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Gore Mutual Delivers Continuous Improvement to Distributors

Gore Mutual debated the relative merits of a "Big Bang" approach to development of GoBroker which would deliver a large bunch of functionality at once compared to a phased approach that would bring functionality incrementally but more quickly in response to broker requests.

Named the number-one insurance carrier by the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario when the group last voted, in 2006, Gore Mutual Insurance Co. might have been tempted to take more of an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach. However, Gore Mutual acknowledges the need to continuously adapt to changing business circumstances which may explain why the company has been in business since 1839. Gore Mutual is in fact the oldest mutual P&C insurer in Canada, but it has been said the only thing old fashioned about the company is its values. Gore Mutual was among the first Canadian carriers to adopt computers for policy management in 1968 and it continues to leverage IT as a key enabler of the business.

Gore Mutual CIO Richard Meertens identifies several success factors in the GoBroker initiative as lessons learned to be applied for future steps The carrier is currently in the midst of a strategic technology initiative designed to reinforce its relationships with its exclusively independent distribution force. The initiative was necessary, according to Richard Meertens, Gore Mutual's CIO, because of growing agent and policyholder expectations of improved connectivity, increased competition for distributor loyalty, and a generally more competitive environment owing to non-traditional competition, industry consolidation and the increasing momentum of direct writers. Bearing these general market pressures in mind, Gore shaped its initiative through dialogue with its brokers and agents.

"One of our key strategic drivers is to have strong broker relationships," says Meertens. "What has evolved over the years is that, besides having strong personal relationship with the broker and agent partners and all their office staff, we found that increased ease of doing business would strengthen those relationships even more." Meertens secured support from Gore's senior leadership in 2000 for a broad IT transformation, including development of broker portal functionality and legacy policy administration system replacement. His team began laying the ground for the broker portal that year with the development of an electronic document management system centered on Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Microdea's Synergize solution, which rolled out in 2001.

"All incoming mail is scanned and stored in Synergize," Meertens explains. "This mail is then routed to the underwriting, claims and billing departments for processing, and all documents stored in Synergize can be viewed and retrieved in real time." Gore also used EMC Document Sciences' Compuset technology to generate outgoing policy declaration pages and billing notices, which are also stored in Synergize.

In 2002, the carrier developed basic broker portal functionality, but at this stage the online channel only served as a conduit for static documents, such as rate and product manuals. Distributor feedback indicated the direction in which Gore needed to go, but the carrier had to determine how to proceed. Gore considered a "Big Bang" approach, whereby it would develop a suite of capabilities desired by the distributors and then deliver it all at a given date. The carrier rejected that option in favor of what Meertens terms a "phased approach."

"We wanted to provide our brokers or agents with business value as we went along, in phases, as opposed to their having to wait years to get all this functionality and having to keep promising 'Yes, it's coming, it's coming,'" Meertens explains. "We decided we would ask what the brokers wanted and then implement in the order of priority that we discussed with them."

Gore had to juggle these demands with an imperative to replace its quarter-century-old CGI (Montreal) RTM policy administration system, which the vendor had announced it would cease to support by 2012. However, in the interest of delivering capabilities to its distributors as soon as possible, Gore treated the two strategic technology initiatives as distinct. The carrier then moved forward with development of its GoBroker portal in 2003.

The GoBroker portal debuted in 2004 with the launch of Policy View functionality for all of the carrier's products. Policy View enables agents to pull up PDFs of billing notices and policy declaration pages online from the Synergize electronic document management system. Gore custom developed the functionality in .NET using the Microsoft Visual Studio, outsourcing a significant portion of the work to CGI. "We maintained project management, and over a period of one year we developed [Policy View] and put it into production in 2004," Meertens says. "We started with auto; six months later we added property, and six months after that we added commercial."

The business impact of Policy View was modest, according to Meertens. While it resulted in distributors making fewer calls to Gore, the functionality rolled out during a period of significant growth. The carrier was able to field more calls without increasing staff but in terms of the overall number of calls received, "it was really a wash for us," Meertens says. Distributors reacted positively to the functionality, according to Meertens, but were by no means satisfied. The message from brokers, he relates, was, "Good, but we want to see some other things from you."

In response, the carrier began developing Commercial New Business functionality for small package commercial, which it rolled out in 2006. Meertens views this stage as a watershed because, unlike the Policy View state, Commercial New Business had direct ROI impact due to its revenue-generating nature. It also marked a technical departure because it required two-way communications. Commercial New Business calls Gore's rating functionality and, at the binding stage, creates a policy in the RTM system, resulting in the generation of all relevant new documents, such as billing notices and declaration pages. "Policy View was pulling data from RTM into the broker portal, so it was fairly one-way," Meertens expands. "With Commercial New Business we were not only pulling data from RTM but also had to route it back in, so the interfaces to the legacy system were much more complex, requiring a considerable amount of architecting to get it done correctly."

Gore executed a staged rollout of Commercial New Business to targeted brokers, incorporating their suggestions as the rollout proceeded. Within three months of rollout, 40 percent of the brokers with access were using the functionality; that figure jumped to 60 percent within six months, and today nearly all brokers prefer to log their business that way.

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

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