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Looking ahead to the days after the COVID-19 crisis, the need for some changes in the independent agency channel becomes clear. The channel needs more—and better—digital capabilities.

During the pandemic, Westfield has accelerated our agent digital capabilities. Yes, we still use non-digital, old-fashioned mail, but we see more clearly the wisdom for carriers and agencies to eliminate physical mail.

The beauty of the agency channel is that it’s independent. It can and will spawn new approaches, best practices and new ways of operating that are optimal for the agency and customer.

Welsh was one of a dozen leaders who responded to a Carrier Management request for views on how the pandemic has changed their worlds—personally and professionally. Responses from other carrier, reinsurance and InsurTech executives will be published in the July/August magazine.
Agencies can take away great lessons about how they’ve been equipped—or not—for this crisis. They will carry them forward to the next crisis, whatever it is.

Those agencies now under stress because they didn’t have a digital footprint or the ability to switch to crisis mode will need to change. They can fight or accept that.

Those that already had made critical investments in technology and whose digital operations were already highly efficient have flourished during the pandemic thanks to their strong value proposition. Those agents looked confidently at the crisis as an opportunity and amplified their platforms. A handful reported that March and April were near-record sales months. That’s impressive.

Here’s an example of new opportunity: Suddenly customers who never took a phone call were eager to spend 30 minutes discussing risk concerns.

Westfield sees that agents can increase their value by being catalysts for customer groups in various industries. Customers benefit when agents bring them together, helping them to understand and learn from what their peers are navigating.

Businesses and families face a multitude of risks created by the pandemic—some insurable, some not. Westfield’s brand promise is to help customers navigate all risks, not just the insurable ones, via our agent partners.

The independent agency system needs to double down on its value proposition. Who better to ask a business owner, “What would you do if you couldn’t operate for some period of time? What’s your saving plan? What is your continuity plan?” Asking those important questions aligns with an agent’s value proposition, even if they don’t sell a product to cover the issue they’re probing.

Will customers value agents’ advice more highly after the crisis?

In a world facing more uncertainty, I’ve got my money on independent agents.