Canadian broker creates quoting engine based on its knowledge of the market and of customer needs and pain points
Time is at a premium. Small business owners and plan administrators often lack a dedicated human resources staff. They generally can’t wait a week to obtain quotes from various insurance companies, and they don’t have time to chase after new staff for benefit enrollment forms, and they don’t have extra time required to keep answering questions about coverage.
As a broker—in the States, I’d be called an agent, but I’m north of the border, in Ontario—I could have wrung my hands and lamented the challenges these factors bring me and my team. That would have been the easy way out. But that would not have served me, my employees, or my clients very well.
Instead, I leveraged my automation experience and knowledge of customer needs to put together something called BlankitHealth, the first multi-carrier quoting engine for employee benefits and health coverage in Canada. It’s slated to launch later this year, following live demos for insurers. Much of what went into developing the engine came from my experience as an independent broker who is all in on using automation to boost our firm’s efficiency and enhance customer experience.
By design, the product drives an entirely paperless process; the master application and all enrollment forms will be completed online and signed digitally. This boosts efficiency for our team and our clients. The speed of placing coverage will depend on how quickly staff members complete the forms. The engine will integrate with BambooHR, a cloud-based HR platform, and will feature leveraged artificial intelligence in the form of a chatbot, which will answer questions plan members text about coverage.
Initially, four different insurance companies will offer quotes on BlankitHealth; we expect that number to increase in the future; benefit plans will be bound online. The platform asks 12 questions to help users choose dental, life, and health coverage, and then provides quotes from insurers. The paperless onboarding process uses the FormHero platform to complete PDFs, ensuring that all fields are completed and none are skipped over or completed incorrectly.
Artificial intelligence comes into play in the creation of the PDF. The platform asks the questions that appear on the enrollment form and, based on the answers, knows which of the subsequent questions to ask and which to skip. For example, if someone opts for single coverage, it’s smart enough to know not to ask about a spouse/partner or kids.
Why not turn to established insurtech providers or market disrupters?
While other companies say they are “disrupting” the benefits space, they do not fully address the different pain points faced by small businesses, especially when it comes to day-to-day plan administration and onboarding of new employees. Moreover, many are looking to challenge and, to the best of their ability, do away with the independent agent and broker distribution channel.
[B]rokerages (or agencies) with technology challenges may do well to not wait for others to develop a solution. Why? It may never come. And if it does, it may not be everything they’d hoped for.
Our new platform will support the channel and will address administrative issues by populating the forms for employees, incorporating chatbots, sending reminders, offering plan- and client-specific FAQs, and communicating with cloud-based HR platforms to encourage data sharing, which will eliminate or reduce double data entry. “Date hired,” “date terminated,” “salary,” and “personal data” are just a few of the numerous fields that will sync between BlankitHealth and BambooHR.
We built BlankitHealth from scratch, with an in-house back-end developer using various tools available on the Internet. This enabled my firm to shape the product based on our knowledge of the market and our customers’ needs and pain points. We were able to outsource to a front-end developer, at a lower cost, the task of making the pages attractive, intuitive, and user-friendly.
Right now, we plan to roll out BlankitHealth and stay in Canada, first in Ontario, and then expand to British Columbia and Quebec. We’ll have to build different prices into the system based on each province.
Why build your own solution?
The rate of technology change drove the need to act quickly. I have learned from building the platform that brokerages (or agencies) with technology challenges may do well not to wait for others to develop a solution. Why? It may never come. And if it does, it may not be everything they’d hoped for. Use your agency/broker management system as the backbone of your business, but don’t hesitate to explore your own complementary product.
After identifying the problem you want to solve, I recommend taking several steps as you develop the software:
- Find a good developer.
- Outline the costs ahead of time, so they don’t get out of control.
- Take advantage of word-of-mouth through tech companies you know and third-party websites that connect to developers.
- Hold face-to-face meetings to stay on top of program development.
- Prioritize different stages of the project.
It’s also helpful to understand what skills are useful in creating your own system. Project management, time management, and budget skills all are important. It pays to outline the vision ahead of time and scope out the plan of what workflows to include, among other factors, before hiring a developer.
Take advantage of the free Asana project management platform, which facilitates communication between developers, gives each phase its own page, and can send email notifications to help you stay on track. The platform is great in that it allows you to stay on top of individual tasks.
Finally, it’s important to be patient and be aware that some tasks take longer than others, especially while juggling your other broker/agent obligations. Years down the road, when my career is winding down, I don’t want to look back and say, “I wish I had tried.” I decided the time was right to get this new platform rolled out.
Chris Gory is president of Toronto-based Insurance Portfolio Financial Services and a member and past president of the Applied Client Network board of directors. His firm was featured in the July 2016 issue of Rough Notes magazine.