Equinox Financial Group Inc., a service provider that puts financial companies such as Manulife Financial in touch with independent distributors, is trying to make the communication process easier by switching from client/server to

online services.

Toronto-based Equinox — which is owned by Manulife but also deals in products from AIT, Standard and RBC Insurance — had been using a case management product that was originally designed for DOS and since ported to Windows. In order for brokers to get information on potential business, they would have to call the distribution centres (Equinox refers to them as marketing centres) for regular updates, which was both time-consuming and inefficient.

“As with much desktop technology, it was very limiting, as far as allowing our marketing centres to disseminate data to their brokers,” said Tim Traill, Equinox’s director of e-business. “So we decided to move to a Web platform, one where we could do away with all the client/server stuff. It’s more of a service than it is software.”

By moving to an online system, all parties along the supply chain can gain access to the same information. Equinox selected VirtGate, a product from CoVirt Inc., a Toronto-based company that specializes in advisor and policy management solutions.

“We went through a process of working with our managing partners and the organizations they run to better appreciate what it is they’re after and let them be part of the decision process,” said Traill. “They’re the ones who actually led us to the VirtGate product.”

VirtGate will be rolled out to Equinox’s 28 marketing centres over the next three months. Traill said that several of Equinox’s competitors had already moved to online information systems, so the onus was on the company to upgrade.

“We’re living in this world of ever-shrinking margins,” he said. “There’s a huge cost benefit to our marketing centres using this tool. Otherwise these brokers would be picking up the phone and using their offices, looking for the status of all their pending business. It’s moving down the self-serve route.”

CoVirt will also host the solution for Equinox through facilities provided by Fusepoint.

“You can imagine (outsourcing) is a leap of faith for some people,” said CoVirt’s president Tim Fitzpatrick, referring to the sensitivity of the customer data handled by insurance companies and brokers. “We handle that by giving them regular back-ups of their data. They can even have it nightly if they choose.”

Traill said that Equinox was actually eager to turn over management of the solution. “We don’t think there’s a rationale for creating things and supporting them in-house anymore. We’d prefer to go outside and align ourselves strategically with a vendor.”

Should CoVirt ever become insolvent, Equinox will inherit the code it bought as part of the online solution. Equinox had a similar arrangement with the company that designed the original DOS-based application and has since gone out of business.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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