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Creating strong, ongoing and dynamic customer relationships—and using those relationships to grow the business—has been an elusive goal for many insurers.

Creating strong, ongoing and dynamic customer relationships—and using those relationships to grow the business—has been an elusive goal for many insurers. However, Des Moines-based Principal Financial Group has tapped into the promise on e-business to achieve just that goal; and in recognition of its success, the company was named winner of the 2003 Insurance Innovators Award, sponsored by InSystems, Celent Communications and Insurance & Technology to recognize outstanding use of Internet technologies to improve business relationships. The Principal Financial Group received the Insurance Innovators Award at the IASA Annual Educational Conference & Business Show earlier this week.

Among the criteria for determining this year's winner were the following: led development of new products/processes around the Internet; led use of the Internet to improve relationships with customers, distribution channel partners and regulators; initiated use of the Internet to stimulate new business opportunities; and, achieved cost reductions and productivity gains through Internet-based processes.

The Principal Financial Group ( launched an innovative online process in 2002 to increase retirement rollover close rates. To accomplish this, the company presented its customers with the right options and choices at the optimum time for the customers to consider the rollover, increasing close rates and revenue. Keenly understanding its customers' apprehension about Web-based applications, the Principal architected the site to ensure ease of use. Customers are able to review and approve applications electronically using signature-ready forms available within a secure area of the Principal Web site.

Since launching the Online Rollover process in April 2002 the Principal has realized a 29 percent improvement in "good order" applications and a 16 percent improvement in close ratios. Additionally, the company reduced the application close time from 12 to 15 days using traditional mail to 4.6 days using the electronic application.

The initiative was led by Doug Fick, second vice president, e-business and CRM. The team included Kristin Gibson, Paul Germain, Lisa Howard, Kurt Zimmermann, Stacey Frett, Matt Keller, Darla Al-Mazroa, Kelly Stokes, Melinda Dabney, Shelley Winchel, Andrea Gossman, Ben Lors, David Kinser and Liz Hamer. Fick and Gibson were on hand at IASA to accept the award from InSystem's David Miller and I&T's Kathy Burger.

Two runners-up were also identified by the judging panel. Safeco,, which provides insurance and financial products through independent insurance agents and financial advisors, was cited for its E*S*P initiative, an XML-based technology that allows insurance agents to quote and issue small-business policies online in about five minutes. VSP,, a major provider of eyecare benefits coverage, was noted for its site that provides online claim and authorization processing, resulting in cost reduction and improved relationships with constituents.

To submit an entry for the Insurance Innovators Award to be awarded in 2004, visit InSystems' Web site, The application deadline for next year's award is April 16, 2004.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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