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An Agency Goes PaperlessAlmost

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By Mark E. Ruquet

There is an ongoing war within every insurance agency to control and store the reams of paperwork that flow into its offices. With the advent of technology, however, more than a few have envisioned the paperless office.

In this vision, faxes are ferried directly into the agencys computer system and forms are filled out, signed and e-mailed through the computer with the aid of the Internet. Gone would be the visits to the post office and metal cabinets filled with papers for all the client files. Instead, filing is kept neatly in electronic folders that do not take up valuable office space.

In reality, the march to the paperless office has had mixed results.

In Ontario, Canada, the embrace of a computerized document solution by a broker means better tracking and quicker access to clients files. However, the countrys insurance regulations have kept the broker from creating a paperless office. Instead, the firm finds it must rent storage space for the volumes of paper documents it is still required to keep for years.

Algoma Insurance Group in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, is a full service property-casualty, life, health and employee benefits regional insurance broker that generates $16 million Canadian (about $10 million U.S.) in premium volume per year, says Ross Weatherby, technical administrator for the firm.

When James Horbatuk, president of Algoma, took over from his father six years ago, Weatherby says, he began the process of turning to technology to find answers to improve efficiency.

About three years ago, he says, the firms commercial department found itself lost in paper, and it was determined then that something needed to be done to keep better track of documents. The most efficient system, Algoma determined, was a digital imaging system that would electronically image and store its growing stock of documents.

Algoma soon discovered that the price for such a system was prohibitive, about $16,000 Canadian (about $10,000 U.S.) for 10 workstations, Weatherby says.

It was then that Algoma invited Xerox to demonstrate its DocuShare technology.

“It did all we needed it to do,” states Weatherby.

The agency found it could do the imaging, document retrieval and access to the documents it needed, he says. It also easily integrated with Microsoft Office.

“Painless integration,” notes Weatherby.

And the price was right at $10,000 Canadian (less than $7,000 U.S.) for 50 workstations.

After seeing the effectiveness of the system for its commercial lines, Algoma began finding more and more ways to use the system, expanding its use to personal lines, insurance inspections, appraisals and a host of other documents that needed to be managed within the firm.

What is unique about the DocuShare service, explains Colman Murphy, product-marketing manager for Stamford, Conn.-based Xerox, is that access to documents with the software system is Web-based.

Besides getting to the documents, another feature of DocuShare is inputting and accessing information using “FlowPort,” an information template sheet with predefined programming that tells the software where the document goes in the computer for searching later. This is especially important for photographs, where there may be no text information for the computer to search.

The template is set up to provide all the information a user would need in order to locate that photo or any other document that does not have sufficient text for easy identification and search, he says.

The template, Murphy explains, can be used repeatedly for all documents.

With DocuShare, instead of hunting down folders for the information, all the user needs to do is input search information for a scanned document. It is then located through the programs call-up system, he says.

Murphy adds that no additional software or hardware is needed to run the program. Users will need additional storage space on the server.

Buyers, he notes, see a quick return on investment from improved efficiency, sometimes as soon as within six months.

Today, Algoma not only keeps its clients documents on DocuShare, but also stores internal company documents, such as performance reviews, on the system. Because it is a Web-based system, the documents can be accessed either at home or in the office.

One major problem right now for the Canadian broker, however, is that it still has not gotten rid of its papers.

Weatherby explains that despite having an accurate imaging system, the firm cannot discard its old documents. Under Canadian law, insurance agencies and brokers must keep hard copies of their documents for seven years, including any notes.

Because of this, the firm has a total of 3,500 square feet of space to store documents, including extra space the firm had to rent. The irony is that those stored documents are rarely looked at, says Weatherby. And, if older paper documents are needed, when retrieved they are also scanned into Algomas imaging system, so that no one ever has to go back for them again.

Mark E. Ruquet is an assistant editor for NUs Property & Casualty/Risk & Benefits Management Edition.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 21, 2003. Copyright 2003 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.