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Supporting Growth Via Agent Self-Service

First American P&C is taking advantage of Web services and technology from Fiserv SIS to gain efficiencies and speed-to-market.

It's one thing to call for growth, and another to be able to support it as it occurs. This was the challenge at First American Property & Casualty Insurance Group (Santa Ana, Calif., part of The First American Corp.), which nearly three years ago embarked on an aggressive growth path.

At that time, First American acquired the AS/400-based Specialty Insurance System from Fiserv SIS (Orange, Calif.), and deployed the comprehensive application primarily to support back-office functions, reports Jim Court, the insurer's vice president and chief information officer.

Getting Closer to Agents

In terms of the growth plan, First American got results very quickly. In 2001, the carrier posted about $20 million in written premium, $79 million in 2002, and anticipates in excess of $100 million for 2003. "We're growing very quickly, and this project has been identified internally as absolutely vital," says Court.

By the spring of 2002, it also was becoming apparent that "we needed to get closer to our agents and to all the clients in our distribution channels," Court adds. "Our goal is to be the most convenient company to do business with." Improving speed-to-market with products and services was another priority.

To address these needs, in July 2002 First American contracted to implement the Tech21 module of the Specialty System; it went live this past May. Tech21 supports e-commerce and Web activities, using ACORD XML and a broad set of application programming interfaces (APIs).

At First American, the system has a Microsoft (Redmond, Wash.) .NET front end. "We are firmly committed to, and have architected everything to use, Web services," Court says. "This also ties into how extensible the Specialty System is. It allows us to easily extend any of these services to any of our partners, and allows us to consume them, too."

Embracing Self-Service

At the time of the rollout, First American used Tech21 to support "simple billing transactions," Court says, adding that the broader game plan involved eventual expansion of the platform to policy inquiry, claims and first-notice-of-loss. These were all functions that previously had been handled manually; in fact, roughly half of all agent inquiries had to do with billing questions.

Once the Web-based application began to be demonstrated to the company's primarily independent agents, "they were clamoring to have it," Court says. "They are overwhelmed in terms of the information they can get. It's also reducing the number of calls, because it's allowing agents to get self-service, which was our goal."

By early fall there were 66 agencies and 280 agents on the system. "We are averaging about 2,000 policy inquiries a week," Court says. "There has been an eight percent increase in policies in force, but the average daily call trend is down 20 percent over a 12-week period. We are starting to see some relief, and the agents are very excited about it. They are shifting to using the Web channel, away from the call center. We didn't expect as much growth as we've gotten so far. It's causing us to accelerate the rate of development."

Overall, customer service calls have continued the process of "trending down every week," according to Court. The goals of improved flexibility and speed-to-market are also being achieved. "We're able to move much more quickly-we can change a process in a day now," Court says.

Policy inquiry capabilities were released to the agent community in September. "The ease-of-use factor is critical in getting this rolled out quickly," Court notes, pointing out that the policy inquiry function "will have the same look and feel as billing. It will be natural, very intuitive." He anticipates that by the end of the year, all the targeted functions will be up and running.

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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