Guide Your Valuables: Leveraging Your AMS

Think about everything your agency management system does for you and your staff. If you had to pick the top five most valuable features, what would make the cut?

According to the latest Future One Agency Universe Study, agents rank the following AMS functions among the top five most valuable in personal lines: customer view/search (82%), inquiries about billing, claims, etc. (71%), endorsements (69%), real-time auto quotes (65%), and real-time homeowners quotes (64%).

In commercial lines, the following functions make the cut: customer view/search (81%), inquiries about billing, claims, etc. (68%), endorsements (68%), alerts/activity notifications (68%), and policy issue (62%).

Do you know how your AMS addresses these important functions?

Eight in ten agencies use an AMS, according to the study; Vertafore AMS360 has the highest penetration at 17%, followed by Applied TAM (12%), EZLynx Management System (8%) and HawkSoft Management System (6%).

Here’s a rundown of how each AMS works hard behind the scenes to drive efficiency and value for your agency.

Vertafore AMS360: 17%

Sharmila Ray, senior vice president of product and strategy at Vertafore, calls AMS360 the anchor of the company’s AMS portfolio. How does Vertafore’s “go-forward platform” approach agents’ top-valued AMS features?

According to Ray, AMS360 excels in alerts, giving agents the ability to set up real-time notifications for any activity they choose so they can “take a proactive approach” to client outreach around expiration, renewal and more. The AMS boasts a real-time policy exploration dashboard and generates automated follow-ups, activities and to-dos—all date-, time- and user-stamped.

For inquiries, Ray says AMS360 works hand in hand with Vertafore’s TransactNOW product, which enables agencies to process business with participating carriers securely in real time, giving them on-demand service and information without ever leaving the AMS.

TransactNOW not only provides instant sign-on to carrier websites—it will also be the home of automated e-document processing when Vertafore launches that feature within AMS360 later this year. The result: lower call volume for agencies, and the ability to receive quotes with a single click.

Also in the realm of real time, Vertafore’s partnership with PL Rating gives AMS360 users access to fully integrated real-time quoting. “It drives tremendous time savings and it drives a better customer experience,” Ray says. “In a line where efficiency is king, agencies need to be taking advantage of that.”

And as small commercial “gets increasingly digitized,” Ray points out, “that sets the stage for agents to get more comfortable using real-time comparative rating so they’re ready when the small commercial revolution hits.”

Preparing agents for the future is an ongoing focus for AMS360. In 2017, Vertafore launched significant certificate enhancements to promote ease of use and reduce manual data entry; greater interdivisional accounting capabilities, including the ability to support complex commission structures; and expanded lines of business for commercial downloads, in order to improve connectivity with carriers.

This year, Vertafore will expand AMS360’s reach into even more lines of business in the download space. Cybersecurity compliance will be another major initiative, specifically around multifactor authentication, audit logging, disaster recovery, and single sign-on between AMS360 and other Vertafore apps.

Also in 2018, Vertafore will launch a cloud-based application that standardizes formatting and automates data entry for property-casualty proposals by “leveraging the data that sits in the AMS360 platform,” Ray says. “Particularly for mid-market and large commercial accounts, our agents spend upwards of eight hours per proposal. We believe this first generation will reduce that by half.”

Throw in a more user-friendly client portal, and it’s clear that “2018 is about solving big problems,” Ray says. “We will be doing much more in terms of communicating roadmaps so our users have better visibility into what’s coming.”

Applied TAM: 12%

Although Applied Epic is now Applied’s “flagship AMS product” with more than 80,000 users around the world, Michael Howe, senior vice president, product management at Applied Systems, promises that the company continues to invest in Applied TAM as well.

“We still have a very large base of passionate Applied TAM customers who love that product,” Howe says. “Certainly, some of our customers have already switched or are in the process of switching from Applied TAM to Applied Epic, and we’re happy with that. But we have tens of thousands of customers who are perfectly happy on Applied TAM too, and that’s awesome. We’re never going to force our customers to move to Applied Epic.”

Although Applied Epic will eventually adopt functionalities that may not show up in Applied TAM—such as integrated texting, automated policy comparison and the ability to run the AMS via a browser, all features that are coming to Applied Epic in 2018—“we continue to advance both products,” Howe says.

Applied TAM’s fiercely loyal customer base makes improving the AMS easy, Howe says: “We get a lot of energy from our Applied TAM customer base—they tell us what they want. We are very careful about listening, and that helps guide us in the right direction. We’re always quite confident we’re building the right stuff because they told us.”

Because Applied TAM users usually “know the product inside and out—just as deep as you can possibly imagine,” Howe says, “the feedback we tend to get is, ‘Help me do what I need to do faster. Help me do what I need to do in less clicks.’”

Therefore, Applied’s approach to Applied TAM centers on enhancing core AMS functionalities like those agents identify as most valuable. “There aren’t a lot of capabilities our users don’t have by this point,” Howe says. “What we’re doing with Applied TAM is investing in making the users more efficient—chipping away at the workflows agents do all day every day, again and again and again, and making them a little bit faster, a little bit more intuitive.”

To that end, the latest Applied TAM release includes key enhancements such as optimized client servicing workflows around attachment, policy search and renewal; the ability to launch Applied ITV and ezITV directly from Applied TAM within the Habitational Application; and updated versions of certificates of insurance and evidence of property to assist agencies with compliance requirements.

Thanks to an ongoing focus on what Howe calls “core tasks,” he believes all of the most valuable AMS features are areas where Applied TAM excels. “These are all right in the wheelhouse of what a good AMS does, and Applied TAM has been doing this stuff for decades now,” he says. “These are all very well covered—we just continue to fine-tune them.”

EZLynx Management System: 8%

According to Brady Polansky, vice president of agency relationships at EZLynx, what sets his company apart is that EZLynx maintains all its data in one system: “By storing everything in a unified way, all these different pieces are reading from the exact same files.”

And EZLynx leverages that advantage to give users a “well-rounded picture” of their agencies at all times, says Brenna Johnson, lead product manager and senior business analyst at EZLynx. “Just because you’re doing one specific function doesn’t mean you should be doing that in a vacuum without any other context,” she says.

In terms of the core functions like those agents identify as most valuable, that philosophy translates particularly well to endorsements, thanks to a new EZLynx feature called Policy Change Request.

The feature enables agents to capture all necessary data for an endorsement, then submit it to the carrier for finalization in one single workflow. And as part of the workflow, EZLynx automatically generates a form that highlights changes.

“In practice, this is really priceless when it comes to change management on commercial policies, where mistakes can be really costly for an agency,” Johnson says.

In the realm of customer view and search, Johnson points to EZLynx Agency Workspace. The collaboration tool is set up like the Facebook newsfeed, where instead of simply appearing in chronological order, every activity and notification is grouped within a relevant topic thread—a conversation about cross-selling, for example, is stored separately from one about a client’s Corvette.

“One of the worst things that can happen is when a customer calls and asks a question, and the agent is scrambling to go back through all these notes to try to figure out what this person is talking about,” Johnson points out. “And when a client calls, they’re not always going to get the same person at the agency. We wanted to handle the challenge of documentation in a completely different way.”

The concept of multi-layered data has driven many recent enhancements to EZLynx Management System, including a new fully integrated sales pipeline tool that helps agents track customers through the sales process, generate more leads and close more deals.

In 2017, EZLynx also added claims download, enhanced reporting and analytics, and a beta version of Automation Center, which uses artificial intelligence like natural language processing to generate automated notifications and client outreach for various policy events.

“How do we take these basic functionalities that agencies have to do every day, that are the bread and butter of an AMS, and make it easier for agents to get through them? Simply recreating what someone else has already done or is doing doesn’t always truly solve the problem,” Johnson says. “We focus on identifying problems, then leveraging technology to solve them in new, intelligent ways.”

HawkSoft Management System: 6%

Rushang Shah, director of marketing at HawkSoft, Inc., says the loyalty of HawkSoft’s customers “borders on evangelism”—and believes it’s because of the company’s “laser-like focus on building features that actually save people time.”

Paul Hawkins, CEO of HawkSoft, says customer view and search is a prime example: Within the HawkSoft Management System, “there is no information on any customer that is more than four mouse clicks away,” he promises. “Our customers are always saying, ‘Wow—it’s so easy to get at the data I need.’”

Another area where the HawkSoft Management System excels, Hawkins says, is real-time quotes and inquiries, housed within the company’s HawkLink tool. Its greatest advantage? That it syncs up with any carrier website.

That means, as an agent, “as you navigate through a carrier website, HawkLink fills the website in for you with client details,” Hawkins explains. “That also goes along with policy issuance, because agents can do the rating right there and issue the policy right there.”

Those types of efficiencies are foundational to a good AMS, Hawkins believes: “You have to start at the bottom. All the other neat stuff can be the frosting, but you have to have the cake underneath it.”

What kind of frosting does HawkSoft Management System have in store for users in 2017-2018? Recent enhancements include Download Compare, which automatically compares new downloads to old ones and highlights any changes between the two, and real-time reporting tool Agency Intelligence.

This year, HawkSoft will also enhance its automated communications platform, which incorporates various policy triggers so “agents don’t even have to think about it—they set it up once, and it emails the clients, then reports back,” Hawkins says.

That second part is key, Shah notes: “Where we feel a lot of systems fall short is they tell you all the KPIs of what works with this email campaign, but the most important KPI is not clicks and opens. We take it an extra step—how many sales did you make as a result of that campaign?”

With HawkSoft, users get access to these types of “vanity features” at no additional cost. “A lot of vendors choose to sell those as add-ons,” Shah points out. “We feel like the agency owner should not be held hostage to an additional fee to get what should be part of that core system—especially vital business metrics.”

2018 will also mark an increased focus on automating e-document workflows and integrating with a mobile app for agents and insureds. “We’re trying to make it easy for the agent to bring all the right information into those workflows,” Hawkins explains. “We can automate that stuff. Agents should be thinking about what differentiates them from direct writers, and that’s building relationships.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.