In the group insurance industry, there are many industry specific complexities that must be considered when it comes to creating technology solutions that really work.
One of these complexities is the request for proposal (RFP) process, which today is still widely done via email. However, the current status quo is a painstaking, error-prone process with turnaround times taking days, or even weeks. So how can carriers in the group benefits industry manage thousands of email RFPs, while increasing their speed to market?
In this post, we’ll highlight the problems brokers and carriers have with email RFPS, and how carriers can seek to improve their process with modern solutions.
Providing insight on the topic are Garrett Viggers, Co-founder, VP of Innovation and Product Evangelist at Limelight Health; a leading sales & underwriting SaaS solution for group insurance carriers, and Ryan Sachtjen; Co-founder of WatchTower, a multi-carrier RFP solution supporting the group ecosystem.
What Are Email RFPs, and Why Are They So Difficult to Manage?
A “Request for Proposal” (RFP) is a request from a broker asking a carrier to quote various employee benefit plan options for a group.
In today’s industry, these are sent via email and typically contain the broker’s requested plan options, current plan information for the group, and census data on the group’s employees. Thousands of individual emails coming in with quote requests all in different formats, many missing information, can make the intake process overwhelming for even the most experienced RFP intake specialists.
Brokers and carriers each face a unique set of challenges when it comes to managing email RFPs.
The Burden for Brokers
During peak times throughout the year for the group benefits industry, the volume of email RFPs being sent by brokers increases tenfold.
This causes an overload on the carrier side, as RFP intake specialists, underwriters, and sales representatives struggle to meet the high demand and churn out quotes. Some core group life and disability carriers receive as many as 100,000 (or more) RFPs per year with high volume spikes for January 1st and July 1st effective dates.
These quotes may have errors due to the carrier’s inability to place the necessary focus on each individual RFP. The burden of scouring these quotes for any issues line by line then falls to the broker.
As a result, many brokers end up dedicating valuable time to reviewing quotes for accuracy. Some may even need to hire a third party resource to do so. Either way, brokers end up adding time, frustration, and extra expense to their end of the process. Therefore, carriers that deliver quotes with potential issues are more costly for brokers to do business with, making them a less appealing option for brokers to offer.
The Challenge for Carriers
On the carrier side, RFP intake specialists are inundated with email RFPs in different formats which don’t always provide complete information.
Carriers face the challenge of coming up with multiple intake solutions to handle various types of email RFPs, and manually responding to clarify disorganized or not in good order (NIGO) information.
Ryan Sachtjen shares, “My experience when I was on the carrier side, [was] that it [was] an ongoing challenge and battle of; how do I make sure that I’m getting good information from my…partners? How do I make sure they’re giving me the information so that I can help produce a better outcome for them in terms of my proposal back? And it is a constant game of trying to do whatever you can to optimize for that workflow.”
These continuous changes to optimize workflow can drain valuable staff time, and make it difficult for teams to follow constantly shifting protocols.
Solutions for Managing Email RFPs and Speeding Up Turnaround Time
In order for carriers to do more business and work more easily with brokers, strategic technology solutions for managing email RFPs must be implemented. This can help to expedite RFP turnaround times, as well as improve carrier/broker relationships. According to a 2020 Novarica Report, many insurer IT budgets are shifting to prioritize digital capabilities, operational efficiency, and reduced operational risk.
Garrett Viggers and Ryan Sachtjen weighed in on the top RFP email management solutions for carriers hoping to increase their speed to market.
1. Standardizing Plans to Simplify
While small group medical has become somewhat standardized to fall in line with metallic ACA plans, small group ancillary services still remain largely customizable. Mid market and large market groups offer custom plans for medical, with manual rating (mid market) and experience rating (large market.)
This customization means carriers could have a myriad of different plan options to quote on any given email RFP. Plan standardization in this area can help to simplify the rating and quoting process, and ultimately result in a faster RFP turnaround time. Sachtjen says the central question here is, “How can we standardize to optimize for speed?”
Viggers notes that moving toward a greater level of plan standardization won’t come easy as it’s often difficult to sell canned plans that don’t match current plan designs. On the other hand, standardized plans can drive both value and efficiency in the event that no current coverage is in force.
He says, “Even if it’s faster and it’s better, it’s changing the way that both carrier and broker are used to it….The effort to actually change this process requires collaborative leadership, both from the carrier’s perspective, as well as [the] broker.”
2. Optimizing Carrier/Broker Workflow (Via Integration)
Carriers are constantly working to improve their workflows with brokers. But this proves difficult when the RFP process takes place exclusively through disorganized email chains over weeks or months.
Creating an easier, freer flow of information being shared between carriers and brokers is essential to decreasing turnaround times. The improved workflow also gives employees the opportunity to spend time on the things that matter most, at work and in their personal lives.
One of the top ways to optimize this workflow is to begin using modern software solutions for the group insurance industry. These software solutions are designed to facilitate communication and workflow between carriers and brokers, and provide a mutually beneficial user experience.
Sachtjen says, “You then improve the experience for both parties, and that workflow just becomes something that actually works for everybody.”
3. Utilizing Automation and Machine Learning
Looking at how most life, disability, and worksite group carriers receive and process quote requests today, it is clear how manual the current process is.
Carriers receive unstructured emails, oftentimes with multiple documents from brokers that must then be manually extracted and reentered into a separate system. This often means inputting data twice; once in a CRM such as Salesforce, and a second time in a quoting and underwriting engine or spreadsheet.
Much of this process will be automated by leveraging machine learning to train a model that runs through tens of thousands of previous broker email RFPs. This would enable the model to understand broker requests, the differences between brokers, and what missing information still needs to be provided in order to quote the desired products.
The same type of technology will also be utilized to automate plan design creation to quote.
Many times the RFP includes a current coverage contract or booklet that could be anywhere from fifty to one-hundred pages. The foundational plan design to quote starts with matching up the exact benefits for each product line and going line-by-line through that fifty page contract booklet to manually hand-stitch a plan design to quote.
Garrett Viggers says, “As you can imagine, this is not the most efficient experience for the RFP intake specialist, nor the broker who ends up receiving a quote with potential errors as plans may not fully match up with the customer’s current coverage.”
In this case, a machine learning model could be trained to extract and translate all plan design elements from any incoming file that contains current coverage details.
The Ultimate Solution for Managing Email RFPs; Modernization
While there are many steps carriers can take to manage their email RFPs more successfully, the central theme is to modernize by adopting comprehensive technology solutions. The group industry is one of the last verticals of insurance to modernize, and cross the bridge of digital transformation.
This is a necessary shift for carriers hoping to significantly decrease turnaround times, improve relationships with brokers, and make manual errors a thing of the past. Garrett Viggers notes that while this change is certainly achievable, it will require a team effort, “It takes a village to raise up the group industry in a modern and integrated ecosystem.”
To hear more from Garrett Viggers and Ryan Sachtjen on modern solutions for managing email RFPs to speed turnaround times, check out their GroupTech Talks Podcast episode.
Garrett Viggers, Co-founder and creative force behind the Limelight platform, has worked in the employee benefits industry since 2002, driving product and modern tech innovation from the genesis of Consumer Driven Health to the Affordable Care Act. Garrett presents to many group carriers on the strategic path to insurtech success. He is an innovator in quoting, underwriting, renewal and decision support tools and continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in the group ecosystem.