For insurance carriers and agencies, a policy administration system is the most essential piece of their tech stack. Whether you’re an insurtech startup researching your first insurance policy admin system, or an established player looking to upgrade, this comprehensive guide will cover the most current options on the market.
A policy administration system (PAS) is the system of record for every transaction related to an insurance policy. The insurance policy admin system supports all operations that can be taken on a policy or quote, such as rating, quoting, underwriting, document generation, document storage, billing, endorsements, cancellations, invoicing, and more.
Whenever anything happens with a policy, the PAS records the transaction and takes any necessary action. This includes things like generating a quote based on information provided in an online form, modifying the policy’s coverage endorsements, or generating the appropriate documents for a new policy and facilitating delivery to the policyholder.
Because the PAS is the technical underpinning for all-online insurance transactions, a robust PAS is essential to offering the convenient digital insurance experience that modern customers expect.
If your business needs a new PAS, you have a few different options: you could build one yourself, buy a third-party PAS and the custom development work needed to use it with your offerings, or partner with an insurance-as-a-service company and integrate with their PAS.
The biggest selling point for building your own PAS is the control. When you build your own, you have complete control over every aspect of the system, and you can determine how it will run. You have the freedom to customize the system to best suit your products and customer needs, and you can avoid the compatibility issues that you might have with a pre-built product. But that freedom comes at a cost.
Building a PAS from scratch is a very difficult and time-consuming task, with costs that run in the millions. Additionally, there are many details to consider that require nuanced expertise and ongoing attention.
The biggest challenge that developers face when building a PAS is state-by-state variances in insurance laws and regulations. When it comes to insurance, each state operates like a separate country. Insurance products must be approved in each state individually, and every state has its own requirements for how insurance products should be sold. This includes rates, underwriting guidelines, notifications, how policy documents have to be delivered to the insurer, and more.
In order for a PAS to function smoothly, it must be able to automatically identify and follow all applicable laws for the state a policy is sold in. Otherwise, your agents would need to manually check and set up each transaction in the system - which essentially defeats the purpose of having the PAS. This means that you'll have to build the legal requirements for each state you do business in into your PAS so that it can automatically enable compliant transactions.
Here are a few examples of areas with significant state-by-state variation, that your PAS will need to account for:
For any policy life cycle event–like a quote, policy issuance, midterm endorsement, cancellation, or renewal– documents need to be generated and provided to the insured. For admitted-lines products, individual state requirements can get very granular on what information each document must contain, and even specify which fonts and font sizes can be used. Once the documents are generated, certain states may also mandate how they can (and can’t) be delivered to the policyholder. When building your own system, you would need to take those different requirements into consideration, and build them into your policy administration system.
If a customer doesn't pay their monthly premium, your PAS should give them a notice saying that their policy will be canceled. However, each state has a unique timeframe by which that notice has to be sent. In some states it’s as little as 10 days after an unpaid bill, in others it’s as much as 40 days, and there is a lot of variety in between. For your PAS to function legally, each state’s timeframe needs to be built into your system so that the proper notification is sent out at the right time required by each policyholder’s home state, and the policy cancellations are executed correctly.
To top it all off, laws are constantly changing, and the requirements for documentation, cancellations, taxes, and billing–to name a few–are always evolving or being added. Keeping your PAS up-to-date, and legally compliant with each state you sell insurance in, means keeping up with contract and insurance laws in each individual state. This means building your own PAS requires more than just technical resourcing - you’ll also need ongoing input from insurance law and compliance experts in order to stay current.
Essentially, the work of building a policy administration system is never done. You have to keep checking for new state filings, rules, and laws so that you can build them into your system.
Simply put, building your own policy admin system will cost you a lot of time and money. Building a PAS that supports one insurance product can take two to three years to complete, and several million dollars in development costs.
As we’ve seen, however, the initial build is only part of the PAS equation. After your system is launched, you’ll still need to budget for regular maintenance and update costs. These will vary based on the changes you make to your products; every time you refile your insurance product, you’ll need to update your PAS to support the changes. If you never update your products, then this cost will be minimal. However, if you want your products to stay competitive, you’ll probably do it regularly. Adding or updating PAS features is another frequent driver of maintenance costs.
If you have a multi-line business with more than one insurance product, the process becomes even more complex, expensive, and time-consuming. You would need to build a system that works for your most complex product and your simplest, taking all of their differences and intricacies into consideration.
For businesses that specialize in a single line of business and don’t intend to expand beyond it, building a PAS in-house can be a good option to create a system well-tailored to their specific needs. For businesses that don’t fit that scenario, it can quickly become a large ongoing expense. If you’re considering building your own PAS, it’s important to take these ongoing costs into account as you calculate the potential return on your investment.
If building a PAS isn’t in scope, a second option is to buy an off-the-shelf software system from a company that specializes in building policy administration systems. There are several well-established companies that offer policy admin systems to insurance businesses of all shapes and sizes. However, the “off the shelf” label is a bit misleading. Deploying a third-party PAS isn’t as simple as adding to cart and installing software.
By definition, a third-party PAS is a generic piece of software, designed for use with any insurance company that buys it. What that means in practice, however, is that it’s not ready to use right out of the box. Before you can use a third-party PAS, it will need to be configured to support your business’s specific products and workflows.
When you buy a third-party PAS, the amount of time required to get to market depends on the amount of customization you need and the kind of experience you want to offer your customers. In general, however, it’s a good idea to budget around a year.
You would likely kick off the process with a planning meeting to determine the scope of your needs. This includes issues like how many products your PAS will support (each product will need its own monthslong configuration), which specific products you offer and where you sell them, and whether you need any specific custom work from the vendor (for example, building a front-end to offer your products digitally). Once the contract is signed, the third-party company would adapt their baseline PAS to build a system to fit your specs, and integrate it into your existing systems and workflows.
If you have a single product line and are willing to accept a customer experience that may not fully incorporate your brand (for example, taking customers to a differently-branded portal), it can take around six months to a year. For multiple product lines, your vendor will need to do a separate configuration for each, which obviously would expand the timeline. Similarly, a highly customized front-end experience will require significantly more time and labor to bring to market.
If you have specific goals like a mobile-first experience or integrating your PAS into your website, that will require working with an API. This means you’ll need development resourcing on your side as well, to create the integration between your systems and your vendor’s API. How long this takes depends on several factors, but one of the biggest is the quality of your vendor’s API. If their API is low-tech or otherwise difficult to work with, it will negatively impact your developers’ timeline.
The total cost of buying an off-the-shelf PAS will depend on your vendor’s pricing model. The more traditional vendors tend to charge per-year service costs for building out and maintaining your PAS. These costs can be quite significant; some vendors’ prices start at $400,000 annually, with the potential to increase exponentially with any customization needs.
Rather than a large fixed yearly rate, newer vendors tend to charge a relatively low baseline platform fee, and then take a percentage of your gross written premium. Depending on your volume of business, this can be a more affordable option for companies that want to buy off-the-shelf. However, keep in mind that you’ll still need to pay a separate cost for the customization work to enable the PAS to support your products, and the managed services to build and implement. These indirect costs can sometimes be quite substantial, so be sure to ask questions about what you’ll need and get the full picture before making your decision.
A third option is to partner with an insurance as a service company. This is a bit different from the other two options, as an IaaS partnership goes beyond just using your partner’s policy admin system.
Insurance as a service (IaaS) provides the whole solution necessary to support an insurance program. This includes a tech-forward PAS but also includes things like operational infrastructure, regulatory compliance, the insurance capacity needed to sell policies, and insurance products that can be white-labeled and sold under your brand.
When you partner with an IaaS provider, you’ll select which of their products you want to offer your customers, then integrate your website or app with your partner’s system via API. This offers insurtechs a significantly faster and lower-cost path to expanding their insurance product offerings than building a new insurance program themselves.
From a technology perspective, the PAS is provided as part of the IaaS provider’s standard solution. An IaaS provider’s PAS will only work with that partner’s products.
An insurance as a service PAS offers some considerable speed advantages vs. building a PAS yourself or buying a third-party system. Since the system will already be configured to support your partner’s white-label insurance products, there will be no need for the time-consuming development work required to build product workflows or customize an off-the-shelf PAS.
This is particularly beneficial when expanding your product offerings. If you wanted to add another insurance product to your lineup, you could simply select the product you wanted from your partner’s available portfolio, make a few modifications to your existing API connection, and begin selling a new insurance line within a few weeks.
However, there is still some initial development work required. You’ll need to build the connection between your digital front-end and your partner’s PAS, using their APIs. The good news is that insurance-as-a-service systems are designed for this, and so their APIs tend to be well-documented and easy to use. With a small development team and a high-quality partner API, you should plan for this step to take 3-6 months. The actual API integration itself usually accounts for about a month of development, with the rest of the time spent building the front-end to transact with the consumer.
It’s worth noting that some IaaS partners also offer solutions to help businesses get started faster, which include simple front-end experiences as part of the service (Boost’s QuickStart is one example). If your top priority is speed, it’s worth asking a potential partner about this kind of offering.
Because the PAS is included as part of an insurance-as-a-service offering, the cost structure differs from build or buy. When you work with an IaaS partner, you will pay them a commission for sales of their product, and usually also a platform fee for using their service. The PAS will be included in these standard costs, with no special purchase or subscription required.
Another major savings point with IaaS is maintenance. As we saw earlier, a PAS is never really “finished” - in order to stay fully functional, it needs to be continually updated with the latest state regulations. A major selling point for IaaS, however, is that the insurance backend is essentially taken care of.
This includes keeping the policy admin system up to date - your IaaS partner is responsible for staying on top of compliance developments and ensuring the PAS continues to meet all regulatory requirements. With a good IaaS partner, these changes should happen in the background without any need for your involvement. New state requirements or product updates should simply be there when you use the PAS.
The most significant cost of integrating with an IaaS partner’s policy administration system will likely be paying your development team to build the API integration and front-end. The cost for this can vary depending on if you plan to use in-house resources or an outside development firm. As we saw previously, the majority of the time (and thus expense) necessary for this step is related to building the front end, so your costs will also vary based on the scope and complexity of what you intend to build.
The policy administration system is a complex but critical system for any insurance company, and acquiring a new one can be a major project. Consider your budget and timing needs, as well as how to manage ongoing requirements, when deciding whether to build a system in-house, buy from a third party or integrate with a partner who’s already done the heavy lifting.