Case Study: Learning More About Your Agency

Derek Sprouse, President of Sprouse Insurance, is a forward-thinking, third generation independent agent in Northwest Ohio. He was also one of the first agents to utilize OIA's R.I.S.E. report – a benchmarking report that takes your high-level operations data and compares it to your peer agencies from across the state, those within your local region, and those at the same premium volume.

Says Sprouse, “I did the R.I.S.E. report because I thought it would be a good opportunity to see some unbiased information on how I was doing and how my competitors, or peers, depending on where they are located, were doing against us.”

Sprouse was able to compare his agency's growth, how competitive his salary and benefit packages are, and gain insights into other critical performance metrics.

Of the information contained in the R.I.S.E. report Sprouse remarked, “That’s not something I felt like I could necessarily get out of our management system. It knows a lot of things, but it doesn’t know what everybody else is doing. I thought it was a really good opportunity for us to leverage a bigger pool of information so we could make some strategic plans and changes.”

When asked if any of the results in his R.I.S.E. report surprised him, he said “I knew we had younger people, and we’ve tried to do a good job of having multiple generations in the agency, but we were very young compared to the industry and our peers.”

Remarking further about his experience, Sprouse shared “OIA was the best choice because it’s unbiased, number one, and number two you already have a lot of the data, number three, you know me and what we do.”

“I think that consultants, depending on where they come from, geographically, may not understand exactly where we are, what we do. Every state is different; the more that someone is familiar with you, the more they can tell you how you’re doing. I knew I could trust OIA.”

Learn more about how a R.I.S.E. report can help your agency 

You don’t need to be an OIA member to access the report, you simply need to be an independent insurance agency principal. Get started on yours today!

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Should an Agency Follow Up with Late-Paying Clients?

QUESTION:

Following up with late-paying clients wastes large amounts of time at our agency. Is there a recommended follow-up policy that preserves workflow? If we have been following up with clients for late payments, are we stuck in that precedent forever?

Response 1:

If a client causes a wreck with lapsed coverage and you didn’t remind them to pay their premium like you always do, you will get sued. Start a new policy, inform clients of the new policy and stop following up on late pays.

Response 2:

Your first call should be to your errors & omissions insurer.  They'll tell you not to follow up because it creates an expectation that you can't and shouldn't live up to. That's been the advice from E&O and agency management experts for years. 

However, it’s easier said than done. Very few agents follow this best practice 100%. If you get a late notice on your biggest commercial client's homeowners policy, you're a rare breed of agent if you don't give them a call. Worse yet, once you've done this deed, you're probably stuck with it as a precedent forever. 

Follow the advice of your E&O insurer, who will probably tell you to stop sending reminders and never do it again.  If you're not prepared to do that, set up a workflow you can live with and follow it consistently. Also, make sure you have adequate limits on your agency’s E&O policy. 

Response 3:

The agency should never follow up on late-paying clients or cancellations. The insurance companies send out cancellation notices, which will legally suffice.

Since you’ve been reminding clients, you should notify all direct billed clients that you will no longer be sending reminders. The tone of that letter should be positive, courteous and explanatory. Next, you should contact your E&O carrier to request a full E&O audit.

Response 4:

If you’re going to continue following up, you must do so for all customers. In this instance, invariable practice—doing the same thing for every client all the time—is the key defense. Most states have evidentiary statutes that force the plaintiff to prove you didn’t follow your practice if you have one.

Response 5:

I call my clients. I only have about five habitual abusers of the cancellation follow-up. They are the same clients each month, so I may have created a monster. It’s much easier to send a simple email reminder and they usually remit that day. These clients are contractors who are just very busy during the construction season.

This question was originally submitted by an agent through the VU’s Ask an Expert Service, with responses curated from multiple VU faculty members. Answers to other coverage questions are available on the VU website. If you need help accessing the website, request login information.

Looking for additional information on E&O loss control training or have a question about your E&O policy? Contact our team of experts for help!

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New Tune: Understanding ISO’s Recent Changes to the PAP

This article was orignially written by Chris Boggs and published by IA Magazine.

Insurance Services Office (ISO) filed 30 changes to its personal auto policy program effective Sept. 1, 2018. Over a year later, most carriers have adopted the new language.

How well do you understand the changes ISO made to the base PAP form (PP 0 01) and the 21 endorsements it either revised, removed or created?

Base Form Revisions

Newly Acquired Auto Wording. Historically, the PAP granted insureds automatic liability, medical payments and uninsured motorist coverage for the remainder of the policy term when a replacement vehicle was purchased. Physical damage was the only coverage that did not continue for the remainder of the policy term.

If the insured wanted collision and/or other-than-collision coverage, the carrier had to be notified of the newly acquired vehicle and the desire for coverage. Time limits for this notification depended upon whether the insured’s policy already provided collision and/or other-than-collision coverage:

  • If the PAP extended collision and/or other-than-collision coverage to at least one vehicle, the insured had 14 days to notify the carrier of the newly acquired vehicle and the desire for coverage.

  • If the PAP extended no physical damage coverage to any vehicle, the insured had only four days to notify the carrier of the desire for coverage. 

ISO’s new PAP form wording requires the insured to notify the insurance carrier of any newly acquired vehicle—whether it’s an additional vehicle or a replacement vehicle—within 14 days of acquisition. No automatic coverage is granted. 

Supplementary Payments. ISO increased the coverage amount to $250 per day for loss of earnings to attend hearings from the prior limit of $200 per day.

Public or Livery Conveyance Exclusion. Prior to 2018, when a carrier wanted to specifically exclude any activities or exposures arising from the use of a covered vehicle as part of a transportation network platform such as Uber or Lyft, it attached the public or livery conveyance exclusion endorsement (PP 23 40), which ended coverage when the transportation network platform app was turned on and the vehicle was made available for use. This exclusionary wording is now included in the base PAP language.

ISO also addressed concerns that the public or livery conveyance exclusion might be misapplied when a vehicle is used for volunteer or charitable purposes, such as Meals on Wheels or volunteer medical transportation. New exception wording specifically states that the exclusion does not apply when the vehicle is being used for volunteer or charitable purposes.

Personal Vehicle Sharing Program Exclusion Endorsement (PP 23 16). ISO withdrew the endorsement and included the exclusionary wording within the PP 00 01 to specifically exclude coverage for any vehicle enrolled in and being used in a vehicle-sharing program.

Custom Equipment Exclusion Endorsement (PP 13 06). ISO withdrew the PP 13 06 endorsement and incorporated the wording into the base PAP to exclude specific types of custom equipment.

Racing Exclusion. ISO expanded the racing exclusion to exclude coverage for any vehicle located inside a facility designed for racing for the purpose of participating in any prearranged or organized driver skill training or driver skill event. Now, any activities occurring on or at a racing facility in an attempt to improve driver skill are excluded.

Flying Car Exclusion. There are no viable flying cars currently in existence, but the base form now contains a flying car exclusion.

Other Insurance Clarification. ISO added wording to the Part A Other Insurance provision to recognize the possibility of an umbrella and reduce potential legal confusion. New wording states that the PAP is not excess over a policy that is intended specifically as an excess policy.

Transportation Expense Coverage. ISO increased Coverage D’s transportation expense limit to $30 per day/$900 maximum from $20 per day/$600 maximum.

Duties After a Loss. Historically, the insured was not required to provide a recorded statement after an accident even if the carrier requested one; and such refusal did not endanger coverage. New policy wording requires the insured to submit to recorded statements as often as reasonably required.

Revised Endorsements

  • ISO added new mold exclusionary wording to the Trailer/Camper Body Coverage (Maximum Limit of Liability) PP 03 07 Endorsement, resulting in a reduction of coverage.

  • ISO inserted the statement “Coverage is not provided on an agreed value basis” into the Coverage for Damage to Your Auto (Maximum Limit of Liability) PP 03 08 Endorsement.

  • ISO withdrew the PP 03 10 Change Endorsement, which was intended for use when the policy was endorsed after the effective date.

  • ISO made three changes to the PP 03 11 Underinsured Motorist Coverage Endorsement to dovetail with revisions in the base form:

    • Addition of the volunteer or charitable use exception wording

    • Incorporation of the personal vehicle sharing exclusionary wording

    • Addition of the flying vehicle exclusionary wording

    • ISO revised the PP 03 21 Limited Mexico Coverage Endorsement based on research that determined not all accidents are considered criminal offenses in Mexico as previously thought. The new warning replaces “are” and “does” with less definitive language and now reads: 

      • AUTO ACCIDENTS IN MEXICO ARE SUBJECT TO THE LAWS OF MEXICO, NOT THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES. UNDER MEXICAN LAW, AUTO ACCIDENTS MAY BE CONSIDERED A CRIMINAL OFFENSE AS WELL AS A CIVIL MATTER. THE COVERAGE WE PROVIDE YOU BY THIS ENDORSEMENT MAY NOT MEET MEXICAN AUTO INSURANCE REQUIREMENTS.

  • ISO made minor alterations to the Miscellaneous Type Vehicle Endorsement PP 03 23, introducing a mold exclusion under coverage Part D and adding a definition of “fungi.” ISO also revised the exception to Exclusion 7 to reinforce that coverage is excluded for any motor home a named insured does not own when used as a temporary substitute for a covered motor home. 

  • ISO revised the PP 03 28 Miscellaneous Type Vehicle Amendment (Motor Homes) Endorsement to allow an insured to purchase liability, med pay, comp and/or collision when a motor home that is “your covered auto” is rented to others.

  • ISO revised the PP 03 34 Joint Ownership Coverage Endorsement to provide for a listing of joint owners and, if the person is a non-resident relative, space for name and address. ISO removed coverage information from the endorsement because it’s found in the declarations.

  • ISO altered the PP 03 35 Auto Loan/Lease Coverage Endorsement to address handling of interest from deferred payments and primacy of coverage when another source of gap coverage applies to the loss. 

  • ISO added other-than-collision coverage to the schedule of coverages that can be suspended under the PP 02 01 Suspension of Insurance Endorsement.

  • ISO revised the Named Non-Owner Coverage PP 03 22 Endorsement to make physical damage coverage an available option.

  • ISO revised the PP 13 03 Trust Endorsement to provide more flexibility to accommodate various trust structures.

New Endorsements

  • The PP 33 05 Full Safety Glass Coverage Endorsement applies when other-than-collision coverage is in effect and the auto is listed in the endorsement.

  • The Key Replacement and Related Services Coverage PP 33 27 Endorsement pays, without application of a deductible, for:

    • Reasonable expenses to get into the car if the fob is lost or stolen.

    • The cost to replace and program keys or key fobs lost or stolen.

    • The schedule for each listed auto shows a maximum limit.

  • The Pet Injury Coverage PP 33 31 Endorsement extends coverage from Part D and applies only when all of the following conditions are met:

    • Collision and other-than-collision coverage applies to at least one vehicle.

    • The dog or cat owned by “you” or a “family member” is in the car at the time of the accident.

    • The car qualifies as “your covered auto” or a “non-owned auto.”

    • Covered costs include vet expenses or costs to cremate or dispose of the pet incurred within one year of the date of loss. The limit is per occurrence.

  • The PP 33 30 Child Restraint System Coverage Endorsement provides coverage to replace a child restraint system following an accident. Coverage extends from Part D and applies only when all of the following conditions are met:

    • Collision and other-than-collision coverage applies to at least one vehicle.

    • The child restraint system is owned by “you” or a “family member.”

    • The child restraint system is inside “your covered auto” or a “non-owned auto” at the time of the loss.

    • The schedule or declarations shows a maximum limit, which provides replacement with like kind and quality without application of a deductible.

  • The PP 33 10 Replacement Cost Coverage Endorsement replaces actual cash value loss settlement with replacement cost. To qualify for replacement cost, all of the following conditions must be met:

    • The covered auto must be added to the policy and the loss must occur within 24 months of purchase, with the insured as the original owner.

    • The covered auto must have less than 24,000 miles at the time of the loss.

    • The covered auto must suffer a total loss.

    • There is no automatic coverage for a newly acquired auto or a leased vehicle. Coverage is subject to a deductible, and the amount of coverage is limited to the amount to replace with a new vehicle of the same make, model, trim level and equipment, or its equivalent. Wording does not specify model year. If the same make, model, trim or equipment is not available, the carrier will pay for one similar, but not to exceed 110% of the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price of the covered auto.

  • The Additional Resident of Your Household PP 33 37 Endorsement was developed to extend coverage to individuals such as live-in nannies, roommates, legal domestic partners and significant others who do not own but have access to the named insured’s vehicle(s). The endorsement:

    • Allows the naming of an additional resident.

    • Amends the definition of “family member” to include the named resident.

    • Specifies that the carrier is depending on the insured to be truthful.

    • Requires the insured to notify the carrier if residency changes.

  • The Personal Property Coverage PP 33 42 Endorsement was designed to extend homeowners-like personal property coverage to personal property anywhere in the world. Coverage is provided on an open-perils basis and paid on an actual cash value basis, with a replacement cost option.

Note that although ISO filed these changes with an effective date of Sept. 1, 2018, not every carrier adopted the changes immediately, and two states did not adopt the changes at all: Hawaii and North Carolina. Additionally, ISO does not establish effective dates in four states: California, Colorado, Texas and Virginia.

Chris Boggs is executive director of the Big “I” Virtual University (VU). For more details on this topic, check out the VU’s webinar and Risk & Reality Report.


5 Ways Independent Agencies Can Compete with Insurtech

This artice was originally published as a guest blog by Cam Bob III, Infinity Leads, and published by Hawksoft.

With digitization being at the forefront of conversation for most industries and a growing number of Insurtech startups sprouting up, you might have heard the term digital insurance agency being thrown around.

So what exactly is a digital insurance agency?

Simply stated, it’s an agency that is well positioned to compete in a digital age where Insurtech giants and startup disruptors are clamoring for the biggest piece of the pie.

Digital insurance agencies understand what makes Insurtech startups successful and apply those lessons to their own businesses. They are lean organizations that focus on customer experience and have strong digital footprints. They invest in digital infrastructure and assets. They create a culture of innovation like tech startups. They attract and nurture leads online. And as a result, they are positioned for rapid revenue growth and longer customer retention because they’ve adapted to business in the digital era.

Why should your agency make the shift?

Satisfy a changing customer base

Customer expectations of instant digital transactions sustained seamlessly across digital channels are increasingly the norm. And with these changes, so change the expectations for their insurance service provider. Modern consumers are spoiled with choice; they live and breathe on their digital devices, and oftentimes with the depth of information available online, they make purchase decisions prior to even engaging with service providers. Studies show that most consumers will use their computer or mobile device to perform online research before they engage directly with your brand.

Attract young talent

Consumers aren’t the only ones becoming more digitally savvy. The industry’s up-and-coming talent is too. To address the talent gap in the industry, you’ve got to shift perceptions amongst recent graduates and leverage new channels for recruiting, or you risk losing the best talent.

Stay competitive

Insurtech startups are lean, digitally native, innovative, and have venture capital backing. Already in 2019 Insurtech startups have received record-breaking venture capital investment globally, and the year is not over. In addition, 56% of Insurtech startups are focused on marketing and distribution. It is safe to assume that the techies and venture capitalists have your book of business in their crosshairs.

Insurtech may have the funding, reach, and technology to be a formidable opponent in the insurance space, but there are massive opportunities to be exploited for agents who can effectively combine the traditional and digital. With the rapid advancements in technologies like automation, artificial intelligence, and digital marketing, digital tactics have become accessible and possible to leverage for independent agencies of any size.

5 ways agencies can compete with Insurtech

There are 5 key things agencies can do to compete with—or differentiate themselves from—their Insurtech competitors. 

1. Leverage technology and automation

Technology is one of the main areas where Insurtech startups outpace agencies. These digitally native companies rely on technology like automation, artificial insurance, and cloud computing to win customers over to their new way of doing business. They leverage customer usage data, provide personalized experiences, and enhance transparency.

Independent agencies might not have the same access to cutting-edge technology, but they can maximize the digital tools they’re already using, like the agency management system. Your agency should be leveraging your system to automate time-consuming tasks so you have more time to focus on areas where Insurtech can’t compete, like building strong personal relationships with your clients.

Look into the features your agency management system offers to automate your workflows. Does it have the features listed below? Do you have them set up and optimized to your workflow?

Auto-documentation

Guarantee that every interaction between insured and agent is tracked with log notes that are automatically generated when actions are performed. 

Paperless features

Store all client touchpoints  digitally in one system with digital documentation, e-signature capabilities, and virtual printing.

Form auto-population

Eliminate manual entry and errors by flooding info from carrier downloads into ACORD Forms.

Batch emailing

Ensure that communication is both automated and personalized with segment targeting, email templates, and merge fields for policy data.

Mobile features

Communicate with clients on the devices they carry with them through client texting and an insured app.

Aside from the management system, there are many other digital tools agencies can employ to find leads, communicate with clients, and make traditionally cumbersome processes more efficient for both sides. Just remember that the purpose of digital tools should be to enhance the personal relationship with the client, not replace it.

Your agency should be leveraging your management system to automate time-consuming tasks so you have more time to focus on areas where Insurtech can’t compete, like building strong client relationships.

2. Foster a Strong Culture

Tech companies are attracting millennials by offering a seemingly endless list of perks and benefits, and Insurtech startups are no different. But free 5-star meals and shiatsu massages aren’t the only way to attract young, digitally savvy talent. At its core, startup culture is about creating a workplace environment that values creative problem solving, open communication, and a flat hierarchy.  According to a Carrier Management article on Insurtech culture, “nearly all the InsurTech executives spoke of cultures where 'everyone has a voice' and where information is shared. Likewise, only LaRocco and several InsurTech executives mentioned having 'fun' as an aspect of culture.”

In startup cultures, the core values reflect the personalities and ethos of the people who started the business. Openness, business agility, and adaptability are key virtues. Fortunately, independent agencies inherently foster this type of environment.

You can adopt the culture of a digital agency by focusing on fostering a fun environment where everyone feels as if their contributions affect the direction of the organization. Ultimately, you want your team to be excited and proud to show up every day. This means finding creative ways to attract the best and brightest and improve team morale across the agency.

3. Attract and retain the right talent

The digital age will require a new breed of agents with different and evolving skillsets.

Because many of the biggest Insurtechs are positioned in New York and Silicon Valley, they have access to large and diverse talent pools. Insurtechs have focused on hiring the best and brightest who are skilled in all things technology. They aren’t hiring sales and customer service people, but rather assembling a team of developers and marketers to create an online customer experience.

Agencies looking to compete in the digital space will need to hire digitally talented people. Some of the raw skills to look for include social media management, digital marketing, copywriting, brand-building, and PR. While Insurtech focuses on technical skillsets, you should look for digitally-savvy people people. Those in your agency without digital skills can learn new ways to apply their expertise. A master networker, for example, can focus on building online communities.

Furthermore, to become a digital insurance agency, your hiring process should be digital as well. You can attract prospects through online job postings and social media sites, initiate the hiring process with video interviewing systems, and streamline onboarding with video training tools.

4. Target prospects

The sales and marketing battleground has shifted to digital arenas. 74% of shoppers use insurer websites or aggregators for obtaining quotes and researching information (J.D. Power).

The Insurtech model for attracting new prospects is to take their venture funding and apportion it toward performance advertising and PR marketing on a national scale. They use performance ads, PPC, and social media ads to target their demographic and acquire customers for much less than industry standard.  

Independent agencies can combat this by geo-fencing their online boundaries to focus solely on their local area. By combining local and regional PPC campaigns with local search engine optimization, prospects in your territories searching for insurance will find you first.

The broad focus of Insurtech means they can’t compete with you online on a local level. Since they don’t have a local presence, they don’t have online listings like Google My Business. This means two things. First, they don’t have as good of a chance to appear for local search terms (e.g. insurance Los Angeles) as you do.  Second, they aren’t as prevalent on mobile search because local searches from mobile devices see mobile Google My Business listings with the coveted click-to-call feature first!

5. Create a customer experience

To Insurtechs, customer service is a reactive strategy. Instead they focus on customer experience. They have a tailored sales funnel designed to be easy to use and increase engagement from awareness to referral.  They go the extra mile to build an experience around being their customer. McKinsey gives an example of this: “another Insurtech, Bought By Many, demonstrated highly personalized experiences in pet insurance, including gifts on pets’ birthdays and personalized letters in response to claims.”

They’ve created a personalized and tailored experience based on customer data, and used segmented campaigns to deliver the right message at the right time. They’ve identified ways to offer more than just insurance and cultivate an online following.

The independent agent’s advantage in transforming to become a digital insurance agency is the human advantage. By using digital tools to provide a human touch, you’ll offer an experience that the Insurtechs can’t match.

While your agency doesn’t need to invest hundreds of thousands into hiring a web development and programming team, you should focus on what can be repeated. Local agencies have an advantage in the fact that they can not only utilize digital tools, but they can focus on the things that don’t scale.

For example, Partee Insurance gives this list of benefits that only independent agents can offer:

  • More choice in policies

  • Expert, unbiased advice

  • A long-term client relationship

  • Participation in the community

  • Help throughout the entire claims process

The independent agent’s advantage in transforming to become a digital insurance agency is the human advantage. As the world shifts digitally, what are some of the ways your agency can delight your customers in a systematic manner? Do you send email newsletters about your involvement in the community? Do you highlight your clients on social media? By using digital tools to provide a human touch, you’ll offer an experience that the Insurtechs can’t match.

Achieving success in a digital world

The agencies that will be competitive in this new digital marketplace are those that rapidly embrace technology and use it to enhance their true strength: client relationships. By leveraging technology and automation to foster a strong culture, attract the right talent, target prospects, and create a unique customer experience, your agency can differentiate itself from the competition.

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What Agents Should Know Before Joining an Insurance Agency Network

This article was written by Matt Masiello and originally published by Insurance Journal.

Today is a great time to be an independent agent, but running an independent agency is not easy. Without an awareness of how the industry is evolving, and having access to ongoing training and education, you may not be adequately preparing for the future. If you are too busy handling day-to-day business so there is no time to work on growth simultaneously, you could lose your current and potential clients in a hurry.

Whether you are a captive or independent agent you need a solid foundation. Ask yourself: Are you a well-known professional in your community? Are you working with carriers that meet your clients’ needs? Are you technologically savvy with a fully automated office? How about a year from now? You need to know how you will drive growth and profitable results in the long term and, with the prevalence of innovation and technology impacting the industry, how to evolve as the industry does.

In this context, you may do better as part of a larger team. Many independent agents are joining alliances/networks, clusters and aggregators to generate more revenue, while experienced producers may join to follow their dreams of opening their own independent agency. If you’re considering joining one of these organizations, remember the saying, “Only fools rush in.” If you don’t have the answers before joining, you may regret it in the long run.

That’s why it’s important to thoroughly research the differences between the options you’re considering. Here, I will focus on the questions you should ask to make the best choice and to understand the majority of services available to an agent today.

Networks

Networks are valuable in many ways. They can provide a path to building your business, help insurance professionals to own and operate their own independent agency, provide extensive training and education to build personal, commercial and specialty income, and help carriers and independent agents grow, helping the distribution system overall.

When evaluating networks, first, understand where your business is today. Before you sign any contract, get granular and review your agency by examining your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT analysis):

  • Is your book of business solid?

  • Have you built a recognizable local brand?

  • Do you have the technology to interact with clients through multiple channels?

  • Are there weaknesses that stand out and how are you addressing them?

  • What opportunities do you have that you have not yet explored?

  • Are there threats to your agency’s survival such as increased competition or high turnover?

Remember, any worthwhile network/alliance will also perform their due diligence on you and your agency. Recruiters of a quality network will examine your history and production to ensure you have the skills, experience, etc., to succeed. If they don’t, you should question the potential impact of their other members on the organization as a whole and your agency. They should also work with you to identify areas where their organization can help you meet your needs and goals.

Understanding the Fine Print

The network you join should align with your branding and reflect the quality you seek. Without vetting the network properly, you will bring tension to yourself and your team. Here are questions to ask a network before joining. The answers will bring transparency to the relationship and should remove any unpleasant surprises.

Short/Long-Term Goals: 

How will the network help you obtain your goals in the short and long term? Can they help you become sustainable for the long term? Does the network have a proven track record, service and benefits for the life cycle of your agency? How exactly will you have access to insurance companies? Will you have access to preferred, standard, E&S and specialty markets and at what compensation levels?

Other Services: 

What are the other services offered; how are they delivered? Today, just gaining access to markets or aggregating some premiums is not enough for success. Do they have field representatives to act as a go-to resource for a startup agency or existing agency to continue to grow? Is access to services and benefits available 24/7? Will the network help your business grow through training in new markets such as cyber, commercial and niche markets? Will they show you how to become fully automated so your business runs efficiently and creates a seamless experience for your clients? Get specifics on agency development tools, services and training. Meet the people who will provide these services. Ask them to show you their results.

Carrier Access and Commissions:

How are carriers accessed and commissions paid? How is new business placed; whose name is on the policies? Do you have the ability to earn direct codes? If you do, are all commissions paid directly to the producing agent by the writing company? How will you qualify for additional profit sharing, bonuses and overrides? How and when are these payments distributed? Does the network measure key performance indicators with you?

Contract Details: 

Does the contract take into account the short and long term, including the ability to leave with clients and carriers? Make sure the contract addresses the beginning, middle and end of the relationship. Understand who owns the business. Make sure that if the affiliation fails, you not only own your clients and accounts, but you also can take your commissions and the ability to represent your insurance companies without restrictions. Some organizations say they don’t have any non-compete restrictions, but they prohibit you from representing your carriers in the event of an exit and provide no alternative path. Ask how the business will be transferred in the event you terminate.

Financial Performance: 

How has the network performed financially, with carriers, member agencies and profitability (loss-ratios)? Do they work with successful carriers? How will they help you drive down operating costs and improve your margins? Many new organizations are moving into the market access and insurance distribution business. Make sure you’re not joining a flash-in-the-pan option that is not sustainable for the long-term with proven results.

Profitability and Benchmarks: 

How is the profitability (loss-ratio) and experience of other members monitored to assure that you have income and carrier access down the road? What benchmarks are set for new business, loss-ratios and total premium? Does the network give attention to book quality? For profit sharing, incentives and overrides, how is compensation earned and distributed? Ask for complete transparency and examples.

Comparing Other Distribution Models?

Aggregators and clusters may boost profits without providing any ongoing training and education. Make sure you are confident that you have everything you need before choosing an aggregator or cluster vs. a network. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of each before you decide.

With aggregators, agents get access to insurance carriers’ contracts. Aggregators provide market access and aggregate premium, sometimes adding compensation but without support services or tools. They tend to be transaction-oriented, based on writing and placing policies, not focused on helping you grow your overall agency.

Clusters can be a formal joint venture or a loose affiliation to combine books in order to receive higher commissions or profit sharing. Members maintain ownership of their accounts and agency and operate individually. Generally, clusters are formed to increase income by combining carrier volumes. If you opt for this route, make sure you understand how premiums with carriers will be replaced, to prevent reductions in contingencies, if members sell or leave.

Whether you want to move from an exclusive agency model and open an independent agency, or you’re an independent agent who wants to increase stability long-term, joining a network can ensure you maintain your competitive edge. Quality agency networks offer not only increased carrier access, but also the ongoing training and education, as well as additional support services your agency needs to thrive well into the future.

At the end of your research on a potential network partner, ask yourself: “Through this process, does it seem that my overall agency’s success is as important to the alliance as it is to me, or are they just focused on placing business and receiving fees or commissions?” Your response to that speaks volumes about what you really learned.

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