The current business environment for independent insurance agents in Indiana is pretty good thanks to the hard work and legislative involvement of agents and other industry professionals, according to one longtime agent advocate in the state.
Roger Ronk, who’s been leading the Independent Insurance Agents of Indiana since 1989, said agents serving in the Indiana General Assembly and those working with legislators on industry issues over the years have helped “to create a lot of benefits for agents in Indiana.”
Among them: Agents have immunity for the use of credit scoring. Agents may charge fees where necessary. Agents are one of only four groups in the state that are exempt from the no-call list. Unlike in some states, agents don’t have to send out privacy notices.
In addition, Ronk added, “We have low licensing fees. We don’t have undue burdens … like finger printing and other things. … So, there are a lot of advantages just from an operational standpoint.”
Independent agents write 35 percent of personal lines business in Indiana and 82 percent of commercial lines business. Overall, Ronk said, “independent agents write almost 59 percent of all written premium in our state.”
Agents also have a large pool of admitted insurers to choose from in Indiana. In terms of the number of admitted insurance companies, Indiana is probably among the top five states, Ronk said. “And the regional companies are very strong. We have a good balance of regional, national, super-regional companies.”
Not that everything is always rosy.
The economic downturn hit agents hard, with many agencies finding it necessary to trim their staff, he said.
“In the 23 years I’ve been here I’ve only seen that twice,” Ronk said. “Once in 2008 when the market fell so much and the economy was so bad, and then again this year — I think it’s mostly attrition. I think they are not replacing people as they have in the past.”
In addition to economic obstacles, the state in recent years has been hit with “a lot of catastrophe losses not common to Indiana. We do have bad years, but it’s very strange to have several bad years in a row,” Ronk said. “And we’ve had that with tornadoes and hailstorms and wind. And the impact of that on agents is that it has hurt their profit sharing with the carriers to the point that in a lot of cases they didn’t get any or much profit sharing from the majority of the carriers.”
He surmised that the efficiencies provided by information technology have enabled agencies to streamline their operations such that they don’t need to maintain as large a staff as they might have in the past. Even so, Ronk said, there is “a need for workforce development. It’s one of our big issues. Even though [agencies] are not replacing a lot of those people, there’s still a lot of need for new employees.”
He noted that a survey conducted by the IIAI showed that around that 60 percent of insurance industry employees in Indiana are 45 or older.
Ronk said workforce development initiatives benefit from the fact that three major universities in the state now offer a major in insurance.
“I’m fortunate enough to serve on two advisories councils of the three universities and work with the third one as well,” he said.
At Indiana State University and Ball State University every student with an insurance degree has gotten a job in the industry. “Every one of them got an internship if they wanted it. Most of them have scholarships,” Ronk added.
The IIAI also participates in a sum¬mer program in which high school teachers receive training on how to incorporate insurance education within their normal curriculum. The program is popular with teachers, Ronk said. The cost is minimal for educators and they receive credits toward a master’s degree if they finish the program and take what they’ve learned back to the classroom.
Ronk said workers’ compensation reform is likely to be a big issue in the legislative process next year. He said while Indiana is in better shape than many states when it comes to workers’ comp, the system is complicated and not working well.
“There are a number of issues with workers’ compensation,” he said. “Benefit levels haven’t been altered for a while. … That hasn’t been addressed for a while and the reimbursement for medical billings is a major issue.”
Moving Forward, Looking Back
Ronk retires from his position as executive vice president of the IIAI early next year. He will stay on with the organization for a year on a part-time basis to help with the transition of incoming EVP Carol Dulles. He also plans to continue his involvement in the university advisory councils.
Ronk described a number of highlights during his career with the IIAI, one of which was his work with the association’s Young Agents Committee.
“We have won 18 national awards since the year 2000, far and away more than any other states. That’s our future. And just seeing that group develop, seeing those people come through, serving on my board, become industry leaders and that kind of thing, that is really good,” he said.
Ronk said he is also proud of the fact that the Big “I” state association is now the education resource of choice for insurance professionals in Indiana.
“When I came here we weren’t thought of as the group that provided the educational standards, as far as the best industry type programs,” he said. “Now we are by far and away the biggest provider of continuing education. … I think we had in the neighborhood of 6,000 people we issued continuing education certificates to last year.”
One of the things he enjoys most about his job and that he takes pride in is being able to provide service to individual agents.
“I get probably, I’m going to say an average of 15 calls or emails a day that dictate specific information or response to help them with one of their problems,” Ronk said. “I really enjoy that, interacting with people individually.
Finally, one particular highlight of his service with the IIAI has been the pleasure of observing “the benefits that independent agents provide to their clients,” Ronk said.
“I was down in Henryville, that was the town that was wiped out almost by the tornado … we have an agent there — she’s the only full time person, her sister does the accounting, does other things. Lynn Murphy Carter. To go down and see her in action, the way she serves those people, it just made you extremely proud to be an independent agent representative,” he said.
“And when I go to towns, I see independent agents as park board chairmen, on the chamber of commerce,” Ronk added. “Across the board they are involved in their community and they are easy people to represent from that perspective because you have the utmost respect for them.”
Listen to the complete podcast with Roger Ronk on IJTV: http://www.insurancejournal.tv/videos/8324/.