Using Technology To Revolutionize The Life Insurance Industry

Reed Ashwill not only believes a picture is worth a thousand words, he thinks it's worth money too. That's why he's installing video telephones at the Borden Hamman Agency, a wholesale life insurance brokerage in Dallas that serves more than 2,500 independent agents nationwide. President of Borden Hamman, he's also buying video phones for a dozen insurance companies and several of his biggest customers. "Our business is about relationships," he says, "and nothing can replace the power of visual contact."

It's that philosophy that caused Ashwill to initiate a massive backfile conversion. Ashwill decided to install a Datacap total capture system linked to a Paperclip document imaging system. The system is transforming the agency's entire inventory of almost 4 million paper documents into images that can be accessed anywhere in the world at the push of a button.

"We need visual confirmation and we need it to be immediate to speed up the processing of life insurance. I have zero tolerance for waiting," he declares. "Imagine if you bought a new Lexus and called your auto insurance agent and he said, 'I think we'll be able to get you coverage in 30 to 45 days.' You'd be livid. You want to drive that car."

Ashwill vows to get life insurance processing cycle time down to three days, "and then three hours," he adds emphatically. He believes imaging is going to get him there. His strategy is based on the rapid proliferation of imaging systems in the nationwide network of physicians. "Right now, the bottleneck is getting the information from the doctors to the insurance carriers so they can make a determination on the risk of a particular policy."

According to Ashwill, the ideal scenario begins when his company receives a new application, in image form, via e-mail from an agent. He forwards a request for medical information electronically to the designated physician, who sends back an image of the medical file, with test results and relevant information clearly readable. Borden Hamman wires payment immediately to the doctor and uploads copies of the images to several insurance carriers to get the best rate for the risk. Result: life insurance coverage in three hours.

Ashwill's Brave New World may not be that far off, but he knows it's contingent on turning his firm into a completely imaged enterprise. To do that, first he had to deal with the Texas-sized collection of paperwork that was quickly crowding Borden Hamman's Dallas headquarters.

Advantage Concepts, a Houston-based reseller with an expertise in Datacap systems, proposed the solution and managed the installation and deployment, late in 1998. Paul Faucher, president of Advantage Concepts, says, "Reed told us he wanted to be on the leading edge, but not the 'bleeding edge' of technology. Having integrated Datacap systems before, we knew we could deliver what he was looking for."

The process begins with a total capture workflow solution to collect, scan, and index hundreds of different types of documents — enrollment forms, medical tests, EKG results, premium checks, correspondence, doctor's notes, telephone records, change of address forms, bank drafts, and follow-up documentation. "We need to build a very detailed audit trail," says Ashwill. "It requires a lot of precision."

In a business dependent on paperwork, the next best thing to viewing the actual document is an image. Ashwill cites an example that comes up repeatedly: "We'll get an application that has a crucial section incomplete. We call up the agent, who says, 'That's impossible. I checked it three times and my secretary checked it three times too.' If I can e-mail an image to him and say, 'See for yourself,' we save a lot of time and they don't think we're just being incompetent."

To make the transition from paper to digital, all documents are gathered into batches, and given a bar code cover sheet. Each batch contains 100 documents, which are imaged by a Panasonic S2055 high-speed scanner. Datacap Task Master, driving the scanner, sends the image to the file server for recognition and bar code indexing before uploading to the imaging system.

With two operators gathering and classifying documents and one to manage the capture system, the operation is crunching through 20,000 documents a day. Once input, document images can be retrieved from any terminal in Borden Hamman's computer network by clicking on the Paperclip icon and doing a search by case number, date, name and a variety of other cross-referenced key attributes.

When the backfile conversion is complete, sometime in 2000, Reed Ashwill says Borden Hamman will not only recoup valuable storage space, but the company will be infinitely more flexible and competitive. "If I want to open a call center in South Dakota, because it's less expensive, I can, and they'll have access to all the records and can answer any question via the network."

Indeed, Borden Hamman is planning to open a sales office in Hawaii in the summer of 1999, but Ashwill says he won't need to set up a new processing center. "Instead of using overnight mail, new applications will be imaged in Hawaii and uplinked via satellite to the system in Dallas at lightning speed," he explains. "The benefit is we'll have immediate access and so will our clients, who can call up the files too."