These days, insurance agents and customers expect anywhere, anytime access to policy information.
Midstate Mutual Insurance Company provides property and casualty insurance in New York State, through insurance products that are sold exclusively through independent agencies located throughout upstate New York. Handling insurance mainly for small businesses, farms, and homeowners, its mission is to provide quality protection and excellent service to policyholders through teamwork with these independent agents and staff.
Regional companies such as Midstate play a vital role in providing insurance in locations and for risks that national carriers are often unable or unwilling to serve. However, despite their smaller size, these companies are faced with the same high demands for information availability and mobile access as larger companies.
To meet escalating information technology requirements and stay successful, Midstate, which this year marks its 135th year in business, has evolved to offer online access at any time, and from any device through separate, dedicated portals for agents and customers.
“Our company has a long history in the community and that is something we really pride ourselves on,” said Greg Jarvis, web applications developer at Midstate, which is a longtime Revelation Software customer.
Need for Web and Mobile Access
Jarvis was recruited 8 years ago by John A. Gaines V, vice president for IT and regulatory issues at Midstate, as part of the company’s effort to bring its vast store of information online and make it more readily available. As part of that process, Gaines and Jarvis have moved the company from Advanced Revelation to OpenInsight, Revelation Software’s flagship platform. The full upgrade to the Windows-based database development environment was completed 3 years ago in 2012.
“The upgrade was a massive undertaking but it allowed us to start getting things online much easier,” Jarvis said. An insurance company such as Midstate is required to not only maintain current data but also large quantities of historical information, noted Jarvis. “At the present time, we have about 14,000 policy holders in total and we have several hundred agents in the state.”
Using OpenInsight and O4W (OpenInsight for Web), Jarvis and Gaines have not only brought all of the company’s information online, but created two separate portals - one for agents (https://agents.midstatemutual.com), and another for policy holders (https://midstatemutual.com).
As a result, customers can accomplish tasks online such as viewing and printing their policies, make payments, and receive alerts for when premiums are due. The application features are all mobile phone- and tablet-friendly. “If someone needs to jump on the website and make a payment at 11:50 at night before their policy expires, they can do that," said Jarvis. "Nothing else has to be done in terms of our accounting department; that data is written directly to OpenInsight.”
The agents’ portal is similar but there is more to it on the back end. It allows agents to log in and evaluate products, create policies, and view and update customers’ account status for their own agency, as well as run live data reports. “That is all OpenInsight interaction. Agents will select their requested report type, fill out any necessary fields and simply click a button. PDFs are then generated on the fly using OpenInsight and O4W,” said Jarvis.
Part of the website coding is done in PHP, and there is a MySQL database back end for some of the basic functionality. MySQL is also used for some of the basic log-in functionality for the agents’ portal because it was built before Midstate had a full operating OpenInsight capability. The customer portal, however, is fully written through O4W and OpenInsight since it was created more recently.
Accessing Data Stored for Decades
While Midstate’s IT staff is small, using OpenInsight, Jarvis and Gaines have been able to create the type of easy-to-use, customer-friendly web presence that is typical of a much larger company. And, particularly in the last 3 years, the website has become much more interactive and useful to Midstate’s agents, Jarvis said.
“In terms of converting the system to OpenInsight and O4W, it took some time but we were able to do part of it in-house and without a sky high cost,” he said. “Revelation has made it so that accessing legacy data has become easy to do. We can rapidly create online features for our insured customers and our agents without major cost because we are not paying for huge groups of consultants or outside contractors to do this work. We do 99% of the programming ourselves, and not only has it proven to be quick and easy, but it has been very, very stable.”
Ready for the Future
Many agents are increasingly using mobile technologies and tablets even when customers come into their offices, so it is important that Midstate has been able to provide a comprehensive web interface, said Jarvis.
“The way the system is set up, we can build a lot of customized features into it,” he noted. “We also have a lot of mobile capabilities built in that we can access as administrators without having to go through a lot of hoops or even be in the office. Because of the ease of use of the technology, we can continue to get new features out quickly. For a company our size, we are keeping pace, and we have received a lot of positive feedback along the way.”