Document Management Can Save Money For Agents

While agencies and brokerages, like many businesses, are feeling the squeeze in a down economy, there is hope for significant savings via software and systems designed to help companies manage document storage and workflow, say experts in the field of document management.

“Document management is an opportunity for agencies to save themselves a ton of money, improve customer service and minimize risk,” says John Sarich, insurance industry marketing manager for FileNET Corporation, Costa Mesa, Calif. FileNET markets technology to help organizations realize increased productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability via improved business processes.

In trying to identify a return on investment for their computer systems, agencies should look at management of documents that concern contracts and commissions, says Sarich. For both commercial and personal lines, he notes, “the biggest bang for the buck is imaging and scanning everything that comes in the door and managing the content.”

“Everything is content, no matter how it comes in,” he continues, noting that all relevant e-mail, written notes, telephone conversations and paper mail “should be merged into a customers file.” The result of having all this in one place, he says, is “incredibly improved customer service.”

In many cases, says Sarich, the storage and management of documents is “horribly inefficient,” allowing much information to fall through the cracks. The right software, however, “can automate business processes according to the rules you set up. Its called workflow.”

Sarich recommends that agencies seek out software that is “fairly easy to install, manage and support.” Its also important to select applications that work with the agency management system in place. And while smaller vendors may cater to smaller agencies, he cautions that such vendors may not be in business for the long haul.

The biggest mistake an agency can make with regard to document management systems “is to look at it as a single purpose acquisition,” says Sarich. “You want it to work throughout your business processes, and you dont want to have 19 different vendors in your back room.”

While agencies may be tempted to use their agency management systems for document management, Sarich notes, “Most agency management systems are good at accounting, but lousy at customer service. They can track policies and renewals, but they are not a document management system at all.”

Gerard Bush, senior account executive for Computer Sciences Corporation in Columbia, S.C., agrees that with document management, “the potential for savings is tremendous.” CSC markets document management solutions to the insurance industry.

Bush asserts that, “Agencies should get 5% to 10% savings on the bottom line” by using document management technology. Combining document management with workflow and work management systems, he adds, “will certainly drive up” those figures.

Among the benefits agencies can derive from document management and imaging systems is faster document retrieval, says Bush. In a paper-based filing situation, he notes, “You have to go to a file room, pick through piles, pull out a file, then re-file it later. Theres also the risk of losing a paper file.”

Document management systems, on the other hand, “let you retrieve files quickly, index them and shares files instantly within the office or over the Internet,” Bush explains. Some document management applications also allow agencies to block out selected portions of a document when it is viewed by certain users, a process called “redaction,” he notes.

The key to implementing document management, according to Bush, is deciding what is needed at a particular agency. This means determining what kinds of document management, imaging, workflow or work management programs are appropriate. Needs may range from scanning paper documents, checks or photographs into electronic systems to capturing faxes and e-mail, he notes.

“Then you decide how you want to index [the information],” says Bush. “Do you want to scan a photo and index it by claim number, or do you want to add details so you can scan through and look for content?” In addition, how the documents are used–and by what software programs they are used–will have an impact on the storage room needed, he notes.

When purchasing a document management system, says Bush, agencies should look for the ability to do annotation and redaction. “You should have an audit trail–what was received, when and by whom–plus metrics to let you know how big the file is.”

Bush adds that document management systems should also support “fuzzy” logic and Boolean searches. Fuzzy logic, he notes, accommodates a certain level of errors in a document search, such as minor misspellings, to enable the search to proceed. Boolean searches use operative commands such as AND, OR and NOT to help make searches more specific.

He also stresses that the interface with the agency management system is “critical,” in that a smooth interface “will help improve workflow between systems.”

Bush advises agents to “make sure you have some kind of storage management process.” Scanned or captured documents may need to be put in permanent storage, thus there is a need for an optically-based system such as CD or DVD. “Life policies in particular may have a 100-year retention or longer. You have to make sure to migrate those files [to a storage system] so you dont overload your servers,” he notes.

Davis Marksbury, president and CEO of Exstream Software, Lexington, Ky., says yet another focus for document management systems is in selling, marketing and product delivery.

Using “interactive publishing” software, an agent can sit in front of a customer, ask questions, input answers, and have documents created and filled in automatically, he explains. Such software, he notes, also allows the customer to fill in the information online.

The software provides interactive wizards that allows agents in the field using laptops to fill in information and automatically build documents that can then be printed out on a portable printer and signed on the spot, says Marksbury.

Typically, he notes, such software would be provided to agents by carriers, providing a tool that “streamlines the sales process.” Regulatory support for multiple states may also be a part of such software solutions.

In addition, interactive publishing can be used to develop all types of marketing information on the spot. According to Marksbury, agents can build fulfillment kits “based on what a customer tells you at the moment. All materials are automatically included and pre-filled in. Often, its inconvenient to fill in forms or people dont know how to do it.” The software solves that problem and provides a personalized set of information and forms to the prospect, he notes.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, June 3, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.