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Tech Companies To Watch

A growing number of start-ups and dot-coms are building innovative systems specifically for insurance.

If you want to be a contender in today's insurance world, you need to work harder, faster and smarter. "Harder" means performance rather than mere reliability. "Faster"means moving to electronic communications to clean up inefficiencies; and "smarter" means knowing it's not about the product any more—"It's about the customer, stupid!"

Any carrier worth its salt knows this already, of course; but knowing it and doing something about it are two very different things. Insurers that intend to achieve these goals will need to make some significant and strategic investments in sometimes unproved technologies and tools that can help them execute more rapidly and get closer to clients—solutions such as intelligent character recognition, unified architectures, account aggregation and Web-based claims processing.

Luckily for the industry, there is a growing number of new technology companies that have developed innovative solutions and systems specifically for insurance. The roster of companies identified here just hints at the scale of an ever-increasing number of start-ups, joint ventures and dot-coms, seeking to partner with insurance companies to address their processing, service and development needs


One of the biggest themes in the industry today is "personalization," according to David Holtzman, partner, insurance business and consulting practice, Arthur Andersen (New York). The more a company knows about a customer's needs and wants, the greater its chances of up-selling and cross-selling. Knowing that success in insurance is increasingly measured by multiple sales to a single customer or household, vendors in this space are responding to the question, "How do we create personalized experiences for the customer?"

"You get profiles of customers using a variety of software," Holtzman says. "You take that profiling information and bang it against other products to be able to get quickly back to the customer," with a suitable product offering. "Vignette Austin, TX is a personalization software that will track the interactive behavior of a Web site's user. The technology provides personalization based on being able to tag where people—either agents, policyholders or employees—are going and what they're doing on a portal. They connect to vital content and push it back based on the rules you establish," Holtzman says. Vignette has worked extensively in financial services and specifically in insurance. "It's widespread through the industry. New York Life uses Vignette for most of their portals."

The challenge that successful personalization systems overcome is accessing the necessary information from disparate and otherwise disconnected sources. For example, to properly evaluate an incoming prospect an insurer would have to "step out into the offline world through an underwriter or risk manager. Vendors today are trying to provide solution sets that will streamline and automate that process," Holtzman says.


Intelligent engine providers such as Searchspace (London), a company focused on the automatic suitability and compliance side of the insurance business, can access personalized information and integrate it with the other pieces without interruption of the process. "It reaches out and grabs information from a profiling file or goes out to a credit bureau, pulls information down and automatically sorts the necessary elements of a document, whether it's a variable annuity plan, say, or a whole life plan," says Holtzman. "It makes the experience seamless for the customer while at the same time capturing the type of information that the institution needs to understand the customer and help them to go after profitable business."


Personalization of a different sort is provided by the "screen scraper" firm Yodlee (Redwood City, CA). "Online sites that let you trade or let you get your bank balance and move money around are evolving," to become wallet-oriented sites containing a consumer's complete financial information, says Adam Schneider, financial services national e-business partner, Deloitte Consulting (New York). Yodlee already has relationships with several major US banks. Insurance companies have an enormous interest in this technology from a convergence point of view when it comes to dealing with their financial partners.

"Yodlee has software that allows you to aggregate across your online account relationships, your assets—and perhaps someday your liabilities—so that an insurance company can begin to get a picture of the customer as an economic entity, not just a bank balance," Schneider says. He points out that the questions account aggregation will enable insurers to ask themselves are, "'Where are the assets and where are the liabilities? How do we aggregate that so that we can begin to think about recommending the insurance program against it?'"


Sorting out the necessary pieces of the information to personalize content is an important achievement. Further value can be found by effectively integrating communications channels. Chordiant Software (Cupertino, CA) enables an integrated, multichannel framework that allows carriers to personalize customer interactions across every contact medium.

According to Tony Candito, president and chief information officer of New England Financial Information Services (Boston) and senior vice president, MetLife (New York, $421.4 billion assets under management), Chordiant "integrates Web interactions, e-mails, faxes, call centers and mobile devices into a single 'Customer Interaction Center.' It allows us to provide customers with a consistent service experience with connections to service representatives, and agents with access to full service history of the customers' Web session." Candito adds that "Chordiant also helps us to optimize customer contact opportunities by automating our business rules to result in best practice customer interactions."


No discussion about the effective electronic manipulation of data in the industry would be complete without noting that a staggering amount of data still arrives at the insurer's door in a non-electronic format. "Any time there are people filling out policy information, direct mail, claims or financial information, there's a lot of benefit to be yielded from intelligent character recognition," says Arthur Andersen's Holtzman.

Niwot, CO-based Parascript specializes in reading scanned documents. John Henry, manager of imaging operations, TIAA-CREF (New York, $290 billion in assets), says the vendor's ICR engine "is the only one I truly believe is capable of interpreting cursive writing."

John Unoski, Parascript's vice president for business development and product management, contends "reading cursive and unconstrained handprint documents presents perhaps the greatest challenge to any recognition technology."


New York-based ResQNet (Results Quickly) Web-enables mainframes and AS/400s to automatically present text-based "green screens" as graphical user interfaces (GUIs), says ResQNet vice president for marketing, Steve Eskenazi. Having supplied technology for IBM's (Armonk, NY) and Hummingbird's (North York, ON) enterprise information portals, ResQNet has recently begun direct selling. "We show our customers ease in Web or wireless enabling of their screens, programs or applications. No technical people are required to use our products to extend their legacy-proven code to the Web," Eskenazi says. ResQNet's insurance clients include The Farmers Mutual Protective Association of Texas (Temple, TX, $40 million in policyholder surplus).

"Twelve of our locations were using 3270 technology—a mainframe in the central office and leased lines using dumb terminals for all of our agents," says Greg Steibel, manager of data processing, CSI Insurance Agency (Dallas, TX). That solution was adequate until the firm decided to spread business throughout the state using Internet as the communication medium. ResQNet provided CSI with easy-to-learn capabilities on a thinner client than alternative products allowed, plus advanced macro facility with IF logic.

ResQNet is now offering its ResQ/ME product, which it describes as "the fastest and most scalable wireless host solution on the market." ResQ/ME enables wireless devices, such as PDAs and Web-enabled cell phones, to gain access to mainframe and AS/400 applications.

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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