Portals are becoming far more than a gateway through which users are provided electronic access to the enterprise. For the innovative insurer, portals are becoming the place beyond the gateway. They will become the device that enables the user–be it employee, customer or partner–to participate in e-business on demand.
Today, many insurers use portals to allow an agent or insured to access basic information and static functions like checking a claim status or, in some instances, paying a bill. The portal may not always be available, but this is okay, since there are relatively few time-critical business transactions being conducted that require 24/7 availability.
However, we are now seeing innovative insurance companies leveraging portals in a new way–by allowing agents and insureds to become a much more dynamic part of the business process. Some users are able to execute business processes on demand, at any time, from any place–issuing certificates of insurance, issuing their own policies or settling their own claims.
Consider what airlines are allowing. Airlines are encouraging passengers to become part of the business process by checking themselves via the Internet and kiosks. This provides convenience to the traveler while reducing expense for the airline.
If an airline can do this, why cant an insurer let an insured, claimant or agent into their business processes to self-issue a policy, self-settle certain types of claims or self-issue certificates of insurance?
As little as two years ago, such a vision was rare and certainly unobtainable. However, advances in processing power, the emergence of open standards, improvements in security, and affordable bandwidth now make it possible to respond to this growing demand and expectation for such services.
The emergence of e-business on demand is changing the roles of insurer, agent and insured. Agent disintermediation, a topic of debate since the mid-90s, remains an issue. Does the portal represent the final blow to the agent? Probably not. Agents will still provide a valuable service to a significant segment of the market.
In fact, portal technology could narrow the expense gap between direct and agent-based writers. Carriers using agents will be able to push internal processes to the agent saving time and expense, while at the same time helping agents be more valuable to their customers. Additionally, the aggregating power of the portal will allow consumer, agent and carrier to work together in a more seamless, collaborative business model.