While many insurers are exploring cloud computing for internal processes, Infinity Insurance Co. is betting that its independent agents also will appreciate life in the clouds. The Birmingham, Ala.-based specialty auto insurer, a subsidiary of Infinity Property and Casualty Corp. ($1.8 billion in total assets), recently began putting a quartet of complementary software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to work for its independent agents via the insurer's InfinityPerks agent website.
"We first launched InfinityPerks about a decade ago," explains Dale Kendrick, Infinity's agent development manager. "Originally, the main purpose of the site was to assist with volume purchasing for printed materials and office equipment." But the recession in 2008 spurred the carrier to enhance its agent support. "In early 2009 we set out to demonstrate to our independent agents that we could help them be more competitive," Kendrick says.
Dubbed the "Prove It" initiative, Infinity "adopted" and transformed five independent agents to learn how the carrier's resources could be effectively offered, according to Kendrick. "Among other things, we discovered our agents are gifted insurance advisers but were either unaware of new technologies or were uncertain how to cost-effectively leverage them," he reveals.
Fortunately, Infinity already had a proven, cost-effective way to equip agents. Through the InfinityPerks portal, the insurer had successfully offered one cloud-based solution, Record Guardian Technologies' Agency Management, for several years. Kendrick says it made sense to bring other co-branded SaaS applications on-board at negotiated rates for agents.
"Even our smallest independent agents are connected," he notes. "By leveraging the web, our agents could have some of the same tools that the biggest companies in the country are already using -- at a more affordable price."
To ensure the initiative remained cost-effective for Infinity and agents alike, the insurer kept vendor relationships simple. "We looked for SaaS partners that would establish a landing page for agents," Kendrick explains. "On InfinityPerks, we would simply add introductory information and a link to the landing page. From there, the relationship would be directly between an agent and our SaaS partner."
During the Prove It examination, lead generation had been identified as the most pressing need, Kendrick reports. "Although we were already using netQuote internally, we also evaluated three other vendors. In the end, we were able to extend our contractual relationship with netQuote to our agents," he recalls.
With netQuote live on InfinityPerks in March 2009, Infinity turned to e-mail marketing. "Our agents wanted to create effective and professional e-mails," Kendrick relates. "We selected iContact from a half-dozen vendors for its scalability from sole-proprietorships to multi-employee offices."
In the meantime, the agents using netQuote were so successful that they began clamoring for a lead management tool. "While agents were pleased with lead generation, they were also frustrated by the follow-up chores required to compete," Kendrick says. "So we looked at four vendors, and scalability again became an important factor. We chose Leads360 because it scaled from small shops to full-fledged call centers."
Traveling Road Show
Once the iContact and Leads360 contracts were in place late last year, Infinity refined the Prove It initiative into a seminar format, with the InfinityPerks SaaS apps as a synergistic component. "We're holding expos in key markets to introduce various business development concepts, including technology, to independent agents," Kendrick explains.
By early April 2010 iContact and Leads360 were live on Infinity's agent portal. To date, about three dozen agencies have adopted one or more of the co-branded cloud tools, Kendrick reports. "Several hundred [more] are considering the applications," he adds.
Improvements at the agency level are palpable to the carrier's bottom line, Kendrick asserts. "For example, prior to adopting the SaaS apps, one agent in California wasn't selling enough policies to stay open," he illustrates. "Now he's successfully growing his book of business, which is positively impacting our book of business as well."
In addition to attractive rates, Kendrick credits several factors with agents' rapid adoption of the SaaS apps. "Most of the tools can be used throughout an agency's operation, not just for Infinity products," Kendrick says. "This demonstrates to agents our sincere interest in assisting them with being successful.
"In addition, all of the vendors provide up-front training," he continues. "Having a free trial period is also vital to understanding the tool and how it will work for them. Finally, none of the vendors ... are competing with each other for an agent's business -- they are complementary technologies, so they are good cultural fits with each other."
CASE STUDY SNAPSHOT
Company: Infinity Insurance Co. (Birmingham, Ala.), a subsidiary of Infinity Property and Casualty Corp. ($1.8 billion in total assets).
Lines of Business: Nonstandard automobile.
Vendor/Technology: iContact's (Durham, N.C.) Email Marketing, Leads360's (Los Angeles, Calif.) Sales Lead Management, netQuote's (Denver) Sales Lead Generation and Record Guardian Technologies' (Anaheim, Calif.) Agency Management SaaS solutions.
Challenge: Improve support for independent agents by providing access to sales and management tools.
Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio