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Shelby/Vesta Regains Agent Loyalty

Insurance carrier puts policy management in the hands of its agents, thanks to LegaSuite tool.

Insurance carrier puts policy management in the hands of its agents, thanks to LegaSuite tool.

Independent agents working with Shelby/Vesta Insurance (Birmingham, Ala., $2.04 billion in assets) were once tasked with having to fax or mail transaction requests to the carrier. But after purchasing a new book of business and Fiserv's (Brookfield, Wis.) SIS policy management system in 1998, the insurer decided to cater more closely to its agents' needs.

The decision was based in part on the fact that "the agents that came with [the new] book of business were accustomed to having inquiry access to policies through the IVANS network using a green-screen interface," says Larry Waters, manager of IT.

But the ultimate decision for granting agents online access to Shelby/Vesta's policy management system was made to ease the carrier's administrative burden while attracting independent agents.

"We wanted to offer agents an interface to our systems so that service could be improved," says Mike Peters, Shelby/Vesta's vice president of personal lines and chief underwriting officer. "We needed to compete with other companies [for agents]."

With the hopes of granting connectivity for new business entry, endorsements and performing online inquiries, Shelby/Vesta began looking for a product that could bring its policy management system-which wasn't Web-ready-online. Because it had some security concerns, it was especially impressed with Seagull Software's (Atlanta) LegaSuite. "It performs its own encryption, and that drew us to this product," relates Waters.

LegaSuite is an integrated software platform for connecting host applications with Web architectures. It "sits between the Internet and the SIS system," explains Waters. "It acts as an emulator so that on the back end, LegaSuite 'looks' at a 5250 screen, but it presents a Web front end to agents." In February 1999, the LegaSuite developer product was loaded onto the carrier's PCs. Also, the server product was loaded onto one of Shelby/Vesta's servers, and a native server product was loaded on its AS/400.

Rolling the functionality out to agents was a big step for Shelby/Vesta, concedes Waters, because at the time the carrier didn't even have Internet access in its offices. "Although the agents loved [the connectivity] because they had something to work with," explains Waters, the system's user interface was very basic.

"We simply extended our system to the agents and gave them a manual to follow," Waters recalls. By 2002, after recognizing that its interface's presentation layer lacked the quality that other carriers' user interfaces possessed, the insurer set out to address this deficiency.

Hearing About Their Pain

"Shelby/Vesta found out what our agents didn't like about the original version and what we could change to make it better," Waters says. The biggest improvement desired was a more intuitive interface. After deciding that ease of use would be Shelby/Vesta's goal, the carrier "went to agency sites to hear agents' pain."

Also, Waters realized in retrospect that two things were lacking in the interface's initial rollout: advanced knowledge of Shelby/Vesta's policy management system, and the IT staff's lack of graphical user interface (GUI) programming skills. To rebuild the user interface, the carrier turned to LegaSuite.

In early 2002, the IT team began working on the interface. Two and a half months later, enhancements-including a reduction in the amount of information required to obtain a quote and policy, and refined layout of certain screens to eliminate fields-were made.

As a result of the enhancements, Shelby/Vesta attained its main goal of "getting agents to start quoting our business again," says Peters. Currently, 80 percent of its new business applications are entered by agents through the system.

The tool also has consolidated the carrier's policy management development efforts, relates Scott Simmons, Shelby/Vesta's lead developer. "We can roll out any updates or changes overnight to our agents," he says, "whereas with other Web products, it takes a big effort to do this."

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