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MSA Builds Bridge To Agents

MSA Group uses HostBridge technology to automate policy change requests from independent agents.

Although Keene, NH-based Main Street America (MSA) Group's application allowing independent agents to electronically submit automobile policy change requests had been successful, it had some drawbacks, including a cumbersome process to make simple changes to the technology that it runs on.

So when it came time for MSA (and its National Grange Mutual Insurance unit) to expand the agent-focused policy change request (PCR) capability to homeowners' policies, the P&C insurer decided it needed to improve its technology. "Every time we changed a format on the screen-scraped page, we had to make a major change to user-defined tables," says Marty Haas, manager of applications analysis and programming. "Also, the response time for many users was slow. We wanted to get the response time down for the homeowners application," he reports.

The existing manual homeowners PCR process also was slow and inefficient. "Currently, it is a paper-driven process," Haas says. "Agents mail or fax us PCRs," such as address changes and name changes, "and the information would go to the data entry department," where the data entry staff keyed the information into the company's policy administration system. "The entire process could take as long as two weeks. We want the agent to be able to do it on the Web so we could process the change in our batch system that same night."

Realizing the existing screen-scraping product, a middle-tier, packaged application that scraped CICS application data off an emulation 3270 screen, could not meet the company's needs for homeowners' policies, in April 2001 MSA began to look for other solutions. By September it had chosen HostBridge Technology (Stillwater, OK), a software provider that specializes in enabling CICS applications with XML.

MSA chose HostBridge because the vendor's technology "was straightforward and easy to work with," and it met requirements, including ease of maintenance, an approach that was flexible in terms of accommodating changes, and performance.

However, since MSA was primarily a COBOL shop, it needed to develop expertise for HostBridge's XML and Java technology. "Most of our developers work on the mainframe," says Srini Marreddy, application architect. "We took 10 people and started training them on HTTP, XML and Java."

MSA developed the Web-enablement for the homeowners' policy change request application on IBM's (Armonk, NY) WebSphere in Java.

"HostBridge is more like a J2EE connector technology that sends a request and gets a response," Marreddy says. "The combination of HTTP and XML made all the difference in the world. It made our developers' lives very easy and we have zero maintenance."

Improved Service

Although MSA has not yet tabulated cost savings associated with the homeowners' PCR technology, Haas estimates that once the insurer reaches its goal of 50 percent of PCRs submitted electronically, the company should see substantial savings. "Once more agents start using the automated process, they will see improved service," he says. "The long-term effect is that we may have to do far less data entry." Currently, the auto PCR application processes about 50 percent of the submissions and some agents do as many as 70 to 80 percent of PCRs through the system, reports Haas. Ultimately, MSA plans to move the automobile PCR system to the HostBridge solution, but no timeframe has been set for that project.


Case Study Closeup


Main Street America Group, Keane, NH, $600 million in premium.


Personal and commercial P&C insurance.


HostBridge (Stillwater, OK); IBM (Armonk, NY) WebSphere.


Allow agents to submit policy change requests electronically.

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

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