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11:13 AM
Charles Babcock, InformationWeek
Charles Babcock, InformationWeek
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Insurers use automation and wireless technology to deliver services to customers faster, reveals InformationWeek 500.

The appearance of straight-through processing (STP) in personal home and auto lines is a sign that automation is penetrating more deeply into insurers' operations, according to this year's InformationWeek 500 research and rankings. For customers, STP means giving information to an agent and a short while later having an insurance policy in hand.

Acuity (Sheboygan, Wis.), which did $692 billion in business in 12 Midwestern states last year, implemented an automated underwriting system for its P&C lines in 2004. Agents trained on the system can complete a customer's policy with only one visit to the agency's office.

While the agent fills out an online application, the system does background checks and prompts the agent to clarify information as it's gathered. A rules engine applies the appropriate underwriting standards and gives a thumbs-up on the policy in about 70 percent of the cases. "By the time the customer is done answering the agent's questions, we're done collecting everything we need," Acuity CIO Neal Ruffalo says.

The industry also is using wireless technologies to improve its ability to acquire and retain customers, and work in real time. Mobile applications let representatives of HIP Health Plan of New York ($3.6 billion in 2004 earned premium) sign up customers at work. HIP signed 650 employees in five days at the warehouse of an online grocer in the New York metropolitan area. Seven sales reps were equipped with tablet PCs and Bluetooth-enabled printers that collect digital signatures, print forms for customers and send signed forms to headquarters. Each of the enrollees received a membership card the next day.

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