Selling voluntary supplementary benefits can be an extremely labor-intensive task. Since the raison d'etre of the products is that no two employees' needs are alike, each customer needs personal attention.
Having typically outlined offerings to groups of employees, an agent of Colonial Life and Accident Insurance's (Columbia, SC) all-independent sales force would traditionally meet with individuals to discuss the latter's supplementary needs relative to core benefits provided by their employer, says Julian Emerson, vice president sales, major accounts and customer technology. Employeesfilled out paper forms, which were sent between agents and the home office to handle underwriting and personal information inquiries.
As the volume of business grew at Colonial, so did the inefficiencies of manual processing. Faced with difficulties in delivering consistent benefits communications and enrollments, the carrier instituted a laptop leasing program for its sales force beginning in 1991. The laptops were equipped with an internally developed sales automation enrollment system program, loaded with information on employees' core benefits, and capable of calculating coverage options.
However, the full efficiency of paperless process remained out of reach. "We process in excess of 700,000 applications a year. These are small applications with an average premium of just over $30 a month," says Emerson. "Even with the laptops, we still had business that came in without an agent's or insured's signature."
In the second quarter of 1999, Colonial rolled out Topaz (Simi Valley, CA) T-W761BP StingRay electronic signature pads, interfacing with Panasonic 45 (Secaucus, NJ) laptops running on Microsoft (Redmond, WA) Windows 95 and 2000, with the goal of processing 75 percent of total business electronically by the end of last year.
Acceptance of signature pads by independent agents was a major concern, Emerson says. "There's a lot of comfort with paper and using the signature pad meant a lot of business processes were changed," he adds.
To speed the process, Colonial asked its general agencies to identify certain agents as "technology reps." Emerson says, "we trained the selected reps to roll out the pads to the 2,500 or so other agents." The training scheme not only leveraged the competitive tendencies of the agents, but was also highly cost-effective. "We just paid the technology reps on a per-head basis of who they trained," Emerson says.
It was also just plain effective, he adds. "We exceeded our goal much earlier than expected, and by the end of 2000 we actually had a week with 90 percent of business submitted electronically," Emerson says. "The acceptance factor clearly helped us to do that."
With electronic signature capture, Emerson says, "you don't have to take all the paper, wrap it up, ship it to the home office and wait for underwriting memos, etc." The sales automation software will not allow an application to be completed without signatures, and facilitates automated underwriting, or "jet-issuing," of signed policies. "More than 60 percent of our policies are now issued without an underwriter ever having to look at them," Emerson says.
The benefits at the home office have included the reallocation of staff previously dedicated to distributing forms and handling data entry. Agents appreciate the signature function because it makes for better use of their time, according to Emerson. "They don't have to mail anything or spend their time following up on errors," he says. "They also get paid much faster."
At a Glance
Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co., Columbia, SC, $1.1 billion in assets.
LINES OF BUSINESS:
Life, accident, disability, supplemental health and special risk.
Topaz (Simi Valley, CA) T-W761BP StingRay electronic signature pads; Panasonic 45 (Secaucus, NJ) laptops, Microsoft (Redmond, WA) Windows 95 and 2000.
Deliver consistent benefits communications and enrollments to customers.
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