Archive for August, 2005


Remember the discussion we had in February regarding the million dollar agent portal that was “panned” by agents? The agent feedback at that time was that the site had poor aesthetic qualities and lacked intuitive design. In other words, the agents it was designed to serve don’t like the look of the site or how it operates.

By sheer coincidence I happened to have a recent phone call with the senior vice president of sales for that same company. I met her at a recent conference, and she mentioned in passing that the company had launched an agent portal during the past year.

I told the company executive that one of their agents had given me access to the site during a conversation about its disappointments. That opened a whole conversation about the real deal on the site. To make a long story short, the company executive told me “the site is not getting the traffic that was intended.”

Making matters worse, the site developers — an internal resource — are not responsive to change requests, even those requested by the agents. The disappointment we anticipated six months ago is coming to fruition.

So why use IdeaStar instead of in-house IT resources to get your insurance services online? I’m going to beat this drum again…

If you use IdeaStar, you will invest a fourth of the money, a fourth of the time, and get a solution that is four times better (OK I’m into 4′s today, but close enough!). And if the original version is not all that it needs to be, changes will also happen in a fourth of the time at a fourth of the cost. So, you will arrive at your desired competitive advantage better-faster-cheaper.

Another thing — most people agree that a Web site needs to be updated every six to 12 months. If the site architecture is designed effectively, refreshing its look-and-feel is a very small job. Net-net, your return on investment will be much higher with IdeaStar.

Remember, without a doubt it is faster and cheaper to hire a specialist like IdeaStar.

PS. Any folks in the know feel like guessing who the above-referenced company is?


It’s real interesting that I just finished a series on online best practices, because I just ran across the perfect contrast — a carrier B2C site that is possibly interested in IdeaStar site redesign services. It will be interesting to see how they receive the proven tips and techniques that I’ve been blogging about.

So we have the “Consumer-Driven Solution”, the “Agent-Driven Solution”, and now — we have the “Bureaucracy-Driven Solution”!! I can’t take complete credit for the term — it came from a recent conversation with this carrier. The carrier was looking for a Consumer Driven Solution, but what they ended up with was most definitely a Bureaucracy-Driven Solution. (I won’t link to the site for obvious reasons.) Here are a few items which make it a Bureaucracy-Driven Solution:

  • The quote engine: You click on a “Get a quote” button for a term life policy. The next screen requests your state, date of birth, gender, and smoker/nonsmoker. Fine… But then there is a special link to click if you are a New York resident. Why confuse the prospect? They’ve already told you their state, just build the NY state-variation information into the quote engine.
  • When you click on “Submit”, you get a pop-up window with a lot of white space and no way to expand to full-screen. Then the benefit details are behind the product name. And they are not really benefit details, just qualification guidelines for getting that rate. Confusing.
  • Right below the quote, they have an option to add riders to the policy. OK, but the button says “Add Riders” rather than “Recalculate Premium” – or better yet, let them pick the policy, then give the option to add the rider.
  • The “Apply now” button is smushed next to “Download Application”. My guess is most people don’t even see it.
  • When I clicked on “Apply now” I got a pop of EIGHTEEN FORMS I need to download one-at-a-time and fill in on screen and/or print, with next-step instructions listed under the form names. A little intimidating and again, confusing.
  • Then when I click on the application form, up pops a PDF in a mini window — with none of the information included that I already typed in. Then, when I print the form, the window just sits there begging me to X-out, thus losing the instructions and the other forms. Did anyone test this for usability?
  • To cap it all off, there is no warm and fuzzy “thank you” page and there was a glaring typo on one of the quote pages.

And you wonder why the carrier told me, “This isn’t working too well. The site is really not performing up to expectations.” When asked who developed the site, the answer was, “IT in collaboration with Compliance, Marketing, and Operations.” Thus the term Bureaucracy-Driven Solution.

What really gets me is that the execs at this carrier will go to the next insurance conference and tell anyone who asks about “the Web” that online sales don’t work. Well of course it’s not going to work when you have IT and compliance driving the solution. I would love to, as Paul Harvey likes to say, “hear the rrrrest of the story” in terms of how this project went from zero to nowhere… How much time was spent in research? Design? Development? Testing? How much money was spent? Whose original idea was it? Did the IT department hijack the project from marketing where upon marketing threw up their hands and said, “Fine, you go dude!” and now the CMO is working for another carrier… etc. etc.


This series has been good. I hope it has helped advance the insurance e-business climate in some way. So now we’re on the last of the 5-part Series. Previously, we talked about attracting visitors to insurance Web sites through Search Engine Marketing, giving the visitor what he is looking for — quote and “Apply Now” choices, and then arranging the application process for the highest completion rates.

Let’s take it one logical step further — now that you have that insured in your system, let them print out policy documents and make selected policy changes.

E-issue (electronic issue) is the ability for an enrollee to print out their own policy materials, including a

  • welcome letter
  • policy book
  • benefits summary
  • ID cards — Medicare, Major Medical, Pharmacy, Dental, Vision, etc.
  • claim forms
  • and other documents relating to the policy they bought.

A sophisticated e-issue system will use the data stored behind the user ID and password to automatically fill-in the documents unique to the insured, on demand. Then the member just prints them to their local printer. They can also save them to a file, e-mail them, whatever.

Our clients have found that a lot of time and money are saved through this process as opposed to mailing out hard copies, and re-mailing them when the insured inevitably loses them. Plus, people like to control their own destiny. They are happy to use their own printer on their own schedule as needed. As an insurer, you don’t have to fear that the insured will think poorly of you for not mailing out the documents as they may have experienced in the past – a common worry in insurance company operations. Quite the contrary – they’ll understand you’re trying to save money and make things more efficient. It’s just a smarter way to do it, right? E-Issue builds retention and provides competitive advantage, no doubt about it.

Online Policy Maintenance, or OPM, also puts customer self-service to work for the insurance company. Now, before you go Spreewell and start choking me, I’ll be the first to admit that not all customer service functions are suitable for OPM. However, many are. Customers are more than willing to go on-line to change an address, update a policy to reflect family changes, or change a benefit level because they got a raise at work or had a baby. Heck, I’m doing my banking on-line — I’m sure going to be OK making a change to my life policy.

Obviously, this is a great tool for an insurance company:

  • Every time an insured does the work, it reduces the staff requirement to handle routine service issues.
  • It provides credibility for the insurance carrier. Why switch carriers if the one currently enrolled with provides such easy maintenance?
  • And OPM offers the carrier another chance to cross-sell or up-sell its other products every time an insured visits the Web site. More traffic is always better.

So again, with sophisticated online functionality like E-issue and Online Policy Maintenance, good things happen for both the insured, carrier, and agent.

One last ‘dig’ on doing these things in-house as the vast majority of insurance carriers are prone to do today. It is next to impossible for in-house technology folks to support the back-end system while trying to design and support an e-commerce site – and also stay on top of new technology developments at the same time. New technologies are coming out every day that further enhance insurance e-business concepts. It is extremely challenging to stay on top of all that.

That is where IdeaStar comes in. Not only do our clients get the current best practices built into their Web sites, but IdeaStar Insurance Technologies also stays on top of new insurance technology developments.

Call (800) 766-2635 x116 or write us as you consider insurance e-business development as part of your marketing strategy.


Here’s an update on Medicare Part D enrollments. The final Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) Enrollment Form is still not available. The model application was sent out on 7/25 with an open comment period through 8/1. The enrollment guidance form also indicated that credit card payments of the monthly premiums for the plan will not be allowed by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Only a paper billing process or the Social Security check deduction and PBM reimbursement will be allowable collection methods for the PBM’s. That’s new — the Discount Drug Card (DDC) had credit card e-commerce built in and CMS said in June that Part D would use the same enrollment process.

As of this writing, few people believe that seniors will enroll using PBM Web sites. Most believe that enrollments will either happen on the Web site, or on paper in the presence of agents. The primary rationale for this thinking is that DDC program saw the vast majority of online enrollments come through the CMS site. Of course most PBM Web sites do not have an enrollment engine, and if they do, the enrollment process has a design that scares prospective members away. The same can be said for the DDC sites – no enrollment available, or a badly designed one that scared away the seniors. If anyone has data to the contrary, I’m all ears.

Note also that with the DDC, pharmacists were allowed to enroll their beneficiary clients online. That is not the case with Part D. Too bad CMS disallowed it for Part D – pharmacist-assisted enrollments seemed to work well for one of our clients in the DDC program. I think they had a few hundred thousand enrollments that way.

Personally, I think there is a significant opportunity for online Medicare Part D enrollments, not only for the mass-enrollment between 11/15/05 and June ’06, but in the future as baby-boomers retire. As supporting data, I ran across an interesting article dealing with seniors and Internet usage. Click here to read the full article. My takeaway from the article is that:

  1. The senior population is the fastest growing Internet user group.
  2. There are about 5.5 million Internet users aged 65+, and,
  3. There are another 16.5 million Internet users aged 50-64.

One would think developing e-signature enrollment and customer service sites for the Medicare market would provide a positive ROI, not only for now, but even more so over the next 10-15 years.


PIMA recently held its Summer Conference in Colorado Springs and Mike Wise was there as a first time attendee! Take a listen to his review of the conference on his new podcast.

Click here to listen to Mike’s recap.

P.S. You don’t need an iPod to listen. Any MP3 player will work including Windows Media Player.

Archives to 2005