Peterson, McGregor moves, goes paperless

TRAVERSE CITY – Walk into the new offices of commercial insurance agency Peterson, McGregor & Associates and the first thing you notice is what isn't there: clutter. In early December the company moved into its new location at 1368 Business Park Drive, and in the process shifted toward running a "paperless" office.

"One of the first comments we get from our insurance carriers when they visit is 'We can't believe how little clutter there is,'" said co-founder Jeff Peterson. "A paperless environment is clean-looking and creates a certain attitude among the employees, too. They don't feel so under the gun."

Going paperless is just the latest innovation for a company that set out to maintain its slice of the cutting edge since it was founded by Peterson and his partner Steve McGregor six years ago. No one at the company has titles printed on their business cards, a pile of resumes from hopeful job seekers continues to climb higher, and while some in the business have struggled of late, Peterson McGregor continues to grow and expand. In 2005, the company reported $13 million, in 2006 $16 million, and projects $20 million in 2007.

"The reason we chose to go this way is that while our business will expand, we don't want to expand as far as the number of people we employ goes," said Peterson. "This will help us do that."

Peterson said going paperless involved interviewing a series of consultants and ultimately hiring one of them, AIS of Wisconsin. They also purchased computer hardware and software, and invested in employee training, sending people to Colorado, Texas, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and southern Michigan. He estimated the total cost of the shift was $100,000, which he expects the company to earn back in increased efficiency within two years.

For example, before going paperless, when a new client requested a proof of insurance certificate, an employee had to receive a faxed request for the certificate from the client, log the request into their computer, print off the new certificate, print a fax cover sheet, then walk to the fax machine and fax the certificate to the client.

That process usually took about three hours, if the process went glitch-free. Today when the same request comes in, it is electronically routed to the proper employee, the document opens up on their computer automatically, and then a certificate is faxed back to them right from the employee's computer. Total time: about a minute, Peterson said.

"Paperless" also means no filing cabinets, no piles of papers on desks, no overflowing wastebaskets. At Peterson McGregor, electronic filing is done by computer using a bar code system via ET File, a commercial filing software program. Their health insurance clients can access their benefits records from a personalized website via Zyware, another software program.

"Our new location is on eight acres right next to a site protected by The Nature Conservancy, so as you can probably guess, we aren't dependent on drive-by traffic," said Peterson. "We owe our growth to hiring the very best employees and to referrals, and innovative office practices is all part of that, too." BN