How to automate your non-ACORD forms

How to automate your non-ACORD forms

Anderson, Steve

ACORD’s campaign to simplify and reduce the number of different applications for standard lines of coverage that we need to keep in the office has been extremely successful. ACCORD now has some 244 different forms available. To further reduce the amount of paper agencies need to warehouse, almost every automated agency management system is now equipped with a variety of ACORD forms which can be filled in right on the screen.

Yet, even with this progress by ACORD and various automation vendors, our offices continue to be flooded with all kinds of other, non-ACORD paper forms.

Finding a way to stop completing these forms by hand is the one area that had continued to frustrate us in our agency. We just couldn’t seem to get these paper forms under control. Nonstandard auto applications, state assigned risk applications, company supplemental applications (one company we represent has 58 different supplemental applications]), and the vast number of E&S applications are just some of the forms we have to deal with every day.

In our agency, we use an electronic document management system (we scan all the paper in the agency) which allows us to store these forms in a central image database located on our network. Each person in the office has direct access to this database from their own workstation so they can retrieve the forms they need, when they need them. With this central storage facility, everyone is always using the most current version of a form.

But, to complete a form we had to print it out and then fill it out by hand, or go to that one last typewriter we still have in the office. With all the progress made in the last 15 years automating every other area in our agency, we still had to fill out all of these forms by hand] It was frustrating and expensive]

Overhead costs are astronomical

When you analyze it, the cost in added overhead expenses for CSRs to do all this work by hand is astronomical. If one CSR completes just five different forms by hand each day (at an average of 30 minutes per form), they spend about of 2-1/2 hours per day, or 12-1/2 hours per week. If our CSRs’ average pay is $25,000 per year (not including benefits) then we are paying them $12 per hour ($7,800 per year) just to fill out forms.

That is $7,800 per year for every CSR you have completing forms by hand. Since we have five CSRs in our office, it is costing us $39,000 per year.

And the worst part is, this is an ongoing expense. This same amount of work is required every year because the information on last year’s form is stored on paper in the file, where it can’t be reused electronically to complete the renewal application.

There had to be a better way]

Fortunately there is. Through many hours and much trial and error, we have finally discovered a solution to this problem: a cost effective way to automate all the non-ACORD forms, whether you have an agency management system or not.

After years of asking, prodding and determined searching, we finally found a way to “automate” literally every form we use in our agency. Now, instead of printing out the form from our image database and filling it in by hand, the CSR brings the form up on the screen and begins to type the information onto the form. It is fast and easy to do. The form is completed by just typing the information and tabbing to the next field. Or you can use your mouse to go directly to the field you want to complete.

Let me give you an example of how this saved us over 9-1/2 hours of work the first time we used it.

One of our clients is an apartment management firm. One of their apartment complexes has 58 separate buildings. The client was required by their bank to obtain flood insurance on the property. When they called, we realized we would have to complete 58 separate flood applications] We were looking at hours of work to complete these applications. Even if we typed the common information on the form and then made copies, it was still a huge, time consuming task.

We decided to put our new forms software to the test.

There are many forms packages already available that allow you to create forms with fields that you can fill in. Our approach is different because we use a picture of the actual form as the basis for creating the fill-in fields. We specifically selected this system so we didn’t have to recreate the form from scratch like other forms products we had tried to use. Our new software came through with flying colors. We completed all 58 applications in less than an hour, total.

Here’s how we did it.

Using a scanner we created an electronic picture of the form. To get the best picture possible we used a Fujitsu 3096 scanner with a Kofax imaging co-processing board with three megs of additional RAM.

Our next step was to take the picture of the flood insurance application (it is just like using a copy) and create the “fill-in fields everywhere on the application where we needed to add information. We went through each field to verify it, making sure the field name was what we wanted, the font type size and style were what we wanted, and the tabbing order to move down the page was logical.

After the basic fields were added to the form, we then went back to create special fields. This step allowed us to make the fields ‘smart’ in several different ways such as:

* “marking” check boxes in the form with an “X” or check mark. The mouse cursor changes to a hand shape and you just click on the box to mark it.

* Applying special formatting to number fields like telephone numbers so you can just type the numbers and the form puts the dashes in the right spots.

* Adding calculation and other functions to fields. We can take a rate field and multiply it by a coverage amount held and insert the result into the premium field. It is like having a mini-rating program right in the form. The premium calculation “smarts” are completed as a by-product of filling out the form. The accuracy of the form is assured because you are letting the computer do what it is good at, calculating numbers.

With the design of the form completed, the CSR started adding information to the form. She created the first copy of the form with all the common information that would be consistent on each application. She then made 58 duplicates of that first application (a simple process of typing two keys).

The final step was to go back to each application and add the specific location information. This was done for all 58 locations. In less than an hour every application was completed, premium and rate calculations were done accurately, and the applications were printed out and ready to mail.

Even with the additional time needed to design the “electronic” application, this one use still saved us hours of time. Now that the application is completed, it is ready to be used by anyone in the once anytime they need it.

Data storage makes this a great marketing tool

There is one last step that we will take next year. At renewal time, the CSR will go back to the form, make a copy so that we retain the original form, and simply update the information as necessary. We can then print out the new applications, completed and ready to send to the company. You see, the form stores the information for each location as part of the form. We can go back to that form as many times as we want to change the information before we print it or fax to the company.

The detail on how all this works brings us to this important point. The ability to store information in a forms database that you were previously maintaining only in a paper format offers huge marketing benefits to those agencies that take advantage of it. You now have a way to move business to the best market for your customer, and not have to worry about how much time it will take to process it.

Again, let me give you some examples to explain my point.

The businessowners policy application for almost every insurance company is a non-ACORD, proprietary application. Travelers uses their MasterPac application, Hartford uses their Spectrum application, and Aetna uses ACORD forms, but requires you to include a supplemental application for the property and auto coverages. My point is, to process this low margin business, the companies require an awful lot of manual work on our part.

With forms automation, each company application is available to every CSR to complete on their computer screen, whenever they need. Because all the information on the form is also stored in a database, you can move it (or export it, for you computer types) to any other form. You can also export it to another database, such as your agency management system.

Now think about the practical applications] If you want to move a piece of business from Travelers to the Hartford BOP program, right now you are filling out a whole new application, probably by hand. With forms automation you can move all the common information from the Travelers application to the Hartford application without retyping anything.

Your insurance companies will hate this]

This level of forms automation gives you control over where you place your business, not your insurance companies. Can you imagine how much time you would save by being able to easily transfer a book of BOP business by simply moving data from one insurance company application to the new company application, without retyping anything? Once the data is saved, you just have to complete any specific information needed on the new application and print it out or fax it directly to the underwriter.

We have struggled, and I am sure you have too, for a way to profitably write the small business accounts. Now, to process this low margin business, the companies require an awful lot of manual work on our partwork that we don’t get any extra commission for] Forms automation will not only make you more competitive, but it will allow you to provide better service to your clients so they stay with you year after year.

Any form you now complete by hand can be made electronic

Another example is bonds. We do quite a bit of construction surety work. This requires us be able to produce, on short notice, bid bonds. The problem in the past has been that these bid bonds had to be originals. Forms automation now makes this a simple task.

We have the forms in an electronic format that we complete on the screen. When it is time to print the form, we print only the information we have typed on the form, not the form itself. By putting the original pre-printed form in the laser printer we can print the information right on the original form. Most people can’t even tell we didn’t use a typewriter. This has saved hours of a CSWs time.

Dramatic reduction in overhead

We have created an electronic forms library for virtually every non-ACORD form we use in the agency. As other agents hear about the system we have developed, they come to us to create forms for the companies they use in their office.

True forms automation is now a reality that can take any agency to a higher level of productivity. Just look at the cost savings this process will bring to your agency. Remember the example about the CSR filling forms out by hand? Let’s review those numbers again to see what happens to your overhead costs in an automated forms environment.

Let’s use the same CSR in the previous example, but now she takes an average of just 9 minutes to complete each form instead of 30 minutes. That totals 45 minutes per day, not 2-1/2 hours. At $12 per hour you are now spending $9 per day or $2,340 per year, per CSR. In our agency, with five CSRs, forms automation saves us $27,300 each and every year.

Amortize $27,300 over three years and you maximize your agency profits by an additional $81,900. I think you will agree, this is a significant amount of money, and every penny of it goes to the profit line of your financial statement.

True forms automation provides every agency, whether it has an agency management system or not, a way to streamline its operations and dramatically reduce overhead in a cost effective way.

The author

Steve Anderson is a producer at Cadenhead Shreffler Insurance in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He also heads American Insurance Consultants (AIC) which provides consulting services on how to maximize profits using common sense technology. He is a member of the TAAR network and can be reached at (800) 657-6181 or by e-mail at: 72157.512(at)compuserve.com

To obtain additional information by fax on the topic discussed in this article, call InsurFax, AIC’s fax-on-demand system, at (817) 589-4530, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. Request document number 930.

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Dec 1995

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