production with a new insurance suite and working to complete
the rollout of remaining states. The company bought software and
implementation services from a well-established and well-regarded
core system vendor. Part of the system rollout was the deployment
of a new agents’ portal.
Early in the production rollout, new business submissions
started to fall dramatically, accompanied by anecdotes about agents
abandoning quotes and applications that were too complicated and
confusing. Having taken some time to confirm the new trend, the
carrier organized a lengthy review of portal functionality, which
included representatives of all core functional areas of the company—marketing, underwriting, policy service, and finance; three
agent representatives; and several staff from the software vendor.
The agents did a terrific job characterizing the group they
represented. Their key points, which should have been the starting
point more than two years ago for designing the portal, were as
K Most agents (and CSRs) are more than 50-years-old and are
not technologically sophisticated, nor particularly well educated.
K Most agents (and CSRs) live in rural areas and do not have fast
K Most agents write a small number of low-value or mobile home
risks and are only occasional users of the carrier’s portal.
K The average premium for a low-value or mobile home is low
and the associated commission is small.
Consider the implications of the above facts and you understand what the portal design needed to be:
K Easy to understand and stated in language the agents are familiar with: One key criticism was certain menu picks and field
headings didn’t make sense to the agents and CSRs, so they
remained unsure as to what the outcome of various choices
K Uncluttered: The agents highlighted both fields on screens and
whole web pages that were not needed to achieve the job in
hand, for example, getting a quote.
K Intuitive and self-explanatory: No amount of training, of which
there was apparently quite a lot, will teach unsophisticated
users how to successfully navigate a confusing system once per
K Quick and simple: If agents cannot write the business quickly
they will abandon the carrier’s portal and go where they can get
the risk written. There is simply not enough money involved to
In addition to doing extensive training, the carrier also put in
place a help-desk group based out of the policy service department.
Unfortunately, when agents did phone in, having tried but gotten
stuck, the support staff could not see the agent’s screen or what the
agent was trying to do so they had no way of tutoring the agent to a
successful conclusion or taking over and fixing the submission.
Indeed, it turned out the “design” of the agents’ portal man-
aged to maximize the worst of both worlds: It was not sufficiently
agent-centric to be usable, but it was different enough from the in-
ternal carrier screens that the carrier staff could not effectively help
when the agents got lost or confused and sought assistance. The
outcome, as we already know, was that agents simply stopped using
the portal, with the inevitable consequence to top-line revenue.
While the final chapters of this parable are yet to be written,
there is cause for hope. The carrier’s management (new since the
project started, it should be noted), upon realizing the problem
stopped any further system rollout, gathered the important stakeholders, and focused on what was wrong and how to fix it. Note
that they did not focus on how they got “there” in the first place—
the bad decisions are lost in the mists of time and the culprits are
all gone. They didn’t blame the vendor; they asked for the vendor’s
help. They embraced the agents who complained the loudest,
sought their input, and valued their loyalty.
This carrier, I believe, will “dodge the bullet” but they will not
emerge unscathed. Money, time, and credibility have been lost and
their competition will be only too happy to capitalize. A new CEO,
who showed up only a year ago to shake the company from its
slumbers and innovate for growth, finds himself triaging a rogue
project that has hit both his revenue and cost projections.
But, to the original question: Could the vendor’s portal be
rendered highly usable by this carrier’s agents, to the extent that
it would drive business to the carrier? The answer is probably no.
Clearly, the vendor will improve, simplify and streamline the portal
and likely will remove the worst impediments to the agents’ user
base, but it is unlikely the system is configurable enough to render a
highly customized and optimized agent experience.
The most likely outcome, in this instance, is the carrier will
end up with a portal no better or worse than the majority of its
competition. In fact, the objective now is that other system features,
such as billing payment options, will create the business attraction
hoped for and the portal will not be a net negative. Clearly, in this
instance, the carrier would have benefitted from either a specialist
vendor portal product or a build strategy.
Either way, the importance and specificity of portal software
needs to be recognized and built into software selection and
implementation projects to a far greater degree than happened
here. We are used to hearing of core system replacements that have
problems, but in this instance the issue that almost brought the
project its knees wasn’t caused by any of those big scary boxes on
the systems chart labelled policy, billing or claims; it was that little
box on the left hand side labeled “Agents Portal.” ITA
George Grieve is a popular writer and speaker on the
subject of insurance technology solutions. He is the author
of the book “Shop Talk” and is CEO of the consulting firm
CastleBay Consulting. The views and opinions in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect
the views of the Insurance Technology Association.