Because Hartford Financial Products (HFP, New York) serves a large technology firm customer base, its IT department may be subject to increased policyholder scrutiny when it comes to technological advancement. Oddly enough, some of the carrier's policyholder firms are actually technology vendor partners with HFP-making them partly responsible for the efficiency of their customer experience.
But, no matter which industry the policyholding companies represent, improving the customer experience is a critical component of HFP's business objectives, relates Craig Lowenthal, vice president and CIO.
In an effort to meet HFP's goals, he explains, "we continue to deploy technology that enables our producers to interact with policyholders through various channels in the fashion most convenient to them."
HFP (previously Reliance Group Insurance's Financial Products Division before The Hartford, $182 billion in assets, acquired the company in 2001), recently took a giant leap towards achieving its customer service goals with an initiative based on leveraging existing technology. Through the implementation of its VISion (Virtual Insurance System) underwriting and workflow processing system, HFP has enhanced the speed and efficiency of underwriting highly specialized policies that often require customization.
HFP is an underwriter of directors and officers (D&O), errors and omissions (E&O), employment practices liability insurance, fiduciary liability and FailSafe, a professional liability coverage for small and mid-size technology companies. "Very rarely are there two transactions that are the same," explains Lowenthal. "Our customers expect excellent services and support. That involves quick turn-around of the final policy document."
As it approached its solution strategy in July 2002, HFP recognized that its policy processing system-a Wheatley Insurance System's WINS legacy application that resides on an AS/400 platform-was "a good, extensible system on a tried and reliable platform," relates Lowenthal. However, the WINS system "focused on policy recording and issuance and feeding information to bureaus-not necessarily on supporting daily underwriter researching and processing," he adds.
Rather than throw its "baby out with the bathwater," as Lowenthal says, HFP decided to leverage its WINS investment while focusing on making underwriters' jobs more efficient, Lowenthal explains. As part of an extensive requirements-gathering effort, members of Lowenthal's IT staff shadowed underwriters for several days to get a feel for how they did everything from research to interactions with customers. After the fact-finding mission was complete, the need for change "became painfully clear," stresses Lowenthal. "HFP's back-end was not aligned with how the underwriter processes business. We really felt the pain of the underwriters having to key data into multiple systems." Adds Lowenthal, "That's when we came up with the VIS-ion concept. With VISion we could attack and resolve these issues." The team envisioned a complete underwriting and workflow processing system that could incorporate submission and clearance, as well as generate correspondences and delivery. HFP's VISion would also handle underwriter inventory management, policy booking and issuance, document imaging and management and inquiry.
The Java-based system, completed earlier this year, has been rolled out to 160 of HFP's underwriters and their support staffs. Although all HFP underwriters currently use some form of VISion, HFP's IT group is making it customizable to different lines of business. "Our philosophy was to give underwriters usability and then drill down to the specific lines of business for customization," Lowenthal says.
The underwriter-friendly system is helping streamline tasks that were once manually intensive. Today, since the system allows users to key information once, data quality is excellent, Lowenthal says. After data is entered, it is carried through from submission to clearance, and all policyholder correspondences are automatically generated.
"VISion enables our underwriters to create and send all appropriate correspondences from within the application," explains Lowenthal. "Acknowledgement, quote, binder, declination and broker-of-record are all created in real time without the underwriter having to rekey any piece of information that has already been captured within VISion." Letters that are created in Microsoft (Redmond, WA) Office are fully customizable. Underwriters can choose to instantly print, fax and/or e-mail all correspondences.
A large part of the VISion system is HFP's home-grown eFile, a recently implemented document imaging and management facility. Although eFile's mission was developed prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the project was set in motion after that day's events. Lowenthal and his team actually experienced the horror of the attacks first-hand from their former offices at 7 World Trade Center.
After their experience, "we were more willing to adopt and use the eFile system," he explains. Aside from its disaster recovery usefulness, eFile helps to create efficiency within HFP. Employees can now retrieve documents electronically, rather than locating files manually.
The document imaging and management facility resides within Microsoft Office. After a document's creation, it can be filed with a click of the mouse. During a policy document's submission, users are able to view all documents related to that particular policy. In order to support the filing of incoming paper documents, HFP underwriters are equipped with a scanner at their desktops so they can scan hard-copy documents. In order to support the filing of e-mails on the eFile system, all underwriters have personal eFile facilities that flow from their e-mail so that it's not necessary to print and scan e-mails.
In addition to the underwriters' scanners, HFP purchased two high-speed scanners for documents with many pages: the eCopy station from IKON (Malvern, PA), which integrates with the carrier's Canon (Lake Success, NY) Imagerunner digital copier. "This solution not only allowed us to integrate our eFile system directly to the copier," explains Lowenthal, "it allows our employees to scan and send e-mail from their personal Outlook accounts right from the copier." HFP also utilizes a Kodak (Rochester, NY) i60 scanner.
With future goals of enhancement for VISion, Lowenthal-who reports he has "most of the say" in HFP's purchasing decisions-continues to keep an eye out for innovative technologies. Because he is inundated with calls and too many "vendors that have a message that takes a page to read before you understand their value proposition," Lowenthal tries not to waste too much time on the message-decoding process.
"If I don't understand what a technology provider does within the first sentence or two, I drop it in the circular file," Lowenthal explains. "If you can't describe what your company does, it will not get a second look." The propositions of vendors that do pass Lowenthal's test and seem to have the ability to fill a future need get filed in his development folder. "The best type of vendor is one that is offering a solution to a problem that you hadn't even thought of that creates value," says Lowenthal. And value for Lowenthal doesn't necessarily mean a quantifiable return on investment. "ROI is an important factor but it isn't the sole factor," Lowenthal relates. "At HFP, operational excellence is extremely important." [email protected]
Rather than "throw its baby out with the bathwater," HFP decided to leverage its WINS investment while focusing on making underwriters' jobs more efficient, vp and CIO Craig Lowenthal relates.
COMPANY: Hartford Financial Products, New York, member company of The Hartford, $182 billion in assets.
LINES OF BUSINESS: Directors & officers, errors & omissions, employment practices liability insurance, fiduciary liability, and FailSafe, a professional liability coverage for small and mid-size technology companies
IT STAFF: 23
COMPANY HISTORY: Hartford Financial Products has been a member company of The Hartford since The Hartford acquired Reliance Insurance Group in September 2000.
RECENT INITIATIVES: VISion (Virtual Insurance System) policy processing system-an underwriting and workflow processing system that incorporates submission and clearance, generates cor-respondences and delivery-with underwriter inventory management, policy booking and issuance, document imaging and management. EFile-a document imaging and management facility that enables document back-up.
I&T: What is your technology objective?
LOWENTHAL: To gain and foster competitive advantage through the strategic use of technology.