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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Vendors Offer Workflow Solutions

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By Gary S. Mogel

From client prospecting to billing to final claims resolution, agency management systems give agents and brokers the ability to track, document and analyze the thousands of transactions.

Formerly provided exclusively as desktop software solutions, these products have migrated to the Web and there are now Internet options available.

Sagitta, a product of Windsor, Conn.-based AMS Services, is designed for large agents and brokers, according to David Shea, President and CEO of AMS Services Agency Markets. He said the system is especially useful for agents and brokers with complex needs or those that want the ability to customize.

AMS recently announced that Sagitta is moving to the IBM UniVerse extended database, giving the product greater accessibility with other standard databases, technologies and Internet resources. “Migration of current users to the IBM Universe will be comparable to a normal maintenance upgrade,” Mr. Shea noted.

Conversion to Sagitta can be completed over a weekend with no downtime. “With some other systems, four days downtime is not unusual,” Mr. Shea said.

Sagitta also features accounting systems used for managing acquisitions and viewing profit centers.

A Web-based version of the system, Sagitta Online, is also available.

AMS also has a new Web-engineered product, AMS 360, built on the Microsoft .NET platform. AMS 360 is geared to agents and brokers below the top 100 range that may not require Sagitta’s customization. “AMS 360 focuses on increasing agency profitability by better managing the users workflow,” Mr. Shea said. “It fits 95 percent or more of the agent/broker market.” Users of AfW, AMS’s middle market product, will be able to transition to AMS 360 with no conversion difficulties, he said.

AMS 360 expands agency management capabilities to include advanced customer resource management tools. It also permits access to real-time graphical and statistical business information and has customizable “user centers” to provide immediate access to the exact type of content required. “Business alerts” help users identify important events and transactions that need to be processed.

AMS has also developed TransactNOW, which permits agents and brokers to interface directly with their carriers, said Mr. Shea. “TransactNOW can be integrated into all AMS management systems.” He added that over 1,000 agencies are currently using this product and eight carriers are in the system. “Users are finding significant time savings handling customer service calls. Taken across the entire customer base, there is a potential for very significant savings.”

AMS products require a licensing fee for new users and an ongoing maintenance fee. Prices for AMS products depend on so many different variables, said Mr. Shea, without providing more specifics.

At University Park, Ill.-based Applied Systems Inc., the core product is The Agency Manager, first introduced in 1983. Wayne Pardue, executive vice president, sales and marketing of Applied, noted that a recent enhancement to TAM (Version 7.1) is e-filing–combining document, e-mail and image modules so that any type of file, including pdf documents, can be attached to and retrieved from client records.

TAM’s “feature of the month” provides agents and brokers with ways to make workflow more efficient. “One feature of the month gave users the ability to invoice off of a daily download,” Mr. Pardue said. “For example, if there is an additional premium endorsement, an invoice would be created based on the carrier download, which is especially important in a direct bill environment.”

An important management systems trend is moving from batch interface to real-time interface, Mr. Pardue said. “TAM’s ‘real-time’ button connects agents and brokers to carriers. He gave as an example an insured getting a cancellation notice. Formerly, an agent would call or go to the carrier’s Web site, key-in data and drill down to get needed information. “With real-time capability, the agent can go right to the carrier’s billing screen.”

Another recent innovation is INScope, which Mr. Pardue said gives agents a “24/7″ Web presence and allows their customers to issue certificates, auto ID cards and other documents when needed.

Applied has also developed TAMCentral, a Web-based product for agents and brokers that prefer an ASP model to an internal software system. Firms using this model can access the system from any Internet connection, allowing access from client sites and permitting employees to more readily work from home. “About 70 percent of new users choose the ASP model over the software model,” Mr. Pardue reported.

In addition, Applied has the Vision Series targeting high-end brokers with special accounting needs. There is also “Pocket TAM,” which downloads to a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) for use on the road.

Mr. Pardue was unable to discuss pricing, as he indicated that too many variables are involved.

Atlanta, Ga.-based Inc. offers Web-based and software management products. Andy Whalen, ebix’s vice president of e-insurance solutions, sees the Web as the future of agency management systems. “The Internet is not a flash in the pan. It will become the core technology for hosting agency management systems,” he noted.

The firm’s principal product for agents and brokers, ebixASP, performs all of the policy-related functions of a typical agency management system. However, Mr. Whalen is most proud of ebix’s ability to customize the product for the specific needs of clients.

“For instance, one client had a Web site that was basically a brochure site. We customized it so that clients could come to the site and enter data which was then integrated into the agency management system, generating a ‘to do’ item for the agent,” he said.

“In addition, ebixInquiry in ebixASP gives agents and brokers the ability to click on a policy and automatically launch a carrier Web site, complete the sign-on, and navigate directly to the policy status.”

Another client service offered by ebix is business process outsourcing, including call centers, data entry and 24/7 access to human resources. Although ebix started as a service provider to the largest brokers, it now offers those services to medium and small firms also, Mr. Whalen said. Initial set-up costs and training are in the $1,000 to $10,000 range, with a charge of $85 per month per user for the Web model.

XDimensional Technologies in Brea, Calif., has developed Nexsure, a Web-engineered application developed on the Microsoft .NET platform. Agents can access the system from anywhere there is Internet service, said Bill Hunt, executive vice president of sales and marketing.

“A major advantage of a Web-based system over a software system, in addition to easier access, is that there are no extra hardware requirements–if the agents have computers and the Internet, they already have everything they need,” he said.

“It is a totally ‘scalable’ system that can be used by a one-person agency or a national broker, or anything in between.” He also said the “data on our screens are in plain English,” noting that “screens are not cluttered with computer codes.”

Mr. Hunt said a unique feature of Nexsure is that it starts with the client prospecting function, distinguishing it from other systems that start with the entering of an application or policy.

“We have a sales contact and sales management feature that grades potential clients according to agency-specific criteria, using critical factors of success relevant to each individual agency.”

Nexsure also provides the full gamut of traditional agency management system functions relating to policies, binders, certificates, applications, invoices and other documents, he said. Correspondence and other documents can be created using Microsoft Office. “These can be e-mailed or faxed directly from the system, and outside e-mails, documents, photos and other attachments can be attached to client files.”

“The system also permits agents to ‘hot-link’ to carrier Web sites to view billing information, claims status, declarations pages and other data,” he said.

Mr. Hunt also said agents have the option of granting clients the ability to perform certain functions themselves. “For instance, an agent can allow a client to issue certificates of insurance or change vehicle schedules. System access would be limited to those or whatever other functions the agent wants to delegate to the clients.”

Like the others, Mr. Hunt said many factors go into the pricing structure.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, May 12, 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.


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