Are small commercial agents ready for a major shift?

The pandemic has accelerated this shift, with 42% of agents overall saying they saw an increase in commercial opportunities since early 2020. 48% of respondents also said their agencies have made a 180-degree turn from brick and mortar to virtual operations. The study surveyed 351 agents between March and April this year.

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“Agents now see how technology can be a tool that enables them, versus something that replaces them. The survey is ultimately telling us that the agent is ready for technology to step in and help them to remove some of the drudgeries of their work so that they can be of service to the small business owner,” Charles-Pierre told Insurance Business.

While agents are generally pleased with the marketing and sales technologies they use today, many recognize the gaps in their digital operations. Search engine optimization (SEO), new and faster ways to assess insurer appetite, and efficiently obtaining quotes from multiple carriers were all cited as areas needing the most improvement.

Slightly under half (49%) of agents used SEO to boost their business. Most cited a lack of time and understanding to implement an SEO strategy.

Winning and placing business online is also a significant hurdle, with 56% of agents saying they are challenged to find a market that matches their needs. Moreover, 52% said that getting quotes from carriers, MGAs and wholesalers is a barrier to closing deals. For Charles-Pierre, this is an opportunity for carriers to provide real-time transparency around “who does what and when.”

“In most other industries, you know inventory in real-time,” Charles-Pierre remarked. He said inventory, in this case, refers to lines of business, products, or risks that a carrier may or may not want to take on. “One of the interesting challenges for the industry is helping agents understand what markets are available to them, so they can home in on what may be the best fit for their customer.”

Opportunity for carriers

It’s not just agents that need to brace for the online shift: carriers, too, need to step up. The Semsee and TrustedChoice.com survey showed agents weren’t delighted with carriers’ agent-facing technologies, with 47% rating them good and 35% giving an average score. Just 6% of agents think the existing carrier platforms are excellent.

The problem? Lack of consistency from portal to portal, limited interaction with underwriters, and no up-front indications about whether carriers will accept new business. More carriers need to become “tech-friendlier” to connect to various platforms, but simplifying product lines will also go a long way in making agents’ jobs easier.

“One of the things the survey says is that the carriers must be more transparent, quicker, and nimbler to serve the agent,” explained Charles-Pierre. “The carriers and their products are more dynamic, changing much more frequently than before. In the past, agents could buy with memory. They knew what carriers offered, what products [were available] and around what price.”

Read more: Insurtechs – we need agent-facing platforms too

Innovative digital platforms could free up agents to do more. Most survey respondents acknowledge this: 62% said they are looking to use a quoting platform in the future, preferably one that is fast and easy to use.

“For carriers, it’s about enabling ways for the agent to not only easily get a quote, but to meet agents where they are and where they’re conducting business,” Charles-Pierre said. “If the carriers don’t change, they’re not going to be able to serve the agents who have to remain flexible to reach an ever-changing market.”

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