APIs and Why Your Agency Should Care – Episode 008
In this episode of “The Digital Broker,” Ryan and Steve explain APIs (and why agents and brokers should care about them). They discuss some of the simple ways in which APIs can be used to improve the customer experience, automate and refine agency processes, and save agencies valuable time and money.
“API” stands for “Application Programming Interface”. APIs allow software to easily send and receive information and data to and from one another. This has created a large amount of practical applications for agencies and brokerages while requiring minimal programming knowledge or efforts.
It’s important that people in the industry be aware of all the options that are now possible as a result of APIs—especially what they can do to quickly and easily solve problems and make a positive impact. (1:02)
Most APIs are available for free because the goal of so many technology companies is for developers to build on their systems and to provide value to others around them. This creates room for a lot experimentation. (6:25)
Ryan provides the example of a no-code solution he created for his agency (within about ten minutes) to run a sales contest. It was built using a tool called Zapier, which allows you to connect different software together and push data/information back and forth. Zapier does this by connecting the software’s APIs for you and it’s all done by a simple drag and drop tool. You never have to touch a line of code. For Ryan’s contest, each time a producer made a cold call that resulted in an appointment, the producer would enter that information into Formsite (a tool his agency uses for creating contact forms). Then Zapier would take the data entered into Formsite and automatically push it into his agency’s database. The agency would then render that in a real-time dashboard so everyone could see the contest’s standings.
This made it easy for everyone on the team to see who was making the most calls and setting the most appointments. With the producers divided into two teams, the winning team was then rewarded. (10:00)
Ryan emphasizes that there are so many tools and resources available that are easy to use, but it requires taking the time to develop awareness of those resources and to find out what pieces fit together and how. (11:20)
So If APIs Are So Simple, Why Aren’t We Using Them?
If APIs are so simple and beneficial, then why aren’t more agencies using them?
Most new agencies do have an API strategy or are leveraging APIs to build out their agency’s technical infrastructure in some way, however, older organizations tend to have a harder time figuring out how to integrate APIs into their existing operation. They may not understand how to deal with things like security, or how to move data back and forth. (11:50)
One way in which Steve uses an API is when he adds a new contact to his CRM. He sends the contact’s email address to a service that has an API and in turn does research (based on the email address) of all the social platforms where that email address has an account. When the data comes back, Steve adds it to his database, and he then has an email campaign automatically fired off, asking those people to connect on social media (e.g., LinkedIn and Facebook). For Steve, this offers an automated way to either begin or add another piece of important engagement with the contact. (14:30)
APIs: The Great Normalizer
Often people in the insurance industry see all the innovative things others are doing, but they become overwhelmed and frustrated by their own perceived inability to do the same. They ask: why can’t we do that?
Ryan believes that they can. There is so much capability out there today, with good research and resource allocation, smaller agencies can be just as innovative, frictionless, and “fancy” as the larger brokers and carriers. APIs make that all possible. (16:05)
APIs allow opportunities to save producers time and to make the consumer experience more effective. For example, Ryan’s agency uploads client addresses to Geocodio, which then feeds the producer back the geo-coordinates. When a producer goes on the road, they can then see on their dashboard that they have several clients in a given area (and then visit those clients). (17:10)
Vision APIs are another way this type of capability can be used to improve consumer experience and drive engagement. One example is using a vision API to take a picture of a vehicle then to identify its make, model, and color, and the insurance premium uptick for that vehicle.
The four primary vision APIs (Azure, AWS, Clarifai, and Sighthound) are free, and with just a little bit of code, an agency can begin using these to create a more compelling experience for their customers. (18:00)
Impact of APIs on Hiring Process
For agency’s looking to effectively leverage the capabilities of APIs, they may need to reevaluate who they hire. They need to seek creative problem solvers who have awareness of technological capabilities, and who use that to solve the challenges an agency faces. These people might not know all the nuances of the technology, and they may not yet know exactly how to solve a problem but they know that the problem can be solved—and they seek to learn how. (17:30)
The Elephant in the Room: Agency Management Systems
While several agency management systems have some form of API, some of these are not terribly useful. Just because a system has an API, it may still not be a helpful solution for a given agency.
After agencies establish that a particular agency management system has an API, they should then determine whether that system’s capabilities are actually useful to them. They need to understand what data the API allows them to access in their management system. (21:20)
Because many of the major players (e.g., Vertafore’s Sagitta) offer relatively limited capabilities in this regard, Steve and Ryan encourage agencies to resist waiting for the management system vendor, the carrier, or other third parties to come up with the solution. Rather, agencies should think through their problems and the potential solutions, determine how they can access the data they need, then figure out what they can do with the data within their own systems. Further, agencies should arm themselves with a multitude of solutions (including but not limited to APIs) rather than simply increasing headcount. (23:00)
The common Agency Management Systems (AMS) do have some APIs but they’re mostly limited or cost significant money to access. These include
- Applied Systems
Applied Systems allows agencies access to their API (not vendors) but there’s a fee involved and it’s fairly limited.
- Vertafore (AMS360, Sagitta, BenefitPoint, and QQCatalyst)
All of Vertafore’s different solutions have some API capabilities available, however, they’re mostly limited and require a hefty fee.
A new AMS on the market, TechCanary, understands the value of having access to powerful APIs and being able to seamlessly connect different tools together. They’ve built their software on top of Salesforce which opens the AMS up to all of the APIs and apps that have been built in the Salesforce ecosystem. As a result, you do not have to wait for TechCanary to build a new tool such as a texting feature to improve your agency’s client communication. Instead, you can add any of the dozens of texting apps already built on the Salesforce app store with virtually no code. (24:25)
Agencies still use many processes that unnecessarily cost them time and money. With minimal exploration and resource allocation, agencies can remove and remedy that. There are problems agencies face every day that, by taking some time to look around at the different possible integrations, they may find they can solve by hooking a few systems together. And often they can do this with no code, by simply dragging and dropping pieces together.
APIs are technical, but they are a solution. Insurance industry professionals who understand what problems they need to solve, what solutions and options are available, and who take advantage of APIs in ways most people would not have thought of, are the ones most likely to thrive and succeed. (28:30)