Until recently, Zurich Life's licensing department might receive a packet of 20 documents for each agent as part of its paper-based appointment process. Many times documents would be out of order or incomplete.
And because the Schaumburg, IL-based company's agent licensing department might get a document in the form of page seven one day and pages one though six a day later, "we wrestled with maintaining where all of the agent licensing documents were in our office,"relates Letitia Nelson, director of shared services, Zurich Life. Further complicating the process was the fact that once documents were received via "snail mail" and fax, there still was no guarantee that all of the appropriate fields would be completed.
In February 2001, after receiving feedback from agents, marketing personnel, commission and contracting groups, Nelson created an opportunity assessment template that outlined how Zurich Life could replace its paper-laden appointment process with an efficient Web application. The template included requirements for a Web-based solution that would allow Zurich Life to collect biographical information, appropriate signatures and maintain the hierarchy of the writing agents and the general agent who recruited them, Nelson reports.
At that time a Zurich Life multi-department development team was formed to create the system, which would be called Z-Appoint. According to Nelson, business and quality representatives were responsible for visualizing and communicating how the system should look and work, what screens and fields were required and the logic behind the fields. Additionally, the technical representatives on the team were responsible for coding, process mapping and development, based on input from the business. A major part of the system's development was the creation of homegrown middleware that linked the carrier's back-end life brokerage policy system with the general agent intranet, through which the system would be accessible.
Internal Testing Process
The next step of implementation involved the internal testing of Z-Appoint to ensure that fields had been properly developed and each had the appropriate built-in edit checks.
"The internal tests helped us to identify gaps in the data submission process to our back-end systems," says Mike Sladek, senior marketing director, Zurich Life. In March 2002, beta testing of the system was conducted by select general agents so that Zurich Life could gauge usability and collect feedback on what agents wanted added or rearranged. "There were few defects, if any, in the beta test," says Sladek. "The results were much better than what we thought they would be, so Zurich Life advanced the rollout."
Z-Appoint's development team decided the system would be rolled out May 1, 2002, and enhancement suggestions from agents would be incorporated after the initial version's rollout. Enhancements included more reporting capabilities and a tracking function that informed agents where they were in the appointment process. It also was determined that, in addition to enabling general agents to access the system via an intranet link, it also would be made accessible on general agents' Web sites.
In the period since these enhancements were made, agents and the carrier both have benefited from the patent-pending system, says Nelson. "By allowing an agent to be appointed with as few as five clicks, an agent can get down to the business of selling faster, get to the customer sooner and ultimately receive commission checks sooner," she says.
Jennifer Lisbony, a general agent who participated in the Z-Appoint pilot, notes, "When a Zurich Life contract comes across my desk, I look forward to using the online system because the process is so quick and efficient."
CASE STUDY CLOSEUP
COMPANY: Zurich Life, Schaumburg, IL, more than $21 billion in assets.
LINES OF BUSINESS: Term life, variable & fixed annuities.
VENDOR/TECHNOLOGY: In-house-developed online Z-Appoint system.
CHALLENGE: Build a Web-based agent appointment process.