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Insurance companies take knowledge online

This article appears in the issue May 2003 [Volume 12, Issue 5]

By Kim Ann Zimmermann

For insurance companies, access to knowledge is key to serving customers and managing the agent network more efficiently. Because many agents and even customers are accessing the Web to report claims and get policy information, a clean database and smooth workflow are crucial.

One of the major challenges insurance companies have faced in managing knowledge is the diversity of their offerings. Many provide health insurance, life insurance and car insurance along with investment products. With five or six lines of business come five or six databases and five or six separate systems.

It's difficult not only to manage the information regarding all of those different products, but also to disseminate the proper material to the agents and other representatives in the field. Because the products change so often due to market demands and regulations, providing agents with the most up-to-date information on products and policyholders is crucial to the sales cycle.

“We knew we needed a better way to share knowledge with our agents on the Web, but we wanted to do more than just put out brochureware,” says John DeMello, VP and treasurer for Barnstable County Mutual Insurance. The company began developing a Web site for its agents in 2000 and uses a system from Edgewater Technology to communicate with them and help them communicate with customers.

“We provide the agents with the ability to view the policyholders' documents online,” DeMello says. “They can also link to claim and endorsement information for a specific policy.” Because Barnstable is a small company—with a staff of 10 serving many agents—the ability to enable agents to instantly tap into the customer database has improved efficiency and customer service levels.

Weaning from paper

“What we really wanted to do is provide the highest level of service possible to the agents so that they in turn can provide their customers with a high level of service,” DeMello says. “No longer does an agent have to get on the phone to us if a customer calls in with a question. They can get most of what they need online. And, in turn, they can print the information or even e-mail it to the customer.”

The system eventually will help cut down on the paper that the agents have to store, which is an issue for those who have small offices and are dealing with a variety of insurance companies.

“We really want to wean them off the paper,” DeMello says. “We certainly don’t want to dictate how any of our agents do business, but we want to support them in the most efficient way possible.”

Barnstable no longer generates a paper printout of the declaration—the large stack of paper that it mailed to policyholders—for its purposes, and DeMello expects that agents over time will become more comfortable in having that information stored electronically as well. The ability to search the database makes it a much more efficient vehicle for serving policyholders than sifting through paper files, DeMello says.

At Modern Woodmen of America , a fraternal life insurance and annuity firm, officials knew that they could not meet the objectives of increasing membership without finding a better way to process applications.

Modern Woodmen went into production last November with a document management system anchored by Kofax’s Ascent Capture and FileNet’s Panagon Image Services, which provides faster, more secure and concurrent online access to the society's life insurance policies, annuities and supporting documents.

“One thing that surprised us is that we are much further ahead in scanning our backfiles than we thought we would be,” says Pat Saunders, Modern Woodmen imaging project manager. “Our electronic files were backed up very well, but our paper was vulnerable.”

Best practices in workflows

Processing policy applications and renewals is only one of the many challenges facing insurance companies. They also are adopting best practices in establishing automated workflows for processing claims.

“Every transaction creates at least one piece of paper, sometimes a couple of hundred pieces of paper, says Lisa Fox, senior manager for Perot Systems, which has been working with HandySoft to implement a workflow system at Conseco Insurance.

“Sometimes insurance companies end up with two or three sets of medical records and medical tests,” she says, because various people request the same information. “What happens in insurance is that there is a lot of paper shuffling because a file comes out, then information is put into the file, and then the file comes out again as more information comes in.”

Another Handysoft user, QBE, a general insurance and reinsurance group headquartered in Australia, provides workers' compensation insurance to 150,000 companies throughout that country. QBE is working with HandySoft to implement a workflow process-driven claims management solution.

“The bulk of straight-through processing will be automated,” says Colin Fagen, general manager at QBE Workers' Compensation. “Staff will then be able to focus on the quality of claims management and help injured workers return to work more quickly. This is expected to decrease claim processing time and reduce claims costs by up to 7%.”

Digitizing documents

For Algoma Insurance, the importance of managing documents and images electronically was illustrated when one of the properties it had just insured burned to the ground a day after the policy went into effect.

“We had just taken the pictures,” says Ross Weatherby, technical administrator for Algoma. Rather than scrambling to find the hard copies, all of the information was easily accessible online, enabling Algoma to handle the claim efficiently. “Obviously, it is not every day that you insure a building and it burns down, but we had our documentation in place to make the right decisions as we processed the claim."

Algoma, which uses Xerox’s Docushare, has digitized its 17,000 documents and 6,200 file folders at a cost less than $5,000, according to Weatherby.

Other benefits of the system include the ability to convert its 2,000 square feet of paper storage to 100 square feet and reduce its costs by $40,000 per year. Employees now have 20 hours free per month to help customers instead of searching for documents.

Multilingual claims processing

A multilingual search function is helping a Swiss insurer speed claims processing. Swiss Mobiliar has implemented RetrievalWare from Convera on its corporate portal to help customer service personnel process and resolve insurance claims.

Staff can perform searches in Swiss German, French, English and Italian. In the past, searching based on a keyword such as "whiplash" required four searches—one for each language. Now, staff can search claims for "whiplash" in English and have matching results returned, whether the phrase is in English or one of the other languages. That multilingual capability increases the accuracy and speed of searches, according to Convera.

More than 4,000 multilingual staff in 100 offices throughout Switzerland are using the solution. It has been installed on Swiss Mobiliar's RedNet portal, providing customer service with access to customer profiles, more than 8,700 insurance-related government regulations and more than 1,600 court judgments on previous claims. Staff can also use the system to order online books, press articles and journals from the company's central library. The system also delivers daily updates covering financial services and insurance news.

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 732-636-3612, e-mail kimzim2764@yahoo.com.


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