COVID-19 changed how we sell insurance and rewrote the role of the independent agent forever.
Many agencies took significant time to adapt to the pandemic and ran into challenges from communication to management -- especially because many weren't built to support remote work. The challenges manifested in many ways, such as not having a web-based phone system (which makes remote work more accessible) and feeling the agency needed to have employees in the office for customers paying with checks and cash. The challenges resulted in lost production, leading to lost revenue -- and sometimes lost jobs.
The solution was clear. It was time to embrace disruption and innovate. Clearcover surveyed about 500 independent insurance agents and brokers in 2021, and 89% said they made significant changes to their businesses to weather the pandemic.
Insurance agencies that embraced digital innovation and those that reevaluated how to work with independent agents are seeing success. Agencies that had already embraced digital processes, such as customer e-signatures and customer text messaging capabilities, described being forced out of their offices as a "natural transition they had accidentally been preparing for."
The agencies that weren't so prepared brought determination and flexibility to the table. Several start-up agencies told us the pandemic accelerated their business. Because they were new, their systems and book of business were, too. They could easily pick up digital processes and take advantage of a fresh group of prospects that were now looking for a digital agency to help them with their insurance needs during the pandemic. Many had not yet established a physical location and decided to permanently work as a virtual agency instead of incurring the cost of rent for office space. Funds could instead be used to purchase digital leads, boost website and social media presence or hire additional staff.
See also: When Captive Agents Go Independent
Overall, agents reported that the pandemic doubled down on insurance customers' demand for more digital tools, which means independent agents can continue to navigate the disruption successfully by partnering with a digital-first carrier like Clearcover. Those that are successful are also requesting digital marketing solutions (e-flyers, social media content, etc.) to help support customer acquisition.
The most successful agents will be the ones thinking about "what's next." They're the ones who share an exciting new initiative they are launching in their agency when we check in with them. For some, it's a social media play, hiring additional staff or finding new ways to engage with traditional lead channels in a more digital manner -- for example, creating a digital referral program with mortgage lenders or maintaining networking relationships via virtual coffee meetups.
The most successful agents stay engaged. They continue engaging with our sales managers digitally, whether on the phone or through our virtual consultations or our agent chat support team. They use digital resources to understand their business results and stay updated on product enhancements. As COVID-19 continues to shape our industry, these two things are clear: Innovation is driving success, and the agents who innovate to create exceptional service are invaluable.