Platform helps agents organize carrier information
How many of you are currently singing Eddy Grant’s ‘80s hit Electric Avenue? Mission accomplished. Moving on.
Consider this scenario: You’re a long-time agent working at a captive. For years you’ve only had to deal with one carrier and one contact. But then you find yourself moving to an independent agency that represents over 50 carriers. Imagine the frustration and challenges of trying to manage all that data.
This was the story of Tou Yang. As an independent agent, his initial method of organizing information was quite primitive—and very common to other agents—sticky notes, printouts and Excel spreadsheets stored and sent in emails and external drives. This method wasn’t going to help build up his business.
He found that he spent too much time managing the day-to-day organization of information, leaving less time to pursue new business. A more efficient way to manage and run an agency needed created and, in 2015, Agent Ave was born.
“It was a huge challenge for me going from a captive to the independent side, which led me to building the platform,” says Yang, Agent Ave’s CEO and co-founder. “It’s designed by an agent for other agents.”
Agent Ave, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is neither an agency management system nor rating software, but rather an organizational platform for carrier information.
“Managing carrier information is messy and time consuming; if you represent multiple companies, you find yourself asking the same questions over and over and often spend time looking for information,” Yang says. “There’s just way too much data, it’s scarcely shared with the team, and maintaining the accuracy of the data is a challenge. There needs to be a uniform way to get the entire agency to manage information.
“Agents who find it difficult to manage their information often miss opportunities to cover specific risk appetites and often impact the revenue of the company,” he continues. “The Agent Ave platform is designed to offer an easy helping hand for agents to manage their carrier information, so they can boost their productivity, increase their efficiency, and reduce a lot of the inefficiencies, enabling them to focus on what’s important—improving customer service and writing new business.”
The cloud-based platform provides a central location for stored carrier data.
“There are multiple touch points with the carriers,” Yang explains. “There are IDs and passwords. Agents always need to log into a carrier’s website. If they make a phone call, they need their pin code. Each company also has its own guidelines.
“When a client calls with a question, you can spend a lot of time contacting carriers, interrupting staff, and emailing colleagues for the answer. Later, another prospect might call and ask the same question. The agent is scratching their head and thinking, ‘I did that research a month ago and it took me over an hour.’ With Agent Ave you can get back with them quickly because that answer is stored on the platform.”
Other carrier touch points include documents and carrier contact information.
“Contact information changes often,” Yang says. “There will be instances when you’ll need to contact someone, and you remember that you received an email from them two or three weeks ago. You spend time scrambling to get the information from your inbox.”
The Agent Ave platform is subscription-based, costing $20 per month, per user.
“It’s powerful, convenient, and affordable,” explains Yang. “What we’re most excited about is that we’ve built a platform that is ideal for day-to-day agency data management. Once an agent experiences the platform, they often quickly take advantage of what it has to offer and share it with others.
“But this is just the beginning,” he continues. “We’re constantly innovating and looking to eliminate agents’ day-to-day tedious tasks by bringing new capabilities to the platform. Next on our radar is the application of artificial intelligence to help optimize tasks and help agents discover new business opportunities.
“A lot of agents still resort to systems like Dropbox and Google Drive for passing around spreadsheets. While this works, it usually does so with moderate success. The biggest issue is that they are still trying to glue together various systems and wrap a data management process around it. This means that the people manage the process and you must have the discipline and organizational skills to do so; this requires a lot of time and it’s difficult to maintain. For the agencies that want to go to the next level and be more efficient and organized, they need to make work easier for agents and CSRs who have lots on their plates. They need the right solutions and tools.”
Maryann Leerhoff, a trainer and developmental coach at Oakwood Insurance Agency in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, was first introduced to Yang and Agent Ave in August 2015 by Frank Whitcomb, director of sales and marketing for the Minnesota Big “I” chapter (MIIAB).
“We love it,” she says. “We have 13 branch offices and each office shares the same information. We take advantage of it every day.”
The ability to store multiple carriers’ data in one location boosts the agency’s productivity in the rapidly changing insurance industry.
“Companies change their guidelines and underwriting criteria to keep up with the times and to be competitive,” says Leerhoff. “It also seems that every account has at least one variable, if not several, that may put it on the ‘do not call’ list for many of our carriers. Finding the best fit or, in some cases any fit, can be challenging.
“Agent Ave provides a secure and convenient way to store user codes and passwords without having ‘little black books.’”
Trainer and Developmental Coach
Oakwood Insurance Agency
“Agent Ave allows us to compare snippets of the underwriting guidelines for each of our carriers on dozens of topics in one central place. It’s not necessarily the whole story but it can narrow down the possibilities to select the carriers who may entertain the risk.”
The platform also assists the agency with cyber security protocol compliance.
“Agent Ave provides a secure and convenient way to store user codes and passwords without having ‘little black books,’” Leerhoff say. “It’s a stand-alone cloud-based program that allows access to carrier URLs from anywhere. Agents don’t need to be logged in to our agency management system. They can open Agent Ave, click on the company URL and enter their user code and password and take care of business on the fly.”
The document storage feature is one of Leerhoff’s favorites.
“Searching a company website, you would think that forms would be at your fingertips, but sometimes you have to dig to find a form,” she explains. “It seems that each carrier has proprietary forms and questionnaires that are tough to put your hands on when you need them. Whether it’s a wood burning stove or animal liability questionnaire, it can be time consuming finding the carrier’s required form to finish up issuing a policy.
“Whenever somebody at the agency gets one of these forms for a particular carrier, we can scan it into the system and attach it to Agent Ave; everyone in the agency now has it at their fingertips. It’s a huge time saver.”
With the product arriving mainly as a template awaiting information to be inputted, “Take some time before you start entering data to think about what information will be most helpful in your day-to-day processes of quoting and issuing coverage,” says Leerhoff. “Engage everyone in the organization and encourage all users to get in the habit of opening Agent Ave at the beginning of each day. The window can be minimized to allow quick access.”
Similar to Yang’s situation, Oakwood Insurance Agency recently hired a veteran captive agent.
“He had years of experience in insurance, but only dealt with one company,” Leerhoff says. “A product like Agency Ave for someone new to the industry or coming from a captive gives them a leg up.”
David J. Bonne, vice president of Hudson Valley Agents in Walden, New York, discovered Agent Ave in 2017 after doing a Google search on product enhancements for the agency.
“I remember going to their Web page and a light went off in my head; I instantly recognized the value the product would have in my agency,” he says. “I had never heard of Agent Ave but have since had multiple discussions with Tou, which is great because you get that personal touch.
“The product has streamlined the informational part of my business. With the Agent Ave portal, I can keep all my underwriting books in pdf format for each carrier and line of business. I also store my own agency guidelines like how we handle cancellations, claims, and certificates of insurance.
“It holds all our online links, IDs, and passwords for each carrier site. I no longer have to hunt for these things, and training new employees has gotten much easier.”
With the multitude of features available, Bonne is a fan of all of them.
“I like and use every feature of Agent Ave,” he says, “from the documents section where I have all underwriting guidelines stored on the cloud, to the carrier info section where we access all the name, number, email, and extension information for each employee we may need to contact at each carrier.
“The agency manual section, where we keep all our in-house rules and regulations in one handy spot, is great for E&O purposes. We also all love the procedures section which lists all the little idiosyncrasies of each carrier’s likes and dislikes, wants and don’t wants.”
Bonne recommends watching “all the quick and precise tutorials or have Tou do a quick demo before making any judgment. It has made my life as an agency owner much easier. After the initial build, this product has freed up much valuable time for me,” he concludes.
If you’re having issues keeping your carrier information organized, rock down to Agent Ave. And good luck getting Electric Avenue out of your head.
By Christopher W. Cook
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