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.

For too many technologies, changing the way you work is a price you pay to use their systems. And to them, it’s a price you should happily pay. 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 so you can do more business.

NextBroker makes 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.