The Future of Commercial Lines Submissions
When discussing where we are going to focus our innovation to provide the greatest value for our customers, commercial lines submissions is often top of mind for many. From insurers looking to solve this broken process for agencies to agencies looking to grow their commercial lines book, there is palpable energy surrounding commercial lines submissions in the industry.
So, when I say the process is broken, what do I mean? Let me walk you through the commercial lines submission process and where we see opportunities for improvement and possible future solutions.
An Overview of the Commercial Lines Submissions Process
Step 1: Prospecting
In the first step, an insured meets with an agent and discusses their insurance needs. This is where the best agents shine. For new business, agents get to know the customer and their operation, point out areas of risk and provide expert guidance on the types of insurance the business should seek. At renewal, agents can further strengthen their customer relationship and ensure the client’s business is still covered appropriately by their current policies.
This is also the start of the emotional journey. The agent and insured are both in positive moods here. Agents are happy to have a prospective or renewal customer and the insured is glad to have an agent who’s watching out for them and may be able to solve their problem.
It’s the second half of prospecting – the data capture phase – where we see clear opportunities for improvement. The insured may have left the first meeting leaving behind relevant business information or last year’s declarations page. The agent now has a “choose your own adventure” scenario where they take that information and decide the best path forward to get that data into a form for submission.
Let’s not forget this is likely done manually by agents, taking up a significant portion of their time. They have many options including their management system, directly on ACORD forms, dumping data and attachments into an email or – as is usually the case in small commercial – navigate to their preferred insurer’s portal because, “that insurer will probably want this one.”
If that sounds easier said than done, that’s because it is. At this point, looking at the form for submission, the agent will likely find that they don’t have all the information they need. That means chasing down the customer – playing phone tag, emailing or texting, perhaps – to capture what information remains to complete submission.
The continued back-and-forth between agents and insureds can delay the process from moving forward. Also, once the agent takes partial (or what they believe is complete) information to an insurer, the insurer may expand the question set forcing the agent back a few steps to consult further with the insured. This is our first drop in the emotional experience.
The first part of the solution path revolves around a new tool with a simple concept: Get insurers all the information they need the first time and automate as much of it as possible.
This digital tool would provide agents with a front-end data capture interface allowing agents and their insureds to enter all relevant data easily in the required format. Standardizing it across the industry would be a bonus.
Many insurers have invested further in data enrichment and in simplifying the question set required for a submission or rate. The goal is to make sure that any data capture solution works across the industry, enabling insurers to leverage their investments and streamline the submission process.
With that solution in mind, let’s move onto the next step. There might be an opportunity to fold into the prospecting phase and save more time.
Step 2: Market Identification
Agents work with thousands of businesses each month. However, there is still the very real scenario of them not being able to match a business with the right insurance product or find a suitable market. Market identification includes legitimate pain, such as:
- Risks are submitted by agents to markets “to the best of my knowledge” who want the risk rather than what insurers really want.
- Agents don’t offer all options to the insured because of limitations of up to date appetite information.
- Agents don’t consider unique requirements of each prospective market.
- The process can be very manual and time consuming.
Looking at emotional states, insureds are unsure (and sometimes impatient) as they wait to hear from their agents. Agents and insurers are unhappy. The insurer chosen by the agent may be happy, but they may also be getting sent risks they don’t have an appetite for, which is a large waste of time. Meanwhile, other insurers may have the appropriate appetite and are missing out on the opportunity to get in front of the agent and earn new business.
To solve this – and materially change the user experience of commercial lines quoting and submissions – we add market appetite information guiding the agent while performing the initial data capture. By extending appetite search into the data capture process, agents can select their markets, and then dynamically adjust the data capture based on the information needs of an insurer’s specific insurance products.
To help us make that solution a reality, we’re investing in new technology and people.
Step 3: Quoting and Submission
Whatever nuances exist between the duo, quoting and submission for all sizes of business rely on the previously mentioned steps: data capture and market identification. For the next step, the lions’ share of small commercial lines business, agents submit via each insurer portal; literally rekeying information they’ve previously captured (or using the portal as the capture tool in step 1 but then locked in on one option).
For mid-market, it’s an email-driven world laden with inefficiencies, back and forth time-delayed conversations, rife with miscommunication that lead to lack of security and wasted time. There are some solutions available for a “real-time” bridge to insurers but limited adoption by most to date.
How are the emotional states of those involved through this step? The selected insurer may be feeling good, due to having new business, but agents aren’t in a positive mood here due to the time involved. The customer is enjoying the process less and less; they’re more likely to drop or look at other options the longer it takes.
Solving this problem requires getting smart with how we handle submissions. The solution is to provide a conduit for capturing and archiving the entire process – from data capture to bound business – then linking to policy servicing via download. This submission solution would handle both rating for small commercial as well as more complex submissions for mid to large commercial in nonstandard formats.
If we expand on threaded conversation tracking, we arrive at our next step, submission tracking.
Step 4: Submission Tracking
It’s the Wild West here. There are no rules as to the proper way to communicate back and forth, and insurers and agents are forced into a new adventure with varying formats, methods and approaches between each agent, insurer and even each underwriter. Details will be missed, and opportunities will be lost.
The submission process – complex in nature due to its iterative, back-and-forth nature – puts agents and insureds in a black hole of sorts where transparency varies by insurers but is often lacking.
Agency-facing software exists for managing and tracking agency submissions, but we need to connect the submission management process with insurers as well to keep all parties informed.
This step is an emotional valley – the unknown makes everyone unhappy here – so there’s clear room for improvement.
What is needed is an industry-wide solution for submission tracking and status which can be made available to any insurer, any agency and any management system. As an industry, now is the time to focus collaboration in this space around commercial lines submission. The process needs transparency and for communication to be easy between agents and insurers.
Step 5: Bind/Policy Issuance
In the final step, the customer has made it to the end of the process and now receives a bound policy.
Unfortunately, there’s still some pain in the process from a workflow perspective. There’s still the delivery of policy documents and information to agents and insureds required. That can take the form of email, download via agent/insurer portal or physical mailing. Also remaining is the matter of populating the agency system with policy data, supporting documents and funneling information to the insured.
Emotions are back to a happy state after a tumultuous process, though, positive feelings may just reflect that everyone is happy the process is concluding.
Luckily, download has been solving that workflow pain for years. Documents pass from insurers, directly into agency management systems where, with workflows set up, agents can then automatically push documents to customer portals or configure automated workflows based on what they receive.
Accelerating the Digitization of Commercial Lines Submissions
Independent agents remain the primary distribution channel for commercial lines with mid-market to large agencies writing a majority of commercial lines premiums. The long-term health of the distribution channel will become increasingly important as we face a shifting insurance ecosystem. That’s why it is critical to take the important steps today to revolutionize the way commercial lines business happens.
The future for commercial lines submissions is from anywhere to anywhere, with speed, efficiency and emotional bliss.
Thad Bauer, Vice President and General Manager of IVANS Insurance Solutions, a division of Applied Systems, has 25 years of property and casualty experience and has played a key role in furthering the adoption of ACORD standards to exchange data within the industry to improve efficiencies. He has helped carriers and MGAs realize benefits through innovative technology and workflow implementations of real time, download, Web service connections to third parties and maximizing data within their enterprise. Prior to his current role at IVANS, Thad was president and co-founder of NxTech, a leading provider of agency-MGA-carrier interface and data integration solutions. Prior to NxTech, he spent nine years with BWC Systems and IVANS, Inc. and has worked with more than 350 insurance carriers throughout North America.
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