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Jackson National Life's "Genius" Project Boosts Annuity Service, Reduces Errors

Jackson's Genius system leverages Thunderhead to provide call center reps with real-time access to unbundled annuity product information customized to the policy level.

Between product features and related regulations, you'd almost have to be a genius to be able to answer all of the potential customer' questions about Jackson National Life's range of annuity products. That was the thinking behind the creation of Jackson's Genius Operations Manual, which went live for the company's fixed annuities business in December 2011. Now, when a producer or end-customer caller enters an identification number, the system recognizes the specific product the caller is inquiring about, along with key information such as issue age, issue state and resident state. Within seconds, this information allows Genius to dynamically create an online product reference guide specific to the caller's product.

"Genius essentially gives contact center reps a customized manual for the person on the phone," comments Mark Clark, Senior VP and CIO, Jackson National Life.

Mark Clark
Mark Clark, Jackson National Life
Jackson's unbundled annuity products offer a choice of standard and optional features and are defined by about 5,000 plan codes. Add in the vagaries of SEC regulations and 50-plus state and territorial jurisdictions and the resulting variation between individual policies is daunting, suggests Diahn McHenry, VP of Jackson's service center.

"We need a way to know we're giving policyholders or producers correct information every time," McHenry says. "A prime example would be quoting interest rates: in the past associates would have to refer to spreadsheets — it was an inefficient and error-prone process."

To find a better way, Jackson's IT organization resorted to a very creative use of Thunderhead (Elstree, U.K.) correspondence management software, when the initiative launched in April 2011. "Thunderhead works by putting documents together with business rules, but whereas a letter might have a few hundred parts, in this case we could have thousands or even tens of thousands," Clark relates. "We had to work closely with the vendor to get the performance we needed."

Genius delivers information to users as web content, Clark explains. A Java-based application web server collects product data from an IBM DB2 database, policy information from the carrier's CSC Cyberlife policy administration system and other applications.

"Thunderhead receives business objects from the application server and renders and assembles templates or 'bricks' of content using business object variable data and rules for applying the data," Clark explains.

Genius uses open-source enterprise search tools for indexing product guide content for typical text-based searches. Jackson augments these capabilities with a proprietary search capability that provides indexing and lookup of content tagged with industry-specific terms, such as "fixed" or "variable," keeping information specific to the policyholder call, Clark elaborates.

Jackson will go live for variable annuities within Genius in late Spring, according to McHenry. Her team has begun importing standard operating procedures, which go beyond the current product information capabilities to cover rules for transactions.

"The goal is to vet out anything the contact center rep may need, the way they need it, so that they don't have to look it up," emphasizes McHenry.

Diahn McHenry
Diahn McHenry, Jackson National Life
Jackson is also working on an aggregation system, due to go live in the summer of 2012, as part of its JPOD (Jackson Process On Demand), which uses business rules to drive processing. "That will enable customer service reps to give callers status on anything they have in-flight with us," Clark says.

Once all life and annuity product information is in place, Jackson will be in a position to have standard operating procedures available by early 2013, according to McHenry. "That's important to for our contact center reps because they need to know what information we can or cannot take over the phone. This is just one example of how pushing relevant information that is specific to the policy assists us in providing the correct answer every time" she notes.

Jackson declines to talk about how much it spent on the Genius initiative but Clark said the work consumed about 3,700 programming hours and 9,000 hours of content development. McHenry says that Jackson is still working out which metrics to best measure the success of Genius but notes that the service improvement has been immediate.

"For example, we had several instances of quoting interest rates incorrectly and we're not seeing any now," McHenry says. "Content is always right within Genius."

Clark points to the speed and efficiency with which Genius creates content within Thunderhead, which has the ability to create templates and reuse components.

"The overall story is one of IT working with the business to help contact center reps to delivery quality service. We had everything in place, but Genius enables us to pull it together in real time."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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