- Based in St. Paul, Minnesota
- Founded in 1946
- 60% Personal, 40% Commercial
- 7 Employees
“I love that the Partner Platform team is very open to taking suggestions…I appreciate that they understand there’s a need to grow and update continually. We frequently use the chat board or send emails with suggestions, and I know they look at it and react to it because we’ve seen changes we suggested.”
Mike Maranda has been in the insurance industry for over 40 years, most of which have been with Quality Insurance Service. In those years, he’s seen the industry through many seasons, including weathering the 2008 financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. Through it all, he and his nimble team have been able to grow and thrive.
To keep his agency growing, Mike and his business partner knew they needed the right management system and partner to keep up with them. When a big-name provider bought their initial system, they thought switching to another one of the “big three” would be the best move. But they were disappointed to come up against cumbersome interfaces and unresponsive, unhelpful customer service.
Enter the Partner Platform team. In Partner Platform, Mike and his team saw an easy-to-use system, speedy and effective support, and a growth-minded company that would keep up with them. We asked Mike to share his journey to Partner Platform and what he thinks about the system and partnership today.
Tell us about your agency and your experience in the industry.
We’re predominantly a property-casualty agency, operating at 60% personal lines and 40% commercial. We do various commercial things – a little bit of this, a little bit of that in the commercial arena. Quality Insurance Service has been around for almost 60 years, and I’ve been involved for 35 of my 40 years in the industry. So, we’ve got some longevity.
We’ve got four full-time employees and three independent agents that work exclusively with the agency, plus my business partner and myself.
What was your management system experience before Partner Platform?
Our first management system came from a small company out of Wisconsin. We started with them in about 2000, and they grew into a great product. We were very happy with their service and the way the system operated. Eventually, one of the big-name providers purchased them. I figured they would probably shelf the product, but they kept it for about seven or eight years, not doing much with it.
At one point, they said they weren’t going to support it anymore, saying it would go offline within a year. So, I called and asked what they would convert us to after the product was offline. They told us we could move to one of their two products. I said, “Great. How are you going to transfer our data?” Well, they said they wouldn’t transfer anything, and we’d come on just like any new client. I thought that was a huge mistake. There were around a thousand users (from our old system), and they threw us out to the wolves. If they’d made any offer to convert our data or make the process smoother for us, we maybe would have stayed with them. But they didn’t, so we started looking around.
As is still going on today, a few significant names were buying up smaller vendors. I told my business partner I didn’t want to look for a new system again, so we looked at these few vendors. Hoping we wouldn’t have to change again, and settled on one.
We were with them for about four years but were never really happy. Even before we went live, we spent a year going through weekly meetings, an hour once a week, and as the time got closer, three and four hours a week. The training with their system was for like four to six months before we went live. Overall, it was just, we thought, a very cumbersome system to learn and use.
What prompted you to think about changing management system providers?
We could never get reports out of the big-name system from day one. Every agency wants the same three to six reports, but they just couldn’t manage to do them correctly. With SIS and Partner Platform, we got custom reports and these basic canned reports easy, but our old provider just made it so complicated. They’d tell us, “You can build it any way you want.” If you’re not a computer programmer or really techy, that’s pretty difficult and time-consuming.
So, we had them build some reports for us – at a cost, of course. Yet, even with these “custom” reports, I could never easily figure out our annual premium and always ended up doing it by hand. That’s a pretty common thing and really valuable, and I ended up having to do it manually over those four years. They told us it would take about six months to learn the system, but that never happened. We kept seeing huge discrepancies in our reports.
To make things worse, we’d never get the same person when we tried to get support. We’d call and ask for help with reports, and they’d say, “Who set this up like that?”. Well, they did. So, they’d do something new, but we’d still have trouble. When we’d call again, we’d get someone new, and it’d be the same, “Who set this up this way?”. It was frustrating. After four years of that, I was done. They simply weren’t listening.
How did you go about finding a new system after that frustrating experience?
At that point, I was fed up with the big names. We spent the next year looking back at all the small systems. We knew there was no 100% “perfect” system, but we knew there had to be something that was easier to use and had better support than those big-name vendors.
Partner Platform always came to the top in terms of ease of use during our search, and our questions were answered right away. The system felt like our first system in that it was effortless to maneuver. Then they told us it’s only about three weeks of training – that was a HUGE change from the more than a year of training last time. That shocked us in a good way.
Before we decided, we called all the references the Partner Platform team provided – just like we get calls from agencies now – asking what they thought. We got the same response from everyone: you’re not making a mistake. That’s how we ended up with Partner Platform. We did a lot of researching, calling, and doing our homework, and Partner Platform came to the top time and again.
What do you tell prospective agencies that call you to ask about Partner Platform today?
The ease of use of the system is a significant factor. And the support remains excellent. Our experience has been the same since signing on: the Partner Platform team takes care of issues quickly. If someone is down, which rarely happens, the response time is incredible. When something is up with your management system, you don’t want a return phone call two days later; you want something within the hour or day. The Partner Platform team always has that kind of turnaround time.
What was your onboarding experience like with Partner Platform?
When we were onboarding, we had issues with documents and attachments moving over. That was my nightmare. I was so worried, but the Partner Platform team assured me they knew how to handle it, and it’d be a quick fix. I was skeptical, but they were right. Everything transferred over, and we had no downtime. And if we saw an issue over the next few months, we mostly knew how to correct it, thanks to the training. If it were something we couldn’t figure out, we’d give the Partner Platform team a call, and they’d fix it in no time. The way they responded to everything was impressive and continues to be today.
How about your training experience?
The Partner Platform training experience was certainly more efficient than our previous experience. The video clips used in the onboard process were quick and easy to understand. And since the system is so easy to use, it’s fast to pick up. We can bring in somebody new, send them through the video training, and within a day or two, they’re moving around the system quite easily. Those video clips come in handy even today; when you’re doing something you haven’t done in a while, you can go back, and it jogs your memory. I know we could have never done that in our old systems. It just wasn’t there.
How has your partnership with SIS and Partner Platform evolved over the years?
We started with the system about four years ago now. I love that the Partner Platform team is very open to taking suggestions. Like I said, no system is perfect, so I appreciate that they understand there’s a need to grow and update continually. We frequently use the chat board or send emails with suggestions, and I know they look at it and react to it because we’ve seen changes we suggested. They’re not afraid to take a critical look at their system and work to make it better for us. That never happened with our old provider. We’d send suggestions or complaints, and they wouldn’t do anything.
You were reasonably new to Partner Platform when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns hit. What was that experience like for your agency?
Within a couple of days, we had to decide whether to shut down or work remotely and how we would do that. Not everybody in our office had the capabilities to work remotely, so that was a challenge But, we were able to get that set up reasonably fast, and the Partner Platform team made it painless.
I was able to keep an eye on my team with the system as it shows who is online and when. We had some employees working night and day, and I’d call them and tell them to take a break. It was a helpful tool to manage my team from afar and gave me an idea of who can effectively work remotely and who just can’t.
You’re on the Partner Platform Community Board. What brought you there, and what has your experience been like?
I joined the Partner Platform Community Board in the Fall of 2021. I think they felt sorry for me because I’m opinionated and wanted to put that to work! When they called, I told them, “You know I’m not a computer geek, but I know enough to be dangerous.” They laughed and said, “That’s what we like and want!” They wanted an experienced, curious guy like me that would throw things out there to challenge them.
From the first meeting, I can see the company is very in-tune and wants feedback – they’re begging for it. The Board has a great working relationship with the company and is a great sounding board for new ideas and improvements.
How was your first Board meeting experience this last Fall?
Behind the scenes, the conversations between the different Board members are really telling. We’re basically all talking about the different ways we use the system. Everything can be done in multiple ways, and I learned new ideas and new concepts from being with that group. Everyone was using the system a little differently. We use the system almost to its capacity right now, but there’s always something on the horizon to help and improve. It was like a user group right there, and it was really helpful. I can see how it will make a big difference for us since we don’t have a local user’s group yet, though I know the Partner Platform team is working on getting one out here.
Where do you think the insurance industry is going in the next 5 to 10 years? What challenges or opportunities will agencies face?
I think we’ll see more independent agencies like ours making an impact due to our flexibility. We’re large enough to make an impact and have a great relationship with all our insurance companies and still small enough to make quick moves to adapt to changes. Whether it be the COVID outbreak or the financial crisis in 2008, we’re nimble enough that we can react fast to regain ground. In 2008, our personal lines income dropped, so instead of working so much on commercial, we flipped it to write more personal lines over the following months. Within eight months, we were back to our pre-crisis baseline. It was devastating to see that loss at the time, but our size allowed us to make it up quickly. I don’t know if many larger agencies can be that nimble, and I think we need to pay attention to that.