-enterprise reporting to support distribution channel.
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