Most (if not all) modern agency management systems let you fill in Insurance Application Forms from within their systems. The one my company uses even pre-fills some fields in personal lines applications (from the data insurance companies download into our agency management system).
However, many agents consider this feature extremely overrated. Agencies need these Insurance Application Forms for new clients, not existing ones. We do most of our new personal lines business on carrier websites or comparative raters, making this fill-in feature mostly irrelevant.
Direct writers have told me that fewer than 5% of their personal lines business comes to them on applications created outside of their systems. Worse yet, this figure climbs to 40-50% for general agencies. Most general agency personal lines risks are either impaired (bad credit, poor property condition, etc.) or have special conditions (high value, log home, PC10, etc.).
Insurance Application Forms Matter!
Agent prepared applications created outside of company website/rating systems are still relevant – even in 2018. Even the 5% received by direct writers in personal lines adds up to thousands of Insurance Application Forms each year. On the commercial lines side, these applications are even more important. According to my anecdotal data, it’s 10-15% on the direct writer side (even higher for commercial package policies and standalone coverages) and 50-75% for GA’s. Now, let’s look at what’s out there today (or as they say, “the landscape”).
Let’s look at the three types of systems property and casualty agents typically use.
Most of us use proprietary systems from carriers or GAs. You probably spend most of your work hours working with these systems. First, you log into an Insurance Carrier/General Agent system and use its online raters. Then, the system fills in and generates an Acord form/application. Though proprietary systems are much more prevalent on the personal lines side, they’re becoming the norm with direct writers (and some programs) on the GA side.
What are the Pros of Proprietary Systems?
- If well programmed, these systems work quickly (and perhaps even efficiently). If you’re lucky, you don’t have to look at an Acord form.
- When you’re done using them, most of these programs generate applications for you to read or print (and maybe both).
What are the Cons of Proprietary Systems?
Most of these systems aren’t well programmed – and their menus and screens often look like holdovers from the Clinton era.They rarely ask for information in the straightforward or logical manner customers (and agents) expect from insurance businesses! Insurance companies created proprietary systems in the days when they expected agents to be on their system (and only their system) 2-5 hours a day. They expected users to master their systems over time and learn how to work around any quirks and problems.
Today, a typical independent agent uses 7-10 different systems a day. If a feature doesn’t make sense, we don’t use it. I don’t know how many times I’ve explained to a market rep that the biggest reason my office doesn’t write more business with their company is my agents hate their rating/issuing programs. Sometimes, I can’t even find the (polite) words to describe how my agents feel about these proprietary systems. At my agency, we joke that every time an agent writes with a certain company and swears out loud for the entire office to hear, a policy is born (apologies to It’s a Wonderful Life).
It’s virtually impossible to recover anything you type into these systems. Fair enough – a couple of commercial systems (and only a couple) send renewal apps with customers’ names and addresses filled in, but that’s it. Are you kidding me? That’s all? Just their names and addresses?
Hey, Agency Management System! I want my data back!
Given the odd business names my commercial customers often choose (such as “Big Jake, Inc.”) I don’t remember much about their operations after a year. What does big Jake do again? Sell tires? Broker real estate deals? With no access to information from the previous year’s form, I go on a digital safari back through a client’s file. It’s simple – I just need to know what the heck their company does so I can begin the long and tedious renewal application process. Are they a dog groomer, an excavator, a retail store, a consultant, or what?
Sometimes, I think it’d be more honest for companies/GA’s just to tell agents. “Hey, we’d like you to re-write this app from scratch. We’re only calling it a renewal app, so you don’t hunt us down at our office.”
Most companies won’t divulge an even dirtier secret about online direct rater-submission platforms. After you submit a form, an underwriter takes all the information you typed in and re-types it into the company’s system. That’s crazy! You might say this isn’t our problem as agents, but guess why your favorite commercial underwriter is three weeks behind…
I don’t want to beat this issue to death. But, I’ve poured hundreds of thousands of bits of information into this void over the years – never to see them again.
Agency Management Systems of today (and yesterday)
Hey, here’s one for you: what’s as expensive as an ex-spouse, less forgiving than the IRS, and bleeds you dry from now until the day you die? What’s that, you say? Your student loan? Good one – I hadn’t thought of that, but here’s a close second: your monthly agency management bill. Holy mackerel! And I thought to raise kids was expensive! And, while I stress about sending my vendor hundreds of dollars every month, many of my colleagues pay thousands!
Now, I know – a good agency management system is a must these days. As the salesman who sold me my system said, “A good agency management system doesn’t cost you money, it makes you money!” If that’s the case, why don’t they improve (and streamline) one of every agency’s most important functions: filling out new business and renewal applications? There are a lot of systems out there – and I’ve looked at virtually all of them. (I’ve literally tested all the systems that come up on the first five Google).
All these systems say essentially the same thing about filling out applications: “Here’s an electronic Acord form, and it has fillable fields!”
Awesome. Fillable fields on Insurance Application Forms… Have these people ever looked at an Acord form on a computer screen?
No wonder I’m setting down my bifocals and picking up a pair of trifocals. I keep buying bigger and bigger monitors, but it’s an escalating arms race I know I’m going to lose. These forms fields have got to get bigger. If I don’t start seeing fewer of them on my computer screen, I’m going to have to go out and buy a magnifying glass.
What are the Pros of Agency Management Systems?
To use your forms application system, you don’t have to leave your agency management system. Typically, you can just open a new tab/window and—boom—you’re looking at forms. These systems typically fill in your name, your address, and the date (and only rarely anything else). If you’re working with existing home/auto customers, these systems will fill in information from these customers’ files (however, you can’t prefill new customers).
All the agency management systems I’ve seen save completed applications. You can get back into them the following year to change data and re-use the forms; however, most lack auditing procedures for year-to-year version tracking. You must save each year’s information under a different file name, which only adds to the confusion.
What are the Cons of Agency Management Systems?
As the song says, “Second verse, same as the first.” The cons I mentioned above still apply:
- Poorly-structured forms
- Crazy small fields on your screen
- A “black hole of data” that makes you repeatedly type in data
Besides, isn’t this a “management system”? If so, why doesn’t it manage my applications? None of these systems offer a single feature in this area: none, zilch. What the systems I’ve looked at call managing I call filing (at best). A file cabinet is a filing system, not a management system; this idea still applies to digital files. Simply searching for an application isn’t data/application management.
Stand-Alone Insurance Application Forms Programs
My first step towards a digital agency was a standalone program that allowed me to fill out Insurance Application Forms on my PC.
This seemed revolutionary when I used it for the first time, long ago. These old programs are still around and doing well. These programs haven’t progressed much in the 20 years. All they’ve done is they kept up with new Acord form versions. Sure, some systems have moved into the cloud. However, they don’t store data in a way that allows agents to reuse it (other than the most basic database functions). Many of these systems do have repeatable functionality, but only for Certificates of Insurance, Agent/Broker of Record, and other simple forms (not applications).
Agents typically use standalone programs instead of agency management systems because of their “low prices.” So, what are those prices, exactly? Well, several are free. The others range in price from $150 to $400 per year. At those prices, are these software packages really a good value?
Consider this: you can replicate what you get from most of these paid systems with a free system and some free PDF editing.
What are the Pros of Stand-Alone Insurance Application Forms Systems?
- Stand-alone application programs are generally less expensive than agency management systems. Many agents find them much faster than the alternatives.
- They don’t store data in cloud-based agency management systems, reducing your cloud storage costs.
- They’re typically free or inexpensive (maximum $400 annually).
What are the Pros of Stand-Alone Insurance Application Forms Systems?
- Your data is still locked up. You can’t use it for any purpose other than going back in and changing it.
- You can’t access any analytics except for very basic reporting (and then, only with a subscription in the $400 range).
- None of these systems offer submission systems or dashboards for tracking submissions once you’ve sent them.
- Many of these use outdated menus which don’t work very well on Windows 8.0 (or newer) operating systems.
- They don’t package forms. What if I create four different Insurance Applications for one account? Can I merge them into one file? My agents sure don’t get excited about having to compile multiple forms into the emails they send out. For that matter, I’m sure underwriters aren’t excited about getting Insurance Application Forms in four separate files.
It’s 2018 and we deserve better! This is why we at GST Software Inc. set out in 2017 to develop a system that would resolve most of the issues that I and a lot of my colleagues were facing in our Insurance Agencies. QwikSubmit: an Insurance Application Management System, a web-based solution that helps Insurance Agents and Underwriters effortlessly manage Applications in one place. With its open architecture, QwikSubmit allows the painless use of its plug and play application creation and submission system, ISO raters, live raters, Premium Financing, integrated payments and ultimately instant issue for those who wish.