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Torus Insurance's ESCAPE Broker Portal Aspires to Industry Leadership

A unique combination of technology and state-of-the-art functionality distinguishes Torus' broker portal in the excess casualty business, the carrier asserts.

The business and IT executives behind London-based Torus Insurance's new broker portal don't claim that any piece of the technology is unique; but they insist that its combination of functionality is unmatched in the industry. The carrier expects its ESCAPE (Excess Casualty Portal Entry) broker portal to effectively differentiate the carrier among select brokers that can take advantage of ESCAPE's functionality.

According to Tom Culp, Torus' VP of excess casualty, ESCAPE's features include a quick-quote capability that lets producers provide a preliminary price to their clients rapidly, avoiding the full underwriting process; live chat with underwriters, enabled through a co-browsing capability whereby underwriters can share the broker's screen in real time; the ability to display multiple limit options that spare brokers the need to reenter information multiple times for different limits; and immediate policy issuance upon the binding of risk, including the ability to download a PDF of the quote, binder and invoice -- a process that often takes weeks or months in the excess casualty business.

In developing ESCAPE, Torus sought to make a leap in the quality of broker portals, many of which were developed in the late '90s or early 2000s, used in the excess casualty business, relates Culp, who originated the concept along with Linc Trimble, Torus' SVP, head of excess casualty. "I make an analogy with cell phones, whose functionality and support aren't commensurate with the capabilities of today's iPhones," comments Culp. "We aimed to create a kind of iPhone of broker portals."

Torus spent just five months developing ESCAPE prior to a beta launch in October 2010 and went live with a final version of the portal on Nov. 1, 2010. Culp characterizes ESCAPE as "an underwriting, service and support system all in one," adding, "Everything built in and around it is to foster a faster, easier process than can be found elsewhere in the market today."

The portal was built leveraging the Duck Creek (Bolivar, Mo.) policy administration system and Microsoft .NET SQL Server 2008, according to Culp. The system uses Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to query the system with each question posed by users, and deploys chat functionality from New York-based LivePerson, he adds.

Torus CTO - North America Justin Manley says he approached the technical development of ESCAPE with an eye to usability. His IT team, he adds, worked up a screen flow as early as possible to share with Torus' distribution partners.

"We wanted to make sure that they were part of the process from the ground up," Manley stresses. He notes that he also brought in two consultants from Cognizant (Teaneck, N.J.) to study how long the new business process would take from beginning to end, through all the permutations of use.

A Face in the Crowd

The portal's design and workflow also incorporate visual cues indicating the status of a user's visit. In other industry systems, Manley contends, brokers can spend 12 minutes or longer before realizing that their risk would require a referral, potentially adding days to the process. Within ESCAPE, a cartoon figure nicknamed "Quotie" lets brokers know where they stand. "Studies show that people are drawn to faces," Manley notes.

And throughout the query process, ESCAPE constantly checks underwriting rules and notifies brokers whether they are "in the box" with regard to Torus' risk appetite, according to Culp. The system incorporates roughly 800 class codes, which Culp says is about twice what most systems handle.

System logic determines which questions to ask a broker, based on the type of form submitted, Manley relates. "If there's something we don't need to know, we don't ask it," he says. "You don't want to put things in front of users that they don't need."

ESCAPE has the ability to quote up to $10 million in limits, according to Culp, but whatever limit users choose, they automatically are supplied with the results of up to 10 other limit options, minimizing the time spent on re-quoting. "There's no need to come back into the system to get different prices," Culp says. "We give all the variations available on the quote at one time."

Currently about 87 percent of the business written through ESCAPE goes through without referral, Culp reports. But the insurer has built a referral team to expeditiously handle business that can't be processed straight through. "We haven't even built calendars into the system that say, 'I need it by this date,' " Culp notes. "When it comes to responding for referrals, it's just not an option for us to be outside the 24-hour window."

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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