With so much attention lavished on InsurTech startups that vow to replace them, young insurance agents feel they are being shortchanged in the race to invest in insurance technology. Just give them the technology tools they need and they will be able to compete with InsurTechs, chatbots and robots, they say.
“Technology across the spectrum is a concern,” is how one young agent participating in Insurance Journal’s 2017 Young Agents Survey summarized the feelings of many. (Insurance Journal is Carrier Management’s sister publication.)
“We desperately need technology that will make it 10 times faster to do new business and service tasks on commercial and personal lines in order to even remain relevant,” wrote another concerned young agent. “NOBODY is building this for us. All of the fintech is aimed at replacing agents or selling direct by the carriers. If they would spend some of that money making it more efficient for us to sell and service, we could do so.”
Insurance Journal’s 2017 Young Agents Survey polled 600 young professionals 40 years old and younger. The annual survey asks young agents for their opinions on the industry, their agencies, their careers as independent agents and technology.
The exclusive survey revealed that only 10.2 percent of young agents rate the property/casualty industry’s use of technology as “excellent,” while nearly half or 47.4 percent rate the use of technology “fair” or “poor.”
Advancements in technology are happening, but not quickly enough for some young agents.
For 30-year-old Caroline Pintabone, an account executive at Ahart, Frinzi and Smith, an independent insurance agency with offices in Phillipsburg, N.J., and Alexandria, Va., being able to work remotely one day a week is an ideal fit for work-life balance—something young agents value greatly.
However, she is less than satisfied with the industry’s overall approach to technology.
“Being able to work remote, that’s great. But as far as the [industry’s] technology itself, everything is super outdated,” she said.
On the bright side, Pintabone, who serves as the chair of the New Jersey Young Agents Committee and on the national Big “I” Young Agents Committee, has seen progress in the past year in carrier mobile apps. But compared to other industries, insurance is not on the cutting edge, she said.
“I have friends that are in pharmaceutical sales, and when you compare insurance to that industry, everything is so outdated,” she said.
“Some carriers are so far behind, and that’s the difficult part; you have some carriers that are so advanced in terms of their technology capabilities, so those are the ones that you’re going to go to,” she said. “I have my key carriers that I go to, and I can tell you that it’s because they’re easy to access online.”
Her go-to carriers have quoting systems that are advanced enough that getting an accurate quote in five minutes or less is easy, she said. “The companies that I very rarely use are the ones that don’t even have a quoting system online. You have to submit paper applications, which just seems absurd to me.”
David Baker, a young owner and founder of the Stratum Insurance Agency in Newport Beach, Calif., said price is not the only reason big direct writers are excelling in personal lines. “It’s ease of use,” he said.
“Look at how GEICO does business. They have a customer go on their website, input all the information, and sure, the customer still calls them, but they just give them the quote number. They say, ‘OK, you already put in all your information; you already have the quote, great. Do you have any questions, or do you want to just buy this?’ When they call an independent agent, we have to spend an hour on the phone with them trying to get their information into these systems.”
In Pintabone’s view it’s not just carrier technology that needs an upgrade. “There’s definitely room for advancement in some agency management systems as well,” she said. “There’s a lot of options [in some agency management systems], but you find that a lot of those options they’re giving you don’t even necessarily work. I feel like there’s too many options out there…They focus on too many aspects of making the system perfect rather than focusing on one aspect and perfecting that.”
Whether it’s carrier technology or agency technology, young agents want advancements—and they want them now, she said.
“Young professionals want everything yesterday. I want my quotes as soon as possible. I understand that some quotes are going to require more underwriting information than others, but the quicker you can get something to an agent, the better chance you have of becoming that top carrier for that agent. My three largest companies are great, reputable companies, but they also are the companies that get everything to me the quickest.”
“There is terrible technology from the carriers, especially in the excess and surplus lines market,” wrote one young agent in the survey. “Using old-fashioned paper applications is inefficient and a waste of time…Carriers should provide their agents with fillable online systems for rapid quoting. We quote thousands of accounts a month, and many complain that it [takes] too long.”
Disruption and Young Agents
Ron Berg, executive director of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT), believes there’s a misconception in the industry that the growth of InsurTech startups is all bad. “It’s only bad if we don’t pay attention to it,” he said. “Yes, we as an industry have known for a long time that we have to be faster to sense, react and implement solutions. We are not at that point of resting on our laurels anymore. We have to find the best ways to assimilate and increase the ease of doing business, and absolutely InsurTechs are driving the change.”
Most young agents responding to the survey aren’t too worried about the InsurTech movement, with less than a quarter (24.0 percent) saying they believe that InsurTech will mean serious disruption of the industry. However, 64.1 percent believe the industry overall has been too slow to adopt new technology.
“Technology is going to make the independent agency world from a personal lines standpoint and small commercial difficult over the next 10 to 15 years,” said Ryan Von Haden, partner/vice president of Business Accounts at Tricor Insurance and the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents’ (PIA) 2016 Agent of the Year. “I don’t think larger commercial property and casualty is really going to be hit as much because of the need for local service and relationships. But over the next 10 to 15 years, technology will lead to big changes in our industry.”
InsurTech startups are moving the industry in the right direction, said Brent Rineck, chief information officer for ABD Insurance & Financial Services. “It’s forcing us all to take a higher emphasis on technology, but I don’t think it will ever replace us,” he said. “But it’s definitely pushing us.”
Kitty Ambers, CEO of the Network of Vertafore Users (NetVU), agrees. InsurTech startups are providing agencies with an opportunity to get better. “We need to take the time to decide where we are going, where we want to be, and how we are going to get there.”