In Defense of Agents

Agents and Brokers Commentary, March 2022

two hands shaking over a laptop and a contract.

It's not often that someone tells me that something I published made him "physically cringe." In fact, I'm not sure I've ever received that particular form of hate mail. But someone made that claim recently on LinkedIn and tagged me, after I published at a piece that I thought was pretty straightforward. It argued simply that insurtechs should work with human agents to provide the human touch even as they improve the technology that connects with customers and insurers. 

The writer argued that "insurtechs can definitely be independent agents themselves and provide the advice and human touch that some customers require. I think this is the model that will be successful for transactional and simple products."

Who needs human agents?

I prepared to wade into the discussion -- and found I really didn't have to, because so many others had already made my points for me.

Matteo Carbone, who I think of as Mr. Insurtech, wrote in defense of the agent's role: "At a global level, only 6% of personal line premiums have been generated without a human touch."

Another wrote that, when insurtech platforms first came out, "Their leaders were implying that they are going to disrupt the existing system. Some belittled the existing system, only to turn to agents when they could not pull off what they initially claimed they would. Many did not have any insurance experience and knew very little about all the issues and moving parts associated with insurance. There just has been so much insincerity and frankly taking advantage of investors.... Is there a marketplace for selling insurance online? Sure, but it's not causing the disruption as some had falsely claimed it would."

Still another: "Look to the travel agent.... Despite popular conceptions, select travel agents are experiencing a golden age. How? They evolved to luxury and niche (complex) excursions for high-net-worth individuals or people with specialized interests (helicopter skiing, exclusive resorts, ecotourism, etc.) The ones who just assumed people would always be intimidated by booking basic holiday packages were devoured by Expedia (which absolutely provides advice and comfort via online chats). There's a salient lesson in there somewhere."

I'm not at all arguing that agents don't need to stay on their toes. As you'll see from this month's interview and from the articles we've highlighted, agents very much need to keep up with the times. And not all comments were so firm in their support of agents. (You can read the full exchange here:. I've highlighted the article below that stirred up the fuss -- "3 Reasons for Insurtechs, Independent Agents to Collaborate.")

But I did find it encouraging that so many rallied around the role of the agent, which I see evolving much as travel agents have.

That, and it's always nice to be read.



Paul Carroll

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Paul Carroll

Paul Carroll is the editor-in-chief of Insurance Thought Leadership.

He is also co-author of A Brief History of a Perfect Future: Inventing the Future We Can Proudly Leave Our Kids by 2050 and Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn From the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years and the author of a best-seller on IBM, published in 1993.

Carroll spent 17 years at the Wall Street Journal as an editor and reporter; he was nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. He later was a finalist for a National Magazine Award.


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