Hartford Life has the latest entry in the still-uncrowded field of assisted underwriting software - products designed to speed up the sale of life insurance and simplify the puzzle for bank representatives and others who are not full-time agents.

"We'd been getting feedback from the field saying, 'Make selling insurance more like a mutual fund,' " said Michael Keeler, vice president and director of life administration for Hartford Life. "They also wanted to be removed from what they called 'the bodily fluids process' - having to ask personal questions about the client's health."

The company's proprietary TeleLink software, which was rolled out Dec. 4, provides "Tier 2 underwriting," in which the personal medical underwriting questions are asked by a call center instead of the agent. The second stage of underwriting questions becomes a less charged part of the sales process, Hartford Life said.

TeleLink is being used primarily with the insurer's Foundation series, which consists of two variable universal life products and two term products. But it can also be used for any product sold through the insurer's four-month-old Internet-based application system, according to the company.

The bank agent sends Hartford Life a form (either electronically or on paper) with the customer's name, address, phone number, and the type of insurance needed. Once the insurer receives the form, a tele-underwriter takes the actual insurance application data from the consumer.

Mr. Keeler said the software enables the tele-underwriter to "drill down." In response to certain questions, the software provides several follow-up questions to help the interviewer get the right underwriting information from the client.

"For example, the application will read, 'Do you suffer or have you suffered from high blood pressure?' " Mr. Keeler said. "If the 'yes' box on the computer screen is checked, before the process can go on the system will prompt the call center underwriter to ask certain follow-up questions."

In addition, as the insurance application is being filled out, the software orders reports on the applicant from the Medical Information Bureau, as well as additional forms to be filled out in the event of special health conditions, to make sure the application is complete.

Paul Ford, senior vice president of business development of Inslogic of Columbia, Md., said that about 80% of the questions in this type of underwriting process are asked at the Tier 2 stage. The drill-down can make a difference in how effective this type of software is, he said. "If the answer can uncluster the right questions, it can speed things up."

Mr. Keeler said TeleLink has cut the processing time for life insurance applications in half. "If I were an investment rep, it could take one and a half hours to fill out the forms. Now it takes about 30 minutes."

In addition, because of the drill-down questions in the software, applications that could take two to three weeks to complete through traditional means can take as little as a day, he said.

All banks that sell Hartford Life's Foundation products now have access to TeleLink. "Six banks now use the series, and by the first quarter we figure we'll have 10 to 15 banks," Mr. Keeler said.

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