Technology overload is a common lament among independent agents, who face a growing list of challenges in how to use it effectively. According to leaders on the front lines, however, the number one technology issue is not privacy, security, the use of mobile, or even its cost – it is accepting technology in all its forms as critical to their survival.
“Agents must become more efficient and do more with less,” says Bruce Cochrane, president of the Massachusetts-based Renaissance Alliance. “It’s a matter of evolution vs. revolution. It’s like changing a tire at 60 miles an hour and we have to adapt to the reality we’re in.”
Jason Cass of JDC Insurance Group is just as blunt. “When it comes to technology, we’re not talking incremental change, we’re facing transformational change – the same kind that the newspaper and music industries are caught up in,” says Cass, an agent from Centralia, Ill., and former chairman of National Young Agents of the IIABA.
For example, Cochrane cites how technology is pushing down loss costs and commissions as the use of telematics ratchets up. Examples in personal lines include driverless cars and cars that talk to each other. He says agents also must become masters of data analytics, measuring everything.
“Carriers love predictive modeling and will be less dependent on agents to produce quality risks,” says Cochrane. “Agents will be rewarded for growth, however.”
As a consequence, Cass says agents need to become “sales machines.”
Beyond the understanding that technology touches every aspect of an agency operation, Brian Bartosh says agents should not assume that keeping up requires buying the latest system so much as making sure they are fully utilizing the system they have.
“It’s not about just working faster or harder,” says Bartosh, president of Alpena-based Top O’ Michigan Insurance and chair of the Applied Systems Client Network (ASCnet.) “Agents need to work smarter, and one simple way to do that is to make full use of the system you have to ensure a healthy ROI and increase agency value and profitability.”
Bartosh points to fundamental but often overlooked uses of technology such as encrypted emails and a disaster plan for data breaches.
“If you’re not using your system with all of its capabilities now, what do you have to offer?” he asks. “Efficient use of technology must expand beyond the ‘techies.’”
All of these executives stressed just how much the consumer is now in control.
“Insurance consumers don’t like to be sold something even if it’s in their best interest,” says Cass. “Agents react the same way when they’re being sold. But the fact is, because society is changing so dramatically, agents must change their mindset and turn the push-pull marketing model on its head. Agents were taught to push out their messaging to consumers and businesses. In today’s world, consumers and businesses alike are resisting that – they want to be pulled in to a relationship and many agents don’t yet grasp just how transformative and how completely different the marketing landscape has changed.”
Cochrane summed up the technology absolutes for agencies: to be fast and nimble, completely mobile and interactive and have access to big data.
This is the first of a series on the technology issues facing agents. The focus will be on practical solutions on many fronts, including the customer experience, mobile, privacy and security.