Internet shakeup for insurance

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Century-old business makes technical, cultural transition to the Web

Atlantic Mutual Insurance had a void in its product line: Company leaders wanted to sell business policies to high-tech start-ups, but realized it would be cost-prohibitive to develop quotes and issue policies at rates that would appeal to young companies with tight budgets.

So this 150-plus-year-old company turned to the Web to find a new way of doing business. But before it could make the transition, e-commerce leaders within the company had to convince co-workers to take the Internet seriously and adopt a very different approach.

Atlantic Mutual, in Madison, N.J., and business partner Bolton & Company Insurance Brokers, in South Pasadena, Calif., developed InsurePoint, a Web site designed to help growing technology companies buy property, general liability, errors and omissions, and workers' compensation insurance.

Launched in 1997, InsurePoint was more than a change of venue for this established institution. The approach was to "take out routine redundant steps in the process and automate them," says Jeffrey Behm, the Atlantic Mutual e-commerce manager who founded InsurePoint with Robert Davidson, executive vice president of Bolton.

InsurePoint lets prospective customers apply for coverage and pay online using credit cards or CyberCash. As they fill out the Web forms, it populates a SQL Server database. Through their browsers, customers can see when their check has cleared and when the next payment is due.

Givinng customers the power to follow their accounts helps both the customer and the insurance providers.

"You wouldn't believe how many people are devoted to those simple questions, [like] 'hey, did you receive my check?' " Behm says.

But empowering the customer doesn't translate into eliminating agents.

"We involve the agent in everything we do online," Behm says.

InsurePoint assigns each customer a local insurance agent.

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