Industry-wide initiative builds on successes to drive ongoing improvement for agents
More than 17 years ago—in May 2001, to be exact—in the pages of Rough Notes, we quoted long-time insurance-tech guru John Ashenhurst discussing a then-new confab of agents and other industry professionals. “There’s a new voice for agents,” he said: “The ACORD User Groups Information Exchange—AUGIE. The idea is to bring together the heads of the various user groups—the technology orientation is already there, and collectively maybe they can have some influence that the associations haven’t had so far.”
In those early days, Ashenhurst expressed some reservations about the group’s ultimate effectiveness: “My concern is that they’ll focus too much on technology and not enough on the business issues. But there is potential.” Fast forward to 2018, and AUGIE has built a solid track record of identifying and resolving data exchange and workflow inefficiencies within the independent agency arena, in large part because participants did indeed focus on business issues and how automation could help the industry address them.
New and improved
Today the group no longer holds the formal ties it once did with ACORD, and it more fully recognizes association participation; AUGIE now stands for Associations & User Groups Information Exchange. According to Cal Durland, CPCU, interface optimization director at IVANS Insurance Solutions and director of AUGIE, who helps coordinate AUGIE activities, “AUGIE recently launched its own website, thanks to NuGrowth, and we’re building out content on the site—augiegroup.org—as it becomes available.”
AUGIE is headed by user group volunteers: NetVU (Network of Vertafore Users) past chair Jim Armitage, CPCU, founding partner of Arroyo Insurance Services in Pasadena, California, is AUGIE chair; HUG (HawkSoft User Group) Vice President Mike Skeele, CIC, CPIA, president of Skeele Agency in Manlius, New York, is vice chair. A dozen or so association and user group leaders serve as executive council members.
On the second Tuesday of each month, AUGIE hosts phone calls open to interested individuals in the independent agency community. It also holds in-person meetings a couple of times a year.
In September 2017, AUGIE’s in-person meeting took place at the front end of AppliedNet, the annual conference for users of Applied Systems technology. At the meeting Armitage reflected on AUGIE’s progress over the years. He identified a variety of conflicting and complicating issues that participants have battled, from competing priorities and state regulatory issues to legacy systems and the present “What’s in it for me?” question.
“A key issue over the years has been return on investment,” Armitage said. “This has been a concern of carriers, agency management system providers, and agencies that are investing in technology to run their businesses. ROI has been a constant focus—something we’ve worked to address at every step along the way.”
He said that work done by AUGIE and others is paying off. “Today, agents and brokers have more data at their fingertips than ever before, thanks to initiatives we’ve worked hard on over the years,” he noted. “We’ve made tremendous progress leveraging digital tools and resources to attract prospects and clients and to serve them how and where they want—in person, online or on their mobile device, with our help or on their own, 24/7.”
At the September meeting, AUGIE recognized individuals who have worked with the group since its inception and supported it in various ways over the years. “We wanted to recognize and present awards to three individuals who were volunteers on the ACORD board of directors and who also have been active participants of AUGIE,” said Jim Armitage. Recipients included Keith Savino, CPIA, managing partner of Warwick Resource Group in Warwick, New York; Andy Fogarty, past chief information officer at Ohio Casualty; and Bob Slocum, CPCU, CIC, president of The Slocum Agency in Warwick, Rhode Island.
AUGIE also unveiled a new award—the Andy Fogarty Industry Impact Award—and even got Fogarty to agree to present the award without knowing it was named after him. In announcing the award’s creation, AUGIE Vice Chair Skeele said, “The Andy Fogarty Industry Impact Award has now been established in honor of Andy, a 40-plus-year participant in the independent agency distribution channel who worked at Ohio Casualty, who was a member and chair of the ACORD Board of Directors, and who continues to support AUGIE and the industry long after he has officially retired.”
Fogarty then took the stage, offering a bit of a retrospective—including a primer on download. “When I was asked to present the first-ever AUGIE Industry Impact Award, I was both elated and humbled, since I was there when AUGIE was established,” he said. “The award today centers on a word we all know and love—I think—download.”
He pointed to the 1983 development by Digital Equipment Corporation of the first personal computer, which he says opened agents’ eyes to the possibility of doing away with paper and handling transactions electronically. “However, the technology was cumbersome and it didn’t do what they wanted it to do—single entry multiple company interface—plus it was expensive,” he recalled. There was no common data format, and at least 30 vendors were offering solutions to accomplish this goal.
“The inability to develop a standard solution to the process caused turmoil throughout the industry, and that led to a meeting in 1990 in Tarrytown, New York, which I attended, along with many other carriers, agents, and vendors,” he added. “We decided, based on the pressure to do something, that half a loaf was better than no loaf at all, so the idea of download surfaced as a way of getting company-processed data electronically to agents.
“A vendor named BWC Systems—a predecessor to IVANS—was a key player in the industry; it developed the software that translated company system data to send to agency systems,” Fogarty explained. “Download was the finger in the dyke until the Internet came along and the industry developed new technology to complete the process we currently employ.”
Fogarty’s download discussion was especially relevant in that download figured into the award recipient selection. “Our recipients today symbolize the action the industry leaders took at Tarrytown,” he said. “They pulled out all the stops starting in June to encourage users of the HawkSoft Agency Management System to use the IVANS Connection Report to become more aware of current and potential download opportunities with their carriers.”
Since Hawksoft and its user group started the project in the middle of last year, the number of agencies that have reviewed their IVANS report has increased by 93% and the number of agents who customized their Connections Report to increase the amount of download they receive from their carriers is up by some 150%. Paul Hawkins, HawkSoft president and CEO, and Mike Skeele accepted the award, which recognizes individual and organization efforts to help AUGIE and independent agents succeed.
Meeting attendees discussed current AUGIE initiatives and laid the foundation for future work. Brian Bartosh, CIC, LUTCF, president of Top O’ Michigan Insurance Agency in Alpena, Michigan, and Mark Harrison, system specialist at IVANS, offered an update on eDocs and Messages. The work examines the electronic transfer or download of a file (PDF, Excel, Word, JPEG, etc.) or message into an agency management system. Examples include the insured’s copy of the policy, pending cancellations or reinstatements, and other items previously received by agencies non-electronically. With eDocs and Messages download, these can now be sent directly to the agency management system, thus eliminating the manual steps to retrieve and save them.
Bartosh and Armitage discussed the ACT (Agents Council for Technology) Commercial Data in Motion initiative, which looks at data bridging. Topics addressed included small commercial rating, the role and value of standards, and agency, carrier and vendor best practices in handling and transferring data on commercial business. The initiative will look next at workers compensation interface.
Savino described the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents’ “Buy Button” initiative, which Rough Notes covered in detail in March 2017. Christine Horne, vice president-systems support at Richmond, Virginia-based Bankers Insurance, LLC, shared an update on the AUGIE Ambassador Program—a formal communication initiative the group implemented a few years ago. It’s described as “a collective, collaborative effort to share information with our communities. AUGIE Ambassadors are willing to share information with their network.”
To become AUGIE Ambassadors, individuals need to: indicate their ambassador role on their LinkedIn or other social profile; share AUGIE information on their social networks; and attend AUGIE calls and face-to-face meetings and/or otherwise stay up to date on AUGIE goings on.
The group encourages agents who are interested in becoming AUGIE Ambassadors to engage with their management system users group, participate in the Buy Button initiative, make sure their agency uses and customizes the IVANS Connections Report, and receive communications from Insurance Digital Revolution, which Rough Notes covered in September 2016.
To drive future AUGIE work in 2018, the group created a survey that allows industry participants to weigh in. “Once we confirm the direction the industry wants us to take, we will be developing AUGIE’s position, creating a baseline measurement, and building a plan of action throughout 2018,” Durland said.
She encouraged agents to visit the augiegroup.org website to learn more and to sign up for monthly calls, which will feature a brief topical presentation followed by ongoing AUGIE agenda items. AUGIE also welcomes attendees at its next in-person meeting, which will take place on April 25, 2018, in Las Vegas. Learn more by visiting the “Resources & Events” section of the AUGIE website.
For more information:
Associations & User Groups Information Exchange (AUGIE)
By Dave Willis, CPIA