Rough Notes – Email Accountability

October 04, 2007 / in News / by RPost

Rough Notes – Email Accountability

By Nancy Doucette

“RPost Registered Email™ service provides proof that your critical emails are delivered as sent.” Rough Notes is a leading publication for insurance agents and brokers and has a readership of approximately 40,000 within the insurance sector.

It could have gotten ugly for Randle Frankel, owner of Frankel & Associates Insurance Services, a Los Angeles-based agency writing mostly commercial lines. Just before a long holiday weekend, Frankel had emailed a request to the carrier to add a location to an existing policy. Days later, the insured called Frankel to report a loss to the newly added location. Upon checking with his carrier, Frankel learned that the underwriter hadn’t received the information that he had emailed.

Time to start scrambling? Nope. Frankel had used RPost® Registered Email™® service when he sent in his endorsement request. So he told the underwriter’s supervisor who had become involved in the discussion that he had proof of when he had emailed his request that coverage be added and could also show precisely when the carrier had received that email.

RPost generates an email message to the sender that provides evidence of the entire email transaction which is designed to be admissible in court, according to Zafar Khan, co-founder and CEO of RPost. This “receipt” provides legally valid proof of time and content sent and received, for any Internet address, without storing information or requiring some action on the part of the recipient.

Khan recommends that emails be evaluated according to their business consequence before deciding to send them as Registered Email™ messages. “Is there a consequence if the recipient should deny having received it or refute what was in that email? If so, do you want accountability around that email correspondence?” he asks. “If the answer is ‘yes’, then you should treat that email as a business record. Agencies need to establish processes and procedures for business records. Obviously, not every email should be sent as a Registered Email™ message or retained as a business record. But, if you’re using RPost Registered Email™ service, what you do maintain is in a form that will protect you and your company if it’s challenged.

“Occasionally, you will have an email where you will want to convert the attachment to a PDF. Or you might want to cleanse the hidden meta data from the attachment. You can also compress attachments, electronically sign, encrypt if privacy is important, and do some electronic contracting.

“So if you want to get the proof of delivery, content and time, you can. And with one extra click you can do any of these other functions. You don’t need to buy different pieces of software to accomplish this. RPost Registered Email™ is an all-in-one tool,” he says.

Should it be necessary, RPost is able to reconstruct the authenticated original email, including attachments, and transmission data. Kahn points out that it is important to note that RPost can do this without storing any of the sender’s email or related transmission data. In Frankel’s situation, reconstructing the email wasn’t necessary. Based on Frankel’s confident assertion that he could provide legally valid proof of the email transmission, the underwriting supervisor went back through the emails that the underwriter had received just prior to the holiday weekend and discovered Frankel’s email among them. The underwriter had, in fact, opened the email but due to the large volume of emails he had received that day, hadn’t acted on it. He had forgotten to re-open it and process the endorsement.

“E&O insurers should offer a discount if an agency uses RPost,” Frankel declares. “In this case, it gave the carrier proof positive that I had emailed my request in a timely fashion.”

Frankel says his agency has been an RPost customer for about four years. He’s so enthusiastic about this product, he’s invested in the company itself. He says using RPost is part of the agency’s formal processes and procedures. “We use RPost for all our critical emails,” he reports. “When we’re sending a request to bind coverage, to add or delete coverage, or when we’re communicating with clients about changes in coverage, we send those emails as Registered Email™ messages.” The cost is approximately that of a first class postage stamp.

“RPost is set up essentially like a postage meter,” explains Khan. “Or said another way, you just buy a book of stamps. You can put the Registered Email™ capability on all desktops or one desktop. It’s a direct cost savings if you put that cost in the postage budget—RPost vs. FedEx. Fifty Registered Email™ messages cost about the same as one FedEx, for example.”

Frankel notes, “Sending a Registered Email™ message is just like sending a regular email. There’s nothing difficult about it. Even the download to activate the RPost service is simple. All you do is set up a billing account with RPost and activate the download process from the RPost Web site. Then you restart your computer and you have all the capabilities. The ‘Send Registered’ button is next to your ‘Send’ button. The service automatically sets up a ‘Receipts’ folder for the RPost Registered Receipt™ emails.”

The first 10 “Send Registered” trans-actions are free, according to Khan.

Standard email insecurities

“Standard email can be easily edited and changed, often in just a few mouse clicks,” Khan notes. “Any recipient of your email can alter its content to their advantage without those changes being apparent to the reader. Or they could claim you altered your copy,” he cautions.

And should a dispute wind up in a courtroom, “Electronic messages can be judged ‘delivered’ only if they can be shown to have arrived at the recipient’s mail system,” he adds. “There is a misconception that if an email appears in the ‘Sent’ folder that the email was actually delivered to the recipient. If a person claims they didn’t receive your email, you have to accept that unless you have a way to prove that it was in fact received by them. So standard email has little ‘evidentiary value’ in a dispute.

“The ‘time stamp’ that appears on a standard email in the recipient’s message window depends on the user’s computer time setting, so, here again, this has little evidentiary value in a dispute,” Khan says.

RPost provides senders with the option of sending an email marked “Registered” or unmarked, he explains. Marking an email Registered lets the recipient know that the sender has proof of delivery, content and time. “Agencies sending an email to an underwriter or a lawyer would probably send it as a Registered Email™ message so the recipient knows that there’s accountability,” he points out. “Under certain circumstances, unmarked emails might be preferable for clients. The agency has a record of the information received by their client but it’s not so much ‘in your face’ as a marked Registered Email™ message.”

Should a recipient dispute receipt of an email or its contents, RPost provides users with a mechanism to have the receipt verified. “You simply forward your copy of the receipt to the party questioning the transmission and have them forward it to verify@rpost.net,” Khan notes. “The RPost system will run it through its algorithms, verify that the information is authentic, validate the original transmission, and reconstruct the original email and all its attachments.”

The RPost Registered Email™ service is designed for the end user, Khan continues, not the folks in the IT department. “Email senders need accountability, especially in light of the new e-discovery rules. Our Registered Email™ service provides accountability in business email. And increasing numbers of business people realize that the more accountability, the lower the business risk they have,” he says.

“Registered Email™ service is like buying insurance for your electronic business correspondence,” he points out.

The concept of insurance for business correspondence isn’t new. For years, agencies have used certified or registered mail to confirm that critical legal and/or coverage-related correspondence with insureds, carriers or vendors arrived at its intended destination. But as business has moved away from surface mail in favor of the quicker, more convenient email, the practice of “registering” correspondence has declined.

Process improvement

“The fact that agencies used to take the time and trouble to use registered mail and to have written procedures that instructed staff under what circumstances they should be using registered mail, indicated to me that with the significant move to email, something needed to be done as a process improvement,” says Frank Sentner, director of strategic technology for the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers (CIAB). “RPost is the solution for a need that was already recognized but which was not being addressed.

“It’s like that old saying: ‘Good fences make good neighbors,’” he continues. “Fraud can be perpetrated on the part of either the sender or the recipient in an email transmission—unless you’re implementing a technology like RPost. It provides you with two important protections: absolute confirmation that the email hasn’t been tampered with and absolute confirmation of delivery.”

CIAB has endorsed RPost for its members. “When our members use it, they rave about it,” Sentner reports. “Registered Email™ messages can be used in the same manner as regular registered mail can be used—following procedures that a particular type of correspondence must be sent Registered. RPost is less expensive than registered mail and it’s much easier to use.”

Sentner says he reviewed another product on behalf of CIAB that purported to compete with RPost. There were several things about that product that caused him concern. Among those concerns was the fact that the product stores copies of the emails on its system. “That’s not something we wanted done,” he says. RPost does not store email messages or attachments, so communication remains confidential.

The Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc. (RIMS), has also endorsed RPost for its members.

“This isn’t a big technology undertaking,” Khan concludes. “RPost is affordable. It’s easy to install and implement for small brokers, mid-sized, large and global firms. The whole point of insurance is to pay a small amount of money to protect a lot of exposure. Essentially that’s what RPost customers do. They pay a small amount of money for select email transactions to protect their businesses from a lot of potential exposure.”