In the insurance industry, client data goes through many different touchpoints, and ownership of it has long been in a tug-of-war between multiple stakeholders: the client, whose information it is; the agency, who collects it; the carrier, who produces policy data; the management system, which stores it; and other third-party technology vendors, who access it.
Client data is one of the most valuable resources that agencies have, and they often don’t realize they’re sharing or even signing away ownership of it to the technology vendors they use. Many of the largest agency management systems and technology providers are being bought out or given investment capital by private equity and big data companies, who spend billions to acquire the aggregated data of the agencies that use them.
So what can your agency do to make sure the technology providers you work with aren’t taking advantage of the data you’ve collected? It’s your duty to advocate for your agency’s ownership of data. “Your agency’s data belongs to you until you grant that ownership to another party,” says Sean Hawkins, Chief Product Officer of HawkSoft agency management system. “Make sure you choose partners you trust to keep your data safe and to keep your data yours.”
3 questions to ask technology partners to clarify who owns your data
Don’t sign an agreement with a technology partner unless they’ve made it clear the agency is the sole owner of their client data. Here are three important questions we recommend you ask when considering a management system or any other technology platform that will house or access your client data.
1. Does the agreement give the vendor ownership of your data?
Most vendors will require you to either sign an agreement or accept their terms and conditions in order to use their product. Before accepting any agreement with a vendor, make sure you understand whether the vendor is entitled to share, sell, or otherwise use your agency’s data without your consent.
If the language is unclear, it could be a red flag that the vendor isn’t willing to grant the agency ownership over their data. Ask the vendor for clarification and make sure that you have their stance in writing before accepting an agreement. If the vendor’s views on data ownership don’t mesh with yours, it may be time to move on.
Also consider who owns or has a stake in the company, and what their motivations could be. If the company has outside investors or has changed ownership recently or many times in the past, the scope of the product and the agreement may change in the future as well. “It’s important for your agency to feel comfortable that you can place your trust in a vendor not only at the moment you sign the agreement, but well into the future,” says HawkSoft’s Chief Marketing Officer, Rushang Shah. “Vendors that are committed to remaining privately owned, like HawkSoft for example, wield the advantage of having fewer stakeholders to answer to besides the agent, so they can focus purely on what’s best for the agent rather than making a quick return on investment.”
2. Is your data tethered to the system if you decide to leave?
True ownership of data means it’s not trapped in one system—an agency should be free to change systems if necessary for their business. But vendors often make it difficult for agencies to leave by locking them into long-term contracts and making it costly and time-consuming for them to get a copy of their own data.
The problems don’t end there. If the new vendor can’t completely convert all the data from the previous system to the new one, agencies may lose valuable data. “Agencies lose the value of their data if they cannot control it,” Chris Burand of Burand & Associates said to Insurance Journal, “and in many cases, the agency can lose value because its data becomes unusable.”
Here are some factors to consider when determining whether a system preserves the autonomy of your data:
- Does the agreement specify a minimum term of use?
- How much notice are you required to give before leaving?
- Can you create a backup of your data in the system at any time?
- How much does the vendor charge for providing a copy of your data if you leave, and how quickly will they provide it?
- What format is the data provided in, and is it easy to manipulate or convert to another system?
- If you are bringing past data to a new vendor, how much will they charge to convert the data, and how long will it take?
Don’t be seduced by vendors that seem to have incredibly low rates, but hit agencies with unreasonably high charges to move their data into or out of the system. “Agencies are sometimes blinded by a low introductory offer for a management system,” says HawkSoft’s VP of Sales, Paul Moyes. “What they may not be taking into account is how costly that decision can become when they are bringing data with them, or when they want to change systems down the road.”
3. Does the vendor allow you to integrate your data with other platforms?
Another important part of data ownership is the ability to connect your client data with other systems that help you run your business, such as marketing automation, review management, raters, and more. Be wary of vendors that say they can meet every need for your agency. No single system does everything an agency needs, because every agency has unique needs. Rather than trying to find one system that “has it all,” focus on systems that behave like platforms: they specialize in what they do best and integrate with other systems to allow you to extend and customize the platform.
One of the best ways technology vendors can facilitate access to client data for other platforms is through API integration. Vendors who offer API integration with a variety of systems demonstrate that they are committed to meeting all the needs of an agency—not just the ones solved by their product.
Torey Maerz, co-founder and CEO of HawkSoft API partner Rocket Referrals, points out that this level of connectivity differentiates the agency as well. “Agents who use tools with open connectivity have an advantage,” he said to HawkSoft. “They can pick the right set of systems for their business to create the best customer experiences—a key differentiator in today’s market.”
Remember that the quality of a vendor’s API partners is just as important as the quantity offered, since the partner will be accessing your policyholders’ data too if enabled. Look for vendors who thoroughly vet their partners and hold them to data practices that are fair to the agency.
HawkSoft’s Director of Partner Integrations, Kenny Hendricks, drives the company’s Partner API program, which currently offers 15 vetted API integrations and is in talks with over 40 more platforms. “The single most important aspect of my job is ensuring we partner with vendors we can trust,” he says, “who are committed to respecting an agency’s ownership of their data as much as we do. Agencies should take the same care in vetting vendors themselves.”
Data is value
Data ownership is an area where it’s imperative for your agency’s values to align with those of your technology partners. Finding partners that respect your agency’s data can mean the difference between maintaining ownership of one of your agency’s most valuable assets, or giving it away for free.
Get more data ownership resources from HawkSoft
Watch our panel webinar with ACT, and download our whitepaper for a data autonomy checklist, legal precedent on data ownership, sample contract language, and a resource list of articles for further reading.
Since 1995, HawkSoft is a leader in management systems for independent insurance agencies that want effective workflows and a delightful experience for staff and policyholders. HawkSoft offers the following promise to insurance agents: your investment in HawkSoft will pay for itself in the first year. Learn more about HawkSoft’s unique father-and-son story here, or request a demo to learn more about our agency management system.
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