"The report of my death was an exaggeration," Mark Twain wrote to a newspaper editor in 1897 to squelch rumors that he had lost all his money and died. And agents and brokers might well have said the same thing for many years now.
Certainly, since I got involved with the industry via Insurance Thought Leadership eight years ago, I've heard a steady beat of people predicting the disintermediation of insurance, with agents and brokers being cut out and insurers dealing directly with customers.
I never bought the idea because I've seen this movie before. Having followed and written about technology and innovation ever since the Wall Street Journal put me on the computer beat in New York in 1986, I've seen loads of predictions of the demise of a class of jobs only to see a hybrid model emerge. (The only job to fully disappear in the past century is the elevator operator.)
In the late 1990s, e-commerce giants supposedly were going to put brick-and-mortar stores out of business, and those stores certainly took a hit in the past two decades-plus, but what was called a "clicks-and-mortar" model emerged. Don't look now, but Amazon, the ultimate electronic retailer, is opening physical stores. Likewise, Expedia et al. were supposed to put travel agents out of business, but there are still 55,000 just in the U.S. Bank branches? How passe in a world going digital... but there are nearly 80,000 bank branches still operating in the U.S.
And we all know how much more important the advice is that an agent offers on an insurance policy, as opposed to that of the sales clerk who helps you pick out a pair of shoes.
In fact, while agents and brokers certainly have to adapt to a more digital world, those who play their cards right are entering a golden age (as I described in detail in a recent Six Things newsletter. As the attached articles show, technology can remove the need for a lot of detail work associated with filling out forms -- and all that paper, paper, paper -- freeing agents and brokers to spend more time on what they enjoy and what matters to clients.
Twain, in his wonderfully light way, actually spent most of his letter to the editor complaining about the notion that he had lost all his money, not that he was dead. He would live 13 more years, to the ripe old age (for the time) of 75 -- and lived a lavish lifestyle for the remainder of his days. The same will be true for insurance agents. Despite all those rumors, there is a long life ahead for the field, with plenty of money to be earned in return for important advice and service for clients.
Paul Carroll, Editor-In-Chief, Insurance Thought Leadership
P.S. Here are the six articles I'd like to highlight for agents and brokers:
Increasingly, people no longer view insurance as a transaction – instead, they see insurance as a part of their overall financial wellbeing.
While technology can provide huge benefits, agencies need to invest their time in understanding tools to get the most out of them.
By preparing agents to be the first line of defense against cybercrime, insurance agencies can change employees from risks to guardians.
Your brand’s empathy matters more than ever to customers who’ve undergone what can only be called an emotional roller coaster.
So why do many companies and advisers in our industry resist digital advances like customer self-service and apps?
Whether you like it or not, you have a personal brand. A powerful one differentiation you and creates an emotional connection with your audience.