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9/7/2011
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Prudential Financial Shifts Toward Paperless Insurance Processes

By digitizing a back-office process, it sped up work and laid a foundation to make other steps paperless. One in a series of profiles of InformationWeek 500 innovators.

Issuing a life insurance policy is a notoriously slow and paper-intensive process. The application is several pages long, agents or brokers create several multipage illustrations to explain to customers how a policy works, and then the final policy can run into the dozens of sheets, which face review, revision, and reprinting.

No wonder industry players are experimenting with how to digitize pieces of the life insurance process, to cut costs, delays, and environmental impact. While many are targeting the sales and distribution end--for example, John Hancock and Aflac have created iPad applications to replace pulpy illustrations and sales presentations--Prudential Financial has attacked the behind-the-scenes process. By doing so, with a new process called ePreview, the company is moving closer to creating a paperless policy issuance process through the entire sales cycle.

"EPreview was initiated through our operations area, and it provides some immediate improvement and efficiency in the work that they do," says Teresa Anderson, Prudential's director of project management. "But it also lays the foundation for some strategic plans."

Originally, Prudential's systems processed all new policies from agents or brokers (known as producers) overnight in one batch. The polices were printed, and the operations department did all its review on paper the following morning. The problem: If changes were needed to the terms, or there were errors, the paper version had to be printed again in full with the next nightly batch, for another review the following morning. "Before, policies that were not printed the way the producer wanted could've taken several days to fix," Anderson says. EPreview creates a PDF of a policy immediately after the underwriting department's approval, so operations can review this digital version the same day.

Creating this capability took integration and middleware changes to access data in Prudential's mainframes and servers, including its underwriting, policy output, imaging and workflow, illustration, and customer communications platforms.

The changes mostly involved exporting data to PDFs and handling ePreview notifications. The IT team changed the underwriting portal for agents and brokers to allow requests for electronic previews and handle the response. IT also changed messaging in the WebSphere middleware layer to support new communications between the portal and back-end systems.

It's that kind of integration--between the portals and digital publishing tools to legacy systems--that lays the groundwork for digitizing more of the process. "Outputs that were created in three applications needed to be merged into three PDFs," Anderson says. "Since we did this with that process, we think we're definitely going to be able to use it with other projects as well."

To develop the ePreview interface, Prudential's IT team did rapid prototypes in collaboration with business users of the system. Once they agreed on an interface, the team built the system and started ramping up over several months the number of cases it handled. In fact, the project team piggybacked on another change: Prudential had introduced a new version of its life insurance application that it was rolling out by geography, so the team decided to use ePreview only for apps coming in on the new form.

The digital processing is paying off, having reduced cycle times by 20%, Anderson reports.

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