Who really owns your agency’s data—you, or the systems that house your data? After reading Insurance Journal’s recent article on data ownership by Andrea Wells, we’d like to add our insights on the complex issues surrounding data ownership.
This article at a glance:
- The war over client data
- 3 questions to ask vendors about your data
The war over client data
Wells points out that there are several parties who have stakes in an agency’s data: the client, whose information it is; the agency, who collects it; the carrier, who produces policy data; and the management system and other technology platforms, who store it.
The agency acts as the gatekeeper of client data, which is one of their most valuable resources—and all too often, agencies don’t realize they’re sharing or even signing away ownership of it to the technology vendors they use, from agency management systems to carrier products. The article quotes insurance technology veteran Frank Sentner of Sentner Consulting: “Most agencies don’t have the technology capabilities to actually leverage data, except for the very largest agents. When they signed those contracts with vendors, and this has been happening for the last 20 years, they gave the right to do derivative works using their data...They basically ceded the most valuable commodity they have to their agency management system vendors.”
Seth Zaremba, owner of Zinc Insurance and creator of its custom-made technology platform, issued a similar warning: “All of that data is extremely valuable to understanding the consumer —and agents—the only people who have relationships with the consumer—are giving that away to our vendors so that they can turn it into revenue. Agents are being farmed by many of these monolithic giants in the industry that now lock us into long contracts and then farm us for our data.”
“Data is extremely valuable to understanding the consumer —and agents—the only people who have relationships with the consumer—are giving that away to our vendors so that they can turn it into revenue."
Seth Zaremba, Zinc Insurance
At HawkSoft, we believe that your agency’s data belongs to you, and that you should have the freedom to use it in the ways that are best for your business. As a privately owned business, HawkSoft is beholden only to our customers, not investors or venture capitalists, so we’re not interested in selling agency data to get quick cash.
This is one of the things that drew Mike Stansbury of Elite Insurance Solutions, the 2019 Rough Notes Agency of the Year, to HawkSoft. He’s passionate about data privacy and the duty of the agency management system to safeguard it. “It is critically important as we move forward with data exchange between agent and carrier that we protect our client data and keep it from being manipulated by other sources,” he told us, “which many carriers and Insurtechs are doing right now. Client data is being collected by these parties and getting sold for profit, and not for the gain of our customers.” See our feature on Elite Insurance Solutions to learn more about their stance on data and the client experience and how it led them to HawkSoft.
3 questions to ask vendors about your data
One of the most important things an agency can do, according to Wells, is make sure the vendors they work with allow the agency to truly own and control the use of their data. Here are three of the most important things to look for when considering a vendor for an agency management system or any platform that will house or access your client data.
1. Does the contract or terms & conditions give the vendor ownership of your data?
Chris Burand, founder and owner of Burand & Associates, underlined the importance of paying attention to what an agency’s contract with the vendor stipulates about data: “Agencies have multiple contractual vendors involving data. Every single contract should address who owns what data.”
Before signing a contract, it’s important to know whether the vendor is entitled to share, sell, or otherwise use your agency’s data without your consent.
HawkSoft recognizes the agency as the rightful owner of their data. Our Agreement Terms & Conditions clearly state that “Client Data remains the sole ownership of the Customer.” We believe that data belongs to the agency, and they should have full control over how it’s used. We’re committed to keeping agency data private, secure, and accessible to the agency. This remains a priority for us as we expand our platform—and the data it houses—to the cloud. Learn more about data on HawkSoft Cloud here.
2. Is your data tethered to the system if you decide to leave?
True ownership of data means it’s not locked in one system—an agency should be free to change systems if necessary for their business. But vendors often make it impossible to leave by locking agencies into long-term contracts and making it costly and time-consuming for them to get a copy of their own data. This hearkens back to the way mobile service providers used to lock customers into multi-year contracts and make it impossible to take your number with you if you switched to a different provider. Eventually, customer demand forced phone providers to offer more flexibility in contract terms and number portability—why should management system vendors be any different?
Insurance industry thought leader Steve Anderson shared two things for agencies to pay attention to. The first was how much notice an agency is required to give before leaving. “A lot of times vendors require a 60- or 90-day notice of leaving,” he said. “That’s one issue that I highlight for agencies all the time.” The second was how much the vendor charges for providing a copy of your agency data. He warned that vendors often charge thousands of dollars in data extraction fees to provide the agency with their own data when they leave.
The problems don’t end there. If the new vendor can’t completely convert all the data from the previous system to the new one, agencies may lose valuable data. “Agencies lose the value of their data if they cannot control it,” said Burand, “and in many cases, the agency can lose value because its data becomes unusable.”
“Agencies lose the value of their data if they cannot control it, and in many cases, the agency can lose value because its data becomes unusable.”
Chris Burand, Burand & Associates
We believe agencies should be free to do what’s best for their business, so we don’t lock them into term-based contracts. Our agencies are free to leave at any time, without a termination fee, and with only 30 days of notice. We also make it easy for agencies to get a copy of their data at any time. Agencies can export CSVs, AL3s and backups of their agency data from HawkSoft as often as they choose, and we don’t charge data extraction fees. If you leave HawkSoft, we’ll provide you with a copy of your data and a read-only version of our software so you’ll always have access to your data, no matter what.
If you’re bringing your data to HawkSoft from another system, our painless conversion process is unparalleled. We convert more data than anyone else in the industry, so you won’t be leaving valuable data behind. Our conversions get you started in HawkSoft within 4-6 weeks, with the final data import happening within 24 hours of the agency’s data review.
3. Does the vendor allow you to integrate your data with other platforms?
Another important part of data ownership Wells discusses is the ability to connect your client data with other systems that help you run your business, such as marketing automation, reputation management, raters, etc.
Torey Maerz, co-founder and CEO of Rocket Referrals, points out that this level of connectivity differentiates the agency as well. “Agents who use tools with open connectivity have an advantage,” he said to HawkSoft. “They can pick the right set of systems for their business to create the best customer experiences—a key differentiator in today’s market.”
One of the best ways technology vendors can facilitate access to client data for other platforms is through API integration. By offering API integration with a variety of systems, vendors can show they are committed to meeting all the needs of an agency—not just the ones solved by their product.
“Agents who use tools with open connectivity have an advantage. They can pick the right set of systems for their business to create the best customer experiences—a key differentiator in today's market.”
Torey Maerz, Rocket Referrals
Unfortunately, Sentner observed that many vendors aren’t open to this. “The power of data is almost limitless—it’s only limited by our imagination,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the American Agency System, it’s limited by your agency management system vendors, your contract with them, and their refusal to allow open API integration to the data that the agents own.”
HawkSoft has a Partner API program that allows agencies to enable integrations with third party systems through the HawkSoft Marketplace. Rocket Referrals has been a member of HawkSoft’s Partner API program since August 2020. “It’s inspiring to see the collaboration happening in our industry,” Maerz said. “I’m excited to see more and more API integrations offered among various systems as we continue to innovate and build even better tools for agents.”
Business Development Coordinator Kenny Hendricks explained how HawkSoft carefully vets potential API partners in a recent blog post about HawkSoft’s Partner API: “We meet with each vendor to gauge their commitment to independent agents, how well they fit our unique audience of agencies, and to ensure they respect the data that belongs to the agencies and will be good stewards of this data.” HawkSoft is committed to giving agencies the opportunity to partner with vendors we trust to help them run their business—without misusing the agency’s data. See all HawkSoft's currently available API integrations on our Partners page.
Data is Value
Your client data is one of your agency’s most valuable assets. When you partner with vendors that handle your agency’s data, take the time to make sure they’re worthy partners that will offer you the freedom to own and control your data to best serve your agency and your clients.
Download our White Paper for more questions to ask when choosing an agency management system
5 Questions Agencies Wish They Had Asked Before Choosing a Management System