By Colleen Lazanich
THE IMPORTANCE OF A HANDS-ON CEO
Successful change calls for leadership commitment and engagement
Successful change within any organization requires leadership commitment, plain and simple. This certainly is true in our business, especially when it comes to automation. Leaders must drive technology change at their firms. As important, and perhaps more so, leaders need to be involved in implementation for those changes to be successful. Simply put, a leader needs to think “big picture” and take the course that fits an agency or brokerage’s long-term strategy.
As chief executive officer of CalNonprofits Insurance Services, a subsidiary of the California Association of Nonprofits, I am very hands-on with our technology and in implementing new tools. I am able to translate tech speak to business speak and vice versa. So naturally I end up finding technologies that can benefit our staff and help our clients efficiently.
[I]dentify what your customers need and want, and then find the best technology to address those needs while also gaining efficiency for your customer service staff.
We realize efficiency gains from our agency automation system. Because technology helps us provide clients a seamless view of their policies and can connect them to their account manager or producer when they need assistance, we also deliver an improved customer experience.
We use several Applied Systems technologies, including Applied Epic®, CloudTM, CSR24® and Mobile®. We also take advantage of membership in the Applied Client Network through which we have access to forums and webinars that help us maximize our use of products.
After converting to Epic in February 2018, we already have achieved efficiency improvements at our agency, primarily in accounting and also involving added visibility into our business. In the past, the reconciliation of direct bill commissions was done on spreadsheets and posted to the general ledger, but the import process available in our new system has been a huge process improvement and time saver, in addition to increasing accuracy.
We are now able to easily track commissions on each policy and need to look in only one place to find the details. It used to take our accounting department almost a full month to close out work from the previous month, but now it happens within days.
The hands-on model
Perhaps because I’m relatively tech-savvy and have an operations background, as CEO I log into our system on a daily basis—looking at accounts, running reports, monitoring opportunities, and helping team managers refine workflows. I also log into the Applied Client Network nearly every day to monitor discussion forums for great new ideas or to ask questions whose answers will allow us to continue driving efficiency.
I recently discovered an online platform that automates the gathering of supplemental applications and carrier specialty applications. I evaluated the product, purchased it and brought it to the team within about a week because the value proposition was too great to pass up for our clients. If someone in our agency finds a product that could help us, he or she may vet the product first, but I’m usually involved early in the process.
Alongside my team, I’m always searching for ways to improve both our client and employee experiences. We often provide technology to help clients, but this generally increases the workload, so I constantly explore solutions that can lessen the burden for both parties.
Cyber and data security are big concerns for organizations, and employees are the greatest risk. Our employees undergo security training within the first few days of employment. Through an IT vendor, we have engaged KnowBe4 to provide ongoing testing and training that helps staffers learn to be more cognizant of security risks, social engineering scams, phishing scams and spear phishing emails.
All company computers, not just laptops, are encrypted, and we carefully screen and choose vendor partners with the strongest levels of encryption and data security procedures.
Further, we were an early adopter of cloud technologies to improve data security and disaster recovery. Our director of finance and information technology manages data security, and our compliance administrator trains staff and monitors vendors. These two individuals collaborate to adjust programs as needed.
I think we’re at an exciting point in insurance technology. A lot of changes are taking place. It is important that agency principals lead the way in technology decisions and implementation. Whether it’s vendor technologies, cybersecurity tools or training, leaders must buy 100% into the investment and drive the change to produce optimal results.
To achieve gains from your investment in technology, start by identifying what your customers need and want and then find the best technology to address those needs while also gaining efficiency for the customer service staff. If we make it easier for our clients but harder for our staff, it becomes difficult to gain buy-in when integrating any new technology.
Clients are looking for speed, and technology is the best way to get us there. It’s a simple choice: “Go digital” or end up like the dinosaurs.
Colleen Lazanich is chief executive officer of CalNonprofits Insurance Services, a subsidiary of the California Association of Nonprofits.