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Getting on the Road to Success with the Right-Sized Agency Management System

(Reprinted from The Standard)

Minivans, SUVs, hybrids, luxury cars, roadsters and motor homes - the auto industry offers us a wide variety of ways to transport us from point A to point B. The variety exists because everyone?s transportation needs are different and typically change over the course of their lifetime.

In the same way that transportation needs differ, an agency?s need for management software differs. A personal lines agency that represents a small number of carriers needs something resembling an economy car that gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. A large multi-line, multi-location agency may need software that resembles a big motor home with every option and feature under the sun.

The agency management software marketplace offers a variety of options to fit the needs of different agencies. Agencies should periodically consider whether their needs have changed and if their current system is the best option for their agency.

Agency needs and management system capabilities can be measured against each other in a number of ways. Some of the main things to consider when evaluating an agency management system are functionality, security, ease of use, and affordability.

Do you need a two-seat convertible or a motor home with a retractable awning?or something in-between? Many agencies start with a basic system, outgrow it and then find they need the additional functionality of a larger system. Conversely, some agencies have purchased a basic system, and over the years the system has been upgraded and enhanced to the point were it has gotten unwieldy and too big for their needs.

Ideally both your agency and your management system should be at the same point in the growth curve.

If you still had the same subcompact you bought when you were single, you couldn?t comfortably squeeze your spouse, kids and their soccer gear into it today. Similarly, if your agency has grown and your system doesn?t provide all of the functions you need, chances are you are substituting an inefficient manual process that could be automated easily in a different system. On the other hand, if your system provides too many superfluous functions that you do not use, it can make everyday workflow more cumbersome than necessary.

In the old days, cars did not have ignition keys. Turning a crank or pushing a button was enough to start the car and drive it away. Today, we have sophisticated alarms, automatic kill switches, and vehicle recovery systems.

When agency systems first came on the scene, security was pretty simple because the Internet didn?t exist. Today, identity theft is real threat. Future legislation will require even more careful safeguarding of customer information.

In a smaller agency, network security policies may be able to provide all of the required security options. Larger agencies may need more granulated security in their management software to provide finer control over which users can access and update specific pieces of information. For example, some agencies may need all employees to have access to all information for all clients; in other agencies employees may need to be restricted to access only their own set of clients.

Ease of use.
A typical dashboard on a modern car can easily have one hundred switches, settings, knobs, dials and controls. A well-designed vehicle puts the features you use most often within easy reach and makes less frequently used functions less accessible. Similarly, your agency management software should make most-used features accessible with just one click. Unneeded functions should be out of the way and not interrupt your typical workflow. Not only does this speed day-to-day operations, it shortens the learning curve for new employees.
For example, if your agency allows accounts and policies to be divided among multiple producers with complex commission splits then you need a system that has options to track these details. But if your agency does not have this need, then a system that presents these options is only a distraction.

Are you making payments on a luxury car when all you need is basic transportation? A luxury car offers more style and comfort than a middle-of-the-road vehicle, but at a much higher cost. Often, people purchase luxury cars to radiate an aura of success since many people want to do business with successful people.
But a management system isn?t a status symbol. A management system is a required tool for agencies that want to succeed. A Roll Royce system may not be the best tool for your agency even if you could afford it.
Your agency may have acquired a system with all the bells and whistles. You planned to use every feature, but over time you may have realized that you only use a small subset of the functions available. A more affordable system may provide just the right functionality you need at a fraction of the cost.

If you are still driving the same old agency management system you have had for years, it may time to re-evaluate your needs and see if a different model may offer a better combination of fit and function. Just like it may be time to trade in your old gas-guzzling clunker, now may be time to get a sleeker system that gets you on the road to success efficiently and cost-effectively.

Christopher R. Baker is president of Special Agent, Inc. in Holbrook, Mass. Special Agent (www.SpecialAgent.com) is a full-featured insurance agency management system used by more than 300 agencies across the country. Baker can be reached at 800-842-0450 or cbaker@specialagent.com.

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