Remembering the era of the old mainframe computer, the numerous rating manuals on brokers’ desks and the endless pile of client files likely dates one back to the 1970s.
Much has changed in 40 years, but what has remained the same is the sheer magnitude of data that needs to be managed and retained. This trend, in fact, is increasing.
Fast forward to the 21st century and one would be hard-pressed to find a brokerage that does not understand the importance of data in the broker world. Data is the lifeblood of a broker’s business and having a firm grasp of what data can do for the brokerage is crucial. Equally important, though, is the quality of that data.
Brokerages that do not have a pulse on the data built into their respective broker management systems (BMSs) should expect that their competitors certainly do.
The broker landscape is constantly changing, and data is crucial to helping a business chart a successful course. For that reason alone, data integrity is key.
However, the integrity of data may mean very little if a brokerage’s current technology solution limits what can be done with that information.
Depending on the growth strategy of the brokerage, there likely comes a time in its life when a switch is inevitable. That may involve moving to a new BMS provider, a decision that should be viewed as a strategic one and one that demands careful consideration of whether or not the provider offers capabilities to help the brokerage best position itself to thrive in the future.
The idea of a data conversion strikes fear in the hearts of many brokers considering a BMS change. Moving data from one system to another is a huge, sometimes unnerving, undertaking. As such, the task of shifting all client and policy data to a new database takes planning, co-ordination and expertise.
Surviving a switch is tough, as is making the decision on when to switch.
Bruce Winterburn, vice president of Vertafore, cautions broker principals against waiting for a watershed moment – moving in response to a system crisis is too late. That said, it is possible to move too quickly.
To implement changes before getting buy-in from users – some of whom might be dreading the pain of the switch – can prove detrimental to the process. It is a given that migrating to a new system will cause a disruption to brokerage workflows, but what disruption should be expected and, perhaps more important, what disruption is acceptable?
Steve Anderson, a technology consultant who helps brokerages evaluate and select managements systems, understands that changing systems is a very big deal.
“Most brokers do not give it the consideration it deserves. Then they make a move, didn’t research it well enough, didn’t know what they were getting into and then, all of a sudden, have major productivity issues,” Anderson says.
“They’re not getting the benefit they expected or thought they should. Certainly, sometimes that’s a vendor issue, but a lot of times it’s just unrealistic expectations,” he points out.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
The average brokerage will spend an average of 20 to 25 years on its chosen BMS. Clearly, conversion is not a decision to be made lightly, but there are some basic questions that need to be asked when evaluating a conversion partner. Consider the following.
What information gets converted?
Client details, risk and billing information, conversation history, suspense/follow-ups and documents are among the examples of information to convert. A vendor should be able to provide a detailed outline of what will be converted.
A successful conversion will facilitate the transition of all required information to the new system from day one.
Another option, unappealing to some, is to start fresh (or with only partial data) in a new BMS, keeping a copy of the old software on a look-up basis. Key considerations with the approach include expense, efficiency and the possibility of opening up the brokerage to errors and omissions exposures.
What prep work/data clean-up is required?
Conversion is a great opportunity to do some data clean-up. Similar to moving into a new house, discarding unnecessary items can make for a smoother move. How challenged that process is will largely depend on the “clean-up” of the data in the existing system. Once completed, the BMS partner should do the heavy lifting, with the brokerage’s role being to validate and advise.
How should the vendor plan and co-ordinate the conversion and implementation?
To foster success, a broker principal must communicate why the change is needed ahead of time, clearly identifying the benefits of implementing a new BMS. Engaging a group of champion employees and getting their buy-in is also critically important.
From there, the BMS conversion and implementation team should take over with a precise plan. The customized project plan needs to be crafted and strictly followed, spelling out in detail what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and by whom.
Weekly meetings with the BMS implementation team can help keep everybody on task and on time.
Migrating to a new system is not only about transferring data; it also involves training on new processes, workflow and procedures. As such, having a ramp-up time in place will help to minimize disruption.
What references are available?
Obtaining references from a BMS provider about recent conversions is not only prudent, it is mandatory. But people should also use their own networks to identify other brokerages that have recently converted.
Consider the following questions: Did data convert correctly? How was the partner to work with? What do brokers know now that they wished they had known before conversion got under way?
Of course, no major change in a brokerage is likely without some recovery period. Users should expect that it will take a bit of time to find their new flow and feel as though the brokerage has fully adjusted to its new rhythm.