Ryan Fenchel is the principal of a second generation family independent insurance agency, but it is a far cry from his father’s agency.
Fenchel’s agency, Integra Insurance Services, goes beyond most of its peers in its use of technology. The Los Gatos, California based agency employs numerous software tools that enable its 12-person staff to service a large book of business. The tools also kept the business running smoothly during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.
Since 2018, Integra has used the Applied Epic agency management system. This cloud-based system enables staff members to access client data, connect with carriers using a single sign-on, and monitor the progress of new business and renewals, among other capabilities. Users can access it from mobile devices as well as from their workstations.
Integra has also been using Microsoft 365 since 2018. To enable remote working, the agency uses the Teams app. Staff members can hold video conferences, chat conversations, and collaborate on documents from any location. Like many other businesses, Integra has also used Zoom for customer video conferences during the pandemic shutdown. Zoom can accommodate hundreds of meeting participants at a time on workstations and mobile devices.
One of the key features of the agency’s website is Integra 24×7, which enables customers to perform self-service tasks such as adding or removing vehicles from an auto policy, adding or removing drivers, requesting certificates of insurance and paying premiums. Fenchel says it took four years to implement the program, which was developed using Applied Systems technology.
The premium payment feature is tied to commercial lines agency bill invoices. Customers can pay either by credit card or electronically by an ACH withdrawal from a checking account. While Integra 24×7 enables customer self-service, it limits the errors and omissions liability risk. Customers can upload information and view policy documents, but they cannot control the information. For example, they can request a certificate of insurance but not create one.
The agency also uses Patra to automate personal lines processing. Patra frees service staff from mundane tasks such as policy checking and delivery, handling change requests, endorsement processing, and invoicing.
Fenchel automates the paper application process by using Indio, a tool that provides thousands of application forms. This helps applicants return the applications in a timely manner since it’s all done online and many questions are prefilled for their convenience. A question that a customer answers on one form automatically populates other forms, eliminating the need to answer the same question multiple times. Indio was purchased in 2019 by Applied.
Customers have grown accustomed to communicating by text messaging. Integra uses an app called Captivated to integrate texting into its workflow. It embeds a widget into Integra’s website that displays a word balloon containing a phone number, inviting the customer to send a text to that number. Ensuing text conversations are automatically saved to a PDF file that gets attached to the client’s record in the agency management system.
One inefficiency that all businesses deal with is lengthy email exchanges to arrange a time for a meeting or phone call. Fenchel recommends a tool called Calendly to eliminate the time-wasting back and forth. The user sets up availability preferences and the app creates a link for others to access. The user shares the link via email, website, text or other method. The other person clicks the link, selects a convenient date and time for the meeting, and the event is automatically added to the user’s calendar.
To keep track of the many passwords required for websites and apps, the agency uses LastPass. This password manager is available as an extension to a browser and as a mobile app. With one master password, the user can securely store and retrieve all her passwords. For a low monthly price, a small business such as an insurance agency can manage passwords for each staff member. Administrators can easily add and delete employees from the system as needed.
Fenchel and his team use an app called ActiveWords to quickly produce correspondence. Users can store chunks of frequently-used text, or even entire form letters, and automatically insert them into documents by inputting words or phrases. Prospect letters and emails are produced easily. For example, an employee can enter the words “cover letter,” tap a key, and produce a pre-written cover letter to accompany a policy.
Fenchel acknowledges that his staff “puts up” with his penchant for new technology tools. Too much change at once can be overwhelming, so he’s made an effort to introduce apps gradually so that employees can grow comfortable with them. He sees technology as essential to his agency’s success. “It’s what separates Integra from old school agencies that don’t use technology,” he says. These apps have worked so well for the agency that he is questioning the need for a physical office.
If the insurance agency of the future will operate entirely remotely, it is likely that Integra Insurance Services will lead the way.