Google Cloud results
Improving day-to-day operations for a family insurance business
• Google Calendar reduces missed meetings by 72 percent
• Mobile device management and two-factor authentication reduce security software costs by 22 percent
• Google Drive stores insurance documents for easy access from anywhere
A modern makeover for a traditional insurance agency, using Google Workspace
When Carlo Ferrara joined his father’s agency, StreetSmart Insurance, as chief operating officer, he set out to modernize the business’s outdated office technology. His father, Jimmy Ferrara, was hesitant: He liked his systems based on faxes, phone calls, and paper documents scanned into old Windows 7 computers. But in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit their community in New Jersey. Without power or internet access, employees couldn’t work at the StreetSmart office for a month, and with the office’s software backup out of service, the business lost a month’s worth of files.
The experience of losing access to business documents and email—plus a series of software crashes—convinced Jimmy Ferrara that StreetSmart needed business tools that were up and running no matter what. He also wanted to help his team—his son Carlo and his four other sons and daughters—to connect seamlessly with an international support team. A year after Sandy, Carlo Ferrara brought Google Workspace to the agency. Now—come hurricane, high water, or simply a busy day at the agency—all the Ferraras have every insurance policy, customer appointment, and email available, regardless of where they’re working.
An agency moving at the speed of … fax
The insurance industry has traditionally run on paper and faxes. Jimmy and his kids managed a constant flow of policy agreements and cancellations from insurance companies, as well as signed documents from clients—all of which had to be viewed by Jimmy, scanned, then filed away on agency hard drives.
The fax shuffling and scanning was slow—a process made slower by regular software glitches and shutdowns on the agency’s Windows computers. A family friend with a knack for IT was called in regularly to patch Microsoft Office, in hopes it would keep running the following week.
At the same time that its business systems were starting to break down, StreetSmart was growing, adding remote workers for bookkeeping and customer service. Everyone needed easy access to StreetSmart documents and tools to communicate with the Ferraras in Freehold. StreetSmart clients were sending more and more emails with policy questions; they started asking the Ferraras for chat consultations, which the agency couldn’t do with its desktop tools.
Carlo had built his own website with Google tools, and he thought Google Workspace might solve the firm’s problems. “At that time, around 2011, working in the cloud was not a big thing in our industry,” he says. “So talking my father into buying Google Workspace was difficult.”
Hurricane Sandy changes everything
“Google Workspace’s online support is amazing. I don’t even need the IT guy anymore.” —Carlo Ferrara, COO, StreetSmart Insurance
When Hurricane Sandy struck the mid-Atlantic in October 2012, the Ferraras realized the limitations of StreetSmart’s technology. “There was no way to access our data or documents, since they were on a local server that was down,” Carlo recalls. “Everything came to a standstill for a week, and then it took us a month to get back up to speed. We were basically out of business.”
In the months after Sandy, Carlo pitched Google Workspace to his father as a way to make the agency more resilient in case of disasters, as well as streamline daily operations. “I showed him how simple it was to send emails from my phone and read them on another device,” Carlo says. “My dad had never seen that before—he was used to Microsoft Outlook, where once you wrote emails on one computer, you couldn't read them on another computer.”
In 2013, with Jimmy coming around to the idea—and the software crashes accelerating—Carlo told his dad: “That’s it—we’re moving everything to Google Workspace.”
The Google Workspace migration started on a Friday afternoon; everyone’s Gmail addresses were ready to use by Monday morning. Carlo found support articles in the Google Workspace Learning Center about creating email addresses, managing users, and setting up two-factor authentication.
“Google Workspace’s online support is amazing,” Carlo says. “I don’t even need the IT guy anymore.” By using two-factor authentication and Google Workspace mobile device management to secure user accounts, StreetSmart reduced costs for security software by 22 percent.
Once everyone had email addresses and logins, the switch to Google Workspace was painless—and also quite welcome. “Compared to Microsoft Word, Google Docs is much more reliable and powerful,” Carlo says. “It’s so easy to teach anyone to use it.”
Emails reach the right person for the job
In the years since StreetSmart began using Google Workspace, workflows have changed completely. The agency staff used to forward emails to each other to make sure the right person handled queries from customers, insurance underwriters, and claims teams. They worried about delays in response time that might affect customer service.
Carlo created an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, specifically for incoming queries from customers. He set up the address as a group email so that several StreetSmart employees would get the messages, ensuring that anyone could quickly respond. The result, Carlo says, is that messages are answered more quickly.
To keep pace with the paperwork generated by insurance companies, Carlo created 16 Drive folders that map to common documents, like policy renewals and cancelations. When emails arrive with the documents attached—such as messages from RingCentral with faxes—StreetSmart employees can simply click the “Save to Drive” button in Gmail, and save attachments to the correct folder. It’s a much more efficient process than the old way, in which Jimmy Ferrara fielded all the RingCentral emailed faxes and had to print them out or file them away himself.
“If we didn’t have Google Workspace, we wouldn’t be able to compete in today’s insurance environment. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.” —Carlo Ferrara, COO, StreetSmart Insurance
Now if bad weather keeps StreetSmart employees from the office or shuts down power, no problem: Files, emails, and Calendar meetings are available by simply logging in to Google Workspace from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Now that employees can see the agency’s shared group Google Calendar, they know when colleagues are busy or available—so when meetings are scheduled, everyone can attend. Carlo estimates the shared calendar has reduced missed meetings by 72 percent.
“We can work from any device, anywhere, at any time,” Carlo says. “That’s very powerful.”
Like Drive and Calendar, Google Chat has become a popular tool for helping StreetSmart’s far-flung team work together efficiently. “If something is said in Chat, having it saved so we can read it later is priceless,” Carlo says. He uses Chat to save time when contacting Google Workspace support. “If I run into an issue I need to address, I can start a ticket by chatting with support even while I’m on a phone call,” he says. “Then everything is documented in Chat, and I can refer back to the conversation later.”
From New Jersey and California to India and the Philippines, the StreetSmart team has everything needed to keep customers’ insurance policies in force and the business running smoothly. Those fax stacks and software crashes? Just a distant memory.
“We are always in sync,” says Ferrara. “If we didn’t have Google Workspace, we wouldn’t be able to compete in today’s insurance environment. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”
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*Google Workspace was formerly known as G Suite prior to Oct. 6, 2020.