How the Lack of Innovation Hurts our Industry

In April 2014 we celebrate the 10th anniversary of signing our first customer.  EZLynx has come a long way in that decade and, much against the wishes of some vested industry players, we have established ourselves as a successful, credible vendor in the industry. There is only one reason why EZLynx was able to accomplish this – innovation!

At EZLynx, we have always taken pride in delivering inventive solutions for vexing agency problems. I am proud of the culture of innovation we foster and encourage within the organization.  Unfortunately, looking at the industry as a whole, these 10 years have made clear why innovation in our industry is almost non-existent.

Now one of the easiest ways to encourage progressive thinking in any business is through competition and by encouraging new vendors to enter the marketplace. However, there hasn’t been any new vendor make a significant impact in our industry since EZLynx made headlines. This is a regrettable reflection on the status quo, and it will have a significant long term impact for us collectively.  Encouraging fresh ideas industry-wide is key to improving the situation, and to do this it’s important to understand first what it takes to cultivate innovation. The three fundamental requirements to do this are: open data standards, de-regulated industry and a culture of risk taking which encourages new ideas.

With our industry significantly regulated now and for the near future, it must be understood that we have to accept this as an obstacle towards originality. Indeed most well-known venture capitalists generally shy away from regulated industries because of this difficulty.  It signifies the unpredictable nature of our industry, which leads to an unpredictable ROI.   This has contributed to the lack of innovation, but for certain it has not destroyed it.

This leads us towards our second point, creating a culture of risk taking and fresh thinking.  While the business of risk management is traditionally averse to taking risks, permitting this attitude to prevail often creates apathy toward new technology and shying away from new ideas.  In addition, the depth of domain knowledge needed to create new products plays a huge role in deterring new vendors from entering the industry.  As with regulation, this factor is significant but isn’t fully responsible for the innovation problem.  I still believe that with a compelling product, built on a powerful idea, a new vendor can still establish themselves amongst us.  EZLynx is a good example of this!

With regard to open data standards, I encourage you to take a look at most other industries, especially finance, and you’ll see that the data exchange standards are very well defined. Ours also has defined standards, thanks to ACORD’s efforts, but regrettably most do not seem to follow or respect the standards. When we work with carriers for rating integration, one of their constant complaints is that EZLynx is a stickler to the standards, while other vendors are not, which slows down implementation with us. Our answer is always the same – standards are created to be followed. I do wish other vendors and carriers would make the same commitment to diligently following standards.  Imagine how much farther ahead we would be as an industry by now!

In the short term this non-compliance strengthens the existing big players, which is why the incentive to follow standards will not be spearheaded by them. In the long term this hurts who we all serve, which is the customer through our agency channel.  Standards compliance is, and must be, driven by companies like ours, with important help from Carriers too.

Finally, I want to mention some contributing efforts EZLynx is making to encourage new vendors. We announced a new EZLynx Marketplace concept in 2012, which allows third party vendors to integrate with our product and offer their services to our customers. As part of this architecture we introduced four new products in 2013 – eSignature, Lead Management, Policy Accounting and Bulk Email Campaigns. We will continue to promote this concept in 2014 to bring more vendors to our Marketplace platform. I strongly urge all of you to make a New Year’s commitment to follow the industry standards and encourage innovation – our industry will be better for it.


EZLynx Roadmap for 2014

It is that time of the year when we reflect on our previous year’s resolutions and make new resolutions for the coming year. I want to start with a quick review of last year’s resolution first followed by new resolutions for 2014. There are four areas of the industry I focused on in our EZLynx Roadmap for 2013. Below is an end of the year update on each one of the focus areas.

A look back at 2013…

Consumers and Mobile

We made tremendous progress with both of these focus areas in 2013. We started the year with a new version of our consumer facing product EZLynx Client Center. This product allows our EZLynx Management System customers to add a consumer login to their agency website, allowing consumers to print policy related documents like ID card, proof of insurance, etc. and also to request policy changes. We also released our new mobile friendly version of EZLynx Consumer Quoting mid-year. This product enables consumers visiting an agency web site to use their smart phone or tablet to obtain live quotes in a mobile friendly screen. We have two other mobile products scheduled for delivery before end of this year – a mobile version of EZLynx Client Center, and an update to our mobile version of EZLynx.

Agency in a Box

Agency in a Box has been a philosophy of our product design from day one. It is our goal, one day, to offer a solution to our agents that manages the entire agency customer life cycle. We have been focused on agency policy servicing features for the last two years. We made considerable progress with expanding our commercial support in EZLynx Management System in 2013. We delivered two big pieces for commercial agencies this past year – Premium Trust Accounting and Certificate Management. Both of these solutions are feature rich and I really encourage you to visit our website or talk to one of our sales people for more details.

EZLynx Marketplace

We delivered four third-party products in 2013 under the EZLynx Marketplace architecture. We started the year with a fully integrated eSignature app, followed by a Lead Management integration app mid-year, and before the end of this year we will be delivering Bulk Campaigns under the umbrella of our EZLynx Marketing Campaigns product, and finally, EZLynx Accounting will be officially launched in January.  You can find more details about all EZLynx Marketplace apps here.

Agency Management for the new digital age

We are confident that we have laid a strong foundation for EZLynx Management System to date. Our product has been fully cloud based from day one so you can work with the management system from any place on any system and any device. One of the best features we implemented in 2013 is our monthly Agency Pulse report. This report summarizes, every month via an email, some of the key metrics about your organization. These metrics include total written premium, personal lines to commercial lines ratio, policies per customer, premium per customer, carrier retention ratio, agency and producer close ratio, and more. You can find more information about Agency Pulse here.

Looking ahead to 2014…

Now it’s time for me to make some resolutions for 2014. I have several wish list items that I personally want to accomplish this coming year. This list is quite exhaustive, so I will try and stick to 3 big items or focus areas that we will be tackling in 2014.

Agency Analytics and Agency Metrics (Agency top line feature)

We believe our industry is experiencing a paradigm shift that requires agents to be opportunistic about how and where they focus their efforts in order to increase their top line revenue. Agency analytics is one of the ways a well thought out management system can guide agents in increasing their top line revenue. Our EZLynx Agency Pulse report, implemented earlier this year in EZLynx, is a simple first step of a much larger analytics implementation that will be rolled out in the first half of next year to improve our EZLynx Management System customers’ top line. Please stay tuned because we have some exciting new products and services announcements to make in the next year regarding agency analytics that should help you dramatically improve your top line numbers.

Agency Process Automation (Agency bottom line feature)

It is no longer enough to improve the top line at an agency without improving the bottom line at the same time. We will be enhancing several existing EZLynx Management System features in 2014 to streamline agency processes and to improve agency profitability. Once again please stay tuned because we have some exciting changes coming in the first half of next year which should help you dramatically improve your bottom line numbers.

Commercial Support

We are very confident with the level of support that we have built into EZLynx Management System for personal lines agencies. We feel it is time for us to focus more on features that a big commercial lines agency would desire. We hope to build several new features in this area for 2014. Due to competitive reasons I would be hesitant to discuss this in detail other than to simply say that much more is coming soon.

Outside of these three major focus areas, we will continue to push forward with more mobile features, more consumer facing features, more marketplace applications, and providing the same level of customer support that we pride ourselves on. As you can see we have a big list of projects and ideas for 2014. I am really excited about the coming year, and I hope you are as excited as I am to be a part of the EZLynx family. I am predicting 2014 to be a break out year for EZLynx Management System.

Thanks for a great year!

Before I sign off, I want to thank all our hard working staff at EZLynx, especially our product support team, for their dedicated effort to serve you every day. I encourage you to send them complimentary emails whenever they provide you with excellent service. I also encourage you to contact me directly if there is something that is bothering you about our company or product. I will be more than glad to reply and have a conversation with you.

Thanks you for being our customer and have a safe and happy holidays and a happy new year!

 


Lax Compliance with Industry Standards is Hurting our Industry

For those of you who know me or have talked to me personally, you know this has been one of my industry pet peeves for quite a while.  For those of you who don’t know me, here is a little background on this subject.

EZLynx was initially designed to work in real-time with carrier quoting systems and bring back a plurality of rates from multiple carriers within five minutes. By now it is a well-accepted fact that, without our efforts to push independent agents towards real-time rating, our industry would have probably suffered a lot more attrition to direct and captive writers. We quickly realized that in order for us to make an impact in this industry, it was absolutely essential for us to effect the customer lifecycle management by agencies.  Some of the problems our agents are struggling with, such as low productivity, data duplication, and legacy management systems, are well known and documented. As a result, we decided to create a forward thinking management system that would solve some of these basic agency problems and improve the agency’s bottom line while doing so.

We started selling EZLynx Management System in January 2012, and have already made a considerable impact in the marketplace by offering a viable and affordable alternative to outdated management system products. Today our management system supports more than 200 carriers, and it has been an educating experience for our team, and me personally, on the poor compliance of industry standards by the carriers. It is unfortunate that other management system vendors have decided to use the lack of compliance as a way to monopolize the market by building proprietary solutions, and thus lock agents into proprietary systems. I have come to the conclusion that carriers’ lack of compliance with industry standards has, and will, cause long term damage to the survivability of our industry. It will result in agents spending more time doing mundane and repetitive agency tasks, and falling further behind in offering the leading edge service customers are receiving from direct and captive writers.

For example, one of the solutions we offer is a customer-facing policy self-servicing feature incorporated into the agency’s website. EZLynx Client Center, which is available to agents who subscribe to EZLynx Management System, enables an agency’s customers to review policy information, print policy documents like ID cards, request policy changes, and more. One of the core requirements for this is data integrity and accuracy. We recently discovered that one of our download carriers is sending an incorrect AL3 code for uninsured motorist coverage, which when translated as per the AL3 specification, turns out to be underinsured coverage. Now imagine our Client Center displaying this data incorrectly to the customer and the E&O consequences that would follow! We have many examples like this that give us pause about exposing carrier downloaded AL3 data to consumers. If you are wondering, this particular carrier refused to fix the problem when approached by us!

In the long run, our industry and the agents will suffer if we cannot provide customer self-servicing features to their customers. Carriers interested in the issues we have identified for your company should feel free to contact your EZLynx Carrier Representative for details. I hope I have made a strong case as to why it is important for our industry to follow the standards. Our industry bodies like ACORD have done a tremendous amount of good work in defining these standards, but it is unfortunate that carriers have not also done a good job of complying with these standards. It is not too late, so I strongly urge you to work with us in solving this problem. When one of our employees approach you with download data issues, please work with us to fix the problem, so we can enable our agents to succeed in the marketplace.


EZLynx Roadmap for 2013 – Mid-Year Update

A Note from the CEO – 95% EZLynx Customer Satisfaction Rating

First off, I want to thank all our customers for their overwhelming approval of EZLynx. Once again, for 8th year in a row, 95% of our customers said they would recommend EZLynx to someone they know. Our deepest thanks for all the faith and confidence you have in us. Our employees work very hard to make this happen and we are excited to see such numbers even as our company grows.

I made some business commitments in January 2013 newsletter and I thought I would follow up with a mid-year update on these commitments. We are still focused on 3 different areas for 2013 – mobile support, more consumer facing features and agency productivity. I am happy to say that we have delivered a little bit towards each of these goals.

We delivered our version 2 of consumer facing client center which allows for your customers not only to print policy documents like ID card but also to request policy changes. This product is on a good path and the next step for this product is to mobile enable the same.

On the mobile front end, we delivered our first version of Consumer Quoting Mobile in the first half of this year. This version allows consumers, visiting your site, to finish their quotes on a mobile device as effortlessly as on a desktop computer. If you happen to be one of our customers with our website product then your customers should experience a seemless mobile experience including the website and the quoting.

Finally, just last week we delivered our fully integrated eSignature feature within EZLynx. This feature will allow our users to send any PDF document, including all the ones available inside EZLynx and any carrier documents, to your customers for a quick signature. We really believe this should significantly improve agent productivity within EZLynx and also compliance with carrier and state laws to always obtain certain signed documents.


A Note from the CEO about Competition

We at EZLynx have always taken a lot of pride in our products. We let our products speak for themselves in the marketplace, and we rarely, if ever, highlight the weaknesses of our competitor’s products during our pre-sales with prospects. We have always believed in selling our products based on their own merits.

Unfortunately, one of our competitors likes to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubts) about EZLynx when they talk to our customers either by email or phone. Even though we are confident that our customers are smarter and know better than to listen to such cheap sales tactics, we thought it was important to bring this to your attention.

If you receive an email or a phone call from this competitor talking about EZLynx, please do not hesitate to check with our staff on the accuracy of this information. Our people will be more than happy to address any doubts or fears being spread by this competitor.

I sincerely hope our industry, and this vendor in particular, let their products and features do the talking in the market so the agents can decide who has a better product!

On a different note, June is our annual customer satisfaction survey month. This is a tradition that goes back 7 years at EZLynx and we really look forward to the results of the survey. We are extremely proud of the fact that our product satisfaction has not dropped below 95% in the last 7 years! Please be sure to take the survey when you see one and let your voice be heard.


EZLynx Roadmap for 2013

A Note from the CEO

First, a look back…

Consumer TrendsWe are coming up on 10 years since EZLynx was first released, and we are proud of what we have accomplished in this short period of time.  Our focus for the first few years was to offer our agents a competitive real-time tool to fight the assault from direct writers and captives.  This tool was the first of its kind and agents were quick to recognize its value.  Within a year of its release EZLynx was the must-have tool for any agent serious about competing for new business in the market.

Noticing a shifting trend in consumer behavior, we next started focusing on consumer quoting through an agent’s website.  Once again, like with real-time rating, the market felt there was no need for consumer-facing rating.  Within a span of one year, as consumers started doing more commerce on the internet, it became obvious to our agents that having consumer-facing rating is not only a traffic driver, it was also saving them time.  The consumer was entering their information themselves, so agents were spending less time playing phone tag to get the consumers information and less time on data entry.

The next logical step for us after helping make an agent’s website useful to their non-customers was to extend that functionality to their current customers to include policy servicing online.  Our agents who are subscribed to the EZLynx Client Center can give their customers the ability to log in from their website, view their policy details, print ID cards, and request changes. All of our consumer-facing products have two goals – add convenience for the consumer and give independent agents the tools they need to compete with the online services being offered by direct writers.

In working with our agents, we were acutely aware of how dependent they are on their management systems.  It became obvious to us that to make a lasting impact on this industry we needed to address this serious problem.  While the rest of the world is talking about cloud computing on tablet devices, agents are still paying for old software products installed on an expensive office network that can only be accessed from a Desktop PC.

Beginning about 2 years ago, EZLynx began laying the foundation for what has become EZLynx Management System.  We started selling the product in January 2012 and have already made a dramatic impact with our early adopters.

All of this leads to the big question – where are we going with our products and what is our immediate vision for 2013.  Before the hustle and bustle of the holidays next month, we wanted to give you a high level overview of our vision for 2013.

Looking forward…

Mobile TrendsConsumers and Mobile are like two peas in a pod.  It’s hard to separate one from the other.  Our next version of EZLynx Client Center, due for release in early January 2013, will be a full featured client servicing center with support for printing policy documents, requesting policy changes, and more.  We are focused on enabling all of our consumer-facing products for mobile in 2013, including our Consumer Quoting, so that when consumers visit your website on their mobile device, they can easily complete the quoting process.  Our data shows that consumers are already starting to do this.

Looking ForwardAgency in a Box may sound cliché, but with EZLynx it really summarizes what we are trying to accomplish.  We have been working hard over the past few years to put together an all-encompassing suite of products and solutions that give our agents the tools they need to be competitive and keep costs down. Agents will be able to manage the full customer lifecycle from beginning to end with EZLynx Agency Websites, Consumer Quoting, Rating Engine, Management System, Marketing Campaigns, and Client Center.  Truly an agency in a box!

Third party applications will be featured prominently in 2013.  EZLynx Marketplace will enable some important third party vendors to become part of our platform to add key features to our product.  Some of these apps that are already in the works include lead management, specialized email marketing tools, e-signature vendors, and more.  EZLynx Marketplace, when fully implemented, will allow agents to start with EZLynx as the core platform and add other products a la carte to meet their unique agency needs or add a suite of products in discounted packages.  If you own a mobile device, it’s a concept you’re already familiar with.

Agency Management for the digital age is what we are trying to build with our product.  EZLynx Management System has been cloud-based from day one, and it’s tablet-friendly for anytime, anywhere access.  It already has full download support for all lines of business, both personal and commercial.  2013 will see EZLynx Management System continue to grow into a product that can meet the needs of our agents in this digital, mobile world.

2013 and beyond…

2013 and BeyondWe are confident that the next 10 years are going to be better than the first 10, and we are excited to continue this journey with all of you.  The problems – and the opportunities – our industry is facing are huge.  We will continue to push the boundaries from our end and hope to have your support as we work together to build a product that meets the needs of both agents and consumers alike.