Episode 038 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Document Management: When To Store And When To Let The Carrier Handle It


In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan take another look at document management, this time by focusing on what accounts for so much of its complexity and what you can do about it. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • How the voluminous exchange of documents between you and the carrier is slowing you down
  • How to relieve your agency of a massive amount of work by leveraging the Real-Time feature of your agency management system
  • Why it’s not a good idea to keep a document forever

Much of our time as agents and brokers goes to downloading documents our carriers send us. You would think there’d be a streamlined, universal procedure to this by now, but there’s not. Steve can think of at least six ways carriers typically send documents to agencies. Email attachments are routine despite being shockingly unsafe (5:40). A more cautious method is to link the agency to the carrier’s secure portal, but consider what this entails: agents need to sign in, find the document they need, rename it to match agency conventions, select the folder to store it in, and remember where to find it later.

If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, try to multiply it for every document, every carrier, and every client. We talk a great deal about operational excellence here at The Digital Broker. When we talk about operational inefficiency, a desktop with a hundred PDF’s on it comes to mind.

Did you know that much of this work is unnecessary? (11:10) At the very least, it’s optional. Holding official records of a policy is the carrier’s responsibility, not yours. If you could retrieve the policy from a carrier without involving your own document management system, you could relieve your agency of an incredible amount of work. This is precisely what the Real-Time feature (aka TransactNOW for Vertafore products) of many agency management systems enables you to do. Many of the documents your agency needs are just a couple of clicks away from the carrier’s database, which is the most accurate.

You shouldn’t forfeit your document management system altogether—it is wise to retain it for the consumer-facing quickness, not to mention the E&O requirement—but you can leverage Real Time to cut out much of your agency’s documentation work and leave it with the carrier. This is especially suitable for the management of Personal Lines, whose volume accounts for so much of the complexity you’re trying to be rid of. Now you’re free to do a better job storing and maintaining documents in Commercial Lines, where the number of accounts is typically a fraction of Personal’s.

Real Time is not without its own operational challenges (14:25). Some carriers aren’t in the habit of using it, which discourages many agencies: why should we use it when so many of our carriers don’t? We recommend going the other way with it. After you’ve established that Real Time saves your agency time and money, give precedence to the carriers who are using it and invite the others to do the same or you can’t do business with them since they’re costing you time and money. Don’t underestimate your influence as an agency. Carriers will do your bidding if you leverage the change you want to see.

Besides efficiency, there are other benefits to letting the carrier hold some documents for you. We dedicated an entire episode to how a document should be stored—it’s just as important to consider how long your agency ought to keep it (20:14). Many agents would say “forever,” because, why not? Well, a couple of very good reasons.

As an agency, you’re legally liable to produce some documents when they’re requested from you. In some cases, you might have to turn over documents dating back decades. This is complex from a logistical point of view, as different documents come in all kinds of formats and file extensions. The onus of putting them all together and deciphering them used to be on the other party. But in 2006, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were changed, and now you’re the one who must ensure that every document you provide is readable from the get-go. It follows that the fewer the documents you need to turn over, the less of a burden this becomes.

But there’s another, more colossal danger to hoarding documents indefinitely. Much of what you have on file probably doesn’t concern a policy but nonetheless contains sensitive information about your clients. Think of all the scanned checks, voided checks, credit card data, direct deposit payments, etc. What happens if your system is hacked? (22:32) The more documents you hoard, the likelier a target you become of data breaches—and the bigger the damage to your agency if that happens. Which documents can you afford to purge as soon as you can? What do the laws say in every state where you service clients concerning the minimum amount of time you’re obligated to retain documents?

Those are questions you must put to a qualified legal specialist. What we’re here to tell you is to begin those conversations now. Be proactive in protecting your clients and reducing your liability exposure. These are not the kinds of conversations you want to postpone.

Speaking of conversations, we just created a LinkedIn group where you can talk to Steve and Ryan about what you hear on this show. Do you have any horror stories of your own to share about document management? Do you have experience using Real Time, and what have you learned about it? Do you have a question for Ryan or Steve that you would like to hear addressed on a future episode? We want to hear from you. Join us here.

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