nsurance is a collaborative
industry. The bulk of insurance
sold in the United States is
through intermediaries, often
an independent agent.
Accordingly, carriers and producers have spent a great deal
of time, energy and money on
tools aimed at facilitating their
One new class starting to
bear wider consideration is
social networking tools.
Perhaps more than any other
technology, social networking exemplifies the trend
of the “consumerization” of IT, where, inverting tradition, technologies developed in the consumer market end up being used within the enterprise.
Insurers have, for the past few years, leveraged
consumer-oriented networking platforms such as
Facebook for external purposes. In fact, a quick perusal of Facebook confirms that GEICO’s cavemen and
gecko do not want for online friends and followers.
However, it is precisely this consumer market
pedigree that may give some in the enterprise pause
about incorporating social networking tools into
their technology infrastructures. For valid reasons,
such as perceived loss of message control, there are
companies that are terrified of using Facebook and
The argument advanced is that these technologies
are best suited for the periphery to help in customer-
facing endeavors such as marketing and brand-build-
ing. Accordingly, many proponents of using these
tools within the enterprise bristle at the term “social
networking,” favoring instead the moniker “business
Irrespective of what you call them, these networking
tools designed specifically for the business are beginning to emerge, and promise to drive deeper into the
enterprise. “The big question is: How do we—or do
we—integrate social networking into our platforms?”
says Craig Lowenthal, EVP and CIO at New York
Marine and General Insurance Co. (NYMAGIC).
Indeed, the challenges around adopting social
networking tools in the enterprise center largely on
integration. This need for networking tools to complement existing solutions has not been ignored by
vendors, says Jeff Goldberg, senior analyst at Boston-based Celent, noting that many vendors offer comprehensive suites of collaboration tools as part of
their core system offerings.
“You’ll see many vendors that sell agent portals
and policy administration systems build this func-
tionality into that,” he says. “There already are ven-
dors that have mini-social networks built into their
While these baked-in solutions may be an entic-
ing option for carriers already undergoing a mod-
ernization push, there are many point or hosted solu-
tions of which carriers can avail themselves to
achieve social networking functionality without
replacing existing systems or infrastructures.
Companies such as Washington, D.C.-based
Present.ly and San Francisco-based Yammer Inc. offer
micro-blogging tools expressly designed for enter-
“The big question is:
How do we—or do
networking into our
- Craig Lowenthal, NYMAGIC
WHERE AND HOW
With viable business networking tools readily available, the question then becomes where best to
deploy them. “Carriers are using the tools in two
ways: for carriers to communicate with agents and
for agents to communicate among themselves,”
Thus far, the most prominent examples exist of
the latter. Using Web-based technology from Palo
Alto, Calif.-based Ning Networks, carriers such as
Columbus Ohio-based Nationwide Mutual Insurance
Co. and Los Angeles-based Farmers Insurance Group
have created networking sites expressly for agents.
The agent-only networks afford users a forum to
form groups, interact with other agents, browse profiles and form friendships over common interests. It
is the self-organization engendered by these tools
that make them so effective, proponents say.
Goldberg says underwriters also could benefit
from this type of networking. “For example, an
underwriter could add requirements to certain types
of policies and have them show up immediately on
others’ desktops,” he says.
However, using business technology tools to catalyze the much more complex relationship between
agent and underwriter brings both cultural and operational challenges.
“It’s not as straight forward as adopting a technology,” NYMAGIC’s Lowenthal admits.
With both carriers and producers heavily invested
in systems to facilitate their relationship, push-back
against new technologies can come from both the
business and IT sides. While social networking tools
may provide an ideal avenue to elicit input from producers, they lack the functionality found in modern