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Working smarter, not harder may never be truer as new simplified appointment processes are proving. Appointment times are being shaved to a matter of days, and in one case, minutes, warp speed compared with more traditional waits of weeks or months.

Companies that make it easier for agents to do business with them are using these new processes to their advantage. “Companies are trying to make it easier for data to get submitted to the home office,” says Michael Sladek, senior marketing director, E-Commerce, for Zurich Life, Schaumburg, Ill.

Some companies are using technology, while others are doing things like making shorter applications, he says.

“I think its a trend in the industry to make it easier for the agent to do business with you,” Sladek says.

In the fight for an agents business, carriers like Zurich Life have taken steps to streamline certain internal processes, as demonstrated by the fine-tuned appointment processes.

In May of 2002, Zurich Life introduced an online agent appointment system called Z-appoint. This Web-based appointment system reduces the amount of paperwork, while automating the appointment process, according to Sladek.

“The appointment process in non-sensitive states can take less than 24 hours for the actual appointment, we will actually file the paperwork that quickly,” Sladek says.

But getting appointed in some sensitive states, Sladek explains, really depends on how fast the state sends the official paperwork declaring the agent is appointed. “We can file the paperwork within minutes of receiving the online appointment application,” he says.

Sladek explains that since Zurich is working with a general agency distribution system, there are 2 steps to their Z-appoint process. First, the general agent fills out an online form, then the agent reviews the form and submits the appointment application.

“From the agents perspective, if the general agent entered in all his information correctly, it takes less than a minute to file,” Sladek says.

Since this initiative is still in its early stages, Sladek says it is difficult to measure the success of the program. But he contends that since inception, there has been about a 15% adoption rate, and that continues to rise.

“If you can convert 15% of your appointments from a paper process to an online electronic process in just 2 months, thats a huge number to hit,” Sladek says.

Similarly, last year officials at SAFECO Life and Investments, Redmond, Wash., streamlined their agency appointment process, and are seeing some results. Since its introduction in January 2001, SAFECO boasts their fastest time to appoint an agent to sell is less than seven minutes.

“In states that allow a same day appointment, theyre [agents] ready to sell immediately,” says Michelle Kemper, vice president of compliance and agency services for SAFECO Life and Investments.

When an agent wants to be appointed with SAFECO, the first step is to call into the licensing call center, explains Lynda Bilo, senior manager of licensing and appointments. SAFECO employees then fill out the online application, submit the information for a background check, verify the license in a producer database, and submit for an appointment all at the same time, she says.

“We then fax the contract right from our desktop and the agent faxes it back, we give them a writing number and theyre ready to go,” says Bilo.

Bilo notes that the agents are able to go online themselves to complete the necessary forms, but she explains that it has been her experience that most agents prefer to use the telephone.

“Weve come out with the telephone appointment as a way to recognize that appointments are not a one size fits all,” Kemper adds. “Many agents have a lot of questions with their new prospective carrier, and all those questions are addressed in that one phone call,” she says.

Kemper adds that since sales is a relationship business, its been important for them to continue to build relationships with agents over the phone, rather than exclusively through the Web or through written materials. “Weve found that our independent agents like that personal touch,” she says.

Since SAFECO introduced their telephone appointment process, they have seen a 200% increase in agents appointed over the phone. However, officials at SAFECO were unable to quantify that into actual increases in new premium dollars.

Kemper explains that many producers are very impressed with the telephone appointment, and as a result have done additional business with SAFECO. “Were getting the attention of some real big hitters,” says Kemper.

“We had one agent who wanted to place a $2.6 million order for one of our investment products,” she explains. “He was so pleased with how well the appointment process worked, he wired the $2.6 million, and the very same day he sent in an additional $950,000 for investment.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, July 15, 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.