Making life easy for distributors is always a good thing, and especially when you're the first to do it. That's surplus lines carrier Western World Insurance Group is finding, following the launch of the Western World Integrated Platform (WWIP). Designed to speed distributors' interaction and eliminate rekeying, WWIP, which gives MGAs the ability to underwrite, rate, quote bind and issue policies directly without leaving the system, has not only helped the insurer to grow in a tough market but has begun to open unforeseen opportunities.
WWIP's roots go back to a study that Western World hired Brandsynch (Richmond, Va.) to conduct in 2008 in order to see where the carrier fit within the surplus lines space and find opportunities for competitive differentiation, according to Thad DeBerry, senior VP, IT, Western World (Franklin Lakes, N.J.; $174 million in 2010 written premium). After reviewing what DeBerry characterizes as a tremendous amount of data that came from the study, Western World developed a three-pronged strategy comprising ease of use, distribution optimization and product modernization.
"The survey included a great deal of interviews of our wholesale partners and potential partners, as well as thought leaders in the surplus lines arena," relates DeBerry. "It was a fascinating process because of the amount and detail of the data, but no matter how you sliced it, ease of use always popped up to the top."
In the third quarter of 2008, Western World began its technology-focused ease-of-use related efforts with an update of the carrier's underwriting guide, which amounted to the re-engineering of the guide as a true web application built in .NET. The larger ease-of-use plan, which evolved into the WWIP, was to tie in all the major functions that agents use, starting with the underwriting guide, and including underwriting rules, followed by the ability to rate, quote, bind and issue through a single, integrated platform. Western World's IT organization tackled the underwriting guide and rating component in about 12 months, and then finished the quote, bind and issue functions in the next six months, enabling WWIP to rollout in April 2010.
"By integrating these aspects of the process, you minimize rekeying and optimize efficiency," DeBerry says. "As soon as a piece of information is captured, it's used throughout the underwriting process – there's never a need to rekey."
In an effort to maximize ease, WWIP incorporates a "just-in-time" data capture approach, only asking for information when it is necessary for whatever function the user is executing, according to DeBerry. For example, during the rating function, the insured name is not required because it has no impact on premium.
"We capture the bare minimum, and if they decide to go further, we'll capture more," DeBerry comments. "Agents love it."
Western World has also built web services that give WWIP the ability to integrate to leading agency management systems. For example, the carrier can accept submissions from Vertafore's (Bothell, Wash.) AIM system. "AIM populates WWIP with the required data so that it can rate, quote and bind," DeBerry explains. "WWIP passes the data back to AIM so that agents can bill and manage the piece of business."
One of the goals of agency management systems integration is to eliminate the need for agents to maintain Western World's rates and forms in their own systems, and the carrier is already undertaking much of that maintenance, according to DeBerry.
WWIP currently supports Western World's contract underwriting area, which constitutes approximately 70 percent of the carrier's business. After about five months, nearly 30 percent of that business was conducted through WWIP, and by year-end 2010, the figure surpassed 45 percent. As of June 2011, it had risen to just over 65 percent.
DeBerry suggests that even more traditionally minded agents — especially those with higher frequency and volume of transactions — have seen the value of using WWIP, saying that adoption continues to trend upward. Having expected a flat 2010 in terms of growth, Western World has enjoyed a nearly 10 percent increase, which can largely be attributed to adoption of WWIP.
"There's a very strong correlation between agents using WWIP completely and how much they have exceeded production goals that we set for them," DeBerry says. "We're pretty comfortable now saying that WWIP has moved the production needle."
Beyond a simple uptick in production, Western World's new technology capabilities have begun to open doors to national producer relationships. "We're in a position to take advantage of opportunities that could significantly grow the business," DeBerry states.
IT is also supporting Western World's product modernization strategy. In addition to bringing aboard new underwriting talent, WWIP's flexibility has driven increased product speed to market. "We were able to add non-profit directors and officers (D&O) lines, packaged with other lines of business, within four weeks," DeBerry reports.
In July Western World delivered a further level of ease of use with a mobile interface for WWIP. The mobile app includes all functionality except policy issuance, and also enables agents to access marketing and underwriting resources to research coverages and generate full, marketable quotes and actually bind risks while out of the office, according to DeBerry.
"Given that ease of use is one of our primary objectives, this was a natural extension," says DeBerry.
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