New Connections

We recently came across an article in which Jack Salzwedel, chairman and CEO of American Family, was quoted as having said this:

We’ve made the comment that it took COVID and physical distancing to bring us closer as an organization. And I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

We don’t know if that will come to constitute anything like the new normal that’s become so popular to talk about since the pandemic affected us all. But we do know the truth of Mr. Salzwedel’s statement is reflected in our relationships with our employees and our customers. And we also know the pandemic has caused us to re-examine our notions of connections — from professional to personal, from the office to home and family.

What’s Old is New

There might not be any method of connecting or communicating older than personal conversation. But a few others are right up there:

  • Phone. We were tempted to write telephone. But that would have taken us back to dinosaurs, and people weren’t even conversing that long ago. Nevertheless, being able to pick up the phone has become increasingly handy as the pandemic has stretched on. We don’t text with our customers. But texting is a great way to connect and share quick messages with friends and family.
  • Email. This technology’s been around for a while; although, it post-dates the phone by a hundred years or so. If you don’t count the phone invented by the Italian inventor, Antonio Meucci, in 1849 — or the phone invented by the French inventor, Charles Bourseul, in 1854 — Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the telephone in 1876. Ray Tomlinson didn’t get around to creating email for the ARPANET until 1971. But it turned out to be, and remains, an effective means of communicating and retaining dated documentation of that communication.
  • Collaboration platforms. While they pre-date the coronavirus, collaboration platforms like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and smaller platforms like Slack, Happeo, Jostle, Flock, Asana, and others have proliferated during the pandemic. They may not be for everyone. But they’re there. And they fill a need we may not have seen coming.

We don’t know if Mr. Salzwedel intended any or all of that. But we’re grateful he prompted us think about all of the means by which we create and maintain connections … old and new.

Maybe we’re closer to a new normal than we thought we were.

The Right Tool For the Right Job

In the July edition of Best’s Review, Bill Pieroni, president and CEO of ACORD, published an article called, “Underspend, Overperform.” In the article, he made a number of good points, including these, which we’ll address in order:

  1. “Superior Performers … demonstrated materially higher levels of digital maturity and the resulting productivity.” The importance of that point can’t be overstated. Many insurers have gotten by for years running older systems. In so doing, they may have lost sight of the fact that their policyholders and their prospects live in a digital world. Insurers that don’t join their policyholders and prospects in that world — providing interactive digital transaction and communication capabilities — will lose those policyholders and prospects soon.
  2. “Winners successfully deployed and leveraged technologies while ensuring alignment with strategic intent as well as complementary organizational and process capabilities.” Translation: In terms of tactical, operational activities, successful insurers put people and processes ahead of (technological products). Aside from the fact that people are any organization’s most important assets, a bad process automated is still a bad process. Putting people and processes first enables successful insurers to better evaluate the technological products that best fit their organizations.
  3. “The final hallmark of Superior Performers was execution across distinct time horizons—simultaneously achieving superior near-term performance and long-term positioning.” Apropos of #2, successful insurers think and act strategically, satisfying short-term needs even as they identify and work toward the achievement of longer-term objectives.

Put Your Success FIRST

But perhaps the article’s most telling point is in its very first sentence: “It should surprise no one to learn that high-performing insurers are better at core operations than competitors are.” That’s due, in part, to the fact that high-performing insurers choose the right tools for the right job. And that’s why, for smaller insurers that may be late to the digital dance, we’re developing an offering called Finys FIRST: Full Implementation, Rates, Specifications, Testing. Because the world is changing technologically, because policyholders and prospects are living in a digital world, and because many insurers are not, Finys FIRST:
  • Gives them the opportunity run on a digital platform
  • Lets them run the Finys Suite with fewer customizations
  • Provides the project-management expertise they don’t have in-house
  • Helps them define specifications adequately
  • Tests the software thoroughly in their own environments
  • Ensures successful implementation
  • Improves responsiveness and speed to market
  • Reduces risk and total cost of ownership.

For more information, please contact us. Your policyholders and prospects don’t have time to lose.

Neither do you.

The New Three Rs

As human beings and business owners, many changes have been precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. In contending with everything from restricted travel to social distancing, from working at home to wearing masks in public, we’ve found we’re able to adapt and conform. We’ve also found we’ve been able to learn. In all the lessons available to us thanks to COVID-19, these are among the most important:

Relationships

One of the definitions of commerce is this: “social relations, especially the exchange of views, attitudes, etc.” In that context, all of us engage in commerce, whether it be personal or professional. The success we desire, personally and professionally, depends on building and maintaining that commerce. It’s the responsibility of each of us to initiate it — to make contact with the people in our lives to assure them we’re here. We care. We support. We’ll do everything we can to help.

Responsibility

Now, more than ever, we are our brothers’ keepers. We’re responsible for ourselves and each other. Whether looking out for family members, friends, customers, or random strangers who might need a helping hand, each of us bears the responsibility to do what we can. It doesn’t have to be much. Whenever we ask one particular person we know what he needs, he always responds, “A few kind words.” Most of us can do more. But don’t underestimate the power of a few kind words.

Responsiveness

One of the peculiar challenges of the coronavirus pandemic is that it’s created senses of urgency. That makes it all the more important for us, in our interactions with each other, to discern the real from the reflexive, the actual from the perceived. Since it isn’t possible for all things to exist or transpire on the same level of priority at all times, we just need to stop for a moment. Breathe. Assess. Respond accordingly and appropriately. It may take a little practice, but we’ve gotten this far, haven’t we?

The Good News

Fortunately, we don’t have to go back to school to learn any of these lessons. All we really need to do is pay attention and do what we likely would have done anyway. Among the positive aspects of the coronavirus pandemic is that we’ve shown we’re capable of practicing The New Three Rs, even without being told we should.

Three Things You Never Want to Hear

If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, regardless of industry, there are three things you never want to hear, read, or experience. You’re likely to encounter them after some undertaking or other has going horribly awry, usually at the point at which the circular firing squad has been assembled or is about to be assembled. As a public service, we present them here in enumerated fashion.

1. Time is Relative

You’re likely to hear this first one after any undertaking has come up on the short end of unclear direction, incomplete definitions, arbitrarily imposed and unreasonable deadlines, or all three:

There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it over.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of that axiom, and regardless of the nature of the undertaking, it’s likely (A) your boss told you it had to be done yesterday, (B) his boss told him it had to be done in some reasonable amount of time, (C) your boss wanted to make his boss think he was a hero, and (D) your boss blamed you for the fact that it was FUBAR the first time.

2. Price, Cost, Value

The second thing you should try to avoid like the proverbial plague is the Good, Fast, and Cheap Rule. According to this tried-and-true old saw:

Everyone wants everything good, fast, and cheap. But they can only get it two ways:

   • Good and fast, but it ain’t gonna be cheap
   • Good and cheap, but it ain’t gonna be fast
   • Fast and cheap, but it ain’t gonna be good.

The times at which you’re most likely to encounter this gem are the ones in which (A) your boss told you it had to be done yesterday, (B) his boss told him it had to be done in some reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price, (C) your boss wanted to make his boss think he was a hero, and (D) your boss blamed you for the fact that it was either too slow or too expensive.

3. And Justice For All

The final item in this series is likely to be experienced at some point by anyone in almost every organization comprising more than two people. In fact, the larger the organization, the more likely it is to manifest. It is, of course, The Six Phases of a Project:

1. Enthusiasm
2. Disillusionment
3. Panic
4. Search for the guilty
5. Punishment of the innocent
6. Praise and honors for the non-participants.

We love all of those expressions, rules, and phases. As long as we don’t know anyone on whom they’ve been inflicted, they’re funny. When real people get hurt by them, they aren’t funny at all.

The Antidote

At the risk of positioning ourselves as miracle workers, there is one way around all of those afflictions and aphorisms: Get it right the first time.

If you want to know how to do that, we know some guys ….

Three Things Your RFP Won’t Tell You

For those new to the insurance industry, the length and complexity of the system-purchasing process must seem overwhelming and, at times, unnecessary. Overkill might come to mind, but the much-maligned request for proposal (RFP) process drives technology selecting and purchasing in the risk-averse insurance industry. For core administration systems (policy, billing, and claims), RFPs can provide an organized approach to working through and scoring dozens of seemingly viable alternatives. But three vitally important things are often neglected in the RFP process, all of which should be primary considerations for a long-term partnership with a system vendor:

  1. Consider how well the base system meets the needs of the organization. Most systems have out-of-the-box entry screens, workflows, reports, and processes that can speed implementation and production. While some level of customization is almost always requested, remember: More customization means longer timelines, higher costs, tougher upgrades, and more complicated maintenance. Weigh what’s available vs. what’s possible.
  2. Pay attention to the ways configuration tools work and how such tools will be used during implementation and for ongoing system and product maintenance. The capabilities of configuration tools are frequently overlooked because vendors typically set up the first few lines of business. So, configuration tools aren’t given the same scrutiny as policy, claims, or billing functionality. Consequently, post-implementation, insurers rely on vendors to make changes and updates or give those responsibilities to IT staff members. Either way, the capabilities of the configuration tools will affect time to market for future changes or new lines of business.
  3. Sending an RFP to a number of prospective vendor partners is like speed dating in the hope of finding a few good candidates. But technology aside, don’t overlook cultural and philosophical rapport. Differences in work ethic and responsiveness have caused many projects to fail in discord and dysfunction, especially if communication is reduced to procurement or consulting channels, rather than direct interaction between stakeholders and vendors. After contracts are signed and the project kicks off, two companies will aspire to be long-term partners. That only happens through cultural compatibility and alignment of goals. That compatibility and alignment of goals can only be achieved through extensive, open communication. And that communication, ideally, should be conducted face to face.

Take the Time, Not the Headache

A popular corporate axiom says, “There’s never time to do it right. But there’s always time to do it over.” When it comes to core system replacements and implementations, that’s a recipe for disaster. Insurers may never recover from the time and money lost to a bad vendor relationship. That’s why underwriters, claims examiners, accountants, executives, and IT staff member have to be comfortable with the vendors and the systems they select.

Conducted conscientiously, the RFP process can ensure appropriate compatibilities between insurers, vendors, and systems. If you take the time to do it right, you’ll save yourself the headache later.

The Truth About Customer Experience and Digitalization

We love a good panic as much as the next bunch. But we have to admit we’re not precisely sure what all the fuss is about when it comes to customer experience, particularly in the insurance industry. We completely understand its justifiably increasing importance. But self-service portals have been around long enough to have become entry cards or table stakes for most insurers and their software vendors. And mobile apps have proliferated quickly enough to have become de rigueur. So, what’s up?

Digits By the Numbers

According to a post from Lightico:

81% of companies expect CX to be the key battleground in the race for market dominance. Meanwhile, a McKinsey study shows that a whopping 70% of consumers base their opinion of a business on the quality of its CX. The importance of customer experience is true across product and service categories, and even more so when providers are selling intangible benefits … Digitization effectively shifts the focus from antiquated, manual processes to consumer-focused, digital processes.

The post refers to claims processing specifically, but its generalizations abide across all insurance transactions and interactions. But if insurers are conducting business on the Internet — if they’re already making information accessible and interaction possible with portals and mobile apps — isn’t that digitalization? We grant that more automation might be warranted. The refinement and extensions of automated processes are always evolving and improving.

According to Wikipedia:

The modern binary number system, the basis for binary code, was invented by Gottfried Leibniz in 1689 and appears in his article Explication de l’Arithmétique Binaire. The full title is translated into English as the “Explanation of the binary arithmetic”, which uses only the characters 1 and 0.

Granted, it took a while for those two digits to comprise the substance of our computer and mobile-phone communications. But we’ve clearly been at this for a while. It makes you wonder how it ended up in the spotlight now, doesn’t it?

We’re Getting There

We don’t know. But what we do know is that digitalization is well underway. The customer experience improves with every incremental expansion of digitalization. And anyone who’s not playing the digitalization game is not going to win the Customer Experience Sweepstakes.

Since it’s 2020, chances are you’re already in the game. Everything else is a matter of degree.

Don’t panic.

When Should You Pull the Plug?

One of our professional colleagues who shall remain unnamed shared an email with us the other day that qualified as the written equivalent of a cold call, and an inappropriate one at that. This is what it said:

Dear Sir,

I tried to call you, but you didn’t pick up. Because I didn’t want you to miss out, I’m sending you a transcript of how our call would have gone.

You: Hello.

Me: Hi. I’m calling from Cirrus MegaSystems, developer of thinware for insurance. Can I steal 2 minutes?

You: What do you want?

Me: We replace aging and inadequate core systems to modernize operations and improve the policyholder experience.

You: Well, we’re in the middle of implementing another system.

Me: Since you’re a customer of Amerisurica Worldwide, I thought their bad reputation might compel you to jump ship.

You: Things haven’t yet gotten ….

Me: A lot of Amerisurica customers are in the same boat. Cirrus MegaSystems would be a perfect fit for you.

You: I’m not ready to begin looking at other alternatives yet.

Me: Let’s schedule a demo anyway. It’s never to early to begin developing another plan in case things don’t work out.

Say what you want about the guy who wrote that email, but he was persistent. And he definitely put the cold in cold call.

Numbers Don’t Lie

We know the reality. Almost 40 percent of our new customers over the past four years came to us after failed or failing implementations. There are reasons for those failures, of course — a lack of defined goals, under-estimations of the effort, the resources, and the time required, and many more. And those reasons suggest there needs to be higher degrees of cognizance and vigilance about whether and when to find another vendor before more good time and money gets thrown after bad, before you burn through your budgets and the patience of your Board, and before heads start rolling.

You can’t allow vendors to stuff themselves down your throat. But at the point at which you start to sense trouble with an implementation, start preparing to pull the plug. And make sure you have a Plan B.

The company or the job you save may be your own.

(Inter)Mediating Claims

Back at the turn of the century, with Y2K behind us and a new millennium of technology ahead, we were hearing the term, disintermediation, quite a bit. The prevailing assumption was that technology and e-commerce (remember e-commerce?) would replace the agents from which people had theretofore purchased insurance. Even as late as February of 2015, Insurance Business America proclaimed, “One in four insurance agents will be gone by 2018.” It would appear that prognostication hasn’t exactly borne out. And it’s a pretty safe bet the Big “I” didnt get the memo. But we’re not wading into that particular debate.

Rather, we’d like to share some surprising (at least to us) statistics from Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® North American Healthcare Topic Insights 2 Survey, 2019 (US), in which 4,699 US adults were surveyed online. More specifically, we want to share findings in four different claims-related activities. Here they are:

  1. When filing a claim 41 percent of respondents said they use digital self-service tools. The other 59 percent preferred to work with a person.
  2. When checking the status of a claim, 61 percent used digital self-service tools, while 39 percent preferred to work with a person.
  3. To check the status of a payment, 74 percent used digital self-service tools, while just 26 percent sought the information from a person.
  4. To dispute a transaction, only 32 percent of respondents used digital self-service tools, while 68 percent sought the help of a person.

Given that evidence, it appears that most people are increasingly comfortable with going online to file, check, and verify payment of their claims. But they clearly don’t want to be disintermediated from their money.

What’s the Upshot?

It’s often said that insurance constitutes the selling of a promise; that is, the insurer (or, in this case, the agent), by way of contract (the policy), is selling the promise of making the policyholder whole in the event of a loss. As it pertains to the contract and the mechanics of its fulfillment, folks are getting accustomed to our bold new technological world. And when it comes to providing information to all parties to claims transactions (insurers, agents, and policyholders), we’ll put our software up against anyone’s. But if a policyholder has a beef with a claims transaction, somebody better be by the phone.

Disintermediation? Not quite yet.

Ready By Design

The outbreak of the coronavirus constitutes a profound test for the insurance industry. More pointedly, it’s a test of your company’s ability to continue operations without staff members being in the office. The fact is, now more than ever, insurers will have to rely on the contingency plans they put in place and the software they use to ensure disaster recovery and business continuity. And now more than ever, insurance is essential, from the strategic complexities of assessing risks to the tactical simplicity of printing documents.

In anticipation of operational interruptions of any sort, more than 10 years ago we developed the capabilities for entities to act as virtual insurers. There’s no need for bricks and mortar, other than a mailing address for legal purposes. All processes and transactions could be completely conducted online. All printing and check issuance could be outsourced. As a result, and because the Finys Suite is an online system, your employees can do their jobs without coming into the office. Print still goes out. Checks still go out. Claims still get processed. And for most of our customers, we  manage all the hardware and software they need to run their core systems.

There’s More

Because of the capabilities we’ve developed, all our employees are now working from home. All implementation and development work is being completed without significant interruption. We’ve developed some new management-reporting protocols. We’re gathering specifications for two new implementations that will begin this month. And our sales efforts continue apace, albeit without travel.

It’s not our intent to exploit the difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Rather, it’s our intent to take responsibility for doing what we can to help the industry we love and serve weather this storm and serve its constituents as comprehensively as possible. Yes. We’re a software company. Yes. We did prepare ourselves and our customers for an eventuality such as this. But it’s not our intent to take advantage of it.

We’re all in this together. And if we pull together, we’ll move more weight across the finish line of this pandemic.

The coronavirus is now. We can’t know what might be next. But we’re ready for it, by design.

Please let us know how we can help you be ready now and for the future.

Fly(wheel) By Night

From conversations you’ve had with us, conversations you’ve had about us, and the messaging you’ve been exposed to (particularly in our blog posts), you’ve likely gotten the gist of our corporate culture. We aren’t a huge operation, but we consider that a strength. We aren’t a small operation, but we’ve managed our growth judiciously. As our workload increases, we’re able to scale our staff-counts to accommodate that growth. We’re not a start-up. We’ve been consistently providing a sound product for almost 20 years.

When we first heard about the recent lawsuit involving Peloton and Flywheel, we thought Peloton was using its size to crush a smaller competitor. We’re familiar with the feeling of having competitors much larger than we are. But we’ve been lucky that they’ve played fairly. There are plenty of big fish out there to which we might have been easy prey to unscrupulous competitive practices, especially in our early days. We sympathized with Flywheel. It seemed as if the big fish ate the little fish.

But as time went on, we learned the facts of the case. As the details began to emerge, we read this article. In particular, this quote from an internal Flywheel message that Peloton obtained during the case:

Discovery has now revealed that Flywheel engaged in an organized and illicit scheme, involving a significant number of Flywheel executives and employees, to obtain ‘as MUCH secret intel on Peloton as we can’ during the time it was designing and preparing to launch its infringing Fly Anywhere Bike.

The Morals of the Story

The little fish tried to steal intellectual property and market share from the big fish. That’s a different story. Stealing is one way to get ahead, but it’s not a way we’d ever respect or espouse. Peloton is fortunate to have had the size and the legal team required to stand up for itself.

The facts of this story also reminded us we may not always have correct first impressions. Open minds preclude rushes to judgment. And more facts yield better opinions.

We may not be the biggest, the smallest, or the newest fish in the policy administration sea. But, we’re happy to be swimming in it, with fair competitors, with conscientious customers, and with partners that honor our relationships.