Quebec general agents agree to adopt common management softwareBy Jean-Maurice Bouchard | April 20 2002 06:47PM
Managing general agents (MGAs) in Quebec are poised to adopt a common agency management software that will double as an interface with the upcoming Life Companies Central (LCC) project – the initiative looking to develop a quasi-FundServ system for the life insurance industry.
To simplify the selection process and minimize costs, the Quebec MGAs decided to focus on existing technologies rather than investing individually in developing their own in-house solutions.
At a February meeting of Quebec’s MGA association (Association des cabinets gestionnaires de courtage en assurance de personnes du Québec), the key players whittled the options down to two “made in Quebec” solutions. One is the Maestro application, developed by Groupe Cloutier; the other is Ageman software by Modulex.
Association president, Yves Gosselin, insisted that this approach has a single objective: to set events in motion in order to ensure that everyone moves together at a time when everyone is trying to find their way in the world of technology.
Six of one…
According to Mr. Gosselin, the two solutions are just about equivalent. Both are constantly evolving, he added, and they use XML language, a key attribute for eventual connection to LCC.
However, Lise Bouchard, Vice-President of Benoît Bouchard Assurances, a member of the association and present at the February meeting, noted that the two solutions are not fully developed. She acknowledged however that “both are very good software applications.” Which one would she pick? “I really have no preference, but Maestro has one advantage: it has been used for two years, whereas Ageman has not yet been launched.”
“Right now it is the MGAs that will determine the final choice of software. If there is a block of agents that moves in one direction rather than the other, this will orient the market. This choice must be made quickly,” said Mr. Gosselin. For her part, Ms. Bouchard said she plans to decide by late April.
Common front needed
Ms. Bouchard said she considers it important that agents rally around a single solution. “If we want to exert pressure on insurers, there is strength in numbers.”
She hopes to see insurers agreeing to download information directly from MGAs in the near future. She explained that insurers have already turned down Cloutier’s invitation to use its Maestro software. “Insurers told them that they could not modify their system for one agency alone, that it would be preferable to have several players on board. That is partly why we are forming a common front, which means that the competitors (MGAs) may become our partners.”
With both suppliers wanting to occupy the market and both offering a fairly similar software solution, a showdown should be imminent.
Michel Kirouac, Vice-President, Corporate Development at Cloutier, confirmed that his company has met with three MGAs to highlight the virtues of Maestro. A meeting also took place with the software designers to develop a system that would be universally acceptable.
“Originally, this software was designed for us,” Mr. Kirouac explained. “Now we want to try to adapt it according to the orientation and needs of MGAs.”
At press time, The Insurance Journal did not have a reaction from Modulex.
As for the link between Maestro and an eventual information centre, Mr. Kirouac commented that the software application must first serve as a common agency management application used by each agent, then as the technological bridge to the LCC initiative. He predicted that the LCC project will only materialize in two or three years time. “We can’t hold our breath. We have to encourage companies to connect to us well in advance.”
Mr. Kirouac said you have to be realistic. He does not expect that Great-West, Sun Life, Industrial Alliance and Desjardins Financial Security will connect to him. Nor does he believe that MGAs such as Cartier Partners, who are very advanced technologically, will change their system to that of the Cloutier.
Cartier Partners confirmed that neither of the proposed solutions measures up to their expectations. “These types of solutions are a dime a dozen,” says Marcel Gagné, President of the individual insurance division at Cartier Partners, the largest MGA in Quebec. “We have developed an in-house solution, Sextant, a back-office software that lets us communicate with various suppliers and advisors,” he notes.
Cartier Partners has invested considerably in this new technology and is satisfied with its performance. But the door is not completely closed to outside solutions. “I do not think that there are platforms that do everything,” Mr. Gagné says. “You can’t ignore all the suppliers out there. If there are other solutions proposed, we would undoubtedly consider whether they could be integrated into our existing tools.”
As it turns out, Mr. Gagné had accepted the invitation by the Quebec MGA association in late February, but could not attend the meeting because of a last-minute scheduling conflict. Despite his absence, he adds that making a choice at this stage may be premature. “Deciding today may be a good decision, but it means rejecting many solutions that do not necessarily deserve to be tossed aside,” he warns.
Jean-Maurice Bouchard tem for the life insurance industry.