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Technology Trendsetters | Canadian Insurance

Technology Trendsetters

The finalists of the 2013 Insurance Canada Technology Awards discuss tech opportunities and challenges

One of the most important themes within the insurance industry today is, like it or not, industry members must adopt new technology, not only to survive but to thrive. The Insurance Canada Technology Awards (ICTA) celebrate the suppliers, distributors and insurers that are developing innovative technologies to attract new business, better serve their clients and prepare for the future success of their companies. launched the ICTAs in 2010 to provide members of the industry an opportunity to showcase the unique ways they were using technology. Now in it’s fourth year, the ICTAs will be presented at the annual Technology Conference (ICTC), taking place March 18-19, 2013 at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in Toronto.

Nominees in the three Award categories—Distributor, Supplier and Insurer—will be assessed by a panel of eight judges, all of whom work in the insurance industry or the technology sector. Ultimately, judges are looking to see the business value that technology brings to the nominees.

Doug Grant, principal at, says the awards give the industry an opportunity to see how other members are using technology in practical ways. “This isn’t gee whiz technology coming out of the science lab,” says Grant. “It’s people actually using technology for business advantage.” Grant hopes the nominees and their tech innovations will help to broaden the horizons of other industry members.

Canadian Insurance Top Broker spoke with all of the Award finalists about how they are using technology to improve their business as well the technological challenges that still face the industry. Winners will be announced at this year’s ICTC on March 18 at a special reception. 

CATEGORY: Insurers

Dek: Ensuring ease of doing business



Nominated For: Online property quoter

Ontario Farm Mutuals

Nominated For: Insurance Business Solution developed by MCCG

Unica Insurance

Nominated For: Real-time policy change

State Farm Insurance

Nominated For: Driver Feedback app 

As insurers fight for limited market share, they are continually looking for ways to improve their service—and technology has played a significant role in this endeavour. Today, many insurers are adopting innovative technological solutions to differentiate and improve ease of doing business.

To make buying property insurance easier for its clients, CAA South Central developed its online property quoter, which gives CAA members property quotes in a matter of minutes. The quoter asks for very basic consumer information and, based on the customer response, it will begin to pre-fill many pieces of information using CAA data and iClarify technology. “You enter in your address, year built, square footage and some of the default features of your home appear, as well as a picture,” explains Matthew Turack, vice-president of insurance at CAA Insurance. “From a consumer perspective, you’re validating the information that the insurance company is going to use instead of providing the information that you may or may not know.”

The company is also using technology to provide its members with more options, something Turack says is very important to 21st century consumers. “What customers want is the option to do business in their fashion, whether that is in person or on the phone, or online. They want a company that provides them with the option to do all of that,” he says. John Bordignon, director of media relations at State Farm, agrees. “The more accessible and easier we are to get to for our customers, the better it’s going to be for them to be connected, the better it’s going to be for them to access our products and services and the easier it’s going to be for them to get to us when they need us,” he says.

Looking to improve accessibility and target a specific clientele, State Farm recently released its Driver Feedback mobile application, which is aimed at teenagers. The app measures acceleration, braking and cornering and identifies potentially dangerous driving behaviour. “When we looked at how we were going to get teenagers to drive a little safer, smartphones were the ideal solution and the application was just the way to go. It’s the easiest thing to get into those teenagers’ hands,” says Joe Camilli, assistant marketing manager at State Farm. Camilli says, going forward, his company will increasingly focus on developing mobile products. “We’re really skewing toward the mobile device being the preferred device of everyone, so why shouldn’t what we’re developing be reflecting that type of behaviour?”

Brokers are also looking to insurance companies for greater accessibility and ease of doing business. “Brokers obviously want to do business with the company that’s the easiest to do business with,” explains Joanne Vansevenant, president and CEO of Kent & Essex Mutual Insurance Company. For the mutuals grouped under the banner of Ontario Farm Mutuals, this meant creating an integrated policy, claims, investment and accounting back office solution for its members. The Insurance Business Solution (IBS) is a customizable product that is used by 30 unique mutuals across several provinces. The system allows brokers to upload and download policy information to their broker management systems (BMS) via the IBS Gateway; it provides for electronic storage of claims and policy information; and it also allows for the creation of rating and underwriting rules for new business, renewals and endorsements. “Automation saves us time; it prevents errors because we’re not duplicating the entries, [it improves] ease of doing business for both ourselves and our brokers,” says Vansevenant.

Similarly, Unica was looking to improve business for brokers and help them compete with the speed of directs by developing an automated, real-time policy change system for both personal auto and property. “Unica has been very committed to trying to make the broker channel more competitive,” says Katherine Evans, vice-president and CFO finance at Unica. “The broker channel in Ontario has a lot of challenges and they’re losing [around] 1% market share per year.….partly because direct writers are very strong in the way their systems function, in the way they can deliver a consistent, call-centre product.

“Our view has always been that we need to see how we can make brokers more competitive by saving them time, easing the burden of the administrative work they do, so that they can actually service their client base.” (See also Real-Time Real Deal?)

CATEGORY: Suppliers

Dek: Investing in efficiency


Accident Support Services

Nominated For: The Collision Reporting and Occurrence Management System (CROMS)

First On Site

Nominated For: MobileCT, a project management app for mobile tablets

Just as insurers and brokers must meet the evolving demands of consumers on the tech front, so too must the suppliers and vendors serving the industry’s internal clients. Bruce Derraugh, COO of FirstOnSite, says the only way his company can meet the deadlines required of it is through technology. “If we rely on people and just adding more and more bodies to [a project], it’ll become very inefficient and very costly for restoration players,” he says.

FirstOnSite has recently rolled out its mobileCT project management software, which is run on tablets and allows restoration project managers to generate site reports at the scene of the event. Derraugh says the technology has drastically reduced the time it takes to get reports to adjusters. “Having a workflow solution that reduces the amount of people touching the file and speeds up the whole process of the file … is obviously a critical aspect for insurers and brokers alike,” says Derraugh.

Steve Sanderson, president of Accident Support Services says his company would not have been able to survive had it not been for its investment in technology. “Technology is definitely an enabler,” says Sanderson. “It allows us to work much smarter and it also allows us to become much more efficient and make the right decisions.”

Accident Support Services developed its Collision Reporting and Occurrence Management System (CROMS) in 2005 and has been continually improving the software since then. CROMS allows police and insurers to obtain information on motor vehicle accidents in Ontario and Alberta almost immediately. “Not only does it record all 266 data fields of the provincial collision report, but it also includes photographs and supplementary information, such as passenger information,” explains Sanderson. “The information is captured once, it’s captured in a virgin state, the information is accurate and it’s consistent and it’s shared with everybody. Not only is it a more efficient way of capturing the information, it’s also a more efficient means of distribution.”

Sanderson stresses that, in order to create an effective product, end users need to be a part of the development process. “Without their input, without their buy-in and without their ownership, it doesn’t matter what kind of technology or what kind of technical project it is, it just won’t be used.”  

CATEGORY: Distributors

DEK: Adapting to changing customer needs


Ingle International

Nominated For: Online travel insurance application

The Shepherd Group

Nominated For: Online brand and services

Square One Insurance Services

Nominated For: Online quoting and sales system

One of the most pressing challenges facing the insurance industry is adapting to the changing expectations of the 21st century consumer. “One of the biggest impacts technology has had is on consumer preferences,” says Jason Vander Zalm, vice-president of information technology at Square One Insurance Services. “Consumers have gotten really comfortable with self-serve, online tools.” He adds that people are also no longer satisfied with a “one-size-fits-all approach” to insurance products.

In order to respond to this changing consumer behaviour, Square One created its online quoting and sales system. “Rather than selling a pre-packaged policy with limits that are based off of the building value, which is traditionally the case, we actually allow customers to completely customize all the limits and coverage,” says Vander Zalm. “The customer can see, in real-time, the impact of their choices on their overall premium.”

The online quoting tool appears to be working, as Vander Zalm says 70% of Square One’s quoting activity is now done online.  Those that are hesitant to adopt new technology, therefore, are missing a great opportunity, he says. “I just feel like the insurance industry just has its head in the sand,” he says. “It’s not gaining the advantage of all the cool stuff that’s out there. It just feels old and static.”

Technology has also helped to drive new business at Ingle International. The travel and special risks MGA recently developed an online travel insurance application for employee benefit providers. The application allows individuals to purchase extra travel insurance through their own employee benefit portal. “You had a situation where individuals who needed extra insurance were referred to other channels of distribution that specifically focused on travel insurance and … employee benefit groups didn’t know what their members were getting,” explains Robin Ingle, CEO of Ingle International. “Creating this application for third-party administrators and MGAs for their employee benefit clients has produced more clients for us, more sales, and solved the problem for our distribution channel, which they love.”

Ingle adds that communicating on multiple platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and through web and mobile sites has also helped them to attract new clients. “We’ve learned that by communication, you can actually get clients and clients that will like you.”

The Shepherd Group (TSG) is also investing a significant amount of time and energy into its online presence in order to attract new clients. “We knew that we needed ease of business for clients in this generation especially. These clients aren’t going to be calling,” says Michelle Tremblay, operations manager at TSG. “They’re not the kind that are going to come in here and sit down and talk to you for an hour anymore. That’s changing and evolving. So what are you going to do to assist this mobile society as we continue to grow?”

For TSG, developing an interactive website that allows clients to obtain quotes and access to 24/7 information was the answer. “We decided to come up with this hybrid traditional brokerage/online branding web presence,” she says. “However, we also wanted to make sure that people understood that we’re a brokerage. We’re not just a website and a brand. We’re human and we’re still going to help you and we’re still going to provide you with a lot of assistance.”

Tremblay stresses that the traditional ways of transacting business are not going to continue and if brokers are going to be successful, they need to invest in technology. “If you’re going to get where we need to be, you need to be proactive and constantly reinventing, constantly looking at new technology, constantly looking at ways to make things better, more efficient, more effective.”


The Portal Predicament

Michelle Tremblay, operations manager at The Shepherd Group, says one of the most difficult challenges facing brokers is adapting to the different technologies that insurance companies use. Because brokers deal with so many insurance companies, she says they have to develop internal procedures and workflows based on the software that each company releases. “Each company has a different portal; they don’t all use the same portal. So we have to decide internally, how we’re going to be able to do our workflows,” she says.

Tremblay says this has a huge impact on personal lines insurance, specifically, which is expected to be a quick transaction. “The more technology these insurance companies seem to be coming up with to make things easier, actually makes our workflows more difficult at times. Not because the individual company technology is poor—it’s actually excellent—but because we are brokers and we deal with several different [companies],” she says. “A direct market only deals with one system, one company, one set of rules, and they can maybe get things done quicker.”


Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the February 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.