Is Insurance Agency Software Worth the Investment?

You’ve got a lot on your plate: prospecting; service issues; renewals; running your agency; keeping up with the latest legislative and market news; and the list goes on. Then there’s the rest of your life and that needs attention, too. There are only 8,760 hours in a year. Each one is valuable and, once spent, is non-refundable.

Adopting insurance agency software just because it’s there is probably not adequate justification. If that insurance agency technology can save you time, however, well that’s different.

How Much is Your Time Worth?

So just how valuable is each hour? Invaluable and precious beyond measure. However, for the purposes of this post, let’s have some fun with math and put a dollar figure on the value of your work hours.

First, estimate how many hours you work at your insurance agency in a year. Spend 40 hours a week on the job for 50 weeks and your investing 2,000 hours. Adjust this number to reflect your reality — including all that overtime on weekends, evenings and holidays.

Now, calculate how much you earn from all that work. To simplify the math, we’ll assume $100,000 for this example, but check your last pay stub or tax return to get something more accurate. Divide your earnings by the number of hours worked and there’s the value of your work hour. In this case, $50 per hour ($100,000 divided by 2,000 hours). What’s your figure? Take a few minutes and get something close to reality

For purposes of this post, however, we’re going to assume you’re looking at an agency management system. First, because these platforms can save you and your team lots of time. Second, because NextBroker, our agency management software, is at the core of NextAgency. So yes, I’m being self-serving here, but the calculations that follow apply to most any technology you’re considering for your agency.

A Time Journal

Let’s do another exercise. Fair warning, this one is a bit more annoying. For one week, keep a diary of inefficient busy work you do. Don’t count time spent selling or servicing clients. That’s your job. We’re talking wasted time. Spend five minutes chasing down a client file? Write that down. Spend three minutes looking up the phone number of a prospect? Ten minutes tracking down the Post-it with that critical information you need? Write those down.

Work from home only to discover a critical file you need is back at the office? Write down the drive there and back again. Spend hours going back and forth with a prospect to track down the age of the third child of the eighth employee in a thirty-person group you need to wrap up a proposal? Make a note. Spend five minutes trying to recall which client had a billing problem and which had claims issues? Write that down, too.

You get the idea. Any time you’re spending that isn’t directly related to selling or servicing clients is probably wasteful busy-work. Ask your staff to do keep this time journal, too. (Choose a week in which your staff is processing commissions to sub-agents because a) that’s painful; and b) NextBroker greatly simplifies that task so we’re going to look really good in a few paragraphs

Add it Up

Now let’s do the math. Add up all this unproductive minutes you spent in a week and divide by 60. That’s the hours you wasted. Or, put another way, that’s the number of hours you’re investing in being less than efficient.

Multiply this total by your hourly rate and you now have a sense of how much money you’re investing in inefficiency. Spend just an hour a day on this busy work and at our hypothetical rate of $50 per hours and your busy-work is costing you $250 each week. That’s $12,500 per year — if you take two weeks off.

And that’s just what you’re investing. Your staff pays a price for inefficiency, too. Do these calculations for your team and add the result to yours. The time and money adds up fast. Some agencies are wasting tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Is the Investment Worthwhile?

Helping you and your team be more effective and efficient is what agency management systems like NextBroker do. We place client, carrier and agency files are at your fingertips, 24 hours a day wherever you are. The same with contact lists for clients, partners like general agencies and others. If your clients are using NextHR (the employee management software NextAgency enables you to give to your clients for free), that third child’s birthday is already in your system.Time spent tracking it down, let’s see, carry the zero. Yeah, that’s no time wasted.

What unproductive busy-work NextBroker can’t eliminate gets done quicker. Until carriers and your clients all join the 21s century, some paperwork is inevitable. We help you track that paperwork, which saves even more time.

Let’s say NextBroker reduces your wasted hours by half (we think you’ll save more time, but 50% is an easy number to work with). Applying that savings to your previous assumptions, that’s a savings of $6,250 annually; just for you. Add in the savings your team will experience and the savings rapidly multiply.

On the other hand, your investment in NextAgency is surprisingly affordable. To calculate your agency’s licensing fees just go to www.NextAgency.com/pricing. And when you’re calculating your agency’s cost, remember, support staff use NextBroker for free. And NAHU members save 11 percent.

Do the math. Compare the cost of what you’re spending now on inefficiency and compare it to investing in the efficiency NextBroker’s agency management system delivers. And this only takes into account the value of NextBroker. NextAgency does a lot more, as you’ll see by going to NextAgency.com . While you’re there, please sign up for a webinar to see NextAgency in action. We’re confident that’ll be time well spent.

Are You Ready for an Agency Management System?

Agency management systems like NextAgency’s Next Broker can help insurance brokers run their shops more effectively and efficiently. This means you spent more time selling and servicing clients and less time looking through files, Post-It notes, a mishmash of spreadsheets and the like.

When agency management systems deliver commission tracking, as NextBroker does, your bookkeeper spends less time generating checks for sub-agents and finding cases you weren’t paid on, so can spend more time doing … whatever it is bookkeepers do.

Agency management systems help you track prospects through the sales cycle and keep track of the status of clients. They keep all your agency, carrier and client documents available to everyone on your team who needs them (and accessible only to those who need them) 24 hours a day wherever they are — at the office, home or on the road.

Agency management systems keeps contacts close at hand. They help you and your team keep on top of quotes, proposals and enrollments. In short, agency management systems save you and your team time. As time is money, this means you have more resources to devote to acquiring new clients and keeping in touch with those you already have.

In other words, agency management systems like NextBroker can help you grow your business – if you’re ready to embrace the technology. And that is the key question: Are you ready for an agency management system?

When evaluating any technology it’s a good idea to know where you are on the technology adoption curve. This graph was popularized by Geoffrey Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm. He described five groups, each with its own attitude toward new technologies.

Technology Adoption Curve

Innovators, according to Moore “pursue new technologies products aggressively.” They’re often technologists, comfortable with tweaking and hacking their way through something new. If it doesn’t work, at least they had fun.

Early Adopters understand, appreciate and embrace what new technologies can do, but they’re not technologists. They look before they leap, but are eager to embrace what’s new and exciting. They seize value before most of their competitors.

Early Majority consumers also perceive the value of new tools, but they’re a bit more practical than the first two groups. They want to avoid fads. They wait a bit longer to make sure a new technology is on solid footing. They rarely buy technology that doesn’t last.

Whereas Early Majority consumers are comfortable using technology, Late Majority folks are not. They’ll wait until a given technology has become standardized, simplified and strongly supported. They want safe technology and. adverse to  any bleeding, avoid the cutting edge.

Then there’s the Laggards, people who want nothing to do with technology. They prefer their innovations baked in and invisible. They bought cordless phones only after they couldn’t find those with cords.

There’s nothing judgemental about being at any of these five stages. In fact, most people are all over the curve depending on the technology. An individual may be an Early Adopter when it comes to agency management systems, but a Late Majority when it comes to using electronic payments like Apple Pay. What matters is where you are on the bell curve in relation to any particular technology, in this case agency management systems.

Those on the left side of the bell curve are willing to embrace new technologies early in their development. They know there will be gaps in functions and maybe even bugs. They’re confident issues will get fixed. They value what the technology delivers today and can see that it will get better over time. They tolerate the occasional hiccup.

Those on the right side of the graph need a much more polished experience. They don’t want any bumps. The technology needs to do everything right and do it right out-of-the box. They value a hassle-free experience over the value a technology delivers.

Knowing where you are on the curve will help you avoid investing time and money in technology that you won’t use. If you’re a Laggard that uses technology only if there’s no alternative, you’re not going to be interested in something new and different, even if it’s objectively better. If your system of 3×5 cards is working, why change to an agency management system?

Be aware of where you are on the curve, but don’t be too cautious. In a study I did of over 200 insurance sales professionals (described in my book Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success) there was a high-correlation of high-growth producers embracing technology sooner rather than later. Brokers experiencing strong year-over-year sales growth tended to be either Innovators, Early Adopters or Early Majorities.

A strong agency management system can help most any insurance team sell more, service better and grow quicker, but only if it’s used. We designed NextBroker to be easy to adopt and easy to use. (Join us for a demonstration at one of our regular webinars by visiting NextAgency.com). But that doesn’t mean we’re the right solution for everyone. We’re new and, we think, better. But if you’re adverse to moving your client, carrier and agency information online or getting in the habit of entering notes so everyone on your team knows what’s happening with every client, then you’re probably no agency management systems is going to be right for you.

The best technology in the world won’t help your business if you don’t use it. To know whether you’ll use it before you buy it, know where you sit on the adoption curve in relation to that particular technology. So if a tool that helps you grow your business by freeing up time for more selling and service sounds interesting to you, then please do check us out at www.NextAgency.com.

NextAgency Principles: Part III

NextAgency is a comprehensive combination of agency management and employee management software. In developing the technology, we followed five principles:

  • Start with brokers: build from brokers out.
  • Don’t interfere:  broker-client relationships are paramount.
  • Empower choice: brokers and clients choose their own vendors.
  • Be realistic: don’t overpromise.
  • Protect data: offer secure systems and clear permissions.

Taken together, these principles explain both what we’ve built and what we’ll be developing in the future. Part I and Part II of this article explored the first four principles. This post describes the fifth.

Protect data.

Privacy and data security matter. It may not seem like it in an age where companies like Facebook and Google are among America’s most valued enterprises primarily because of their ability to gather, track and sell your private information. Which is not only creepy, but the loss of privacy is dangerous for a variety of reasons. For insurance professionals, especially those selling health care coverage, respecting the privacy of your clients is not only right, but legally necessary. There are serious legal and financial consequences for violating HIPAA and the HITECH Act, just to name two privacy laws insurance professionals need to know about.

All of which means, when you entrust protected or sensitive information to a technology, you need to know you can trust that technology. NextAgency was built to be a fortress for this kind of information. We use strong encryption standards, including 256-bit SSL starting at log-on. When data is transferred we employ high-grade TLS. When the data is at rest, meaning its on our servers, we implement multi-layered encryption with AES-128. Encryption keys are stored separately from your data. We have an outside firm regularly test our privacy defenses. In short, we keep your and your client’s data safe. (If this paragraph reads like gibberish to you, share it with your local IT specialist. They’ll be impressed.)

We address the human element of security, too. If you use our NextConcierge service to set-up NextAgency, we’ll enter into a Business Associate Agreement with you. Otherwise access to your data is greatly restricted, requires multiple authorization and is granted only for specific tasks.

Helping you protect data

While NextAgency protects personal and financial data, we recognize you and your clients need to do so well. Again, it’s more than just a moral and social need, there’s a legal ramification as well. If your computer system is hacked, the authorities send two teams to your office. The first will look for the thief. The second will find out why you had that data in the first place. Which means what client data you have in your system matters.

Some HR platforms you can give to your clients allows your agency to see whatever information your clients enter into their system. We think this is dangerous. If your goal is to obtain a proposal for medical coverage, do you need employee banking information? No. And if you don’t need this data, then you should have it. The potential liability if there’s a breach outweighs any benefit of having it close at hand before you need it. Which is why NextHR gives your clients broad powers to determine what they share with your agency. We think that’s safer for them and you.

Similarly, you may want to control what information your colleagues and staff have access to about your clients. Does everyone need to see commission statements? Again, no. Consequently, we give you the authority to restrict that access.

No data security system is perfect. Any system can be hacked. Just ask Sony, Target or the NSA. By combining technology and strong permissions, however, we improve create a very strong system. Proper handling of sensitive data is an important part of what we we’ve built into NextAgency. It will continue to be an important element of what we build in the future as well.

NextAgency Principles: Part II

Software that doesn’t evolve and grow is software you won’t be using for long. We’re constantly improving NextAgency, our agency management platform and human resources tools. We think it’s important for you to understand the principles that guide this development and the company behind NextAgency, Take 44, Inc.

In a previous post I shared how the principles of starting with brokers and supporting, as opposed to interfering with, broker-client relationships shaped the development of NextAgency. In this post we’ll explore our commitment to empowering choice and to being realistic. (And in the next post we’ll address our fifth principle concerning privacy and security).

Just to recap, here are the five key principles we focus on at Take 44:

  • Start with brokers: build from brokers out.
  • Don’t interfere:  broker-client relationships are paramount.
  • Empower choice: brokers and clients choose their own vendors.
  • Be realistic: don’t overpromise.
  • Protect data: offer secure systems and clear permissions.
Empower choice

Too often, technology companies expect users to change how they behave in order to use a product. Think about accounting software that require you to change how you keep your books. Or, closer to home, agency management platforms that require you to change how you sell and service clients. We think they’ve got it all wrong.

If you’re shopping for an agency management system, like the NextBroker component of the NextAgency, odds are you’re already a successful insurance broker. We’re very affordable. Still, if you can invest in making your agency more effective and efficient, you’re already making sales. Why then would you buy software that requires you to change the voodoo that you do so well? Or change the carriers or general agents you work with?  The software you invest in should help you do what you do better, not to change what you do.

The same is true of software you give your clients. Should they change their payroll company because you give them free HR software? Changing vendors often costs time, money and hassle. So, is software that forces your clients to change their relationships really free? We don’t think so.

Too many technology disagree. After all, a lot of start-up founders view themselves as innovators reinventing the way the world works. And that includes changing the way you work. They believe they know your business better than you do. This view is especially common when company leaders have more business degrees than business expertise.  They build software that expects you to work the way they think you should.

We believe no one knows more about your business than you do. So we designed NextBroker to adapt to you. Similarly, we think you should choose who you work with, too. Which means we don’t force you to use a particular carrier or general agent. And our employee management software, NextHR, doesn’t force your clients to change how they do business or what vendors they work with. NextAgency is built to be flexible. We help you work more easily with you who want to work with.  It’s really that simple — and important.

Be realistic

We think NextAgency is pretty cool (to use the technical term). We’re confident our agency management system, NextBroker, will help you and your team sell to more prospects and deliver better service to clients. We believe NextHR, our employee management system, will save your clients time so they can focus on their real business. In short, we think we deliver on what we promise.

We also think it’s important not to overpromise. We’re a data management company. NextBroker helps you manage your agency, client and carrier information and make it accessible to your entire team, at any time from anywhere. We help you use that data to be better informed about your business and to get information where it needs to go. Put another way, we make running the business of your agency easier to you can do more business.

NextBroker make getting quotes easier, but it’s not a quoting system. It makes creating and tracking enrollment kits easier, but it’s not an enrollment platform. NextBroker helps you track commissions, but it’s not a an accounting system. When companies respect their customers they don’t overpromise. That’s why we are realistic about what we do — and don’t do.

The same goes for NextHR. It helps your clients better manage employee data and makes it easy to get time and attendance information to their payroll company. But it doesn’t process payroll. It’s a straightforward, basic employee management system, not a fancy HR information system or powerful benefit management platform.

Think of it this way, you know all those buttons and tools in Excel that you never touch (and I, for one, have no idea what they do)?  We built NextHR to be Excel without all those extra doodads and functions. If your client needs the HR equivalent of depreciation calculations using the double-declining balance method — or even a pivot table — they should check out EaseCentral, Employee Navigator or the like. If they just need to get the nuts and bolts of hiring employees and tracking their time at work, however, NextHR may be the solution. And as it’s free, we can confidentially claim it’s worth every penny you’re not paying for it — and more.

Current users frequently ask for added features and tools (of course they ask for different tools and sometimes ask that something someone else wants be removed because it’s “in the way”). Some of their ideas are great and are now part of our product road map. But we won’t overpromise. NextAgency does a lot and will do more moving forward. And what NextAgency does it does well. We simply refuse, however, to promise that it does everything.

One thing NextAgency does well is protect your and your clients’ data. More on this in Part III.

NextAgency Principles: Part I

NextAgency offers brokers two powerful platforms: NextBroker is a comprehensive agency management system.  NextHR is an employee management system brokers can give to their clients for free. We’re a new, unique solution for brokers looking to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their agency and to bring additional value to their clients.

NextAgency is available now, and we’re constantly improving it with new features and tools. The platform is expanding, too. For example, we started off supporting just employee benefit agencies. Now we have tools for brokers selling individual or group coverage, benefits or property and casualty insurance, and support a number of coverage types.

Because NextAgency is evolving, we think it’s important for you to understand the principles that guide our software development and drive the company behind the platform, Take 44, Inc. We have five key principles:

  • Start with brokers: build from brokers out.
  • Don’t interfere:  broker-client relationships are paramount.
  • Empower choice: brokers and clients choose their own vendors.
  • Be realistic: don’t overpromise.
  • Protect data: offer secure systems and clear permissions.

This post explores the first two principles. The rest are explained in Part II and Part III.

Start with brokers. 

Some vendors selling software to brokers started out as PEOs, payroll companies or HR administrators. Eventually they realized the value you deliver to your clients. They changed their marketing and grafted some broker-facing tools to their existing platforms. This was smart. At the end of the day, however, they’re still PEOs, payroll companies and HR administrators.

On the other hand, NextAgency started  as an agency management system. Everything we build is centered around helping you grow your business. No big surprise there. Three of Take 44’s founders are licensed agents (and the fourth a carrier executive). Two of us are past presidents of the National Association of Health Underwriters. We not only understand what you do, we appreciate what you do. “Your Value. Our Tech. Unbeatable.” is more than our marketing statement. It’s our reason for launching NextAgency in the first place.

This focus is why NextAgency’s core component is NextBroker, the ideal agency management system for insurance brokers. Everything else builds out from NextBroker. NextHR, our employee management system helps agencies inoculate themselves from tech-centered competitors like Zenefits and Namely. However, it does more. NextHR integrates with NextBroker in ways that make both platforms better. For example, it can take days to track down the age of the third child of the twelfth employee in a company seeking medical coverage. NextAgency gets the job done in minutes. Your clients maintain their own census data so they can get you this information in a few clicks. And that’s just one example, but it’s what happens when you start off with a focus on brokers.

Don’t interfere.

With this focus, it’s only natural we help help you strengthen your relationship with prospects and clients. This means not getting between you and them. This approach is rarer than it should be. Too many health insurance companies, for example, think they “own” the groups you bring them. They’re wrong. They are your clients. Want proof? When’s the last an employer fired their benefits broker at the suggestion of their health insurance company? Yet employers fire their carriers on the advice of brokers on the first of every month.

The same holds true with software. Too many technology companies believe that once your clients start using their product, they own them. If they want to cross-sell to your clients they will, regardless of your wishes. They’re wrong and they shouldn’t. You are your clients advisor, consultant and advocate. You have the primary relationship with them.

That’s why your agency name and contact information is front and center in NextHR. That’s why when we launch NextMarket in 2018 — an online resource with products, tools and services aimed to help you and your clients grow your businesses — you control what products your clients see. For example, say we add web designers to NextMarket. If you have a preferred source for this service, no problem. You’ll have the power to remove our vendor from what your clients see. After all, they’re your clients.

Yes, this will cost us some money. Holding to principles sometimes does that. It’s a price worth paying as it reflects who we are.

At NextAgency we start with brokers and we bolster your client relationships. One of the outcomes of this approach is that we don’t force you to change who you work with and how you work with them in order to use NextAgency. That’s the topic of Part II.