Guest blog post by Matt Warye, CPCU, Vice President and General Manger, Mid-Atlantic Region, Safeco Insurance
I believe in the enduring value of independent agents. After all, in an era of rapid change and new risks, consumers need a trusted advisor who can guide and advocate for them. They need an independent agent.
At Safeco Insurance, we’re constantly looking forward to uncover opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the independent agent channel.
By knowing what’s around the corner, we can share actionable insights and help develop capabilities that enable you to be an Agent for the Future – one who is not only thriving today, but is also continuously evolving to take advantage of new opportunities.
Safeco’s recent Agent for the Future survey asked 600 independent agents about how they are adapting to current industry trends and how those trends are expected to shape insurance through the year 2020.
One key finding – agents want to spend substantially less time responding to service needs and shift their focus to growing their business.
Independent Agents have new priorities for 2020
I wasn’t surprised by how much time agents currently spend servicing and retaining clients – and I certainly appreciate the challenge of finding time for new business.
However, in 2020 – just two years from now – agents indicate they want to make a complete 180° and spend the majority of their time quoting and pursuing new business.
This shift in priorities signals compelling opportunities for growth and the beginning of an exciting new era for the independent agency channel. It also raises the question: How can IAs grow their business without compromising service or jeopardizing retention?
The answer: divide and conquer
I believe this is where harnessing the power of digital solutions and expanding your partnership with trusted carriers comes in.
Leveraging carrier customer service programs will support your customer service needs and aid retention; they can also boost your efforts to grow the business.
Today’s consumers want more ways to engage and do business whenever they want, from wherever they are and on whatever devices they have handy. This doesn’t come as a surprise to IAs.
Safeco’s Agent for the Future survey revealed that 60 percent of agents recognize consumers’ need for online and mobile solutions is of major importance.
Traditionally, it’s been thought that every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to build long-term loyalty. While that may once have been true, that’s no longer the case.
However, the likelihood of an agent building long-term loyalty over low-value transactions – such as sending new ID cards or changing a method of payment – is relatively small.
That’s where mobile and online account management tools come in. Customers get the access they expect, and your team can focus on growing the business.
A growth mindset
Agents have identified a compelling mix of strategies to drive growth, and they don’t need to tackle this on their own.
Not only does leveraging customer service programs satisfy customers’ changing needs and aid retention, but they can also boost efforts to grow the business.
I’d like to focus for a moment on two areas: cross-sales and attracting new market segments.
The majority of agents we surveyed believe increasing cross-sales could be a key driver for growth. This is a prime example of where working with a carrier service program can make a big impact.
For example, did you know that 1 in 12 customer calls to Safeco Gold leads to a cross-sell opportunity? Better yet, we close nearly 50 percent of the time. In 2016, the company generated $39 million in new business for Safeco Gold agencies.
New market segments
For 31 percent of agents surveyed, the path for growth includes pursuing new market segments.
Now, you’ve likely been hearing ad nauseam about the importance of the millennial market (54 percent of agents surveyed said 'millennial' is the buzzword they’re MOST sick of hearing about!).
Given all of the discussion about the size of the millennial population, it could be easy to overlook the emergence of other important demographics.
However, 67 percent of agents surveyed recognize that change in ethnic impact could have some effect on their agency in the next two years.
For instance, the United States Census Bureau estimates that there are 55 million Hispanic people in the county, making up more than 17 percent of the U.S. population.
I appreciate that it might seem daunting or cost-prohibitive for agencies to hire to meet the needs of non-English speaking customers.
Today, only 25 percent of agents surveyed offer non-English-speaking options and 42 percent say non-English communication tools are not a necessity.
This is another example of where carrier service programs can become an extension of your agency and support your efforts to attract new customers. The Safeco Gold team offers Spanish language support, with other languages supported via interpreters.
Go confidently together!
Safeco has and will continue to be exclusively focused on independent agents and their success. I believe that working together, we will continue to win in the marketplace.
Earlier this year, Safeco launched AgentfortheFuture.com, a new resource providing all IAs with data, insights and inspiration to help you succeed today and prepare for the future.
I invite you to check out the site and read Safeco’s new report — “Independent Agents Shift Focus from Service to Growth.”