It is becoming common for documents to be delivered online. Consumers can receive credit card bills, bank statements, tax forms, and sales receipts electronically. They are also starting to receive insurance documents this way. Increasingly, insurers are delivering everything from premium bills to cancellation notices electronically. This includes delivery of insurance policies. While the practice is not universal yet, it is clear that the use of electronic delivery will only increase. The challenge for insurance agencies: How to serve their clients well in this new environment while preventing mistakes.
There are several things agencies can do to ensure that the transition to e-delivery of policies is smooth and minimizes risk to the agency and its clients:
1. Decide how to deliver electronic copies. Some options include:
– Mailing or hand-delivering them to clients on physical storage media such as CD’s or flash drives
– Emailing them via a secure, registered email system that provides the agency with proof of receipt
– Delivering them as attachments to an acknowledgement letter or ACORD form that the client e-signs using an e-signature tool
– Emailing a link to the policy, where the client can download it from a secure client portal on the agent or carrier Web site
Choosing one delivery method and using it consistently will help to prevent failures to deliver policies at all.
2. Comply with all applicable state and federal laws pertaining to electronic records. For example, some states require senders to obtain the recipient’s consent before delivering documents electronically. Get that consent in writing and retain a copy.
3. Communicate with the clients, particularly elderly ones who may be uncomfortable with technology. Explain the reasons for delivering their policies this way, and listen to any concerns they may have. While many clients welcome electronic policies as a way to reduce the amount of paper they have to store, others may prefer to have hard copies. Be prepared to provide hard copies for those clients who insist on them, while encouraging all clients to accept electronic copies.
4. Implement a procedure for documenting the delivery of policies. Agency management systems may offer ways to do this. For example, agencies can document e-delivery in some systems through a manual entry. Other systems may interface with the email system or portal used for delivery, automatically noting the client’s file.
Also, it is important to have procedures in place for dealing with email bounce-backs. These procedures might include re-sending documents to alternate email addresses the client provides; attempting to contact the client by phone; or printing and mailing physical copies. However the agency chooses to manage these situations, it should handle them consistently and document all attempts at delivery.
5. Be consistent. Do not deliver policies and endorsements to the same clients in different formats. If the agency delivers policies to a client electronically, it should deliver endorsements the same way.
6. If possible, make archives of expired policies available for clients to access via a secure Web portal. Some insurance carriers may provide such portals with password protection. Also, Web hosting providers may offer the agency the capability to archive the files on their own secure sites.
7. To the extent possible, deliver full copies of new and archived policies. This includes policy forms as well as declarations and schedules. Since policy forms may vary from one carrier to another (not all carriers use ISO or AAIS forms,) it is important to make the actual forms available for both the clients and the agency.
8. Make the electronic policies compatible with mobile devices and easy for the user to navigate. This will depend on how the carrier delivers them to the agency. Policies should have a hyperlinked Table of Contents with links to each section, and they should be easily searchable, enabling users to quickly find specific provisions.
9. Consider adding special clickable features for users. Such features might explain insuring agreements, exclusions, deductibles, limits of insurance and conditions. These will improve clients’ understanding of their insurance coverage and add value to the service the agency provides.
Society, and business in particular, is rapidly going paperless. Electronic copies of documents offer convenience and ease of storage and access to those who prefer them. More insurance carriers are choosing to deliver policy documents electronically because it is more economical than printing and mailing them. Inevitably, electronic delivery will become the norm rather than the exception. If insurance agencies implement the right procedures, they will be well positioned to adapt to this new way of doing business, protect themselves from possible legal actions, and keep their clients happy.