Carriers should expect some agent skepticism whenever they announce the intent to modernize or replace their core systems, and proactively take steps to improve the acceptance of their proposed changes. Most independent agents have moved books of business to new systems. This movement temporarily causes additional work for the agency and can be very disruptive. Agent acceptance of a modern core PAS system, and the related processes and products, is critical to the success of major transformation projects for those carriers in the independent agent channel. Most carriers expect new business submissions to increase as a result of their transformation project and include this assumption in their cost benefit assumptions.
Discussions with carriers reveal differing success rates that appear to be independent of the solution vendor chosen and the choice of Portal component. Some carriers have been very successful extending a variety of core systems directly to agents, and some modern Portal implementations have been unsuccessful. Results can be mixed with the same solution provider, with one carrier getting very positive feedback from agents and other carriers getting negative feedback. Clearly in this case, there are other factors impacting acceptance rates than the choice of core system. So what are the most important factors in determining agent acceptance of a business transformation solution?
Here’s what we recommend:
Separate disruption caused by product and underwriting changes from the impact of new work flows and systems. A company that can’t implement product changes due to legacy system limitations often has a book which reflects adverse selection. A good example might be the average credit scores for a given customer’s base when compared to the average population. Incorporating credit into underwriting guidelines for the first time to address loss ratio concerns will be disruptive from an agent’s perspective regardless of what system it is implemented on. Carriers may consider easing in new factors to reduce disruption rather than fully taking all the required rate indicated by actuarial analysis. Proactive communication of product changes separate from system announcements, as well as clarifying market appetite and offering new products, helps to offset this disruption.
Focus on user experience from an Agent perspective. Engage user experience experts in design and review of the critical functions within a core suite solution. Small companies have demonstrated the effectiveness of just having one or two people designated as having this responsibility or focus. Outside services are readily available. Minimize the number of questions asked during application process by leveraging third party data sources and challenging the value of each and every question asked. Involve Selected agents or customer service representatives (who will actually use the system) in prioritizing functionality and review of early designs and business process.
Don’t communicate unrealistic or premature target dates. Agents often put pressure on carriers to deliver new products quickly. However, they would much rather have a quality implementation and smooth conversion than deal with customer or performance issues. Agents do not like uncertainty. Planning to move business only to have it delayed undermines credibility and irritates the agents.
Pilot all implementations with subset of the targeted population. Pilots should be actively monitored and support teams should be fully engaged in responding to feedback. Too often firms conduct pilots without having a mechanism for obtaining feedback or allowing adequate time to respond to suggested changes. Listen and respond without rushing changes to production. Changes must be implemented with quality and reflect the opinions of a broad audience, not just one user.
Execute. In addition to configuring functionality correctly, carriers must allow adequate time for testing of both the external facing capabilities of the new system as well as the processes for supporting and responding to questions and submissions. Testers should have various levels of technical knowledge and should utilize multiple browsers and access functionality from multiple points within the system.
Create communication plans stressing the benefits of the new system from an agent’s perspective. Ease-of-use, Real time policy issuance, shorter underwritings cycles, and limiting agent entry before knock out rules are invoked all benefit the agent.
Make sure that the project team understands the importance of agent acceptance, defining scope of releases and prioritizing features with this in mind.
Make the above items part of your culture. Once a base Portal or external facing functionality is implemented, keep the focus on User experience, implement incremental changes and pilot changes using A/B testing techniques.
Applying these principles will improve agent acceptance and will benefit the agent, the consumer and the carrier.