In addition to its traditional Western-Southern Life Insurance Co. captive field distribution force, in-house call center and direct Internet sales channels, Western and Southern Financial Group (WSFG, Cincinnati, $26.5 billion in assets) relies on independent marketing organizations to distribute products sold through its Columbus Life Insurance Co. and IFS subsidiaries. And while WSFG has an integrated back-office operation serving all its distribution systems, it has five different legacy administration systems dedicated to servicing those systems' products, according to Jim Teeters, senior vice president, insurance operations.
"We think the key to making it easy to do business with us is to improve the quality and shorten the cycle time from an application to an issued policy," Teeters says. "We wanted to build a common platform that could transcend all the different administration areas so that underwriters could write cases regardless of which distribution system they came from."
Because of the diversity of the distribution force, WSFG chose a browser-based approach over an electronic application. WSFG calls its automated underwriting and workflow solution iNB, or Internet New Business solution. The solution is unique in scope, he says, because it covers "all distribution systems, all product lines, and everything they need for new business," including all appropriate forms, corresponding to states in which the business is being written. The system can be accessed online, realtime, but also in a disconnected state to accomodate captive agents working in clients' homes.
The application process is managed by built-in interactive reflexive questioning. The idea, says Teeters, "is to get close to the point of application data entry and be in control of that conversation."
The major development area of the iNB project has been the internal underwriting piece in terms of workflow and functionality, according to Teeters. WSFG began researching vendors in the fall of 1999 and had arrived at a list of two by end-of-summer 2000. "We found that many of these systems had what I call 'islands of functionality,'" Teeters says. "They may have had electronic questionnaires, or rules engines, but a lot of the connectivity between those islands was pretty undefined. We ended up choosing Navisys (Edison, NJ) based on their ability to give us tools by which we could fill in a lot of that knowledge in those interfaces."
While WSFG wanted a rules-based system to handle routine underwriting challenges, the firm sought to depart from what Teeters calls an "underwriter-centric" automation scheme in which cases either flow through the system "jet-issued" or get routed to an underwriter to finish. In WSFG's "system-centric" model, "the underwriter sits out as a consultant, and through the workflow capabilities of the system, things show up in his bin in context," Teeters says. After making required adjustments, the underwriter hands the case back to the system to finish.
The project began in earnest in November 2000, with work on business requirements. "We had a lot of give and take with Navisys, and ended up mutually agreeing to completely redesign the underwriting piece, based on our ideas," Teeters says. "Their technical people really know what they're doing in the Internet environment."
WSFG plans to install the iNB system in its own environment this month and follow with initial acceptance testing, culminating in January 2002. "We will begin rolling out to the Western-Southern field and the call center in March," Teeters says. "We'll follow that with our direct Internet and Columbus Life independent agent rollout."
Case Study Closeup
Western and Southern Financial Group, Cincinnati, $26.5 billion in assets.
LINES OF BUSINESS:
Life, annuity, critical illness and accidental death.
Internet-based new business solution incorporating Navisys (Edison, NJ) underwriting automation technology.
Build a platform for new business across disparate admin systems.
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