Beginning early next year, independent insurance agents will be able to tap into an online resource designed to connect them with the more than 65 percent of market share in personal lines they are currently missing.
The Consumer Agent Portal LLP (CAP) — backed by a coalition of property/casualty insurance companies that support the independent agent force, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA or Big “I”) and Big “I” state associations — intends to make available to personal lines consumers the power and choice of some 22,000 independent agencies with 27,000 locations in the United States.
The idea behind CAP, its developers say, is that the independent agency channel has not kept up with the change in the way consumers shop for insurance. For at least 75 percent of consumers, the Internet is the first place they go when searching for insurance. To compete with direct marketers, independent agents need an online presence that communicates the choice and expertise they offer and gives consumers the ability to research, find a local agent and even get a regionalized quote in real time.
The consumer-agent portal is designed to connect the digital consumer with local independent agents. The CAP will work hand-in-hand with the Big “I” Trusted Choice brand campaign to help increase market share for independent agents. While CAP member agencies must also be Trusted Choice members, Trusted Choice agencies won’t automatically be a CAP agency, according to Big “I” president and CEO Robert Rusbuldt.
The portal’s developers believe, however, that agencies that take advantage of the dynamic between the two will benefit the most.
The goal is to have every independent agency Big “I” member be on the portal, said Project CAP CEO Scott Deetz. The reality, he expects, is that agencies will adopt the CAP at different rates. There will be the agencies that embrace the concept early on — some 200 agencies have already expressed interest. They will be trailed by what Deetz called “fast followers” and later adopters will sign on at a slower rate.
He noted that CAP will not limit agency concentration regionally. For instance, there will be no restriction in the number of agencies that can sign up in a certain Zip code.
There are two essential elements to the CAP, Deetz explained — the consumer-agent portal, which provides consumers with information, comparative rating and links to local agencies, and the industry services website, which offers a menu of marketing, technology and training resources for independent agents.
First to be rolled out — in the first quarter of 2012 — will be the industry services component. Resources for CAP member agents include training in how to make the most of digital marketing, technology training and access to outsourcing services, preparation for and integration with the consumer portal, and a variety of other professional services to help agencies connect with consumers and gain market share.
Available industry services range from “low end to high end,” Deetz said. In other words, there will be a fit for every agency.
On the consumer side, a phased rollout is planned beginning in July, with a continued push for consumer awareness and education throughout the rest of the year.
While the initial focus will be on personal lines of insurance there’s a possibility that CAP will expand into other areas, such as the small commercial market, at some point.
More information on the CAP project can be found at http://www.projectcap.info/.