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Data Autonomy: How Independent Agencies Can Achieve Technology Independence

​Independent insurance agencies offer their clients the freedom to choose the best policy for their needs, irrespective of carrier. But is your agency following that same principle with your tech stack?
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data autonomy: how independent agencies can achieve technology independence

Independent insurance agencies offer their clients the freedom to choose the best policy for their needs, irrespective of carrier. But is your agency following that same principle with your tech stack?

In this digital age, client and policy data is one of an agency's most valuable assets, and maintaining the agency's ownership and autonomy over that data—independent of the systems it resides in—is paramount. For an agency to truly function independently, you should have the ability to utilize your agency's data whenever and wherever you need it.

How can you proactively maintain ownership and control over your agency's data? Here are three steps every agency should take to advocate for and safeguard their agency's data autonomy.

1) Establish data ownership agreements with technology providers. In the insurance industry, client data passes through many different systems that are used by the client, agency, carrier and technology providers. Subsequently, which party claims ownership of that data is often murky.

It's up to the agency to advocate for the ownership and control of its data in the agreements signed with technology providers, including agency management systems and any other systems client data passes through. Most providers require agencies to either sign a contract or licensing agreement, or accept their terms and conditions to use their product. A lot can be hidden in that fine print, and agencies often don't realize they're sharing or even signing away control of their data to the technology provider.

Before accepting any agreement with a provider, establish whether the vendor is entitled to share, sell or otherwise use your agency's data without your consent. If the contract language is unclear or doesn't mention data ownership, it could be a red flag that the provider isn't willing to recognize the agency as the data's owner. Ask the provider for clarification in writing before accepting an agreement. If the vendor's views on data ownership don't mesh with yours, you may want to take your business elsewhere.

Also, examine technology providers and choose one you trust. Consider who owns or has a stake in the company, and what their motivations could be. If the company has outside investors or has changed ownership recently or many times in the past, the scope of the product and the agreement may change in the future as well.

“It's important for your agency to feel comfortable that you can place your trust in a vendor not only at the moment you sign the agreement but well into the future," says Rushang Shah, chief marketing officer at HawkSoft. “Technology providers that are committed to remaining privately owned wield the advantage of having fewer stakeholders to answer to besides the agent. They can focus purely on what's best for the agent rather than making a quick return on investment."

Questions to ask include:

  • Does the contract stipulate whether the data you enter into the system can be shared, sold or otherwise used by the provider or other parties?
  • Do you trust the owner of the company and know the parties that have stakes in it?
  • What is the likelihood of the company changing ownership in the future?

2) Ensure your data isn't siloed in a single system. True data independence means your data isn't trapped in one system—you should be free to change systems if necessary for your business. But technology providers often make it difficult for agencies to leave by locking them into long-term contracts and making it costly and time-consuming for them to get a copy of their own data, often charging thousands of dollars in data extraction fees and taking months to provide the agency with a copy of their own data when they leave. 

Don't be seduced by vendors that seem to have incredibly low rates but hit agencies with unreasonably high charges to move their data into or out of the system. “Agencies are sometimes blinded by a low introductory offer for a management system," says Paul Moyes, HawkSoft's vice president of sales. “What they may not be taking into account is how costly that decision can become when they are bringing data with them or when they want to change systems down the road."

To understand termination requirements and fees, questions to ask include:

  • Does the agreement specify a minimum term of use? 
  • How much notice are you required to give before leaving the vendor? 
  • Can you retrieve a copy of your data from the system at any time?
  • How much does the vendor charge for providing a copy of your data if you leave, and how quickly will they provide it?
  • If you want to move your data, what format is the data provided in, and is it easy to manipulate or convert to another system?
  • If you are bringing past data to a new vendor, how much will they charge to convert the data to their system, and how long will it take?

3) Build an integrated tech stack where data can move freely between systems. Another important tenet of data autonomy is the ability to connect your client data to all the different systems that help you run your business, whether it's marketing automation, review management, raters or other tools. One of the best ways technology providers facilitate access to client data for other platforms is through application programming interface (API) integration. Platforms that offer API integration with a variety of systems demonstrate that they are committed to meeting all the needs of an agency—not just the ones solved by their product. 

Agency management systems are built to be the best at policy management—not necessarily the best at email marketing or payment processing or other tasks that are also important to an agency. Rather than trying to find one comprehensive system that “has it all," focus on platforms that specialize in what they do best and integrate with other systems that are experts in their own spaces.

This approach allows you to extend and customize your tech stack in the way that works best for your agency—and it gives you a best-in-class experience in each area. It also offers the flexibility to choose the integrations that are most important for your agency, so you can scale your business as your needs evolve instead of paying for a glut of features you don't use. Rather than being constrained by the features or limits of a single system, you can simply add or remove tools to your integrated technology ecosystem.

When considering the integrations offered by a management system, see whether the provider offers multiple integration choices in each category. This ensures you can change integration partners down the road if needed. Don't like the way emails look in one marketing automation solution? Simply plug in a different one. Freedom of choice lets you tailor your technology to fit your agency—not the other way around.

Keep in mind that the quality of a vendor's API partners is just as important as the quantity they offer since the partners will be accessing your data if enabled. Look for providers who thoroughly vet their partners and hold them to data practices that are fair to the agency.

“The single most important aspect of my job is ensuring we partner with vendors we can trust, who are committed to respecting an agency's ownership of their data as much as we do," says Kenny Hendricks, director of partner integrations at HawkSoft. “Agencies should take the same care in vetting vendors themselves."

Questions to ask:

  • Does the vendor offer API integrations or other data connection methods with other systems?
  • How many integration partners are available? And are they the systems your agency uses or would like to use in the future?
  • Does the vendor continue to add new integration partners on a regular basis?
  • Does the vendor vet its integration partners to ensure quality integration and hold partners to fair data practices?
  • Do the integration partners have clear language about the ownership and use of your data?

Making data autonomy a reality for your agency requires advocacy and careful consideration when choosing technology partners. Partner with technology providers and integrated systems that recognize and respect the ownership of agency data, allow you to customize and scale your technology stack, and facilitate the utilization of your data in the way that's best for your agency.

Rachel Stauffer is content manager at HawkSoft agency management system.

Sample Verbiage for Agreements

If a vendor or carrier contract doesn't clearly address data ownership, here are two examples of language you can request they add, provided by the Big “I" Office of the General Counsel:

For vendor contracts: At any time during this Agreement or after its termination, Vendor will destroy or return to Client all data, information and other materials of Client within Vendor's possession, custody or control upon Client's request. Vendor will deliver such items to the Client in a timely manner and in a mutually agreeable format. Vendor acknowledges that Client's data, information and other materials shall remain the exclusive property of Client and shall only be used consistent with delivering the services set forth in this Agreement.

For appointment contracts: The use and control of the Agent's expirations, including those on direct billed business, the records thereof, and the Agent's work product and data relating thereto, shall remain in the undisputed possession and sole ownership of the Agent. The Company shall not use its records or the Agent's expirations in any marketing method for the sale, service, or renewal of any form of insurance coverage or other product, nor shall the Company refer or communicate the Agent's expirations, including records, work product or data relating thereto, to any other agent or broker, or affiliate or company, without prior express written permission from the Agent.

Monday, April 1, 2024
Digital Edition