Do You Need a Virtual Assistant?

I remember the days when most executives had a personal assistant who helped screen phone calls, reviewed incoming mail, organized calendars, and did hundreds of other little things that allowed executives to concentrate their time on what they do best.

virtual-assistant

The electronic world has allowed us to do more of these activities ourselves. As a result, most agency owners no longer have executive assistants. Now may be the time to consider bringing the executive assistant role back to your agency. And it’s easier today than ever.

When you are able to delegate repetitive tasks it frees your time to concentrate on creative work and allows you to do a better job of interacting with clients and prospects.

The world has changed. You don’t need to hire a regular full-time or part-time employee. You can leverage a virtual assistant (VA) for a fraction of the cost of a full-time person. This personal assistant doesn’t even have to be local. In fact, he or she can live on the other side of the country (or the planet). In many cases, it might work better to have a VA that isn’t in your time zone.

I have several business friends who have made this move and wouldn’t consider going back.

What a virtual assistant can do

Just to stimulate your thinking, here are seven activities that a virtual executive assistant can do for you:

  1. Book appointments—Producers are busy. A VA is able to schedule prospect meetings, phone conversations with underwriters, and meetings with agency staff. With full access to your calendar, a VA can make sure your time is spent on high return activity.
  2. Handle all correspondence—Yes, a VA reads your email. He/She is the first line of defense in managing your email. How many times have you said you are buried in email? They make sure the important messages get to you and others do not. A VA would also have their own agency email address so that they are “part of the organization.”
  3. Prepare newsletters—A good VA could help create your own email newsletter. Content marketing can provide great benefits but it’s often a time-consuming task. This alone could save you an hour each week. This is a good example of a repetitive task that a VA can take off your to-do list.
  4. Reach out to companies—When you want to partner with companies, your VA can do all initial inquiries. Again, he/she directly represents your brand.
  5. Compile information—Prospecting work is a good area to have your VA take off your plate. As Thompson explained above, having someone help compile information can be a huge savings in time. This allows you to focus on high dollar activities like prospecting and networking.
  6. Manage deadlines—A VA can help you keep track of what you need to do by when, such as getting back to a prospect, making sure applications are submitted to the carrier, following up with an underwriter, or any other item you need to follow up on.
  7. Make decisions—As you begin to trust the capabilities of your VA, he/she can make decisions on the tasks they handle. You identify the situations you want to be consulted on, but otherwise a VA can keep you out of the mundane by making prudent decisions on the issues you really don’t need to be involved in.

Places to hire virtual assistants

  • eaHELP is an example of a firm that specializes in assistants who are part of your organization, not a distant outside entity.
  • IVAA.org is a website that allows you to search for virtual assistants based on your specific criteria. You complete a request for proposal, review the responses, and select the individual whom you think will work out best.
  • Elance.com is a very popular site for finding individuals to complete specific projects versus an individual who will become an assistant to you over time.

Anson Thompson, an agent in Indiana, summed it up best when he said, “The value of virtual assistants in today’s world is amazing. Taking small project tasks and having them outsourced to the right firm can save your firm time and money.”

Have you tried using a virtual assistant? Please tell us about your experiences.

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ACT’s mission is to bring the stakeholders in the independent insurance agency distribution system together to advance the use of the most effective business processes, practices and technologies, in order to enhance productivity, service, marketing, sales and security. A key focus for ACT is to keep informed on the strategic trends that will drive future consumer expectations and business opportunities.​

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Using Electronic Signatures in Your Agency: Part 2

In Part 1, we covered some of the common questions asked about electronic signatures. Today, we’ll cover some solutions.

E-signature solutions

There are a growing number of e-signature solutions that are available for insurance agents. The following is a short list of a few we have come across.

RPost

RPost, known for its registered email service, has added electronic signatures to the product mix. Documents can be “signed” in a variety of ways electronically, encrypted, and sent to the people who need them. (RPost supports cryptographic digital signatures and handwritten e-signatures, among other options.) RPost also offers another twist: it can also add a digital return receipt if you want proof of when someone opened your email.

It should be noted that in early June, RPost was granted a patent for its method of covering the tracking of email openings through embedded links. As a result of this and other patents, RPost has recently filed a series of lawsuits against RightSignature, Farmers Insurance, DocuSign, and Adobe Systems’ EchoSign.

DocuSign

A simple and straightforward solution, DocuSign’s basic-level service collects electronic signatures, authenticates recipients, tracks all activity for a document, and is available online and through mobile devices, like the iPhone and iPad. It offers several additional features with its more advanced editions, including collaboration, document routing, and user and group management.

Adobe EchoSign

Adobe recently acquired EchoSign and has been incorporating its functionality into the Adobe line of products. The company recently announced the integration of e-signature capabilities into its popular free Adobe Reader product. Adobe EchoSign gives you five free signatures per month and stores the last five documents that you signed. The $14.95 Pro level gives one user unlimited e-signatures, and prices go up from there. Using Adobe Reader, EchoSign now lets you sign with your finger on a smartphone or tablet.

SIGNiX

While not as well know as some of the other in the digital signature arena, SIGNiX has several impressive features that speed up the signature process as well as document archival. Their three levels of service will allow an agency of any size to experiment with the process.

ContractPal

ContractPal calls itself an “electronic signatures cloud” and offers several features to help reduce certain hassles of contract negotiation, like incomplete documents, which are reduced through what it calls a “reflexive questioning engine.” They also automatically route forms and agreements based on content and parameters you set so you’re not waiting on approvals or revisions.

GoPaperless

GoPaperless is another solution that provides simple digital signing of documents. Not quite as feature-rich as some other services, it’s an easy-to-use alternative that offers basic “click to sign” functionality with security through layered encryption, password-protected signing sessions, and session activity tracking. It also provides the ability to export to a variety of formats, as well as have multi-party contracts with a controlled sequence of signers.

RightSignature

RightSignature might tout the fastest process for sending electronic documents for signature with its “one-minute send,” but it also offers more elaborate features than some services, such as handwritten signatures, webcam photo authentication, digital fingerprints and iPhone mobile signing. It also offers a unique “NaviGuide” flag to point signers to the next required field, as well as a checklist and progress meter to show users what needs to be done to complete the process.

InsureSign

Designed exclusively for insurance agents, InsureSign allows you to add insurance company-specific applications and forms. It includes auto placement of signature fields for popular insurance carriers’ forms. You can implement completely paperless in-person signing. You create the documents, allow the customer to sign in your office, and archive and file the documents, all without paper or toner.

The insurance industry is one of the first to acknowledge the advantages of e-signatures. Agents are now equipped with laptops and tablet computers so it is easy to process intricate application forms. The e-signature method makes everything much simpler. This system not only saves hours but also reduces huge efforts needed for processing traditional paperbound requirements.

E-signatures are coming. It’s time for agents to begin experiencing the benefits of increased efficiency, reduced staff workload, and improved client satisfaction. You can no longer wait for others in the industry to embrace this change. Take the lead and begin experimenting with using electronic signatures in your agency today.

Using Electronic Signatures in Your Agency: Part 1

In today’s world, technology is making everything easier, more efficient, and less expensive. Unfortunately, one area where technology efficiency has not impacted the insurance industry is in the active use of electronic signatures. This is unfortunate, as significant productivity gains and expense reductions can be achieved by the widespread use of electronic signatures for most insurance transactions.

electronic-signatures

While many agencies have heard of electronic signatures, many questions still remain. Is a digital signature truly legal? Will it hold up in court? Are cloud-based digital signatures secure? What choices do I have for e-signing documents?

Workflow improvement

Consider how a simple agency workflow—getting an application signed—could be improved with an electronic signature process. The basic workflow steps would look like this:

  • Agency staff inputs application information into the agency management system.
  • The ACORD application is generated by the system and is probably printed as an electronic PDF file.
  • The electronic application is sent as an email attachment to the client for signature.
  • The client physically prints out a copy of the applications and signs with a pen. They then scan the application and email it back to the agency.
  • Agency staff receives the signed application, forwards it to the insurance company for processing, and attaches the document to the client file.

Consider how much easier this process would be, and how much time and expense would be saved, if an electronic signature process was involved:

  • Agency staff inputs application information into the agency management system.
  • The ACORD application is generated by the system, attached to an email, and sent to the policyholder for their signature.
  • The client receives the email and opens the document. They electronically sign the document and immediately send it back to the agency.
  • Agency staff receives the electronically signed application, forwards it to the insurance company for processing, and attaches the document to the client file.

When you add up the time savings and multiply that by the number of documents sent daily that require a signature, significant productivity and expense reduction can be achieved.

Are electronic signatures legal?

It all started in the 1980s when many companies began sending documents via fax machines. Although the real signature was on the paper, the signature’s image was transmitted electronically. Courts in different jurisdictions made a decision that electronic signatures can be enforced. This way, agreements can be performed with the use of email.

President Clinton signed the ESIGN Act into law in 2000. ESIGN, short for the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act, legalized the validity of digital signatures on contracts and other legal documents. The law says that a contract signed in digital form cannot be legally denied simply because it is in digital form. Basically, ESIGN says your electronic signature is just as valid as a paper signature. While some states have their own laws when it comes to digital signatures, the Federal law governs interstate commerce.

In addition, many states have adopted The Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) proposed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL). Forty-seven states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted it into their own laws. Its overarching purpose is to bring into line the differing state laws over such areas as retention of paper records (checks in particular), and the validity of electronic signatures, thereby supporting the validity of electronic contracts as a viable medium of agreement.

UETA allows e-signatures to be covered in legal documents in all states but New York, Washington state, and Illinois, in which UETA is not yet acknowledged. No matter your state, however, electronic signatures are becoming much more commonplace. UETA has its own requirements, some of which include:

  • The signature must be logically associated with the document.
  • Both parties must have agreed to conduct the transaction via electronic means.
  • If the sender inhibits the receiver’s ability to either store or print the record, the document is not enforceable against that recipient.

UETA also specifies that if a law exists that requires a signature, an electronic signature will satisfy that requirement. This gives signers the confidence of knowing a digitally signed document is as legally valid as a document signed the old-fashioned way.

In Part 2 we’ll cover some common e-signature solutions.

Delivering a “WOW” Experience During the Claims Process

I recently received an email from an agent asking about how his agency can do a better job of following up on claims. He was involved in a car accident and, in his opinion, Geico and Progressive handled it better than his own carrier. He wanted to know what systems were available to him as an agent to be able to communicate better and follow up regarding a claim. My answer…

Deliver WOW customer serviceAn insurance policy is simply a promise to our clients to “make them whole” and get them back to the same place they were prior to an accident. A claim situation allows us to deliver on that promise when a claim occurs. Geico and Progressive understand that a key part of “good service” during a claim is communication. There are several activities any agency can create and build into a process that will help clients have a great claims experience—as well as others involved in the accident. Here are a few ideas:

Website information

Create a “how to file a claim” page on your website, and make sure the link is prominently displayed on your home page. You want to make it as easy as possible for people who have just had an accident to find your guide on the next steps they need to take. This information should include a listing of all the insurance companies you represent and their claims contact information. This information should include their 800-number as well as the direct website link for submitting a client online.

Mobile app

An increasing number of agencies are developing their own branded iOS (Apple) and Android mobile applications. The insurance company contact information included on your website should also be included within this app. You can also include a checklist of next steps so your client knows exactly what they need to do next.

Claims kit

As soon as agency personnel learn that a claim has been reported—either because the client called the agency directly or you received notification from the insurance company—you should mail your client your “claims kit.” This can be as simple as a brochure that includes a section for writing down the claim number, adjuster information, and “what to expect next” information.

Follow-up

Creating a follow-up system that allows you to stay in touch with your client during the claims process is key to a satisfied client. Too many agents take the initial claim and then never follow up with the client to help them through the claims process. Following is an example of a follow-up process:

  • Claim kit mailed the same day claim is reported.
  • Phone call (or email) one day later to touch base with the client to see if they have any questions.
  • Email two days later to make sure they have been contacted by the insurance company adjuster. Ask them to call the agency if they have any problems or questions.
  • Five days later, staff checks with the insurance company to determine the status of the claim.
  • Once the claim is completed and closed, follow up with your client—either by phone or email—to make sure the claim has been settled to their satisfaction.

The key to making this actually happen for each and every claim is to create a process supported by a system. There are a number of options for systems that will help support this process. Some include:

  • The most basic system might well be a simple written checklist template that details the steps the assigned staff person will take for each claim. They then check off each step after it has been completed.
  • Your existing agency management system may have the capability to allow you to create a sequence of steps that are automatically completed.
  • There are a number of email management systems that do allow you to create sequential emails that are processed on the specific time-frame you establish. A few of the more popular include: AWeber, Constant Contact, iContact, and Emma.

The key to delivering superior customer service during the claims process is communication. Creating a system to manage the communications steps allows the agency to deliver a consistent—and positive—customer experience.

6 Reasons to Use Squidoo to Promote Your Agency

People buy from people they like and trust. One of the best ways to build trust with people you don’t know is to provide high-quality information. You should want to share your knowledge about insurance and about the products and services you provide.

Use Squidoo to get more web traffic to your site.

In order to accomplish that goal, you have to make people aware that your website exists. I call this Mastering your Internet Presence. Having your cousin Lenny and the rest of the family read your agency website might be fun, but that’s probably not exactly the audience you had in mind.

One way to promote your agency is to use Squidoo.

Squidoo is a publishing platform—created by Seth Godin—that lets you create and publish “lenses” or articles, about the topic of your choice. It’s a place to express your perspective and share your knowledge about a subject. It’s also a smart way to drive traffic to your agency website. Here’s why:

Squidoo is free.

Most advertising is expensive, but you can create a presence on Squidoo for free. All you have to do is provide an interesting article and publish it at the site. A variety of readers then have easy access to your lens and links to your website. You’re building your reputation as an expert on your subject and it costs you nothing—except a little brainpower.

It’s easy to Squidoo.

You don’t need many computer skills to use Squidoo. It’s user friendly and easy to understand. There are helpful tutorials that teach you how to optimize your lens for the best results. You’ll also find convenient, easy to use tools that make your lens painless to maintain and update.

It enables open communication.

When people visit your Squidoo lens, you should communicate with them. To start, you can use the Guestbook module to reach out and communicate with people who visit your lens. At the same time, you can use this tool to track and visit websites or the Squidoo lenses of visitors.

It’s a good way to create back-links.

Squidoo is a good way to create back-links. Back-links help increase your page rank in search engines and that’s key to increasing readership. You need all the back-links you can get, and Squidoo is a great place to start building them.

You can earn money on Squidoo.

Besides increasing traffic to your website, you can make a little cash along the way. Earn royalties when readers visit or make money with affiliate marketing. Google AdSense can match your lens with advertisements that complement your topic. There are other ways to earn money with Squidoo, and you can even choose to share some of those earnings with your favorite charity if you like.

It works.

The best reason to use Squidoo is that it can work. Oh, it’s not going to work quickly. Like your website, it takes time and effort from you before you begin seeing results, but it’s worth it.

Squidoo is effective, free, and easy to use. Try it. I think you’ll agree that Squidoo is a smart way to drive traffic to your website.

winning_award
Steve Anderson receiving the Insurance Automation Award at the 2014 NetVU Conference.

This award is presented to a person who has made significant contributions to insurance industry automation, and was developed by NetVU to recognize someone’s passion to streamline the overall insurance processes industry-wide.