Tag Archives: brokers

How Agents Are Adapting to COVID-19

Lockdowns, mandatory work from home, social distancing – the coronavirus pandemic has upended lives across the US. With no definitive end in sight and officials closing restaurants, bars and non-essential businesses in cities and towns across the country, most small businesses are feeling the economic impact and wondering, does my insurance cover this?

It’s long been known that insurance agents demonstrate their value to customers during crises, whether that’s a personal crisis, such as a car accident, or a community crisis, such as a major storm. During these times, agents are advisers providing much needed guidance to worried clients. Now, with the unprecedented uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, businesses are wondering if they have enough protection to help them weather this storm. Agents are advocates helping customers with the information they need, and are friends, providing comfort and support and a receptive ear to those who need a sounding board. 

Even if their physical locations close, agents need to be accessible to their clients. Agents have to have instant access to policy files. They need to maintain constant communication. And they need to implement solutions that handle routine matters, so they have more time to focus on their clients’ unique needs.

Here are three ways agents have adapted to continue to provide the service their clients require. 

1. Taking their agencies to the cloud. 

Most agency management systems are set up to work in the cloud – giving agents access to their customer files. Many agencies have been using these capabilities easily, with no disruption to their normal course of business. Agencies that are not set up should contact their vendor representatives to ensure they have all of the functions needed to continue business outside of the office.

Agencies are also using other cloud-based solutions that make it easier to process new business, claims and endorsements outside of the normal office setup. Automated quoting solutions that obtain multiple carrier quotes from a single-form submission eliminate the need to go to and resubmit the same information on multiple carriers’ websites. Online portals give customers instant access to their policies so they have the information at their fingertips and can file claims online. 

See also: Coronavirus: What Should Insurers Do?  

2. Extending communications beyond email and phone.

Every minute there seems to be a new coronavirus development. With things constantly in flux, customers will continue to have questions and want answers as quickly as possible. Agencies are making sure clients know how to reach them, especially since clients have gone mobile.  Some agents are using social platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to share updates that are helpful for all customers. One good idea: If many of the questions are repetitive, consider adding a Frequently Asked Questions page to your agency website that can be promoted on social media. Other agencies are using text for simple questions that can be answered quickly. 

In a crisis, it’s also important to implement face-to-face communication tools to maintain relationships with clients. Social distancing doesn’t have to prevent you from meeting with customers. Take your conversations to the virtual world, using solutions like Skype or Zoom to maintain personal interactions.

3. Business doesn’t stop, and innovation can’t stop. 

With the world in chaos, the temptation may be to focus on stabilizing business, maintaining the status quo. But as agencies adapt and implement different processes to keep operations going, agencies should be using all tools at their disposal. Technological solutions, like automated quoting, that help with routine, time-consuming tasks can have a long-term effect in not only helping agencies through a crisis but better serving clients in the future. For example, some agencies are taking advantage of on-demand webinar platforms to host Q&A sessions where a variety of business owners can get advice on their most pressing queries. This can be a powerful tool in building long-term client relationships.

See also: How Coronavirus Is Cutting Connections 

It’s important for agencies to think about the changes they are making now as advancements that go beyond the crisis. Many of the improvements that agencies are currently making in real time can have significant benefits to efficiency and growth when things return to normal leading to an overall stronger agency dynamic.

These are uncertain times, and we don’t know how long the coronavirus pandemic will last. Taking the necessary steps now ensures that agencies continue providing their clients with critical customer service. When the pandemic subsides, many of these learnings and changes can be continued as the marketplace returns to normal.

How Can Brokers Grow in 2020?

There seem to be infinite possibilities for insurance brokers to grow these days. Here are a few tried-and-true strategies that brokers can take full advantage of in 2020 to stay relevant and elevate themselves to strategic advisers.  

Expand your product and services portfolio

Brokers need to challenge the idea of being specialists, especially because monoline insurance selling is not as prominent as it once was. It will pay off to operate as a generalist with a vast knowledge of multiple available coverages and services rather than focusing on a singular, niche area. Indeed, expanding their portfolio can help brokers manage clients’ entire risk profile, reach new segments of potential clients and elevate them from simply a vendor to a strategic adviser. For example, a broker with clients in healthcare, an industry with acute cyber concerns, might expand his or her portfolio to offer cyber insurance. 

Get out of the Stone Age

In today’s digital world, clients are accustomed to having service at the touch of a button, and brokers must adapt. Implementing technology that boosts efficiency, enables customers to manage their own products and expedites all processes has become a must as clients no longer have patience to work with businesses unwilling to make such changes, regardless of coverage options.  

See also: Realistic Expectations for Insurance in 2020  

Evaluating where strategic investments can be made specific to their business, such as adopting a new agency management system, using data and analytics, white labeling or partnering on risk engineering services, can also fuel growth. For example, using a system like CoverWallet to rate, quote and bind smaller accounts, frees up agents’ time to focus on larger accounts with more revenue potential. Or agents can tap digital partners like IVANS to identify emerging markets faster, which leads to quicker growth. 

Be comfortable with a “blank piece of paper” mindset

Every successful broker has a growth mindset. Although it can be uncomfortable, a great way to grow can start from a “blank piece of paper” mindset. That is, moving away from the “business as usual” mentality and just saying “yes” can lead to unimaginable possibilities and new ideas regarding the evolving service, technology and customer experiences. For example, insurtech companies are super comfortable with a blank piece of paper – it allows them to think, design, build and test new ideas in a fast environment.

Straying away from the idea of perfectionism can lead to meeting new people, creating long-term goals and working on projects you hadn’t considered before. Being willing to start from scratch and think outside the box allows brokers to learn about the field in new ways. The ability to adapt to overcome challenges and a willingness to embrace the unknown are essential skills for successful brokers. A way to work on honing this skill is by looking for new strategies to adopt that allow you to stay up to date on current trends in the field, and maintaining an optimistic mindset. Long-term strategies can come from not being afraid to start at the end of something and working backward toward your goal instead of trying to fix what might be broken.

Have a referral strategy

Putting a referral strategy in place can help brokers capitalize on growth opportunities. Failing to take this step is essentially leaving money on the table.  It’s important to set goals before crafting and implementing a strategy. From there, brokers can make it a habit to think about who they can tap for a referral two or three times a week, and then bring the referral to life. These efforts will add up over time with persistence, gratitude and creativity. 

Referrals are a major business builder and money maker for brokers. When trusted clients, friends, family and colleagues recommend a broker’s services to others it can quickly translate into a new customer. However, brokers can’t rely solely on word-of-mouth referrals. To break free of the referral rut, brokers should leverage both social networking and traditional, in-person networking to organically grow their business, strengthen relationships and reach new audiences.

See also: What a Safer World Means for Brokers  

Invest in strategic partnerships 

Strategic partnerships can allow brokers to push their capabilities to the next level and expand into new areas of insurance. There are three main potential partnerships for brokers to explore: agent aggregators, merger or acquisitions and gaining access to an online marketplace. Agent aggregators offer immediate expansion and resources. Mergers or acquisition can prove successful when two firms specialize in the same niche area or have symbiotic offerings. Lastly, gaining access to an online marketplace is an increasingly common option with the evolution of insurtech.

Technology Cannot Replace Brokers

Amid all the investment activity in the insurance industry, I distinguish two types of startups by using a very straightforward – and I believe a black-and-white, legal – perspective: If a firm must comply with insurance regulations then it is an insurance firm, and not a technology firm, regardless of what technology it uses to get and keep customers.

Why all the activity? Why is the insurance industry a target for transformation or a destination for disruption for investors?

VCs, other investors and the startup entrepreneurs view the trillion-dollar global insurance industry as a group of (very) old companies using (very) old processes to conduct commerce. From their perspective, the industry is an extremely large addressable market of companies that are seriously out of touch with the realities of how commerce is, and should be, conducted in the mobile, digital, connected marketplace in the Internet era. 

For investors, it is an industry ready to be plundered!

Brokers: the sweet spot of many startups

Quite a few of the insurance startups are targeting insurance brokers as a sweet spot to be disrupted. And a sweet spot it is. Estimates from various sources put the number of agents and brokers in the U.S. insurance industry at between 300,000 and 400,000. 

See also: Agents, Brokers Are Dead? Not So Fast!  

[Note: For the purposes of this post, I will use the term “broker” to mean either insurance broker or insurance agent. I agree that I’m taking liberties doing that.]

Brokers: target for transformation

There is an important fact about insurance brokers: Customers can’t legally purchase insurance without using one.  

I believe that investors forget that brokers are legally required in the purchase of insurance, think that fact (i.e. the law) will change to the benefit of the startup they are invested in, are ignorant of the fact or willingly ignore the fact.

(If you’re wondering … Yes, I believe there are VCs or other investors who would willingly and illegally ignore insurance regulatory requirements and related laws.)

The key question is: Can the insurance broker space be disrupted or transformed?

My answer is no.

I believe the broker space can’t be disrupted, as in, broken apart, thrown into disorder or interrupted in their normal course or unity.

Customer-Broker Paths

However, I believe the broker space can be transformed. 

Specifically, the customer-broker paths can be transformed. In reality, through the applications of technology through the decades, these paths have been transformed, are being transformed and, I suggest, will continue to be transformed.

See also: What a Safer World Means for Brokers  

Consider the visual below. The visual captures past, existing and potential future customer-broker paths. But keep in mind two points:

  1. Even through the process of transformation, the broker (whether person or algorithm) remains because the broker is legally required in the insurance purchase.
  2. The transformation is about transforming the path between customer and broker but is not about transforming the role (or the essence of the role) of the broker.

The history of customer-broker paths is founded on face-to-face (F2F) meetings, whether in the customer’s home, in the broker’s office, at car dealerships or in banks. 

Beyond F2F paths, technology has acted as an interface that has eliminated time and distance between the customer and the broker. But whether at the other side of a computer screen, via a mobile app, through an email or using a chatbot on an insurer web portal, there must be a broker present to sell the insurance line of business. Even algorithms used as brokers have to comply with the requisite insurance regulations: no leprechauns, no pixie dust, no magic. 

Technology redefines the existing paths, introduces new paths and makes the activities enabling any of the customer-broker paths both more effective and more efficient. 

The technologies, whatever they are, do not, of course, replace the broker even if they make the broker appear in a virtual reality or in Second Life or “embed” the broker in a hologram.

Specialization: What’s Next for Agents

Many brokers take a generalized approach to their business. In a competitive field, the thinking goes, it’s best to be able to cover as many industries as possible. However, this line of thinking may be doing more harm than good, as specializing can in fact greatly improve business as a broker. Specializing within one industry may provide a number of benefits for a broker’s sales and marketing tactics, such as internal development of expertise on certain products and gaining a reputation for niche knowledge.

Sales and marketing

Clients increasingly expect tailored services across industries, and businesses are responding. A 2016 McKinsey survey found 46% of businesses surveyed said most accounts are managed by individuals focused on a specific industry. By 2021, respondents said they expect that number to climb to 66%.

When insurance agencies or independent brokers specialize, they’re able to market specifically to what needs exist, based on first-hand observations, and tailor sales tactics to what they know to be most important to the industry. Catering to clients’ needs in this way builds key relationships.

For example, if a broker specializes in insuring cannabis businesses, people will get to know the broker by face and name at industry events, and the broker will become ingrained in the industry.

Product expertise

In addition to gaining more clients through word-of-mouth recommendations, insurance professionals who specialize in a given industry will be able to develop product expertise. Knowing the ins and outs of an industry is essential to speak with authority.

This establishes credibility, and speeds up workflow and productivity. Doing something for the first time takes time, but, by the 10th time around, you’re able to do almost anything more quickly. And the more quickly you move — from getting new business and renewal applications completed to building relationships with specific carriers and underwriters — the more clients you can work into your roster.

See also: Agents, Brokers Are Dead? Not So Fast!  

Insuring a manufacturer is different than insuring restaurants, which is different than insuring the cannabis industry. Brokers learn that a cannabis distributor needs fire coverage and theft coverage, while a manufacturer needs stronger protection against physical damages to equipment and employee injuries on the job.

Finding a niche

If a particular business operates largely in the region where you live, you may want to specialize there. Or, if you find yourself better able to connect with clients in certain industries, you can put yourself in contact with those people more often. Different industries have different events, people and methods of operation. You are likely to enjoy certain types of events more than others, whether those are meetups, large networking events or smaller gatherings.

If, in addition to talking about insurance, you enjoy talking about tech, small business or law, you can combine outside interests with your work in insurance. You’ll be able to cultivate relationships by showing you’re interested in potential clients’ fields. You’ll be able to make those human connections that people value so much.

Find a niche, and you’ll be able to talk about the latest news, particular pain points and exciting developments that clients are looking forward to implementing. Potential clients will remember you for being able to talk about more than just insurance policies and not rushing to the sale.

See also: How to Keep Humanity in Online Sales  

Operating as a specialist as opposed to a generalist gives independent brokers and agencies opportunities to improve business. Streamlining marketing techniques, gaining product expertise and finding a niche, you’ll become an expert, develop stronger client relationships, improve workflow and build your client base.

Do Consumers Trust Their Agents?

I just read this article, which includes this:

“According to an Accenture study, only 27% of consumers consider insurers to be trustworthy. And Deloitte found that only 11% of people have strong trust in insurance agents and brokers.”

I’ve seen studies like this over the years. What is usually missing from these statistics is the Q&A related to the insurer or agent OF the consumer. If you ask consumers if THEIR insurance agent is trustworthy, the numbers are almost always WAY higher than those above.

The same is often true of politicians…when the question just refers to “politicians,” polls imply that they are universally despised, But ask people what they think of a politician they voted for and the statistics are completely different.

As has been said, “Torture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything.”

The driving force behind insurance policy evolution is litigation and regulation where the difference in coverage, according to the courts, can be the tense of a verb or a punctuation mark.

See also: Insurtech and the Law of Large Numbers  

Berkshire just came out with a policy called “THREE” that combines property, business income, general liability, auto, professional liability, workers’ compensation and cyber liability (I’m probably forgetting something) insurance…IN THREE PAGES. And it’s going to be clear to business owners what is or isn’t covered?

Inarguably, the most important “customer experience” is the one that takes place at claim time. Insurance policies are complex, legal contracts whose terms and conditions have often been interpreted over decades. And the reality is that virtually no consumers read them…. Far too many insurance practitioners don’t even read them. I doubt that reducing dozens of pages to two to three pages will change that metric. When it comes to making contracts understandable, less is not necessarily more.

By the way, there is no such thing as “fine print” in regulated insurance policies.