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                    Last update March 29, 2005


Web Sites

The life insurance industry appears to be lagging behind the rest of the commercial world in the use of web sites. Most industries are pushing hard to get their customers to transact business over the internet. The rewards are obvious. Many transactions can be handled computer to computer, untouched by human hands, at an incremental cost that is essentially zero. Information specific to the customer can be supplied without the company even becoming aware of the visit. For most companies the challenge is getting the consumer to use the web site. For life companies, at least the many medium and small operations, the challenge seems to be getting management to envision the possibilities.

There are very few barriers to having an effective site. Cost is certainly not an issue. Whether the sites are maintained internally or hosted with an outside firm, the total outlay will be a fraction of the cost of a single clerk. Development and maintenance of a site is likewise inexpensive and uncomplicated. The market is flooded with people who know how to create a site. Not all are creative, but that is not their job. It is up to management to determine what information and services should be provided, and in my opinion, how the site looks. You can tell when the webmaster has creative license over a web site. It starts with a movie (flash) that delays access and adds nothing to what you and the viewer are trying to accomplish. When the movie ends, you are looking at something very pretty that is also irrelevant to your purpose. That is what this page is all about, the things that the web site can accomplish. Pick the ideas that sound like they will improve service and cut costs, and implement. You really don't care if you win the sizzling web site of the year award, so you don't have to pay for that kind of talent.

The factors to consider in whether to run your own web server or to host it with an outside firm are discussed in Network Computing (that author offers commercial web hosting) and Network & Server (that author administers the internal hosting for a life company).



Many sites are difficult or frustrating for your customers to use. You would not tolerate a non intuitive, poorly designed site if you ever had to use it yourself. Even if you do look at it in the office, you see it on the internal web, spared things like passwords, sign ups, and images that slow loading. Your internal LAN speed is many times faster than the cable or DSL anyone has at home. To judge what it is like for the customer, try using your web site from home.

Some managers are not all that comfortable with computers and the internet. You can say the same about a lot of your policyholders and agents. That can be a big advantage when it comes to accessing the friendliness of your site. The best judge of the effectiveness of a web site is someone who is not good at it. If you are pretty good on the internet, find one of your managers that isn't, and watch him work your site. Invest 15 minutes and you will be requesting a lot of changes.

If your site is "intuitive", a person that is not very familiar with web sites, doesn't know much, and frustrates easily, can go to it and can immediately see what to do. The only way know whether you accomplished that is to watch someone work your site and see what they have trouble with.

How long should it take to get a new web site "finished" and available on the internet? About one week. Then why does it seem to take everyone 3 months? The question is one of approach. The major reasons are probably a combination of trying to be all things to all people with one site, trying to do too much before publishing, and excessive planning. For example, policyholders won't notice if your site only has 5 or 6 pages, as long as it gives contact information, and some items like history and the directors and officers. The idea is to show you still exist. Leave off that ridiculous comment "under construction" and few will know the difference. Then you build from there with policy information and so on, stuff that takes time getting from your mainframe, and FAQs, which take time to do well. An effective web site is never "finished".

Beware of excessive planning and the meetings that go with it. Anything you read will tell you that the most important element in creating a great web site is careful planning, and this will save you a lot of work down the road. That is because most of what you read was written by web designers. And right, careful planning will save them a lot of work as the site grows.

But what about saving you time? You only have the time and patience to look at a few pages at a time, make comments, and move on. The best way to envision what the site is going to look like is to see in on your monitor. And you, like your policyholder (or agent or employee) really don't care about the graphic of the happy family that bought your insurance, or the background color, unless it flashes at you. What you do care about is that it is instantly clear where you click to see whatever is on the site.

Try to avoid meetings. Tell the webmaster to get the rudiments on the internet, and everyone involved can comment. A thousand life companies have web sites, and 90% of every site is the same. It is a little late in the game to be reinventing the wheel. The other big time waster is the pursuit of perfection. The old habit is to avoid publishing until 18 people have signed off. That is a good idea for new mainframe systems that handle crucial data, and can really mess up. But is it so important for a web site where a change can be made in a few minutes, probably before any outsider tumbles to it?

The excessive time and effort that goes into the creation of the usual site is why few companies have more than one.You would not give a speech or make any other form of presentation without considering who your audience is, and what it is you want to tell them. If you were going to talk to a group of your policyholders today, and a group of agents tomorrow, you would not consider making the same speech both days. If you have just one web site, it is like having only one speech.

A company has five basic web site audiences, employees, agents, policyholders, stockholders and the general public. Employee needs are served by the intranet site, which is available only internally, or by password over the internet. Agents need access to pages that are of no interest to the other constituencies, and should also be served by a separate site, available over the internet with appropriate security. Your policyholders, stockholders, and the general public can all start on your basic home page, as that is the only place they will know to go, but the home page menu should branch them immediately to the sets of pages addressed to their distinct interests. For example, the policyholder didn't go there to see your stock price, and your stockholder didn't go there seeking policy information.

For your several web sites, you will want to use the same company identifier, with a different suffix (the right hand part of the domain name). The suffix indicates to top level domain, of which dot com, dot org, and dot net are the most familiar. There are newly available ones are like dot info and dot bus, but only a dot com will do for your main public site, so that governed the name you already have, and why it is probably not your proper company name. You should already have reserved the main suffix variations of your name, e.g. mammothlife.org and mammothlife.net, just to keep the porn sites (and agents and so on) off of it. Since it only costs $20 a year a name, you might pick up dot info and dot bus, as that may be better for your other audiences.

If you really hate your domain name, you can do better. Mammothlife.com may be gone, but mammothlifeonline or mammothlifeins may be available. Don't worry about the old name. The old URL can continue to take you to the same site. Don't lose sight of the magic the web server can accomplish. Any number of domain names can go to the same site. Any number of sites can use the same page, and so on.

If possible, use your full company name, not just initials. People once thought that initials, being shorter, would be easier to enter, but people remember full names better than 3 or 4 letters, and usually get to you with a link from a search engine like Google anyway. And the full name sure looks a lot better on your email address and business cards. So make it www.MammothProtectionLife.com. So your email address becomes CharleySmith@MammothProtectionLife.com. Sure beats csmith@mpl.com.

My suggestion would be to use the dot info suffix for your agent site, and dot net for remote access to your intranet site, but that is just a matter of taste. Any extra suffix you have registered will of course work. Just to clarify, even though your agent site is dot info, the agent email addresses you provide must be the dot com suffix. The agent doesn't care, and he is handing those cards to the public. You don't want the public typing in dot info and getting a demand for a password.

Comment: I keep running into companies that don't offer company branded email boxes to their agents. What are they thinking?


The most obvious use of a web site is to provide information internally to employees. Given the tangible benefits and the ease of setting it up, an intranet is usually the first application completed as soon as a company establishes a network. I will suggest here some of the better ideas I have seen, but the real benefits come from employee involvement. They know best what information and facility they need on the screen sitting in front of them, and the greatest applications will come when each management area has their own set of pages, and the ability to add material themselves, without getting in line at the webmaster.

In the instances I have seen where a company lacked an intranet there was invariably a serious management problem. Sometimes top management just doesn't see computers as anything but terminals for accessing the mainframe, and sometimes IT management, coming from a strictly mainframe background, is not interested in creating a lot of activity in an area where they do not feel competent. It may be that the unit supporting the LAN and PC usage in the company is incompetent, or just doesn't want to get involved. It may also be that the company culture has isolated the various units and suppressed communication, a sign that the managers are protecting their turf. Or, it may be a case of "all of the above".

Whatever the direct cause, the lack of intranet usage is a symptom, a helpful tip off, of some underlying problems, and it can be as beneficial to figure out exactly why there is no intranet, and solve that set of problems, as it will be to actually establish the intranet.

It is usually assumed that an intranet should be handled internally, on the company servers. The LAN is much faster than the internet, and doesn't use bandwidth on your internet connection. However, an intranet can certainly be hosted and maintained outside the ambiance of IT, so remember that if IT has a big problem with it.

As I mentioned above, most of the information and reports on the intranet will be prepared by employees in the various departments, either to post a regular report, or to provide themselves with information they use. Once everybody gets excited about creating content, nothing will kill the enthusiasm like sending the content off to the webmaster and waiting for weeks for it to appear on the site. One way to get instant publication is to let the employees create their own web pages. How hard is that? If you look under File in either Excel or Word, you see not only Save and Save As, but also Save As Web Page.

When we first encouraged employees to make their own web pages, it was a little harder, but not hard. We used Frontpage Express, which comes with MS Office, free. There are also very handy publishing programs now, where the employees can add pages directly to a link site, without even involving the webmaster. But all in all, it is hard to find an easier way than just saving the document as a web page and emailing it to the webmaster.

Just to show that anyone can do it, I whipped up an Excel report and a Word document. I put the yellow background on the report just to be spiffy. Can't say much for the content, but you get the idea. A master page for each department with a link that explains the content makes a great table of contents. I always let the webmaster worry about the links. Not that it is hard, but it is good to have some control on what is popping up out there.

Are there more elegant ways to accomplish this? Sure. But if the non-IT manager can suggest a simple way to accomplish something, it cuts through all the excuses. Just start doing it your simple way and let IT run after you with a solution, rather than the usual vice versa.

The first thing the internal site provides is information. Web page links can make easily accessible thousands of pages that no one would ever take the trouble to look at if they were on paper. You can get to a specific item with several clicks on links that are essentially a table of contents, arranged in logical order. For an excellent example, look at the Security Lawyer's Deskbook. The table of contents takes you to specific sections of a number of Acts and Regulations, each link with enough description to find what you want.

As usual, there are tons of good sites about intranet content, security, and value on the internet. Just put "intranet content" into Google and get some ideas. Naturally everyone is trying to sell you software you don't need to accomplish things you don't want, so skip those.

No one is going to read the employees manual, much less a procedures manual, in book form, even if they can find one. But transfer these documents into web pages and the link table of contents gives instant access.

Intranets are not usually available publicly, but some excellent ones are, such as Tenison's School Pages. One picture is worth a thousand words. The cover story in Newsweek February 26, 1996 was "Here comes the intranet" That was long ago, when things were not so simple.

Everyone (almost) has an intranet, but few are organized with the links as in the examples, and few have made the effort to put all of the information employees regularly need to access on the site.

Take for example descriptions of coverage of your insurance policies. Your service personnel are giving these out over the phone every day. If you put these on web pages, you accomplish several things. You have everyone saying the same thing, you can see if what they have been saying is accurate and complete, and you will realize that you can incorporate these descriptions in the policyholder page where it now just says "whole life". Actually, if experience is a guide, you will not like the descriptions you are using, and exposure on the intranet will have provided a service you didn't expect.


If your employees are filling out anything on paper, time sheets, payroll changes, benefit designations, or requests or notices to other departments, these should be transferred to the intranet. Using email rather than paper is progress, but web forms have several advantages. They are uniform, request all the information in the form needed, and always go to the right person.

If you drop by the personnel department, often the last refuge of doing everything on paper, you are likely to see stacks of forms used in connection with employees and employee benefits. Everything from employment applications to benefit election forms. All of these should be printable from your network, and better yet, should not be reduced to paper at all, but completed and stored on line. A competent payroll system has each employee's pay stub on line (with password) with the traditional data regarding vacation and sick leave accrued and taken.

Once you get all the personnel forms on your site and transmitted electronically, it would be good to make sure HR is not printing the forms on paper to store in the paper employee folder.

The web page is particularly handy for expense accounts. It can contain all the calculation and totaling routines available in a spread sheet, with the added advantage that items are in known fields so they can be totaled and summarized into the required accounts for statement purposes and for analysis. It is a simple mater to write programs that can be relied on to identify unusual or duplicate items.

Expense accounts are commonly routed for approvals and payment by email containing the link to the page, but should be stored permanently as data. Later viewing is accomplished by repopulating the form from the database. Even though the employee has permanent access to his account, as does accounting, some vigilance will be required to prevent printing out the report to paper, particularly at the end of the process in accounting. You may also hear a conversation such as this: Question: "But how do we get the signature of the employee and the approving person on an web based account?" Answer: "Why would you need that?" Response: "We have always required a signature".

A more relevant question concerns receipts. You can't get away from paper. Scanning gets you nowhere. But why not just ask the employee to put them in the interoffice mail directly to accounting? Surely you do not want the supervisor matching up receipts, and realistically it is a waste of time for anyone to do it except intermittently, or when something looks funny.

The web site can provide useful links to information needed by employees and agents. Everything from dictionaries, reverse directories and calculators, to state laws and medical information useful to underwriting.

You can still see companies that have zip code books and piles of telephone directories when the internet provides free and easy reference. Looking for state insurance laws? You may not need those red books any more. Note that the example company put the links on the internet site, not both, since the employees can access the internet site, and will jump to the URLs given.

Suggestion box, the bulletin board or web log format: The internal web site is the place for company announcements, employee bulletin boards, and the suggestion box. If you do not already have one, consider using the freeware Guest book used on this site (under Contact). You could also use the free web log offered by Blogger, and whether you keep it on your own server or theirs is optional.

The suggestion box can be a source of great money saving ideas, but don't start one without also having a bulletin board, or the employees will make it one. It is also a good idea to display the terminal ID of the suggestion maker to keep things civil.

Whether you want to have a Blogger type web page where employees can indulge in the desire to publish just about anything, and argue back and forth about stuff, sort of depends on your attitude toward "free" speech, that is, speech that may be at your expense. Some prefer the "Thumper" rule, while some find it valuable to see what folks are thinking.

The format of the bulletin board or web log web site has innumerable applications within the company. It is an excellent vehicle for maintaining the required customer complaint file, for announcements and schedules, for any data set that is retained chronologically.

Along with all of the basic policy information, such as coverage, beneficiary, and paid to date, a policyholder should be able to view his exact policy on your site, and print a duplicate on demand. This will also enable policy service to handle duplicate policy requests by printing one directly from the web site.

You will probably find it convenient to keep the policyholder data you need for the site on your server, refreshing it from the mainframe every night. Otherwise the fetch transactions can become a significant burden for the MF. A side benefit is that if the MF goes down, your telephone service people can still function with the data from the server.

The easier you make it for the policyholder to update policy information such as name, address, bank, and email address, the more likely he is to do it. There should be a button next to each item of information, which, when clicked, produces an editable text box so that all the policyholder has to do is change the pertinent part and click OK. Then it is a good safeguard to automatically send an email with the old and the new data, to the old email address, as well as the new one. Most companies who allow web changes are now requesting the last 4 digits of the social security number as a security measure.

It is important to offer a "sample" of each procedure, providing example data, allowing the policyholder to see exactly what happens without inserting any information. This is particularly important when offering rate quotes or illustrations. Let the policyholder see what the additional coverage would cost at their age, sex, and whatever, without requiring the applicant to go through all the other information fields before deciding if he is interested or not.

Your policyholder may look at your web site to get the information he needs, or he may call your telephone service unit. If he calls, the telephone service person will look at a screen to provide the information. However, that screen will not have the same information or presentation that your web site has. Why?

Ideally your telephone person should be looking at the same web page that is available to your policyholder. The information accessed is the same, so why should something be available by telephone that the policyholder can't get on line?

If your telephone person can mention to the caller that the screen she is looking at is available to the caller, you have not only advertised your web site and your superior service, you are also likely to have obviated the next call from the 50% or more of your policyholders that have access to the internet.

When your service people use your regular web page to provide information, perhaps with short cuts such as skipping passwords, logical things happen. For example, you probably have a detail description of the policyholders exact coverage on your public web site, but if you have any description at all on the screen your telephone person is looking at, you are an exception. Even if there are standard descriptions available, the computer probably does not automatically pop up the one specific to the caller.

There are no good reasons for the distinction, except that the service person is looking at the result of a mainframe transaction that originated when only terminals were available, and, on the other hand, no one has thought to make all of the information the policyholder might want available on the web site.

The annual report the insurer must provide to the policyholder on illustrated policies generally does not include an in force illustration, so the report must offer to provide one on request. Directing the policyholder to the illustration on the web site will significantly reduce requests and mailing expenses.

The mailing of annual reports required by the life policy illustration rules , particularly on universal life policies, always generates a lot of activity and questions. If you keep track of the questions you will find there are less than a dozen questions that make up 99% of the traffic. If you have a FAQ on the policyholder web site, and refer to it in the annual report initially sent, you are likely to eliminate half of the traffic. Some of the FAQ will relate to the specific policy, but the variations are few and easy to adjust to the specific situation on the web page.

A competent agent site can be created by collecting and summarizing all of the information being provided by paper, email and telephone. The sorting and searching facility of the web site is the key to making the site more convenient for the agent to use than the paper reports, which hopefully will lead to not mailing the paper at all to all but the most resistant agents.

At least 90% of agent telephone calls concern their check or the status of a case. The program that generates the ACH deposit of an advance or commission can also update the site with amount and date deposited. The issue system should be sending emails at critical junctures in the issue and underwriting process, to both the agent and the applicant. The agent will eventually ignore the emails, and want a current status and history on the site, arranged by applicant. If the agent needs to call anyway, at least the person providing TLC will have the case history or check status right at hand.

Agents used to keep track of their policyholders with company furnished issue cards. Usually two or more copies of each card was furnished so the cards could be filed in both name and policy number order. Not many agents could keep up with pulling the lapses, and no new cards were created when data changed. Paper index cards are not a great way to keep up with things.

The web site list of policyholders is always current, takes no space, and the find and sort capacity is invaluable. Best of all, the name is a link, and a click takes the agent to the full policyholder information screen, the one provided for the policyholder.

The complicated part of the agent policyholder list web site is the system for controlling who gets to see what. In most situations there are several levels of agents and an agency office which fields most of the policyholder questions. The first level agent generally sees only his policyholders, the general agent sees his own plus those of his sub agents, and the office sees it all. The quandaries come with dissolved partnerships, terminated agents still in the business, and so on. If the company looks primarily to the general agent and his office to deal with the sub agents, it is probably better to allow the general agent to do the input on viewing authority, rather than to try to create universal rules.

No matter how good your web "agent card" system is, many agents have some mystical attachment to the paper card, so you will be running a dual system for what could be a long time. An approach is to create a database of the agents that still demand the paper cards, print just the cards containing those numbers, and keep asking.

Make web sites for recognition for your agents. Everyone likes to see their name (and picture!) up in lights. You give plaques for recognition. Have images of the standard plaque so you can put a lot of them on the individual's site. Give some bio, a "contact me" page, a quote, and some company stuff. You can do the whole site with templates and allow the agent to go to the site and enter or change his own data.

You don't have to register a domain name for each agent site. Even at only $25 a year that can get expensive. Each agent site is just a sub folder on any convenient company site, linked from both the company site and the agent site. Don't judge your efforts by how much business you get that way, but rather what this does for the agent ego. Plus, if he looks at his own site a lot he learns how to use the computer and may even start using email.

To emphasize the "award plaque" thought, the agent site should look a lot like the wall of his office, with all the "agent of the year" and "top gun" awards being images of the actual plaques. Your web person can easily change the words on the standard image. This will be popular!

The internet can be a powerful tool for maintaining regular contact with your agency force that is absolutely necessary for success and retention. The Altig agency (see right) distributes a weekly broadcast that contributes to its outstanding success.

Another key can be web based training programs that reside on the company servers. Any number of agents can work on the web materials from any location.For a powerful example of what is possible, see the anti-money laundering web material developed for LIMRA by Learning Insights and KPMG. You can see a demo of these techniques at the Learning Insights web site.

Rick Altig, a leading State General Agent for American Income Life, uses the internet creatively to communicate with his offices, which produced over $20 million of new life premium in 2004.

One of the most successful ideas of 2004 was to create a weekly TV broadcast over the internet. Very similar to Bernard's weekly audio tape. We were trying to figure out a way to pull all 31 offices together, from Newfoundland to Honolulu. We make sure the production has the 5 elements of a successful meeting: recognition, goal setting, reporting, motivation and education.

We have a projector with a large screen in all 30 offices. It is pretty exciting. The hard part is doing it every week. For a 20 minute to 1/2 hour show an outside production company wanted at least $10,000 a week for production- and on top of that the cost of satellite time is astronomical. So we do it in house. It probably costs around $2000 a week, which includes the time equivalent of 1.5 employees, prizes, etc. We compress and download over the internet. The only issue is that downloading in the offices takes about an hour. Most offices do it first thing in the morning. We are working on reducing the time involved.

Generally the forms used in hiring agents don't get much attention. He may fill in his name, social security number, and other data, six or more times. Sometimes there are multi part forms so lots of people can have copies. If we are going to try to teach him to manage his time later, perhaps showing some respect for it during the hiring process would help. In addition, most agent contracts are ancient, unfair, unreadable and overreaching, as as a consequence, unenforceable. Getting it in reasonable form onto a web page can create a real agreement.

Web page hiring forms can propagate an answer in one field to the same field in any number of associated forms. Some pages offer a master fill in form which then completes the blanks in all other forms. Somehow more satisfying are the pages that present the forms a page at a time, with all the information which has been supplied in a previous page filled in on the current page. This is less boring, as you can see you are making a lot of progress through the forms.

These computer forms can be printed for any required signature or to provide the applicant with a copy, but the real advantage in the instantaneous transmission to the home office and the electronic filing. While ink signatures may have a ceremonial value in the agency office (hard to get a good photograph of the signing if it is electronic), the home office needs to get used to the fact that the electronic signature is just as legally valid on the contracts and other documents as ink.

When you have the agent hiring forms completed all on the web site, be sure to follow through by automatically populating the licensing and contracting screens used in the home office, and the forms, paper or otherwise, needed for the insurance department. Present back to the agent applicant printable screens containing any forms he should retain, including, of course, his contract with his name and commission schedule in it.

With a little thought you can make the agent licensing process almost instantaneous in the home office. The web page completed in the field office can generate any other web page, such as the one for ordering any required inspection, and the ones that feed the home office systems. When an agency office clicks on submit, your system should be able to respond with the new agent's number, and confirmations that any requirements have been met. Start that response page with "Congratulations Joe! We can promise you a great career ..." along with instructions of what to do next, like a training schedule. You can also present a printable temporary license, if you have that available. Take a look at the boarding passes the airlines now present on your screen for printing.

Another advantage to having your agent application forms on the web is that the agent can complete them from home. With so many applicants now coming from the job search sites such as Monster.com, you will need to do some screening before the applicant comes to your office.

Companies say they are getting a good flow of applicants from sites like Monster.com. Go there and specify life insurance sales and you will see that the companies are not leaving web recruiting to the agency offices. Part of that results from the fee structure which favors a central posting of a lot of positions. The large flow of applicants from internet postings also encourages the use of commercial aptitude testing as a screening device, which can be offered on the company web site.

Applications and forms for home office jobs should also be web based. While the time saving may not seem significant, it is the key to making all personnel records web based, eliminating the paper file. A plus is the ability of the employee to update records from their desk, rather than going by the office.

Most clerical tests are timed, and you have probably seen your personnel people sitting there with a stop watch. When the test is web based, of course, the computer does the timing. The computer also takes the applicant through each of the hiring forms. It was mentioned above that the forms should propagate answers to eliminate putting anything in twice. Avoid the temptation to not even show a question on a subsequent form after it is once answered. Many of the forms will require an electronic signature, so the applicant needs to see the entire form at that point.

The presentation and illustration software used on the agent's notebook can now be web based, rather than created in a programming language like visual basic or C++. The same web page offered on the company's web server can be downloaded to the notebook so that no internet connection is necessary to run it. This is a huge advantage, not only because it avoids duplicating what you already have on your server, but also because a web page is easier to create and modify. The agent just downloads the current version next time he connects.

Web server software is included in Windows operating systems, IIS (internet information server) for the latest releases, PWS (personal web server) for the earlier, such as Windows95. Having a web server on your personal computer means that you can use web pages with your browser just as if you were connected over the internet to the home office web server. The same server side scripting works on your PC. If the company has created illustration web pages for a new product for its own server, that same web page works on the agent's notebook, independently of the company server.

To get a web server, a current browser, and the web pages installed on each agent's PC initially requires, as a practical mater, distribution of a CD that operates on full automatic install, not asking the agent to supply anything. Some agents freeze up rather easily around computers and report "it doesn't work". Recommended procedure is to have everyone in the agency department do the installation, and automate anything that freezes them. To the extent possible you want telephone installation support to come from the agency guys, not from IT personnel ("never the twain shall meet"), so make sure they are comfortable with the installation first. The main instruction needed, if the installation disk is well designed, is "click OK".

For the agent that does not have a PC available at the point of sale, the Life Insurance Illustrations Model Regulation makes the use of preprinted forms possible. The required Life Illustration Acknowledgment form offers the following alternative:

I have been presented with an illustration for a life insurance policy, but have applied for coverage
other than as illustrated. An illustration conforming to the policy as issued will be provided no later
than at the time of policy delivery.

There are obviously too many variables, even with just age and amount, to carry a printed form that fits every sales situation. However, your web site can carry a limited set, for example perhaps ages at 5 year intervals and amounts of $100, $250, and $500 thousand which the agent can print and carry. As long as the agent uses an illustration that is less favorable to the client than the one that is going to come with the policy, and check the "other than as illustrated" paragraph, it would seem that he has complied with the spirit of the regulation, as well as the letter.

The agent can, of course, make his own set of preprinted illustrations from your regular illustration page by putting in his own variables and printing. An agent that works in a narrow range of ages and amounts will probably do that in order to have illustrations that are closer to the one that will come with the policy, and will therefore show better.

Talk up your web site services at every chance. Does every email you send have a standard paragraph promoting the services?

Ideally your telephone service personnel will mention your web site, and if the web site can handle the question and the caller has access, will conduct a short training session right there on how to get the information on the site. Might save the next call. Most callers prove to be repeat callers.

A very useful function is the EDIT- Find (on This Page) for finding the things you need in large documents. How often have you labored through the Articles or ByLaws of the company, or worse, the bank agreements? All important company documents that people need to reference occasionally should be linked from a master contents page. Board minutes would sure be handy, even if you had to have a password for that area.

It doesn't take a lot of use to pay for putting a document on a web site. Scanners are so good now that little of any clean up is necessary. Most of these documents exist in someone's computer in text anyway, and can be pasted into the html.

Instant availability alone would make this profitable, even without the FIND facility. And for the paper people, making a new copy each time it is needed is still cheaper than finding paper in a file.

Forms on paper should be replaced by forms on the internet or intranet. Blank forms can be printed on demand from any location and completed on paper (and scanned for transmission and retention), but where possible the form should be completed on the computer screen. Data already available should be inserted automatically, and sets of forms with the same information should propagate from one entry.

Printing a form on demand from a web page eliminates storage, shipping and waste, and the document is always the latest revision. With each form the question becomes "what is it about this that requires it to be done in quantity in the print shop". Multi part forms made sense before copiers and computers but why now? The insurance application is probably the dividing line. Agents like to grab a handful and the spacing is difficult, but you should have an app form on the internet for when the agent runs out. A suggestion: for you on line app you will find the design easier in Adobe Acrobat than with your regular web tools. That goes for a lot of forms; they look better in PDF and the fill in element, propagation and so on, is easier to work with.

The next question is "what is it about this that requires it be on paper". It is usually the "signature" that keeps something from being completed on line. Forget about the E-Sign law for a moment (most lawyers are ignoring it). Why does this need a signature at all? Electronic or otherwise?

Forms and supplies need to be ordered by computer from both the field and the home office. Provide key word search and an image of the item selected on the order screen. Not only is it easier than the old detailed paper order form, but it is always current and the order is transmitted instantly.

One company that didn't even have an comprehensive paper order form that listed everything available. The agents ordered by phone, describing "that yellow sheet you use for ....". That is not very efficient. A computer ordering system is not difficult to create. Your web person can create it with web page software, or even pick up complete ordering scripting from one of the many freeware sites. A good site will have a summary sheet for those that know what they want, and a link on the name to an image of the form. The list would show only the items appropriate for the state in which the orderer operates.

Images of forms are the key to accurate ordering. Present them as thumbnails, expandable to full screen by a click.

As mentioned in the introduction, web based processing can provide a user interface as friendly, flexible, and intuitive/instructive as your imagination can make it. It easily exchanges information with your other systems, on mainframe or servers. The process becomes independent of the platform upon which the premium is ultimately credited. But the unique advantage is that the web page can be used for processing anywhere in the world, at the office, in a remote office, in the home of the employee or customer, or directly by the businesses you work with. It requires only a browser and an internet connection to use. The process result goes over the internet to the web server of the insurance company, and then to the master file or other system of the insurer, regardless of platform.

A good example is list billing, commonly done with employers, credit unions, mortgage banks, or any other institution that is a common collection point for premiums on policies owned by people with whom they have a relationship. This was originally accomplished by mailing to the institution a single bill containing detail and premium due on each of the policies in the set. The institution would cross out any for which no premium was collected, add any new policy collected, recalculate the total due, and return the bill with payment for the entire revised set to the insurance company. Consider the dramatic change in efficiency the insurance clerk receiving the paper bill can click the changes on a web screen, with pop up boxes for adding data as required, and see the recalculated total to match with the payment. Go the next step and see that this processing can be done anywhere, such as by a home worker or a remote office or an agency office. Go the last step and realize there is no need to create a paper bill in the first place. The collecting institution can view and process the bill on its own PC screen much easier than handling paper, and can click an ACH authorization for the balance due easier than cutting a paper check. An automatic email from the company notifies the institution when the next bill in available on the web site. Don't forget to include the link to the bill in the email.

The federal E Sign law effective in 2000 makes an electronic signature as effective as an ink signature. The law specifically includes insurance transactions, and specifically preempts state law to the contrary. The law also prohibits any particular method of giving an ESIGN from being adopted by regulators. A number of companies offer technology as a security blanket, but it appears just as valid to have the signer type his name in a space that makes it clear he intends it to be his e signature.

Even though insurance companies have been slow to utilize e signatures, it is hard to find any reason it should not be accepted for insurance applications, reinstatements, and any services offered to policyholders on the web site. The absence of court cases on the topic is likely because no one is challenging e signatures, and the insurance departments are supportive. Time to rethink ink and instead consider what the risk really is if the policyholder should later deny he signed. I would not hesitate to allow a cash withdrawal by an electronic signature as long as I was issuing a paper check, but would draw the line at using ACH to transmit the funds to the policyholder. On a life insurance application, if the concern is defending on the health questions, how can the policyholder deny an e signature for that purpose, but not for the validity of the policy?

Offerings of insurance you see on the internet are for things people are looking for. Health insurance, burial insurance with no questions asked, and very low cost term insurance. Unless you have a process for driving people to your site, the only visitors will be those looking for a good deal. An agent may sell whole life where it is what the prospect needs, but he shows the prospect both term and permanent and lets him choose (the internet situation), the prospect will always take the term. The prospect can't distinguish anything but the fact that one is cheaper.

The fundamentals of web selling are not much different from selling through the mail . A good mail return is 1%, but at least you know the recipient saw the envelope, even if was thrown away unopened. Put the same material on the web and you probably get the same response, 1% of of those that read it. But how do people even know it is there? How do you get someone to look at your site and not shop all the other sites for the same product? Unless you can figure that out, the only one making a sale will be the cheapest one, or the one that will take the worst risk. You can't really be either, according to the greater fool theory. Applied here, it means that no matter how low you make the premium, someone else will offer it for less, at least for a little while, and then another one will come along.

Web marketing is not much of a threat to the agency system. A look at the fundamentals shows why. The least creative thing an agent does is complete the application, and that is what the web sites are good at. The most important things an agent does are (1) prospecting, finding someone to make a presentation to, and (2) explaining to the prospect why he needs the insurance. And that is what the web sites are not good at.

If internet sales are a matter of getting someone to the web site, methods to do that may evolve. Perhaps through agents who possess controlled situations, or associations or credit unions with sites popular with their members for other reasons. Or perhaps Amazon will add a life insurance page. My view is that this business will inevitably go to the established carriers who sell primarily through traditional channels, and not to any company specializing in web sales.

Never has there been fewer barriers to entry than exist with web selling. Any established life company can put up a site or add to an existing one in a few weeks at essentially no incremental cost. Any product that works can be copied. An established carrier can afford to wait for whatever applications will trickle in from the site, while any new entrant trying to rely on web sales will not get enough fast enough to sustain a basic operation, and will just burn through its capital. The established carrier can afford acquisition cost up to what it is paying agents, but the web specialist loses any price advantage if it pays that much. Lastly, the established carrier fits the incremental business into its existing processes, at a cost no newbee can match no matter how advanced its systems.

The internet may provide some replacement opportunities for carriers that don't have much in force, and therefore not much to lose. It seems likely that we will see a lot of cancer insurance being replaced by critical illness policies. Normally you would expect CI to cost twice as much as cancer insurance, but there are still some severely under priced CI being marketed, a few about the same cost as a cancer only plan.

There are probably more scavenging opportunities in the A&H business than in life insurance. Overpriced level premium life insurance becomes a good deal in a few years, and what layman can figure out what he is paying for universal life? But a lot of cancer insurance has been sold one premium for all ages, or for wide age brackets, and the same is true of other coverages that are easy to compare. Of course every time a state decides health insurance has to be available regardless of health, or at one rate regardless of age, it is Katy, bar the door for trust group and other quasi group that can establish situs elsewhere to avoid the irrational rules and offer replacement on the internet. When the inevitable rate increases come on the existing policies, the policyholders will search for alternatives, many on the internet.

An established carrier may be able to select products for web site sales for which it has no significant channel conflict. Any product not being sold by the agency force could be offered, and loaded with a very small commission for the occasional sale by agents. This should allow the product to be sold on the web AND by an agent, without irritating the agents.

Toro (lawn mowers) resisted selling product through Home Depot for years out of concern for their small dealer and hardware store distribution. Recently Toro was able to develop a less expensive version to sell through Home Depot without problems with existing channels, which still had the exclusive on the presumptively higher quality mower. The lower version was made available to the existing channel also, with a lower profit margin.

Most insurers are selling very little whole life in the higher face values, most of that production having switched to UL. That would make WL a good candidate for web offering. With essentially no distribution cost, the product could be a significantly better value than UL or the regular WL offered through agents.

There are literally thousands of sites offering insurance, or attempting to attract leads, but it seems to me that these sites have it backwards where underwriting is concerned. The emphasis is on simple underwriting, no physicals, or guaranteed issue. Even the sites that offer the cheap term insurance, which must be fully underwritten, try to create the lead with just a few questions so that an agent can get involved to do the long app. I have yet to find a site with a long, detailed, arduous app to be completed on line. Or one that offers a full illustration. Why not screen out anyone with the slightest health problem, and lower your price accordingly? You may lose a lot of prospects half way through the app, but what difference does that make. You have not invested anything in that prospect.

The standards for super select premiums appear to be getting looser. From the sites that specify standards, it appears that LD cholesterol cut offs are moving up, along with blood pressure and even weight. That might make sense if you are trying to accommodate your agents, or if you have a limited number of prospects. Even with mail order you don't want to cut your return by being too stringent.

But does that make sense on the web? Who cares if only one out of a hundred searchers can meet your standards. The 99 you cut out didn't cost you anything, just like the ones that got bored with filling out the long application. If that helps you make a unique offering, you will get some business.

A good offering for this purpose might be whole life. It would not be hard to be the best real offer on the internet. At least you might attract the attention of the fee only insurance advisors. I have quoted articles from two of them on this site, Glenn Daily and Peter Katt.