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Automatic pilot

One of the perennial questions from life offices is why don’t advisers submit more business electronically? This is a question I can answer i simply – it is because as an industry we do not make it easy enough for them.

The mechanism for submitting applications electronically has existed for many years now. However, even for protection business – the product that benefits from the widest use of e-business – little more than 70 per cent of new cases are submitted online.

Life companies and software suppliers talk endlessly of the benefits of straight-through processing, which avoids the need for manual data entry and validates the information submitted.

To translate that into plain English, the idea is that once information has been entered into one system, it should automatically populate to any other system that needs the information.

For example, once an adviser has entered information into the fact-find within their client manage-ment system, when they want to obtain a quotation for that client using a quotation service or portal, all the information already held in the client manage-ment system that is needed for the quotation should be seamlessly pre-populated to the quote.

Having obtained the quotation using the portal and selected the provider the adviser wants to proceed with, on opening the e-application, the information contained within either the client management system or the quotation should be automatically moved to the e-application.

Consequently, the adviser only has to enter information they have not already captured in their systems.

At this stage, I suspect that some readers are saying “if only”. The reality is that most online applications do not offer anything like this ease of use.

In my experience, while most insurers talk about achieving straight-through processing, what they invariably mean is they want to receive applications as nice, clean, validated electronic message themselves.

In practice, the process that advisers are expected to follow is anything but straight through.

Advisers will have to enter into different systems the same information time and time again.

In theory, all this was supposed to be addressed years ago. Speak to most portals and client management systems and they will tell you that their software is integrated and talks to each other but how much do they talk to each other?

Over the last few years, I have sat in countless meetings where the various client management systems, portals and life companies have all blamed each other for this shameful state of affairs, with the net result that the adviser experience remained poor, to say the least.

There are some organisations that have worked hard to address such issues and while they may be in the minority, how can advisers identify the providers delivering such innovation rather than just talking about it?

My colleagues at FTRC, working with leading adviser firms via Adviser Forum, have developed a benchmark by which such issues can be easily recognised by any adviser.

This process has involved working with advisers to recognise the items of data that are most valuable for reuse within the new business process. Each combination of insurer, portal and client management system can then be audited to identify those that deliver the most effective integration to allow advisers to achieve real savings within their businesses.

These new benchmarks, known as automation ratings, are initially being used to measure the ease of use of protection quotations and applications but this will shortly be extended to include bond and individual pension new business processes. Later in the year, it is expected that mortgages and wrap accounts will be added.

The first company to embrace the automation ratings as a way of demonstrating value to advisers is Norwich Union which so far has had its extranet protection application rated in conjunction with three combinations of client management systems and portals.

I believe even on this limited range of studies, the ratings already show why they will be a valuable measure for advisers to use.

The highest score was achieved by the combination of Quay Software with Webline which achieved an 88 per cent score, 1st Software used with The Exchange scored 76 per cent, with a combination of Quay and Assureweb achieving 59 per cent of the items measured.

It is important to recognise that these measures are only in the context of the Norwich Union protection extranet. It takes all three parties to work together to deliver a truly integrated process.

Norwich Union is not a name that one usually associates with marketleading e-commerce but these scores suggest that, at least in some areas, it is making significant progress.

Based on other research we have conducted recently, I suspect that one or two names normally expected to be e-commerce leaders will struggle to score at the same level.

Each automation rating study,that is, each combination of product, insurer, client management system and portal, is documented in a simple, two-page summary that outline the benefits to advisers of such reuse of data and the scores achieved.

These can be downloaded from the Adviser Forum web site or obtained from broker consultants of the organisations measured and software providers.

Initial feedback from a number of major advice firms suggests they will be looking to include this measure as one of the factors they will consider in panel reviews in the future.

Consequently, I expect we will see providers, portals and client management system providers working far harder to deliver these important process improvements to advisers.

I believe everyone can win from such activity. When the processes are easier to use advisers will finally make far more use of electronic applications which will certainly please insurers.

Equally, because advisers will know that information entered into client management systems can be reused, they will be more likely to use these systems to store data in the first place. Portals in turn will see use of their new business services rise and, most importantly, advisers will gain for having more efficient processes.

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