SunLife extranet to woo insurance brokers

Network World |  Security

WELLESLEY HILLS, MASS. -- In a move it hopes will give it a competitive edge and hold down costs, SunLife Financial is opening its internal network to Web access so approximately 10,000 insurance brokers can more quickly and easily share customer claims data with SunLife.

"We want to make it easier for insurance brokers to do business with us instead of our competitors," says Lazz McKenzie, SunLife's vice president of worldwide network technologies and strategies. McKenzie said the insurance company is in a race to win the loyalty of brokers who are free to pick and choose which insurance companies to represent.

By providing the Web extranet, which SunLife will do through servers it is hosting at its Toronto data facility with T-3 access lines, SunLife will make it possible for insurance brokers to obtain information they need without having to phone SunLife's call center. In Webifying its business process, SunLife plans to be able to expand its business without having to add expensive call center resources.

If the first phase of the Web extranet proceeds smoothly, SunLife will also eventually let the policyholders themselves -- an estimated 200,000 individuals -- gain access to the SunLife network to view the status of accounts.

The problem corporate customers face in setting up extranets is that they must let other business or customer entities enter their corporate VPN, and yet maintain security. Each member of the extranet wants to share resources but also maintain its security.

Key to SunLife's plan is installing Netegrity's SiteMinder server as the Web access control and authentication server for its new extranet. SiteMinder will check each broker's identity and then restrict access to information available on the databases inside the SunLife LAN. The insurance brokers are expected to start using the SunLife extranet in January as a way to enter new sales information and obtain reports immediately without having to phone in the information or wait to have data faxed or mailed to them.

To enter the SunLife extranet, each broker will be given a unique password and ID that Netegrity SiteMinder -- which will reside on a dedicated server behind the Netscape Web front end SunLife uses -- will check for validity.

The authentication process will be limited to just a basic password at first, says Donna Nelson-Duey, SunLife's assistant vice president for e-commerce. "But we are looking at how we could use digital certificates with SiteMinder." Digital certificates bind a user's identity to a unique public-key certificate, and are widely viewed as more secure than simple passwords, which are more easily compromised.

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