STRENGTH IN MEMBERS
NetVU leverages brand refresh and enhanced communication to boost education, networking and channel advocacy
By Dave Willis, CPIA
Late last year, NetVU—the Network of Vertafore Users—unveiled a refreshed brand identity that association leaders said expressed the synergy between the NetVU users group and Vertafore, which develops insurance management software that the group’s members use.
Vertafore software equips and connects various points of the independent agency distribution channel—from agencies and carriers to MGAs, MGUs, and state governments—to create a more seamless experience. NetVU is an independent member organization delivering advocacy, education and networking to some 25,000 agencies, carriers and MGAs, representing 500,000-plus Vertafore solution users.
Laura Packard, vice president, marketing and client relations, at Aartrijk, an insurance industry-focused branding and communication firm that helped NetVU with its brand refresh, says the users group pursued an identity shift to better reflect its values, its members, and its vision for the industry.
“The change built on work that the NetVU executive board started a year earlier to strengthen the organization’s relationship with what then was relatively new Vertafore leadership,” she explains. “The board emphasized greater collaboration, and the brand refresh aimed to support that.”
NetVU and Vertafore are separate and independent, but leaders of both groups believed that having—and showing—synergy between them would be, as Packard describes, “a win-win for the entire industry. Thus, NetVU sought to redesign its brand identity so the spirit of collaboration could be understood from an ‘at-a-glance’ visual standpoint.”
An element of the project was an updated logo. “The refreshed logo font and color provide a strong linkage between NetVU and Vertafore,” Packard explains. “It keeps NetVU distinct while pointing to Vertafore and its insurance management software solutions.” The previous users group logo featured distinctly different colors and bore little resemblance to the vendor’s brand.
“The modernized logo highlights innovation and efficient, streamlined solutions,” Packard adds. “It leverages the angles of Vertafore’s logo to signal forward momentum—through the shape and fusion of NetVU’s ‘V’ and ‘U.’”
Executive Board Chair Mike Foy, president of Exeter, New Hampshire-based Foy Insurance Group, explains, “Everybody on the NetVU board was involved in the brand refresh. We worked with Aartrijk and came up with some solid ideas, and then met with Vertafore leadership to share our thoughts and confirm our decisions and direction.”
Treasurer and past Board Chair Carl Schlotman III, CPCU, CIC, president and CEO of Cincinnati-based CAI Insurance, took part in the brand project. “For me personally it was an interesting time to do it, as my agency was going through a brand makeover at the same time. The NetVU refresh created great clarity on the strength of the similarities (with Vertafore) and the strength of being two organizations. It was fun to observe the thought process of where you are and what you want to be, and then to create a good picture around that.”
Another outgrowth of the refresh was a new NetVU descriptor. “Our new tagline, ‘Strength in Members,’ sums up what we’re about,” Foy says. “It signifies that we’re powered by members, and that those members willingly help each other get the most out of their Vertafore solutions. This sharing builds a strong organization and, we believe, a stronger industry.”
“As an organization, we have three pillars—education, networking, and advocacy,” Foy explains. Advocacy has two parts. Within the association, NetVU works to get greater member adoption of forward-thinking workflows and technology. As part of the broader industry, the organization works with others to champion advances and solutions that will help strengthen the independent agency channel.
Schlotman adds, “I and many others at NetVU have a passion around helping the industry improve. I’m proud to have been part—and to see continuation—of NetVU’s efforts to drive greater efficiencies for independent agents and help us compete with whatever comes down the pike.”
Education, another pillar, is available in a number of ways—online, in webinars, through regional and local meetings, and of course at the annual conference, Accelerate, Powered by NetVU. “We have local chapters,” Foy explains, “but we also have quite a few virtual chapters that bring a topic right to your desktop. We’ve even created virtual chapters to discuss specific problems; we recently formed one to address integration issues.”
“Our agency frequently makes use of the educational offerings—NetVU University, for instance,” Schlotman comments. “Perhaps we have new people who need to get up to speed or someone needs a refresher. Sessions are recorded so they’re available when we need them.”
NetVU also offers “immersion classes for people who already understand a product but want to go a step further,” Foy explains. “Classes cover specific topics, and class size is limited. Vertafore and user experts are brought in to teach. It’s a deep-dive power-user- type class.”
The group’s flagship education event, Accelerate, welcomes members from around the country for three days of intense learning. And more. “A big part of its value is networking—engaging with Vertafore employees, fellow agents, and other independent agency system leaders,” Foy explains. “With networking, you get the education plus real-life examples from other users. I’ve found from experience that a good idea becomes a great idea when you network with other people.”
Education and networking are key factors that got Jessica Jeffress, senior director of property and casualty client services at Peel & Holland, in Benton, Kentucky, involved in NetVU. She joined her agency 10 years ago and was immediately impressed with its level of tech sophistication. “We are in a very small town in Kentucky, and I was shocked at how advanced and forward-thinking the agency was,” she recalls, “and once I joined the users group, I was surprised at how willing people who technically are competitors are to help each other.”
Jeffress, who serves as a NetVU board member at large, continues to be impressed with others’ helpfulness. “Whether it’s at Accelerate, in a chapter meeting, on NCOM (the NetVU Online Community), or just picking up the phone, everyone is so willing to help. NetVU has an innate ability to cultivate and bring that willingness out in people.”
Schlotman echoes the thought. “The NetVU community is our go-to resource for all questions related to running our business—not just automation,” he explains. “We ask people on NCOM what they’re doing, and they get back to us in minutes. It’s great to hear from others what’s working for them and why.”
A key NetVU success driver is its relationship with Vertafore. Leaders of both organizations characterize their relationship as one of interdependence, as opposed to dependence or independence. The end result: Leadership of both partners is committed to the other’s growth and success and to the growth of NetVU members and Vertafore customers.
This plays out in Accelerate, of course, where NetVU and Vertafore aligned efforts to deliver an event focused on NetVU’s “member users.” But the interdependence extends beyond conference planning and implementation to other resources and interactions.
“Having worked on the board for four years and having been involved in NetVU for 25, I’d say we’re at an all-time high in our relationship with Vertafore,” Schlotman observes. “We have good conversations about what’s working and what’s not. The relationship helps things move forward positively for the members and for Vertafore.”
Foy concurs. “For the last couple of years, collaboration has been really strong,” he remarks. “We’re much better aligned and working to be even more so going forward. I don’t believe past ownership valued the users group nearly as much as the team does now. Current leadership is all in with NetVU.” He observes what he calls “a high level of mutual respect. The CEO, Amy Zupon, is very giving of her time.”
NetVU Member Relations Manager Melissa Bond sees the difference too. “Our relationship with Vertafore is completely different than it was even two years ago,” she says. “We’re talking to each other more and supporting each other better—building out strategic plans together. It’s all over NetVU.
“Like with everything else,” she explains, “it’s all about communication. Communication is much better within committees, from our board, and with Vertafore leadership. We’re building strategy together to help our members help Vertafore provide the best customer experience they can.” Such advances have been no accident. “It has been a priority of our leadership recently to drive increased communication between and throughout the two organizations,” Bond notes.
A relative executive board newcomer, Jeffress doesn’t have first-hand experience that lets her compare then and now. That doesn’t stop her from assessing the current situation: “NetVU leaders and Vertafore leaders are getting things done for members and the industry,” she says. “Amy (Zupon) and her executive team are on it. They have a ton of passion and have taken the time and committed the resources to make the end user more successful.”
Enhanced collaboration extends beyond the executive suites. Workgroups—a refresh of NetVU’s member effort to guide Vertafore product development and customer experience—represent another area where the organizations are boosting interaction.
“Workgroup volunteers—10 to 15 for most products—work with Vertafore to drive product maintenance and enhancement efforts,” explains Bond, who oversees the initiative. “They’re a cross section of members, from those who are taking their agencies to the next level to those who may just be getting started with a product.” The overarching rationale behind workgroups: “Tech users need to shape their own customer experience,” Bond says, “and tech vendors need to engage.”
“In workgroups, engaged members bring Vertafore staff desktop perspective,” Foy explains. “Let’s face it: Most programmers never lived a day in the life of an agent, and that’s fine.” He shares a story about his daughter, who met an insurance carrier programmer who asked to shadow her at the agency. “At some point during the visit, he said to her, ‘I type stuff all day, but have no idea what it means—like the acronym B-O-P. What’s that?’”
Such stories likely are relatable in IT departments everywhere. “By working together, volunteers and staff can improve our members’ experience,” Foy notes. “A lot gets done, a lot gets corrected, and a lot of innovation happens.”
Schlotman contrasts workgroup collaboration with how things were 25 years ago: “Users would have boiled up a list of the 10 greatest system problems and approached the vendors with that list of gripes; it was kind of combative,” he recalls. “Now Vertafore comes to us, asking what they can do. And we have hundreds of volunteers willing to prioritize and help with ideas. Vertafore is forthright on what can and can’t be done and when.”
Workgroup volunteers don’t rely on just their own insight. Quite the contrary. “We have a tool that lets any member submit update or enhancement ideas,” Bond explains. “Workgroup members review suggestions and determine, for instance, if they’re part of the product already, which might point to an education issue; if so, we bring it to the education folks’ attention.
“If it’s a bug that needs fixing right away, we work with product managers to accomplish that,” she adds. “It may be something we’ll recommend for an upcoming release. Or sometimes the suggestion won’t fit with the overall product direction, and that’s okay. Volunteers understand this and are good about supporting it.”
Members also engage with others on NCOM. “With an accounting update, for instance, the workgroup may need insight from more people who do accounting every day, and open it up for input on NCOM,” Bond adds. “By connecting with more users, we make sure the product meets customer needs.”
“I’ve seen the power of these workgroups driving product development and being a strong voice for what we need to better serve our clients,” Jeffress comments. “It’s volunteers helping Vertafore create a product that is what we really need.”
Despite improvements, frustrations exist. “A challenge is making sure members know they’re members,” Bond explains. There’s a simple test that will answer that question: Do you use a Vertafore product? If you do, you’re a member. “Our onboarding program gets members set up in our online community and other resources,” she says. “They just need to contact us.”
Her frustration is balanced with enthusiasm about NCOM, which Bondcalls “our most used tool and our most underused.” She points out that executive board members use NCOM regularly, as do Vertafore team members.
Schlotman is enthusiastic about a couple of things. “First is the willingness of members—our entire industry, for that matter—to help each other,” he says. He’s also upbeat about this year’s Accelerate. “I’m super excited that everyone’s coming to my hometown, Cincinnati. Our Ohio chapters are proud to bring our friends from around the country to share ideas, to learn, and to look at our futures, and see how we might help each other.”
Foy looks forward to an enhancement coming to Accelerate this year. “Previously, we’ve had innovation labs, where we’d bring together a couple of people to solve a problem,” he explains. “This year, we’re taking it a step further. More users will be able to share ideas for fixing problems—to sit alongside other users and Vertafore folks and come up with a solution or enhancement.”
Taking the whole notion of industry advocacy back to the local office level, Jeffress says, “It’s neat to explain to an account administrator in our firm, for example, that work we do as volunteers—when we help XYZ carrier fix a particular issue with download or some other functionality—we’re not just fixing it for ourselves, we’re fixing it for the industry.”
She values the giving spirit NetVU cultivates among members, and she sees a bright future. “It’s an exciting time for our board, our members, and NetVU,” she says. “We’re hitting on all cylinders. We came away from our last on-site board meeting energized and ready to conquer the world. When you have everybody working together, that’s how you feel.”
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