To the Point
By Eric Robuck
THE RISKS OF PAPER RECORDS
A five-stage solution for digitizing records and protecting clients’ data
Insurance agents have one of the most important jobs in the world. They are educators, counselors, comforters and rescuers. An agent educates clients about what risk management is, counsels them on the best course of action when protection is needed, is a voice of comfort and condolence in the worst times of life and supplies the means of restoration after disaster. To provide these needed services, agents must be intelligent, caring and ethical.
Unfortunately, it is easy to overlook the same needs that live in the agent’s world. Often these needs are staring at them every day for years. Drawers, shelves and piles of paper records fill agency offices around the country. Much of the information contained in the paper records resides in only one place: the paper itself. The loss of these records would be disastrous, the theft of them catastrophic. Replacing them is a time-consuming and extremely expensive proposition. Identity theft is an even greater concern. Cleaning up hundreds if not thousands of these cases will virtually guarantee that an agency will have to close its doors.
Data is the lifeblood of any industry. Treating it as a sacred trust is not just wise, it is a responsibility.
Recently I was discussing the risks of paper records with the owner of a small agency. Along the back wall of the office were hundreds of folders lined up alphabetically. As we talked, the IT professional in me was squirming. I was calculating the risk stacked on the shelves around me. The building was an old wooden structure on the outskirts of a poverty-stricken city. Fire would destroy the records very quickly. If the records escaped the fire, water damage would finish the job.
Because these files are out in the open for all to see, anyone could come in for an appointment and leave with a plan to pilfer the records. A data breach of this sort would be disastrous for a small agency. A loss of the trust that customers placed in the agency is a near certainty.
In addition, state and federal regulations require businesses to keep private data secure. If it breaks these laws, an agency will have to deal with the government and the myriad lawsuits that would come its way.
The loss of reputation and the legal fees would be devastating.
There is no one simple solution to this problem. The answer must be multi-tiered, well thought out and cost effective. The solution I propose has five steps.
Step 1: The first step in mitigation is digitizing all records. The scope of this step depends on three factors: the number of records stored, the shape the records are in and whether the scanning must be done on site. The shape of the records is determined by the number of staples or paper clips present and how organized the records are. Each non-paper item discovered slows the scanning process. On-site scanning avoids extra costs such as travel and other employee expenses, whereas off-site scanning is less expensive but more inconvenient.
Step 2: The second step is securely storing the digital copies of the records. Securely storing digital records is as critical as securing physical records. Just as someone can break into a building and take paper records, digital records can be taken by persons with ill intent. To prevent this, a secure network must be created. This can be done in one of two ways. The first way is to store the records locally. A network must be set up and hardened; to ensure security, a network professional is required. The second way is to use the cloud. Setting up a virtual private cloud (VPC) also requires an IT professional but is much easier, less expensive and more secure than creating an on-site network. Storing files in the cloud can be the start of an effective, inexpensive backup/recovery strategy.
Step 3: The third step is allowing secure access to the records. This is done by creating a database during scanning. There are two ways to accomplish this: manual data entry and optical character recognition (OCR). OCR scans each digital file, reads the characters and inserts the data into a database. From this database, each client name can be searched and all documents for that name can be linked to one another. This puts every document at your fingertips without your having to physically search through files.
Step 4: The fourth step is data mining. Because the records have been converted into a database, data mining is extremely profitable. By digging into the data, you can identify clients who are underinsured, lack needed coverages or have coverage gaps. The information you gain from mining your data will allow you to open a dialogue with these clients and increase agency profits by selling additional coverages.
Step 5: The fifth step is to store the physical records in a secure off-site facility. Once all records are digitized and available at your fingertips, there is no reason to incur the risk of storing these records on site. Off-site facilities store records in an organized fashion, allowing you to quickly retrieve files and take them to your office.
Data is the lifeblood of any industry. Treating it as a sacred trust is not just wise, it is a responsibility. The security of your data is crucial. It is the responsibility of all those who are entrusted with its protection. Failure to take this responsibility seriously can result in disaster, not only for the agency but also for the clients who entrust their information to the agency.
Data also tells a story. Taking advantage of the analytics provided by data mining will increase your bottom line because you won’t be leaving money on the table. The solution described here can spare your agency a possible business-ending event.
Eric Robuck is owner and chief executive officer of The Valander Group, a veteran-owned information technology company that focuses on improving business operations and bottom lines. Contact Eric at Eric@tvgroupllc.com.