Associated Insurance Agency
- Based in Central Ohio (7 locations).
- Founded in 1923
- 30% commercial and 70% personal
“With our old provider, we felt like a number. It’s huge just to have someone you can call with questions, and they’re readily available. It has been the communication and the service provided that has made SIS stand out. It’s the quality of the people involved. You can’t find that in a big name provider.”
You could say insurance is in Bill Bishop’s blood. He grew up watching his father move up the ranks at Motorists Mutual Insurance, eventually becoming CEO and Chairman of the Board. Bill has his own success story: His journey has taken him from one location with a single employee to seven locations and 50 employees throughout Central Ohio.
We talked with Bill about his path to success, and why he chose Partner XE and Strategic Insurance Software (SIS) as his companions. Read our full conversation below.
Your family has been in the insurance business for years. Tell us a little about your history in the industry.
Bill I definitely grew up in insurance. My father has worked in the insurance industry his whole life. He started off at the entry level with Motorists Mutual and worked his way up to CEO and Chairman of the Board. I got involved in 1997 when I bought a small, local agency with only one employee. Now we have seven locations and close to 50 employees. We’ve certainly come far.
How did you get connected with Strategic Insurance Software (SIS)?
Bill: SIS was referred to us for an insurance quote. We were actually looking for them to become our client, and ended up writing their commercial coverage. That was about five years ago. We’ve been in partnership ever since.
You switched to another provider at one point, then came back to SIS. What prompted this change?
Bill: We had SIS back when it was still owned by State Auto. At that time, the (SEMCI Partner) system couldn’t keep up with our rapid growth plan. We were simply outgrowing the services. One of the big name providers approached us, and they had some of the capabilities we were looking for, like integrated accounting. They told us they could provide all the things we needed to grow the agency. The one thing they didn’t tell us was how difficult they’d be to work with once we became a client.
What was it that finally pushed you to seek a new provider?
Bill: Like I said, our old system had the capabilities, but the service was poor. Every time we had an issue, we had to talk to a screen. When we did get ahold of somebody, the service was mediocre. If we had issues the representative couldn’t solve, they’d say, “That’s a great idea. You should bring it up at the user’s conference.” Now, these conferences were held twice a year, in Chicago or Florida, and were all presentations. No feedback. Nothing like the SIS conferences. Suffice to say, it was not the customer service response I expected.
Then, they were pushing us to switch to their new system. They told us we needed to buy new licenses to upgrade, saying the licenses wouldn’t transfer over. I just didn’t understand why we had to buy all new licenses when we were already a customer. That really pushed me to look for something new. I figured if we had to pay for new licenses, we might as well take a look at the competition.
What were you looking for in a new agency management system and provider?
Bill: We were looking for someone that would support our agency goals. We wanted a provider that would help us grow and a system that provided a real ease of use. We wanted it so easy a third grader could do it. Not that our people aren’t talented, but when it’s that easy, it allows us to work and react quicker.
Do you feel Partner XE delivered what you were looking for?
Bill: Yes, especially on the personal lines sides. The summaries alone are great. You can get all the information you need right on your home screen and can easily access more detail on the clients as needed. Having everything at your fingertips on that front page is extremely beneficial.
You challenged the status quo by switching back to SIS rather than staying with a big name provider. Was your staff concerned about this change?
Bill: We were going on faith − there were still a lot of updates yet to be made in Partner XE. And that faith paid off. The SIS team lived up to their promises. They were honest with us, not just saying things to appease us. SIS always lived up to what they said, meeting and going beyond our expectations.
In the end, my staff wasn’t concerned about the smaller provider. It was the product’s quality. When we looked at Partner XE and saw the changes that had already been made, it was an easy decision. The direction in which the product was going— that really sold us. It was refreshing to see that, instead of pushing a new product with new costs, the product was being improved to meet real agency needs.
What were some of the changes to Partner XE that you saw happen?
Bill: There were nice improvements to the commercial lines side of the program, such as improvements to the certificates of insurance screens. A lot of the searches were upgraded— the ease of doing business and summaries of insurance were changes that really helped us out on the personal lines side.
From the latest updates, I like the QuickMenu that allows you to see a client summary in one click. It lets us print off a summary and ID cards just by clicking a little icon. That’s been really beneficial.
Now we’re excited to see what comes on the commercial side. I know reporting and ACORD form improvements are in the works.
What can SIS provide that larger providers cannot?
Bill: The relationship and the personal touch. The service is customized to our agency. With our old provider, we felt like a number. It’s huge just to have someone you can call with questions, and they’re readily available. It has been the communication and the service provided has that made SIS stand out. It’s the quality of the people involved. You can’t find that in a big name provider.
You really get more bang for your buck with SIS. If you look at the cost factor, SIS is extremely affordable compared to some of the other systems. And the quality of the service is better.
What was the price difference between Partner XE and your old system?
Bill: SIS was a less expensive product upfront. Though the initial licensing agreement price was pretty close, the monthly fees were less. That really opened up our budget for other things. We knew we really wanted to grow. At the time we had 15 employees and today we have 50. SIS allowed us to grow our agency a lot easier than other vendors would have.
How has Partner XE supported your agency as you’ve grown?
Bill: We’ve opened a couple of agencies organically, and we’ve acquired several locations as well. With each acquisition, we needed to transfer data from the agencies into Partner XE. Each transfer went great, which was a pleasant surprise. We thought we’d have some hiccups, but SIS helped us take care of everything, and each has gone smoothly.
Also, I like that the system is cloud-based. It ensures the data from all our locations are safe. So, if something were to happen at one location we can get it downloaded at another location, and go back to helping our clients without them ever knowing.
What are some of the top things you’d say about the Partner XE system?
Bill: The functionality really stands out. It’s user-friendly, visually appealing, and the SIS team is always making it better. They really take into account what agencies want and integrate those needs into Partner XE. That’s been the biggest thing: listening to the clients and making the changes to the system. That did not happen with the competition.
What advice would you offer to someone weighing SIS and Partner XE against big name providers?
Bill: Take a look at the services provided, and take a look at ease of the product. I recommend giving the SIS team a chance to earn your business—because they will. When we met with SIS and explained our issues, their team provided the solutions in a very short time period. In six months to a year, they delivered on all or part of the solutions, and provided a timeline for the rest of the fixes.
How did the SIS team keep you updated as changes were implemented?
Bill: They stayed in contact, letting us know what they’d done so far and the next stages. And they asked for feedback as updates were implemented. They always wanted to know if their solutions lived up to our expectation and how they can be better.
It was totally different with our old provider. They would say, “This is our product. Take it or leave it. This is what it does. We hope it suits your needs, but if it doesn’t, I’m sorry.” It was a one size fits all solution. It’s not that way with SIS. I find SIS is very much like our industry: relationship-based. The SIS team fits in well with that. It is very much a relationship-based transaction.