- Serving clients in greater Milwaukee and Madison metropolitan areas
- Founded in 1978
- 60% personal, 20% commercial and 20% life insurance
- 25 employees
“(Partner XE is) … just much more user-friendly. Thanks to that, we’re getting more out of the software in these first fifteen months than we have in the past 25 years.”
Andrea Nelson and her team at Unisource Insurance are continually focused on growing and serving their client base. Since its founding in 1978, they have looked to technology to maintain efficiency while providing a personalized customer experience. When Andrea and her husband Bob took ownership in 2011, she saw a need to upgrade their 25-year legacy system. Her search led the agency to SIS and Partner XE. They found a cultural match in SIS and a customized system in Partner XE.
We sat down with Andrea to talk about her search for a new system and why Unisource chose SIS and Partner XE. Excerpts from our conversation are below.
Tell me a little bit about your agency’s history.
Unisource was founded by my father, Paul Brunner, in the late 1970s. He began selling life insurance in 1968, in the evening, while working a day job. The agency organically grew, and in 1977 he opened his own independent agency. He eventually brought in his brother to assist with sales and client servicing, then expanded into property casualty.
In the mid-2000s, my husband Bob and I became owners. Our goal was to develop the life and health component, and I took a role in marketing and operations.
What makes you stand out in your industry?
We’re still 100% family-owned and operated. We’ve been on North Ave in Wauwatosa in some capacity since 1977. We’re still “mom-and-pop-main-street” with a diverse range of carriers for our clientele. My dad is still an owner, though I bought a bulk of the interest in 2015 with my husband Bob, who runs the life and health. My aunt does the books. My uncle heads up personal lines. My cousin runs commercial lines. When we say we’re a family business, we really mean it!
That family-owned factor is pretty significant, especially here in southeastern Wisconsin. There are bigger shops with name and brand recognition, but you can’t pick up the phone and talk directly to the owner like you can with us. And I think that’s attractive. We not only have high-quality staff and technology, we also have the high-touch factor. That gives us the competitive edge to compete with those big names.
How has the agency’s technology evolved throughout the years?
When we started, we utilized The Agency Manager, the only product available at the time. It was revolutionary for us to invest in this cutting-edge technology. Tech has been key in attracting and retaining quality staff and growing out client base.
Since I came on, I’ve worked on how to maximize our technology. We were underutilizing the capacities of our existing agency management software. A lot of that was due to old habits. When we rolled out system upgrades, people were using it the same way they’d used the old version. The software had developed from the 80s and we weren’t taking advantage of those improvements. For example, we still had a lot of relics of the “old days” – ledger books, checkbooks, and paper files – that could be handled paperlessly in our system. We needed to work on things like going paperless to streamline our operations. That meant we needed the right technology to make it happen.
In your search for better technology, what led you to the Partner XE/SIS family?
I found we had never done our due diligence when upgrading our technology, from a cost or a capabilities standpoint. One of my main focuses was really assessing our options. We started with the “big boys” and, frankly, they were overpriced. Other systems had the same capabilities at a much lower cost. Partner XE was one of those systems.
Though price and capabilities were a factor, our decision really came down to the culture of SIS. They were just the type of organization we wanted to do business with. It was nice to be able to talk to the President (Michael Doran) and feel valued. He immediately asked us what capabilities we needed and addressed each of those needs individually. We launched in January 2016 and have officially been with Partner XE for fifteen months or so.
How was the transition to Partner XE from your old agency management system?
I come from an HR background and have been through quite a few “software re-dos” or conversions in different capacities. A lot of vendors will tell you, “Everything will be automated. You won’t have any problems!” I’ve found, no matter how great the product, that is never the case.
So, were there a couple of things we had to edge around or plow through? Sure. Were they insurmountable? No. Going from a frankly archaic agency management software to Partner XE, we saw way fewer hiccups than I ever anticipated. I don’t remember ever really being “down” for any period of time. (Our account manager) Jordan (Owens) and the rest of the SIS staff were able to talk through some of those challenges and meet our needs based on where we were going.
And we haven’t looked back since. We hosted our old software, so I anticipated having to go back into it regularly. I think I’ve accessed it maybe six times in the past fifteen months since we switched. There’s really no need to go back.
Do you feel that customer support has continued since your conversion?
It’s been a bit of a shift for us to access that support – we had gotten used to not contacting our old vendor if we needed help. It was easier to figure out our own workarounds or just go without. Part of that was wait time – needing to talk to someone the moment you needed help and getting no one. That’s just not where technology is today.
I’ve found the SIS staff, in particular Emma and TJ, to be great problem solvers. We’ve thrown them a couple of curveballs! We’ve also been helping Partner XE develop some components, especially around life and health. It’s nice to be on the front end saying, “These are our needs. How are you going to customize to us?” And that’s what SIS has been doing.
We’re adding carriers – and all the carriers are different – so some don’t download commission. When that happens, we work with TJ on the nuances of each report and how to import and keep the process automated. The whole SIS staff is great at those pivots. They’re very nimble. For example, Emma has developed workarounds to manage our accounting. We thought we’d need two tracking systems for our different entities, but she developed some month-end procedures to keep our books in one entity.
SIS is at a size where they can work with us. We would never get that from a larger vendor.
How did your staff react to Partner XE, both the transition and its capabilities?
I am still surprised how easily our staff transitioned. We moved 29 people from the one software to the other. And a lot of these folks are not technologically savvy. Complaints come pretty readily if there are any, yet we heard very little grumbling or disappointment – with the transition or the operation of the new software. That’s impressive.
Our people are comfortable with Partner XE. It’s just much more user-friendly. Thanks to that, we’re getting more out of the software in these first fifteen months than the past 25 years with the old vendor.
What advice would you offer to someone looking for a new agency management system?
Look at a smaller vendor. Thanks to technology, many of them have the same capabilities as larger vendors and more personalized service. We wanted to be a bigger fish in a little pond. We had done the little fish in a big pond for 25 years. The pricing never got better, the service got worse, and frankly the technology wasn’t nearly as good as what we’re getting now.
Would you recommend SIS and Partner XE? Why?
Absolutely. In fact, Jordan has contacted me a couple times about assisting with references and I always do. We’re not going to sugarcoat anything. We’re honest about the challenges that come with any transition. I tell them our overall our experience has been excellent, especially transitioning from a system we had for 25 years. I don’t think it could have gone any smoother.