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At a recent industry event, the Duck Creek Formation conference in March, insurance agency representatives, including Most Insurance Agency Principal Craig Most, shared their thoughts about what makes agents choose to work with certain carriers over others during a session sponsored by Duck Creek partner Ivans.

Following the event, Most and Ivans CEO Reid Holzworth agreed to collaborate and summarize their ideas in writing.

Craig Most

Craig Most: I enjoy attending industry and technology events, like Agents Council for Technology (ACT), Big I and AUGIE for fellowship, to network and witness progress.

Outsiders would consider our industry to be a dinosaur, plodding away without much advancement, but they would be mistaken. The insurance industry, including agencies, carriers and vendors, are making tremendous leaps though technology innovation and adoption. Digital connections of agents and carriers foster greater efficiency in several areas, including quoting, submissions and portals.

What’s next? I think it has to be related to service.

I’ve seen the servicing landscape change a lot in my time as an insurance agent. Carbon paper, typewriter, paper apps (oops, still have those), to today—client portals, self-service options, comparative raters…The progress is impressive!

Technology has enabled a good amount of policy-related information to be shared between carrier and agency, with great strides in policy download, claims downloads and edocs. Each of these aid in reducing the E&O exposures and significantly increase efficiency and profitability.

Technology is an investment to some carriers. To others, it’s an expense, especially if you try to go against the flow and develop your own platform or tools. As an agency owner, I appreciate the importance of return on investment, but I know that improved communication and efficiencies between carrier and agency should help profitability, get more policies written and lead to higher retention. Although my agent peers and I have seen some of these benefits, a significant amount of carriers have not taken advantage of these process enhancements to maximize their agent relationships.

Some carriers, especially large national carriers, have the resources to innovate in this space and lead this digital transformation, for which I am grateful. However, we are ready for the next leap forward. I and my fellow agents need to see increased communication between carriers and agents. We need more carriers to buy in and participate—and, for those entities that already have invested and engaged, to innovate and push forward.

Significant increases in automation of policy and client servicing are necessary, along with simplified communication between entities. Many carriers already have invested heavily in technology to automate how they communicate with their agents. However, these investments have been made in individual carrier portals, which may have digitized processes for carriers but placed the burden on the independent agent to navigate multiple portals to complete day-to-day work.

For example, I just received an email the other day from a carrier with a list of policy numbers and a note to visit the carrier portal for a memo on each policyholder. My next step was to go outside of my agency management system to visit their portal and search for each policy number to see what the memo was about, taking time to search and log each memo. Not the most productive use of my time.

Another example is producing certificates of insurance. This process used to be more collaborative with the carrier. However, now many of my carrier partners require agents to use their portals to produce those certificates, make mortgagee changes, etc. Fortunately, good agency management systems (AMS) will help agents track when they need to do this so at least this step isn’t missed, but the actual task is still quite manual.

These are just two examples of situations where agents act more like processors than licensed advisors, which isn’t good for anyone, including policyholders, carriers and the agent.

We need three winners on every engagement. The policyholder obviously needs the right coverage for that specific risk. The carrier needs the type of client it wants. And the agent needs to benefit as well in terms of commissions paid or carrier relationship. That’s what fosters retention and profitability.

This is where a re-imagining of connectivity must take place.

Reid Holzworth

Reid Holzworth: As a former agent and current head of the industry’s largest connectivity platform, I believe it’s critical to solve these challenges so that all stakeholders, including carriers, agents and policyholders, can benefit.

We hear stories like this from our agency customers all the time. Likewise, we hear similar stories from our carrier customers about wanting to better connect with their agency partners. These are the game-changers that are holding the torch for the rest of the industry, creating a digital ecosystem that simplifies and streamlines workflows for both them and their agency partners.

For the carriers that are still evaluating how to allocate resources and enhance their digital strategy to support better agency relationships, there are a few benefits that should be considered along with the relationships you will improve, including time savings, increased staff productivity, less IT-dedicated resources and ease of conducting business.

  • Data entry and paper are wasting time. Whether a carrier communicates to their agency partner via their portal or not, dependency on data entry and paper-based communications is still a major challenge for carriers. By digitizing policy and other documents and sending them directly to your agencies’ management systems, information that is already saved in your policy admin system minimizes time-wasting tasks in the servicing workflow. The agent instantly has the information they need, so mailing policy information or routing agents to your portal to access information is a thing of the past.
  • Fewer phone calls, more self-serve. Since your staff doesn’t have to prepare paper-based communications or answer phone calls from agents requesting updates on insureds, your staff also has time for more productive, revenue-generating activities. Automating servicing directly to agency management systems allows agents to have immediate access to policy changes, first notice of loss, alerts for non-payment and more, all within their system rather than having to make the request via email or over the phone for your staff to manage.
  • Technology doesn’t have to be your problem. Automating servicing to agency management systems also takes the weight off your staff by relieving them of IT-related tasks. When carriers use their portals to update and send information to agents, all the technology maintenance is handled in-house, which increases the number of IT-dedicated resources that must be available. Automated servicing puts the responsibility in the hands of your technology provider, including maintenance, updates and feature add-ons.
  • A single source of truth leads to better service. Another critical challenge we consistently hear from agents is outdated policy information, stemming from a time lag between processing, sending and accessing information. When carriers automate the delivery of information in their policy admin system to their agencies’ management systems, agents have a single source of truth to serve customers so they can answer questions and provide updates at the moment they’re needed. And we all know that’s what today’s fast-paced, digital-minded customers expect.

If we have learned anything from the last couple of years, it’s that people want information delivered digitally and fast. Technology is rapidly changing to help agents and carriers better connect so they can achieve this real-time information exchange. It’s up to the industry to adapt and serve customers the way they expect. Otherwise, those unconnected companies risk a lot more than time and productivity. While we are seeing many carriers and agents jump on board, it’s important to see industrywide support of digital workflows to create a seamless digital ecosystem for the benefit of all stakeholders, including carriers, agents and the end insured.