2017 was a catastrophic year full of devastating storms. Harvey, Irma, Maria, Jose. The list of last year’s now-infamous hurricanes unfortunately goes on.
And as the rain and wind in 2018 continue to hammer down (many are still suffering setbacks of Hurricane Florence), it’s more important than ever to educate and prepare for inclement weather.
As a business owner, it can seem like spending time preparing for something out of your control is a waste of time. Or trivial. Especially in comparison to bringing in leads, serving customers, and improving general business.
But having a plan of action for natural disasters could be the difference between an organization sinking or swimming. Without a doubt, it is something any good business leader should have but hope to never use. Here are a few tips to help protect you from even the rainiest of days.
1. Be Proactive
This is so important. Don’t wait until the eye of the storm is over your business to start reacting. Take charge. Make a preparation checklist. Check the weather reports regularly, especially during peak hurricane season. Purchase any gear or groceries you need BEFORE stores start to run out of everything and mobs of people begin fighting over bread, water, and generators.
2. Protect the Property
This one is a given. It’s in your best interest to do everything within your power to reduce property damage (and thus hopefully reduce repair costs). This can include sandbagging areas that have a high flood risk or installing shutters or plywood to windows and doors. You may also want to consider removing surrounding tree branches that could potentially fall on your building.
3. Protect the Gear
Inclement weather hardly ever equals good news for hardware. Whether you’re preparing for a flood, hurricane, tornado, or an earthquake, one thing remains constant: protect your gear.
Electronics are valuable, fragile, and expensive to replace. Take precautions as early as possible to avoid having to buy your whole staff brand new desktops. Move gadgets to an elevated area if you’re expecting floodwaters. Put them in the safest room in your office (one with no windows is ideal). Make sure to shut down computers and unplug machines, cables, and power surges.
Certain tech like external hard drives often hold lots of valuable and irreplaceable information and data. Which brings us to our next, very important, tip.
3. Back Up Data
Boy, is this a big one. Even if you are lucky enough to suffer no property damage, there is always a huge risk of losing important company data, customer insights, contact information, contracts, etc. And while it is challenging to recover from physical damage, losing crucial business documentation could be the end of your organization.
The easiest and most secure way to backup electronic data is by saving files to an external hard drive and then keep that hard drive with you. Do not leave it at the office. Wherever you go, the hard drive goes, too.
4. Digitize Everything
Insurance is an old-school business. The industry is changing as insurtech continues to explode, but there will always be a few folks who still don’t do everything electronically. For the most part, this isn’t a problem. But where inclement weather is concerned it can be a huge issue.
If you have valuable paper documents, scan them ASAP and then save those files to the hard drive mentioned in tip #3. It’s still wise to place the physical documents in a Ziploc bag and store them in a dry area while you ride out the storm. But if they get swept away with the rain/wind/whatever, it’s not the end of the world…as long as you have a digital copy on your hard drive, of course.
Companies are constantly at risk. They are at risk of losing money, stagnant business, fierce competition, and on and on the list goes. Sometimes risk is outside of our control, but being proactive and preparing for the worst of Mother Nature is totally and completely within our power. There are no excuses.
According to an August 2017 article by the Associated Press, Hurricane Harvey damaged nearly 700 business in Texas alone. Each natural disaster means every business in the storm’s path is on the chopping block. So it’s up to you as your business’ leader to heed our advice and weather each storm before they arrive at your office door.
Tony Haas, Controller at Higginbotham Insurance, noticed that customers were frequently asking for electronic payment options to pay their insurance policies. While Higginbotham did accept credit cards, it did not offer the choice to pay via ACH. Haas began searching for a more robust processor and finally stumbled upon ePayPolicy. Signing up, he said, was a must.
“We were getting requests from clients to pay electronically, and after seeing ePayPolicy’s demo, the ACH solution was a much better solution than a wire solution,” said Haas. “A client could either set up a wire account and send money to us, or they could just pull up ePayPolicy and pay us right there. It’s a much easier process,” he said.
“The simplicity of it made it a no-brainer.”
Offer clients electronic payments
Integrate with management system, Sagitta
Speed up receivables
Bind policy faster
Streamline reconciliation process
ePayPolicy Co-Founder Todd Sorrel met Hass for the first time at NetVU 2017, and shortly after, the Higginbotham payment page was live.
After Higginbotham was up and running, it was immediately able to offer clients the option to make electronic payments. Now, the insurance company is able to accept both credit cards and ACH, with payments seamlessly integrating into its management system Sagitta (powered by Vertafore). The technology has allowed them to bind business much faster.
“As soon as customers make payments, we’re getting email notifications to let us know that a transaction is in process,” said Haas. “We can bind things immediately and move onto the next project, instead of waiting a few days.”
Haas said the processor has cut down the reconciliation process by two business days and that ePayPolicy & its ability to integrate with Sagitta has streamlined Higginbotham’s overall process.
“Anytime you can do electronic payments, versus sending an actual check, it makes the whole process easier,” said Hass. “Handling checks is old school.”
The Extras – Hig Helps Page
After Hurricane Harvey tore through Houston last year, Higginbotham reached out to ePayPolicy for help in setting up a donation page for those affected by the storm. Harvey had completely devastated the homes of several Higginbotham team members, and the organization wanted a way to help them through the rebuilding process.
“It was fantastic what ePayPolicy did to help us get that page up and running. We raised about $150,000,” said Haas. “It was a big help to get money and help out to our employees that were hurting.”
Higginbotham Insurance offers risk management and financial services, providing access to commercial and personal property/casualty coverage, employee benefits, retirement plans, life insurance, and executive compensation plans through more than 250 regional and national carriers. As of 2017, the company is ranked #18 on Insurance Journal’s annual list of Top 100 Property / Casualty Agencies. There are over 25 Higginbotham offices in the state of Texas.
The value of good marketing cannot be overstated. If your marketing plan isn’t working (or worse, if you have no marketing plan at all), your organization won’t last long.
You can count on that.
The Internet and social media have made marketing more accessible. But they’ve also created a massive cloud of competition and a hailstorm of noise.
We live in a world of sensory overload. Every company is fighting for consumer attention. With millions of organizations vying for eyes and business 24/7, how do you make yourself stand out?
“Be a yardstick of quality.”
The advice comes from someone who knows a thing or two about marketing, the iconic CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs.
When I think about the insurance space and who makes a good “yardstick” of quality, one name in particular stands out – Chris Paradiso.
Paradiso started his own insurance business in 1998 with just three employees. Today there are over 15 team members and counting, and Paradiso has grown his company and brand into an insurance powerhouse.
Paradiso Presents, LLC is at the forefront of that powerhouse. It began as an endeavor Chris started in order to “teach small agencies how to survive in today’s complex online marketing world.” Since the LLC’s inception, it has grown into one of the most reputable resources for small agency survival.
One facet of Paradiso Presents is the popular industry magazine Be the Last Agent Standing. The publication is one of those tools that belongs in any agency’s survival kit. New and experienced insurance professionals alike will benefit from Last Agent. Readers can expect insight like marketing tips, tricks, and tools designed specifically to help insurance folks grow their business.
Everything from building a brand to search engine optimization to Google Analytics is discussed. Nothing is off the table. Nothing is overlooked. With so much information on the Interwebs these days, it’s difficult to sift through what’s valuable and what’s just fluff. Fortunately, Last Agent is chalk full of rich, valuable, pearls of wisdom from the man himself.
“What Chris does with Paradiso Presents and Last Agent is truly a testament to how well he knows the insurance landscape,” said Milan Malkani, my partner and fellow ePayPolicy co-founder.
“He’s been in this business a long time and still finds all these ways to keep things fresh and fun and current. I think a lot of agencies can learn from him.”
Digital marketing is undoubtedly a frontier that is overwhelming for many. There are a lot of new tricks to learn and insurance is an old business. One that has historically used more “traditional” methods.
For example, using print ads (instead of digital ones), and paper checks (instead of electronic payment processors). However, insurance has gradually been shifting towards a more tech-based industry. And while some are happy with this shift, many are not.
Luckily, there are organizations like Chris Paradiso’s that are dedicated to helping those who do feel overwhelmed. The goal is to elevate the industry and level the playing field. With Paradiso, even the little guys and underdogs have a fighting chance.
What the magazine represents is so much more than articles printed on paper. Be the Last Agent Standing is an integral part of a larger puzzle — a good marketing foundation for budding insurance agencies.
“Any agency worth their salt will pick up Chris’ magazine,” said Malkani. “Everyone can learn something from Last Agent.”
We’re less than a month away from closing applications for the ePayPolicy InsurTech Award!
ePayPolicy believes that great technology can change the insurance world. That’s why we are committed to recognizing the agency that has best adapted and leveraged technology to grow and improve their sales, marketing, and customer service in 2018.
Additionally, each applicant will receive an Insurance Technology Adoption Score (i.e. an “ITA Score”), a subjective measure of an agency’s tech adoption in the insurance space, along with comprehensive reporting including feedback, tips, and opportunities to improve that score.
If you haven’t entered yet, there’s still time!
– A $1,000 cash prize
– $1,000 toward an insurance conference of winner’s choice
– Two FREE years of ePayPolicy’s Custom Plan
– Consulting time with Mike Stromsoe and Chris Paradiso
– Website services with Alicor Solutions
– A gift basket stocked with local treats from AustiNuts
– BRAGGING RIGHTS!
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
This is a common phrase people use to convey that if something works at least somewhat well, then leave it alone. It’s good enough.
This is sound advice for some things, like if you have a perfectly good car but want a new one, just because.
However, this practice falls short in other areas of life. Take insurance for example. Insurance is an industry that places heavy emphasis and value on tradition. And in this case, tradition dictates that business practices remain largely the same, and adopting new tech isn’t necessary since, after all, what’s already in place is good enough.
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Not so fast. Let’s talk payments.
Insurance professionals everywhere have been accepting paper checks since the dawn of the modern insurance industry. The practice reigned supreme for a long while, and for some agencies, it is still the preferred way to accept payments from insureds. However, paper checks, and its cousins wire transfers and cash payments, come with a slew of caveats and complications.
Both paper checks and cash have to be snail-mailed or handed off in person. Wire transfers are costly, require a ton of manual work, and both of the participating banks require representation on the phone to initiate the transfer.
What if an agent is pressed for time and needs those funds immediately? Every insurance professional has been there — when it’s 4:45 PM on a Friday, the banks are closing soon, and there’s nothing to do but watch the clock tick by while waiting on the insured, impending doom hanging overhead.
“Inconvenient,” is an understatement.
Traditions are great. But even good ones need updating every once in a while.
That’s where electronic payments come into play.
According to a Federal Reserve Payments Study, paper checks have been on a staggering 6% yearly average decline since 1999, and by 2014, only 3% of consumers said they preferred to use paper checks.
Conversely, and unsurprisingly, the preference for electronic payment options has been on the rise, with the Federal Reserve Study reporting that credit card payments were recorded as the “highest growth rate” (at a 10.2% increase) among core payment types from 2015-2016.
At the end of the day, e-payments are undeniably more convenient and easier to track than old-school methods.
“In our space, if you don’t have an electronic payment solution, you’re way behind the times,” said Russ Goldstein, President of Agile Premium Finance.
It’s truly astonishing what a little mobility can do to help a business’ overall bottom line.
For insurance professionals and customers, the entire process of making and accepting payments has flipped on its head. Funds can be remitted in seconds and deposited into a bank account just as quickly.
This instantaneous gratification may seem the norm in 2018, but a few years ago this was still unheard of.
More and more, insurance professionals everywhere want a more seamless, end-to-end solution for tracking and reconciling payments. Paper checks, wire transfers, cash, and the like may not be broken, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best option.
With mobile payments, the question isn’t “why?” it’s “why not?”
ePayPolicy is the simplest way to collect insurance payments online. The processor allows insurance professionals to accept electronic payments via credit card and ACH, while also allowing agents and brokers to pass on transaction fees to the insured. ePayPolicy serves over 800 national clients and continues to expand its growing list of independent association endorsements and management system integrations each day. To find out more, visit www.epaypolicyhome.staging.wpengine.com.
If the yearly conference circuit is equivalent to the NFL’s football season, then NetVU’s Accelerate is the insurance industry’s Super Bowl. And like any good Super Bowl, Accelerate 2018 was exciting, buzzing with energy, and an absolute blast!
In the months leading up to the much-anticipated show, the entire ePayPolicy team worked with our heads down, toiling away on prepping our booth, swag, travel plans, and more. When it was finally showtime, Todd and I were more than itching to get to Atlanta.
Anyone in the insurance space knows that Accelerate is all about taking advantage of opportunities. Whether your goal is to build relationships, spend time with customers, network, pitch, or just have fun, opportunity is there for the taking.
Luckily for us, all of those aforementioned things were goals of ours, and I’m proud and pleased to say we were successful in hitting each of those goals — and then some.
Any chance we have to spend time with current or potential customers, as well as the Vertafore team, is a chance to build and solidify relationships, which is the most important thing for us at ePayPolicy.
And it might be the most important thing for anyone in the insurance industry, for that matter.
Todd, myself, and the rest of the team are all still coming down from the adrenaline high of last week. (Is it too early to start thinking about Accelerate 2019?) Thanks to all that stopped by our booth to learn about our payment processor (and grab some swag, which we completely ran out of!).
And an especially big thank you to NetVU for hosting the insurance event of the year, Vertafore for chatting, laughing, and sharing meals with me and Todd, and all of our amazing clients that stopped to snap pictures with us.
Technology has the uncanny ability to influence and shape our lives. From the invention of paper in 105 AD to the unveiling of the first iPhone more than 10 years ago in 2007, great tech has the power to solve problems, altering the way we do things forever.
This is especially true for the insurance industry.
Insurtech, the practice of using new technology to help modernize the insurance space, is at the forefront of the industry, and changing the way agents, brokers, carriers, and insureds all interact with each other and do business. In an industry where so many processes are rooted in tradition and face-to-face interaction, the individuals that are utilizing technology are nudging the landscape towards more cost-effective and efficient practices.
Payments, for example, used to all be handled manually. Not long ago, if an insured needed to make a payment on their policy, the only available options were to pay either via cash, wire, or paper check. That was it.
But here’s the thing — Cash has to be handed off in person. Wire transfers can take as many as five days to be processed. And paper checks have to be handed off in person too, plus deposited at the bank.
What if the agent needed that payment immediately? Talk about inconvenient.
Today, however, there are more options. Electronic payment options, to be exact. Fueled by passion and empowered by tech, our team created a payment processor that simplifies the entire process of submitting and accepting insurance payments. Agents and brokers now have the luxury and ability to offer insureds the choice to pay electronically. And the positive implications of that are crystal clear for ePayPolicy customers.
“It used to be that if a policy was due to cancel that day, agents were scrambling to figure out how to get the funds to us,” said Teresa Hamm, Accounting Specialist for Towerstone Inc. “But now, agents can go online and immediately make payments. They’re helping their insureds’ policies from canceling, and I can turn around and get the funds to the carrier. It’s a win-win situation.”
Our integration capabilities also play a huge role in making things easier for agencies. ePayPolicy is integrated with several management systems, including Vertafore’s AIM, Sagitta, and FinancePro, as well as NowCerts, MGA Systems, and i-Engineering’s ALIS. These seamless system integrations mean that agencies, and more specifically, agency accounting teams, can process invoices faster and more efficiently. Gone are the days of paper checks and manual payment reconciliation.
“ePayPolicy has significantly improved the user experience for us as well as our clients,” said J. Archer Butler, Underwriter for Piedmont Premium Finance. “And, it saves our accounting team the extra work of going between multiple systems,” said Butler.
Insurtech has the power to improve communication in-house as well. Using a cloud-based service like Slack significantly cuts down on pesky back-and-forth emails between colleagues, for one, and offers a plethora of other bells and whistles to keep teams organized (i.e. Chat room “channels” organized by topic, direct messaging, search functionality, integrations with Dropbox, Trello, GitHub, and much more).
Google Drive, another cloud-based tool, is something we use in-house that continues to keep our practices up-to-date. Drive is a file storage service that comes with a suite of tools such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Think of these like the cousin to Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively. What’s great about these tools is that they are auto-saved to Google Drive, and, users can collaborate on projects together, in real-time.
For insurance professionals, the advantages of Slack, Google Drive, and various other tech and software applications are plentiful. We live in a fast-paced world where things are expected (and where we expect things) to happen immediately. Thankfully, there are mobile apps for Slack, Drive, and just about anything these days, making the desire for immediacy a reality.
Old habits die hard, but when electronic payment processors, mobile banking, messaging services, file sharing, and the whole darn world can fit in your back pocket, it’s hard to justify not adopting technology.
With insurtech, the question isn’t “why?” it’s “why not?”
The ePayPolicy team is so passionate about insurtech and the positive impact it has on the insurance industry, that we’ve launched our first annual ePayPolicy InsurTech Award. The award aims to recognize the insurance agency that has best adopted and leveraged technology to grow its sales, marketing, and customer service in 2018.
The winning agency will receive $7,500 in prizes, including a $1,000 cash prize, complimentary consulting time with insurance experts Mike Stromsoe and Chris Paradiso, a free two-year subscription to our industry-leading payment processor, and much more.
Additionally, each applicant will receive an Insurance Technology Adoption Score (ITA Score), a high-level score of an agency’s adoption of tech. Applications are free to submit, open to all agencies in the United States, and not exclusive to ePayPolicy customers.
For more information, or to apply for the ePayPolicy InsurTech Award, visit www.insurtechaward.com.
*Automation can be defined as, “the technology by which a process or procedure is performed without human assistance.”
Love it or hate it, automation is the name of the game, and it’s here to stay. And no matter what your stance is, whenever the topic is broached, be prepared for some push-back.
Proponents of automation argue that it eliminates, or at least reduces, human error, cuts down on new hire spending, and evokes greater efficiency and productivity within organizations.
Opponents worry that automation will lead to their unemployment and greater unemployment overall, as machines and computers will perform their jobs with more precision, at a lower cost, thus taking their place in a company.
Skeptics also contend that artificial intelligence (AI), robots, etc. may be intelligent and efficient at the task and responsibilities at hand, but not yet sophisticated enough to handle unexpected situations; they are only programmed to do one or a finite set of actions.
As a tech company, operating in the insurance space (where human connection and relationships have historically dominated the culture), it can sometimes be difficult to get people onboard with the shifting landscape of technology and automation.
But, ePayPolicy is here to try!
AI doesn’t have to be a scary word or concept. True, we watch movies like Minority Report and I, Robot that tend to sway our opinion in a negative direction, but those are dramatic depictions of only potential disastrous outcomes. (But how great are those movies, right?!) In reality, AI, automation, and tech infiltrate almost every aspect of our daily lives, whether we realize it or not.
Inspired by our trip to Las Vegas for the WSIA Automation Conference last week, our team has put together a list of some of the most visible and recognizable examples of automation and AI in our world today.
For the Millennials: Autocorrect
According to Pew Research Center, 95% of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind (to be honest, we’re kind of surprised it’s not 100%).
It’s probably safe to assume that the amount of people texting on these cellular devices is in the millions, if not more. And each time we send a text, we rely on automation to predict what we are about to type. This automatic data validation function expedites time spent composing messages, making the process much more efficient.
For the Busy Bees: Virtual Assistants
Our days are colored with a bunch of little things to remember: to-dos, grocery lists, birthday reminders, dentist appointments, soccer games, that yoga class we keep signing up for…the list goes on.
Not long ago, we might have just scribbled these things down on a piece of paper (or tied a string to our finger).
Today, all we have to do is utter one of the following three phrases and instruct our virtual assistants to remember, remind, and re-schedule, for us:
Virtual assistants are engineered into our phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops, and even come standalone (like Amazon’s Alexa). VAs are quickly growing in sophistication and popularity, with a June 2017 article estimating some 35.6 million Americans to use “a voice-activated assistant device” at least one time per month.
Whether you’re just checkin’ the weather before work or keeping track of your all your oil changes for the year, virtual assistants can be huge time savers, and are relevant to the every (wo)man these days, not just the Tony Starks of the world.
An acronym for Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, J.A.R.V.I.S. is Tony Stark’s (aka Iron Man) artificially intelligent computer. The former’s responsibilities include assisting Mr. Stark with everything from heating and cooling the superhero’s home, to engine analysis and integrating with Stark’s Iron Man armor. Oh, and did we mention he’s also British?
Can y’all say, AWESOME???
For the Pet Obsessed: Petcube, Petzi, etc.
Pet cams enable us to watch, communicate, and play with our pets even when we’re not at home. Bonus: some even come with treat dispensers. Tech and automation at its finest — allowing us to interact with our fur children at all times!
For the Clean Freaks: Roomba
A series of autonomous “Robot Vacuums” sold by iRobot. Hate vacuuming, mopping, and the like? This device takes you out of the equation and leaves the monotonous chores to automation.
For the Sports Lovers: Topgolf, Auto-drafting Fantasy sports
The former is a sophisticated, high-tech driving range for golf lovers at every skill level. Inside each golf ball is a tracking device that is tied to a specific player and keeps score for them (electronically, of course) based off of where they sink (or don’t sink) the ball.
The latter is pretty self-explanatory. Didn’t do enough research on players this season? No sweat! Choose the “auto-draft” setting and you might get lucky and end up with Carson Wentz even though you were watching Game of Thrones on draft night.
For the Insurance Professional: ePayPolicy
Okay, okay. So we’re a bit biased on this one. But seriously, hear us out.
We are the only payment processor built exclusively for insurance professionals, by insurance professionals. Our team collectively brings over 25 years of insurance experience to the table, and each of us is as passionate and hungry to innovate and push the envelope as the person next to us.
Our product enables agents and brokers to accept credit card and ACH payments online, while also passing on transaction fees to the insured in the process. With several management system integrations already tied to our name (including Vertafore’s AIM, Sagitta, and FinancePro, as well as i-Engineering’s ALIS and MGA Systems), and many more on the way, we don’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
The insurance space is so much about building relationships and having that face to face interactions with peers, that many people wonder if automation has a place in the industry.
ePayPolicy’s Answer: Yes. Absolutely.
Paper check usage continues to decline, and with good reason. It takes forever for the funds to clear, checks often bounce, you have to pay for stamps, etc., etc.
With ePayPolicy, all of those small inconveniences are eliminated. Our processor is compatible across multiple devices, so insureds can make payments anytime or anywhere, and insurance professionals can track and reconcile funds anytime, anywhere.
ePayPolicy is a tech company based in Austin, Texas. They enable insurance professionals to accept credit card and ACH/eCheck payments online while also passing on transaction fees to the insured.
Sign up takes less than 5 minutes.
Start accepting electronic payments in 24 hours.
No sign up fees or contracts and upgrade your account at anytime.
So, what’s the deal with recurring payments?
Well, you guys asked, and ePayPolicy delivered. It’s that simple. (You can just call us your fairy Godmother.) We have an awesome video that details the ins and outs of the feature, but if you haven’t seen it yet, not to worry. We’ll break it down and get you up to speed now.
If you’re a Custom Payment page subscriber, you can now offer customers the option to set up recurring payments. Bonus: Customers can also set frequency and track all payments from a single view.
We embedded the feature where your customers are already making their payments, so they don’t need to navigate or sign up anywhere new.
It’s easy. All customers have to do is:
1. Sign in (or sign up) to your company’s payment page
2. Navigate to “Make a Payment”
3. Fill out the info fields accordingly, selecting “Yes” when they reach the “Recurring Payments” field
4. Choose a start date, end date, and how frequent they’ll make payments.
After customers are done with set-up, they can head to “Recurring Payments” from the navigation bar to track all payments from one page.
And you? You can sit back in your chair and track all of your clients’ payments by navigating to the “Recurring” menu in your dashboard.
Other than being totally awesome, the recurring payments feature has some pretty great perks that are beneficial to both you and your customers.
Improve Customer Relationships
Recurring payments typically lead to fewer late and missing bills. Which hopefully means fewer awkward late-payment conversations with your customers.
Just as customers have the ability to track all their payments in one area, you too, can monitor all of your clients’ payments by clicking over to the “Recurring” menu in your dashboard.
Making regular payments electronically helps to reduce your customers and your organization’s carbon footprint. Have a client who still can’t seem to ditch paper checks? You can spin recurring payments as a choice that not only benefits you, but also the environment.
The Big Picture:
ePayPolicy listens when our customers talk. When we got word that customers like you wanted this feature, we hustled hard to deliver. The bottom line for us – Continue to make insurance payments as easy and friction-less as possible.