December 26, 2016
To our agent, MGA and carrier customers,
It is time to close out 2016 and I wanted to share some thoughts with you on Appulate, our progress and our future – plus some general comments about the insurance industry as a whole.
Appulate’s mission is to help connect the various stakeholders in the insurance quoting process through the use of technology, and we take this mission seriously. More than a slogan, it’s why most of us at Appulate joined the company and why a growing number of agents, MGAs and carriers are customers of the Appulate network.
We include the qualifier, “help” intentionally because it reminds us that our role is one of enabling. Our agent, MGA and carrier customers are the central players when it comes to modernizing the way they do business.
Three Big Enablers
We believe that for modernization to occur, we, as a community, have to do three fundamental things.
First, make technology available that is easy to implement, easy to use and just works.
Think about your favorite technology products and services. Perhaps it is the “activity tracker” you wear around your wrist or maybe it is an app on your phone like Uber or Amazon… When technology is useful and it works reliably, it makes our lives better. And, we here at Appulate know this and strive to make our product match these themes.
However, developing and supporting an increasingly complicated system with a growing number of use-cases for a wide range of customers is non-trivial. It takes a world-class team (now nearly 90 engineers) to accomplish this. And, while I personally am amazed at how far our product has come, Appulate’s software engineers never seem satisfied and are constantly finding ways to make it better.
For the retail agent, Appulate ProducerConnect™ (which includes Uplink™- our upload tool) continues to be best of breed. It works with ANY agency management system, is easy to setup and works for ANY line of business. More than 2/3 of all independent retail agents (more than 25,000) as well as numerous captive agents have setup a ProducerConnect™ account. In fact, ACORD presented Appulate with special recognition this year for the success we’ve had in bringing upload capabilities to agents (a HUGE honor for us). Bottom line, the technology is there for the agents and it works. Now, we need to promote adoption and utilization – which I will discuss later in this letter.
As for our CarrierConnect™ and MGAConnect™ products, sizable efforts are going into additional features to make the product easier and more intuitive to use. Earlier this year, Appulate launched its 6th generation version of these products which offered a new user-interface and a sizable number of improvements. And, we received great applause from our customers for this. Soon, you will see our 6.1 release go live (Q1) and several more big releases will happen between now and summer.
Some of the things to look forward to include:
Short-term (next 30-60 days):
- A complete re-write of the Smart Questionnaire Engine, which will now include real-time data synchronization between the producer and underwriter view who editing the same record at the same time
- Ability to quickly find questions, including required and unanswered ones
- Ability to better control which questions to be sent via reverse portal
- Email custom templates
- Improved performance of the system throughout
- Ability to define different types of submissions for the same MGA or Carrier program
- Improvements and enhancements of the quote statuses architecture
- New reports that will show average time it took to produce the quote, as well as bind ratios
Later in 2017
- ISO based rating
- Insurance Commission tracking for Carriers, MGAs and Retail Agents
- Policy records management with AL3 download capabilities (both on the sending and the receiving ends)
- Quote Management Interface with Deductibles and Limits
- Major UI enhancements for Smart Questionnaire and Market Selector interfaces
Additionally, we are well aware that for our products to bring you even more value, it needs to have easier integration with your core systems. Appulate is currently investing considerable resources towards creating integrations with several common MGA and Carrier systems. These integration projects are complex and typically require the cooperation of the system’s vendor for success. In addition to the systems we currently offer integration with (ExpertInsure, Nexsure, AIM and Tropics), we have 4 additional systems slated for early 2017: IMS (MGA Systems), Oceanwide (Insurity), Policy Decisions (Insurity) and Majesco Policy (Majesco). Several others are also in the discussion phase.
Second, support the technology and the user community.
There are more than 75,000 individual users of Appulate nationwide. Our supportive user community ranges from producers and “CSR” users at the agent level to processors, underwriters and even a variety of senior management users at the carrier / MGA level. Simply making technology available does not get the job done. Appulate’s user community requires a growing amount of support resources to power implementations, adoption and ongoing utilization.
Back in 2015, in anticipation of the launch of Appulate 6.0, we recognized a need for a far more professional and reliable implementation process. Jeff Kowalski (Director of Project Management) was hired to bring Appulate’s processes and procedures up to meet industry standards. Making these changes did not happen overnight (and we still have plenty of room for further improvement), but our 2016 implementations were the smoothest in company history and customers have given us tremendous kudos for noticeable improvements.
Once our customers are implemented, they interact with our training team. Appulate has and continues to invest in both personnel and technology to make training more readily available and flexible. In the coming months, Appulate will launch a new LMS (learning management system) specifically designed to organize, furnish and manage training. Additionally, Vanessa Duliere Camara and her team are going to be starting the “Appulate Ambassador Program” – an ambitious investment that will add feet on the ground in various geographies – focused on working more closely with agents to increase adoption / utilization. The investments we are making on training will be discussed in great detail at our upcoming AppulateConnect event (April 26/27) – www.AppulateConnect.com
But, more than ever our user community needs ongoing support to get the most value possible from Appulate. To that, we have added two significant resources (with more on the way soon). Virginia Feminis is Appulate’s lead Account Manager and is the main point of contact for all MGAConnect™ or CarrierConnect™ customer. Prior to joining Appulate, Virginia managed large insurance carrier accounts for Applied Systems and was known for her strong communication skills and attentive service. Virginia is a great addition to the team and is based in Chicago. The other resource that we recently added in Chicago is Pavel Sarygin. Upbeat and smart, Pavel is a front-lines support resource for agents to help them over any technical hurdles in the utilization of Appulate. Both Virginia and Pavel successfully climbed our learning curve in 2016 and are now positively impacting our customers.
Third, change behavior of the user community.
If you are a parent or know someone that is, chances are you have or know a child that is stubborn. And, while being a dad is something I truly cherish, I am the (proud) father to a very stubborn daughter – so I can relate personally. I remember those early days when we would sit down for dinner and try to get our daughter to eat vegetables only to have her dig her heels in and refuse at all costs. It can be both frustrating and disheartening to deal with people that are stubborn, particularly when they are close minded to something you believe is good for them.
Many adults are resistant to change too, and to some degree there is some level of stubbornness that we have to overcome to get the Appulate user-community (particularly agents) to change the way they do business. But, just like wanting my daughter to eat some broccoli, wanting an agent to upload data via Appulate is truly in their best interest.
The world of the average retail insurance agent is not nearly as rosy as it once was. Agents are being squeezed from many different sides and their business is rapidly being disrupted. Today, most agents face sizable competition from other agents in their geography or specialty. They have been asked by their insurers to do more work than ever before and there is sizable investment being made into ventures focused specially on going around the retail agent to sell insurance directly to the insured. In other words, the retail agent community is at a cross-roads of sorts and much of this is a result of stubborn behavior on their part.
In order for agents to thrive in an everchanging economy, they need to modernize. The agents that are truly at the forefront of the industry today are paperless, they are active on social media, utilize SEO (search engine optimization) and… use Appulate to reduce keystrokes and better track their submissions / quotes.
Appulate really does have its technology inside of more than 2/3 of all independent insurance agencies nationwide and it is a tremendous accomplishment for us. But, I am quick to admit that only a fraction of these agencies are truly “power-users” of Appulate. The remaining agencies are more passive and sometimes reluctant to the idea of using our technology to submit and quote with you.
The good news is that there are a growing number of agencies that are using Appulate reliably and consistently. And, when we can get a user past their fear, uncertainty or doubt, a true change occurs. Many of the agents that once were completely turned off to the idea of using Appulate are now completely dependent on the technology. They tell us that they see a much higher margin on business they bind when using Appulate because they save time. And, many share with us that Appulate has truly become a part of their agency that can’t live without.
Bottom line, we know that a change in behavior is possible!
But, we still have a way to go and it is an effort that requires investment and support from both our customers and from us. Appulate is a technology company. We are not in the insurance business and are not responsible for getting agents to send you business or send it to you in a certain way. Granted, we have a vested interest in helping you see an ROI from your investment in Appulate, but changing the behavior of your agents – that is really your part of the relationship to lead.
Stubborn people are not stubborn all the time. There may be some specific events or interactions that trigger their reluctance to do things in new and innovative ways. We also have to remind ourselves of the fact that most human behaviors are reward-seeking or pain-avoiding. And as it turns out, our customers that recognize this are the ones that see the best results. Some of our customers are “rewarding” agents that change behavior with quicker turn-around times for quotes, higher commissions and even other goodies. Whereas other customers have been successful from “punishing” agents unwilling to change. Several Appulate customers are now even mandating use of Appulate to generate a quote.
And, why not consider mandating the use of Appulate by your agents? Sure, this might seem like a radical idea that could alienate agents and hurt your business, but those Appulate customers that have taken this step actually see positive results on both their top and bottom line.
To conclude, I will reiterate what I just said above – that changing the behavior of your agents is your part of our relationship to lead. However, I am quick to follow that statement up by telling you that my team and I are dedicated to helping support you and your agents in this process.
Today, we offer better training and more support resources than we ever have. And, in 2017, we plan to continue to invest in additional people, technology and process improvement to further help with your efforts to change behavior.
Appulate looks forward to continuing to serve you in 2017 and we are always here for you if you need us. On behalf of my entire team, have a joyous holiday season and thank you for your business.
Jeffrey M. Harris