"We've found that, because SmartOffice is a pure web solution, there are very few technology challenges. The solution supports multiple usage models, enabling us to use the solution for our own needs in dealing with the carriers, while giving our member agencies proven marketing and contact management tools to help them build better relationships with their customers."
- Chris Soniat, Director of Marketing, BRAMCO
BRAMCO (Brokerage Resources of America, LLC) is the premier association of independent life brokerage agencies in the United States. BRAMCO represents the industry's leading life annuity and long-term care companies to individual producers, registered representatives, banks and broker/dealers nationally.
BRAMCO (Brokerage Resources of America, LLC) is the nation's largest association of independent life brokerage agencies. A cooperative organization of wholesale brokerage general agencies, BRAMCO serves as an independent marketing organization that brings value to its members by providing strategic marketing support and the collective bargaining power of a large group membership when negotiating with carriers.
In 2002, in an effort to offer its member agencies the added benefits of a full-service central processing unit, BRAMCO made the decision to implement a new agency management solution. This approach would offer all of BRAMCO's member BGAs the much needed efficiency of scale to get a rich, full-featured agency management solution, as well as providing smaller agencies the benefits of such a solution without the need for in house IT support or technology infrastructure.
When selecting the best solution to meet their needs, the team at BRAMCO considered a number of factors, not the least of which was the financial stability of the vendor. "There are basically three vendors out there today who offer the BGA functionality we needed. One was questionable from the perspective of long-term stability, one was owned by one of our largest competitors, and the third was Ebx CRM - a company that had a proven history, was financially stable, and whose client list was growing fast," says Christopher Soniat, Director of Marketing for BRAMCO. The vendor's commitment to the BGA market was also important, and Ebx CRM had demonstrated this assurance with its purchase of LifeMarkets, makers of the highly used Commerce Agency™ solution, in 2002.
Ebx CRM's SmartOffice® for Agency Management quickly became the frontrunner. "One of our managers and I had both come from firms that were using Ebx CRM's Commerce Agency," says Soniat, "and the new web solution offered similar functionality, but in a much more flexible environment." With nearly 30 agencies to support nationwide, the SmartOffice solution not only offered BRAMCO the ability to support its members online, but it also offered the ability to view real-time case information online - from anywhere.
As one of the first organizations to implement SmartOffice for Agency Management, BRAMCO served as a beta site for the software - a situation that can sometimes be precarious for the initial users. But, according to Soniat, Ebx CRM did everything possible to make the beta process go smoothly and deliver the expected results. "The Ebx CRM team was very committed and kept us from getting frustrated throughout the beta testing process. We implemented soon after Ebx CRM acquired LifeMarkets, so they were still learning the ins and outs of the BGA market. The support team really went above and beyond to be certain that they truly understood and met our needs. We always felt that our needs were heard, and Ebx CRM responded extremely fast to deliver a polished solution that works for us."
Also, unlike other agency management solutions that have been migrated to the web from a Windows® platform, SmartOffice is built from the ground up on a web platform. This has resulted in a very stable solution that comes fully integrated right out of the box. "We've found that, because SmartOffice is a pure web solution, there are very few technology challenges," says Soniat. "The solution supports multiple usage models, enabling us to use the solution for our own needs in dealing with the carriers, while giving our member agencies proven marketing and contact management tools to help them build better relationships with their customers."
As a distributor, BRAMCO is primarily using the solution to deliver a high level of service to its member agencies, but they have also made the solution available to the agencies. While a number of the agencies are already beginning to use the system for contact management and marketing, many agency users are looking forward to delivery of the pending case download module scheduled for release in the next version. While BRAMCO can now provide hard-copy downloads of the information, the online capability will have major impact on accelerating new business processing, and Soniat expects that it will result in agency movement toward SmartOffice. "Based on the success of our implementation, I wouldn't be surprised if we have 10 to 20 agencies live on SmartOffice within the next few years."
After just over one year in use, SmartOffice has proven to be a wise choice for BRAMCO. The web platform has shown to be ideal for serving the dispersed organization. By making it possible to process business quickly and deliver added services to the agencies, SmartOffice helps BRAMCO deliver better service and, ultimately, grow its ability to meet the needs of the agencies.
SmartOffice provides BRAMCO and its member agencies with the following benefits:
As the BRAMCO implementation grows, Soniat anticipates using the solution on many more levels. "SmartOffice has a ton of features that we haven't even explored yet. As our agencies begin to take advantage of all SmartOffice has to offer, we expect to see even greater results across our entire business."
"We knew what E-Z Data had to offer as a company. We believed they would continue to be a good business partner, and we felt we could get SmartOffice up and running faster due to the richness of its out-of-the-box functionality."
- Mary Anne Smith, Director of Individual Business Technology, Securian Financial Network
Securian Financial Network is the distribution arm for Minnesota Life Insurance Company, whose insurance, pension, and investment products provide financial security to millions of individuals and businesses nationwide. Founded in 1880, its record of financial strength and stability positions it as one of the most highly rated financial institutions in America. From its St. Paul, Minnesota national headquarters and sales offices and independent firms around the nation, 4,400 Minnesota Life associates provide clients with quality service and product expertise.
Having used Ebix CRM's Windows®-based Client Data System® (CDS®) for more than five years, the management team at Securian Financial Network (the distribution arm of Minnesota Life) was already familiar with what made Ebix CRM's solutions among the most trusted in the industry. "We chose Ebix CRM because of the company's experience in the financial services sector," says Mary Anne Smith, Director of Individual Business Technology at Securian Financial Network. "Ebix CRM had industry market share, industry experience, and its existing users had a history of good experiences with the product." And while CDS had proven to be useful for its advisors, the company found that the solution was more suited to the individual advisor than as a tool for managing at the agency level.
To address the void in functionality, Securian began looking for a web-based agency management tool that could deliver the valuable benefits of a centralized customer relationship management (CRM) solution to their Field. Among the goals for the project were providing all users with access to data from anywhere, any time of the day or night, and to reduce the need for IT personnel at each firm so they could focus their time and resources on their customers. "At that time, everyone understood and believed in the value that a web solution could bring to the company," says Smith. "It was just a matter of finding the best solution for our business."
Although the new initiative was focused on a web-based solution, the selection criteria proved to be nearly identical to the selection criteria for the Windows solution: Securian wanted a vendor that knew their business and had experience providing this type of solution to financial services organizations. The winner, once again, was Ebix CRM. This time around, however, the company chose the web-based SmartOffice® for Agency Management - a solution that not only provided the browser-based functionality they needed, but also included new functionality designed expressly to help manage processes at the firm level. According to Smith, "We knew what Ebix CRM had to offer as a company. We believed they would continue to be a good business partner, and we felt we could get SmartOffice up and running faster due to the richness of its out-of-the-box functionality."
Using SmartOffice, Securian has created a standardized platform for all of its firms. The centralized platform makes it possible to streamline agency processes and roll out well-developed marketing campaigns across the organization, in addition to providing each firm with the capability to build their own unique campaigns. SmartOffice also helps the company proliferate best practices by standardizing how information is entered, how data is stored, and even how the system is queried. Securian can also do queries to help the firms identify opportunities they may otherwise overlook.
Securian has recently seen a significant jump in fee-based financial planning, and SmartOffice helps support this change by making it easy to track customer information at the household level. When an advisor sells a fee-based plan, they can track the plan and the opportunity in SmartOffice. Once the information is in the system, management can clearly identify successes, as well as identify where process improvements can be made.
Securian began rolling out the solution using a pilot user group of four to six of their most committed general agents - who were also their toughest customers. Working closely with this GA advisory group, the goal of the team was to iron out any issues and drive a good success story early on in this process.
As with any major implementation, challenges are to be expected. To manage this, the group holds regular teleconferences to review and resolve any data, training, or system issues. The team is currently investing a lot of time into carefully populating data to ensure data integrity going forward, and they are already updating investment data on a daily basis.
The SmartOffice solution is helping Securian Financial Network to:
With its initial success under way, Securian has set a target of having 25 of its firms live on SmartOffice by year-end, and the remaining firms live my mid-2005.
Smith adds that the support provided by Ebix CRM was extremely beneficial to the success of the project. "The Ebix CRM folks have been great. We have found the team to be good partners and creative in identifying solutions to everything we threw their way. It's clear that Ebix CRM is committed to our success."
"The ability to access all of our data and share it among ourselves using SmartOffice has been a godsend."
- Alan Kaye, Owner & Principal, Barry Kaye Associates
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