Tag Archives: brokers

Agents Must Better Explain Their Value

If agencies can’t do a better job of explaining their value, better marketers will convince consumers they are more ethical than you.

A recent press release from an insurtech caught my attention and ire. What first caught my eye was how the startup measured success in coverage placed, i.e., total policy limits rather than premiums or commissions, to make themselves look successful. For people who don’t know the difference, it was impressive that a 12-person startup agency could place $2 billion in coverage in four years! The average 12-person agency only has $1.2 million to $1.6 million in revenue. This insurtech is outperforming the average agency by 1,430 times!

$2 billion in coverage at $1 million in liability only is just 2,000 policies. Assuming there is some auto and comp and whatever else in there, let’s say 1.5 policies per customer; that is only 1,333 customers; or, in other words, they basically wrote one account per day over four years. Those kinds of policies average around $500 commission each, which may be generous but I’ll use that figure. That amounts to $667,000 in revenue. Divide that by 12 people, and the result is $55,000 revenue per person.

Insurtech is supposed to be about scale. The definition of scale, in all directness, is doing more with fewer people. Scale is nothing else. $55,000 in revenue per person is not scale.

What next caught my attention was their statement that the traditional insurance model provides agents incentives to sell customers policies they don’t need or contain inflated coverage limits. I’d really like to see solid proof that this regularly occurs. I don’t know the captive agent world well, so maybe it happens there, but I doubt it. I know the independent agency world extremely well, and I have rarely seen this happen.

The system actually works the opposite of their statement. In the traditional agency model, for many complex and intertwined reasons, agents actually have more incentive to sell clients less coverage than they need even though they are threatened with E&O suits for doing so! I have seen a large number of agents sued for not selling adequate limits or the right coverages. In the COVID-19 world, has anyone seen an agent sued for selling too much business income insurance?

For 25 years, I have been cajoling, arguing, demanding, yelling and screaming at agents to use coverage checklists, and yet agents are no more likely to use coverage checklists today than 25 years ago. (I’m a failure!) It has been proven over and over in E&O studies that using coverage checklists to ensure clients are offered adequate coverages is the best solution for both clients and agents!

I have only seen one suit brought in the independent agency world for selling too much insurance, and the suit was aimed at the carrier because it was the carrier’s practices, not the agencies’ practices, that allegedly resulted in excessive and unnecessary limits. I’ve never even heard of an agent being sued for selling clients too much insurance.

This insurtech advised that their model works because they make up the difference with finance fees. Their story sounds great to a large proportion of consumers. Consumers do not know how much insurance they need because no agent has ever educated them on how much insurance they need. I teach a lot of insurance classes and have conducted a lot of E&O audits; few people ever discuss the importance of drop down UM coverage on an umbrella policy (in fact, many agents and customer services representatives don’t even talk about the importance of an umbrella policy). Selling unnecessary coverage is really, I mean really, really hard when most agents do not even offer necessary coverage. I was with a retired family member who had paid off his mortgage and wanted to drop his homeowners’ insurance. I explained he would lose his liability coverage. This is an extremely smart person and yet not one single agent in 40 years had ever explained the importance of liability coverage to him!

Professional agents will lose if they don’t educate their clients as to why they need more coverage. They will lose to agents who actually advise those same clients, who do not have enough insurance, that their incumbent agent has actually sold them too much coverage! Pay for what you need, they say, but the consumer has no idea what they need!

See also: 4 Post-COVID-19 Trends for Insurers

A huge proportion of producers exacerbate this problem when their client asks, “How much liability should I purchase?” The producer frequently answers, “As much as you can afford.” What is the difference between this “professional” advice and insurtechs’ advertising, “Buy as much as you can afford.” It’s the same advice! The correct response is to help your customer figure out what they can afford to lose and then recommend that they buy an appropriate limit.

The insurtech’s press release articulates so much of what I see as wrong and unfair in this industry. Yet, the failure of agents to educate their clients and offer the right coverages and their own lack of knowledge about coverages has opened the door wide for this kind of upside-down and sideways marketing pitch to actually make sense to consumers. A low down payment with significant finance fees has been a successful business model for a long, long time.

One other possibly dubious claim is that insureds will still save 35% because carriers are willing to reduce their price because the insurtech agent is so efficient. This claim may be true in some instances because reducing acquisition cost is a huge goal for carriers today. However, a 35% savings? Let’s do the math on this:

The industry average loss ratio has been 61% over the last five years. The average profit margin is around 10%, including investment income. Independent agents are paid an average of around 13%, including comp. So, no matter what an agent does, the most carriers can save is 13% by eliminating agency compensation. An argument may exist relative to some additional savings relative to frictional costs, but not enough. The carriers’ average total expense ratio is around 28% excluding LAE. If I remove the commission of 13%, that only leaves 15%. A 35% reduction in expenses is impossible.

Additionally, using a 61% loss ratio, and if the rate is 35% less, the loss ratio would be 96%, all else being equal. Even if all commissions are eliminated, the loss ratio is still 83%. An 83% loss ratio is not sustainable.

Now, maybe the quoted 35% savings is meant to mirror other disingenuous price saving advertising such as, “The average customer who switched saved $350!” That is an entirely pointless but quite effective ploy. Let’s say 1,000 people shopped that carrier’s site, and 990 stayed with their existing carrier. The remaining 10 saved an average of $350. The people who did not switch may have saved an average of $350 by not switching, so they did not switch! Only counting one side of a ledger is illegal in finance, and perhaps advertising rules should be revised along the same lines. Either way, advertising that carriers are offering lower rates when it is just a math gimmick is mixing and matching in a manner that is highly questionable.

A true 35% savings from the same carrier requires special filings by that carrier or the use of a special purpose PUP company with previously filed deviated rates. That is an awful lot of work for a startup agency that has so little commission they announce sales in total policy limits.

See also: 10 Tips for Moving Online in COVID World

Always check the math on claims like this startup’s. More importantly, sell the right coverages, educate your clients on how much coverage they actually need and show them you won’t sell coverages they do not need. Don’t let firms like this insurtech beat you.

You can find this article originally published here.

5 Ways AI Helps on Client Service

Artificial intelligence has become a hot topic in the insurance industry as the push to modernize the agency with digital solutions reaches a fevered pitch. Especially now, as our society and business operations adapt to a global pandemic, agencies are scrambling to leverage technology and analytics to make smarter decisions for their clients and their own business.

For many independent agencies, however, AI still feels like a theoretical concept — a capability reserved for and only accessible to big companies with deep pockets. But the reality is, AI has tangible benefits for even the smallest independent agencies when it comes to improving client services and strategic business growth. And, it’s more accessible than many might think. 

Leveraging AI can enable better business strategy for agencies of all sizes, today and in a post-pandemic environment. With AI, agencies can:

  1. Better advise clients. Now more than ever, insureds are looking to their insurance agents for risk management, stability and reassurance. With AI, agents can draw on industry insights to better understand the risks their clients face, provide more relevant, data-driven advice and do so with confidence. With the right tools, agents can look at data about similar individuals, businesses or industries and spot trends early to offer coverage suggestions. For example, the demand for business interruption insurance has risen sharply since the pandemic began. By leveraging AI, agents can see these potential risks coming down the pike and can make sure their clients are protected.
  2. Accurately predict risk. For years, actuarial services have attempted to quantify the economic value of risk to help carriers and agencies arrive at appropriate levels of coverage and premium costs. But today, AI provides a much more insightful and accurate risk assessment. By delving into industry-wide historical data, AI tools can arrive at a more accurate risk value based on real, documented data rather than conjecture. This allows the industry to set premium rates accordingly so that insureds get the coverage they need at a price that’s competitive and makes sense. 
  3. Find business opportunities. Without AI, agencies must rely on hunch, experience and clients to find and address new opportunities. AI technologies let agencies quantitatively analyze client needs, market dynamics and carrier appetite. Based on this insight, agencies can make smarter, faster and more confident business decisions to spur growth. For example, with industry intelligence, agencies can identify valuable opportunities to upsell coverage, identify new clients and expand into new markets based on carrier appetite for certain types of policies in specific geographies. 
  4. Improve agency efficiency. Digitizing processes to eliminate rote, manual tasks not only improves agency productivity and performance, but also client relations. When agents can spend less time pushing paper and more time talking with clients to better understand their needs and provide expert advice, everyone wins. AI can help drive this efficiency with predictive and automated workflows that can make many common insurance processes move faster. 
  5. Enhance client relations. While many agencies fear that AI and other technologies might take away from the personal relationships they’ve built with clients, AI can actually do the opposite. By automating processes and surfacing data-driven insights, AI can give agents more time to spend in meaningful conversations with their clients, providing informed counsel on how best to protect their assets. AI can also improve one of the most frustrating processes for clients — claims processing — to deliver a better experience. For example, we can now automate the submission process by using AI to analyze damage photos and natural language processing of the description of the claim submitted to rapidly assess the probability of fraud. Below a certain threshold, the claim may be automatically and instantaneously paid. This accelerates the process, delivering a more positive experience for the individual or business submitting the claim.

See also: How AI Can Stop Workers’ Comp Fraud  

As digital modernization becomes imperative for agencies, AI is proving to be a crucial ingredient for delivering the level of service that clients expect and for driving agency growth. By scaling AI implementation, agencies can not only keep pace with their peers but also offer innovative solutions that give them a competitive advantage, positioning agents as confident and dependable risk advisers in an increasingly uncertain environment.

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.