User group president cites concern about obsolescence as technology advances

by Ara C. Trembly

While the AMS Users’ Group national conference in Indianapolis last month saw multiple technology introductions from AMS Services, the group’s newly elected president said her membership needs to overcome old fears in order to take advantage of technology advances.

“The challenge in the coming year is to get our members involved with the new tools,” said Martha Williamson, new president of the user group, in an interview with National Underwriter. AMSUG agents, she said, “need to be motivated. Everyone’s afraid of changes.”

In particular, agents are afraid of having jobs become “obsolete” due to technology and automation, said Ms. Williamson, personal lines manager of the ONB Insurance Group in Terre aute, Ind. She argued, however, that “with change, our jobs are going to grow. My job has changed dramatically.”

Ms. Williamson noted that she began her career at what is now ONB in 1982 as an accountant, later taking on responsibility for the agency management system as well as staff training. To understand the customer service representative’s function, she became licensed in insurance and took on a small book of commercial lines business. At the same time, she became involved with her local AMS Users’ Group chapter.

As a result of her varied background, Ms. Williamson characterized herself as “probably more on the ground level, dealing with CSRs.” Translating this to her new position as AMSUG president, she said, “I have the ability to get out and push some of the [new AMS] tools and software we have available.”

Single-entry, multiple-company interface (SEMCI) between agents and carriers is another key agency technology priority that is proceeding “in incremental steps,” according to Ms. Williamson. “Are we going to have it tomorrow? Probably not,” she opined. “But we have to keep going forward, and that means driving our vendor to make improvements.” She said AMSUG will continue to push for new advancement in the interface area through AMS TransactNOW technology.

Asked what the main obstacles are to achieving SEMCI, Ms. Williamson said the biggest problem is “trying to get everyone on the same page.” In particular, she noted, carriers need to agree on using the same standards. “But the mindset is changing among carriers,” she said. “Agencies are asking for more. We can’t afford not to have the best technology available to us.”

She added that thinner margins are a key driver for agents to acquire time- and money-saving technology. “We’re running ourselves leaner than we did a few years ago, thanks to automation,” she continued. “We’re expected to give top service, yet still cut expenses.”

Asked about carriers’ well-publicized fears that if SEMCI becomes a reality, agents will simply put insurer offerings on a spreadsheet and select on price alone, Ms. Williamson said: “They know we compare rates now. The carriers need to make it easier for us to do business. If they give us a good product at a good price, we’re going to buy that product.

“Everything is about relationships and service,” she concluded. “We have to be able to show that there is a value to our relationship.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, May 21, 2004. Copyright 2004 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.