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August 26, 2015

Restoring the Agent-Client Relationship

Summary:

The relationships between clients and agents can now be facilitated by rating and matching services akin to Yelp and Angie's List.

Photo Courtesy of Richard Rutter

There has been a lot of frustration in the insurance industry from both those who sell it and those who need it. Both camps are suffering financially, and both can do better if they get together on vital insurance protection, but they just can’t seem to hook up without jumping through hoops. In an era of hyper-information and instant communication, this disconnect may seem crazy, but it’s real. In a time of chaotic change, an online meetup service would be valuable to agents and consumers alike to repair that agent/client relationship and put the personal touch back into insurance.

Financially challenged agents and consumers

Incomes have stagnated for insurance agents and the general public alike, and the route to better times seems unclear for both sides. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary for insurance sales agents inched up only 2% between 2010 and 2014. In 2010, it was $62,520.  In 2014, it was $63,730. Furthermore, the field has become overcrowded, with 18% more agents vying for the business in 2014 than in 2010.

The general public has fared no better. Following the Great Recession, which began in December 2007, the wealthiest Americans have done well. The “rest of us,” however, continue to struggle. The proportion of American households defined as “middle-income” remained stagnant from 2010 through 2014, at about 51%, according to a Pew Research Center study. Back in 1970, the “middle-income” percentage was 10 points higher.

The potential for pocketbook improvements

Both insurance agents and their prospects could do better financially if they could somehow get together more quickly and smoothly – through a matchmaker or intermediary.

It’s easy to see how agents could profit. With, say, a 10% to 50% increase in qualified leads per month, a corresponding jump in income could be expected. And with other efficiencies through more nuanced matchmaking, even greater income increases might be forthcoming – through enhanced referrals, for example.

It’s a little more complicated to see how connecting more smoothly could financially benefit insurance buyers. It becomes clear, though, when one goes to the heart of what insurance is for.  It’s for mitigating risk, which can be expensive. It also means personal benefits such as improved health and well-being. For example, good guidance from an agent can:

  • Make the difference between paying and not having to pay for home repairs after a type of storm damage not covered by an “economy” policy the agent advised against.
  • Preserve a family’s estate by convincing the family, early on, of the prudence of securing long-term-care insurance. This could be a financial game changer for millions of families that are now exposed. According to industry estimates, about 90% of those who could benefit from LTC insurance do not own a policy. And one of the biggest causes of bankruptcy is uncovered health expenses, especially in the later years!
  • Help keep clients safe and whole through an auto policy with safe-driving incentives. The potential benefits range from lower premiums to higher lifetime incomes because of avoiding accidents that might interrupt the ability to work.

As technology and society evolve, good guidance from an insurance agent may affect people’s pocketbooks and lives in more significant ways than ever. More and more agents can:

  • Team with financial advisers to foster sound budgeting, savings, investments and money management.
  • Influence their clients’ health by recommending policies, now starting to appear, that come with fitness incentives. The financial win here is double: lower premiums for keeping up one’s wellness routine and greater lifetime earnings through enhanced vitality and work-span.

The matchmaker solution

A good matchmaking service brings insurance agents and buyers together in very efficient, human ways. It starts with search and ends with introductions and contact.  It includes:

  • A search function to locate agents for a particular type of insurance (auto, critical illness, health, homeowners, life, long-term care, Medicare supplement) in a particular geographic area.
  • A list of agents with their pictures and names visible, for the buyer to peruse and select from.
  • Details about each agent, including:
    • Insurance lines and carriers represented.
    • Agent’s biography or background description.
    • Reviews or testimonials with ratings (usually one to five stars).
    • Link to the agent’s personal or business website.
    • Other information ranging from a location map to social media links.

Limited matching has existed for a few years. Some generic consumer rating and matching services embrace insurance agents. They include Yelp and Angie’s List. General search services, such as Google and Bing, serve as de facto matching services, but in a very spotty way. Insurance associations develop leads that are sold to agents but do not typically provide free online access to individual agents.

Robust agent-buyer matching, with all the above elements, is ready for prime time. In 2015, Agent Review, the first complete rating and matching service designed specifically for insurance agents and insurance buyers, was introduced.

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About the Author

Jonas Roeser is the co-founder and CEO of Agent Review, a website that brings the models made popular by Yelp and Angie’s List to insurance, empowering consumers to more easily navigate complex decisions about their life and health.

follow @Jonas_Roeser or @ITLupdates for more stories like this

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