The Comparative Rater Revolution: An Agent’s Story

This post is part of a series sponsored by ITC (Insurance Technologies Corporation).

Comparative rating systems may seem commonplace in the 21st century as they’ve been around for more than many decades. Most independent insurance agencies rely on them every day.

But have you ever looked back and wondered what it was like to sell insurance before there were raters?

Comparative Quoting in the 1980s/1990s

In my first insurance job, there wasn’t a computer on my desk. On my first day, I was issued a catalog rack and about 20 manuals to read, study, tear, and insert in plastic sheets. Everyone at the agency had a Merritt Manual to look up vehicle symbols that had the occasional update (replace pages 40-43 with this insert) along with a calculator and phone.

When a client called in, we did everything possible to get them to come into the office. They were asked to bring their MVR and vehicle registration. Can you believe we used to send people to the DMV before coming to our office? Imagine that?

Once you had a prospect, you had to research four areas in the manuals. Their territory by way of their ZIP code. Their car aka symbol. Their class, which included sex, marital status, etc. This was usually related to driving experience. Last was points (tickets or accidents) on their record.

Writing Policies

After your research, you determined a rate using several calculations on that handy calculator. You then calculated the payment plan by premium financing the policy. Once the premium was agreed upon, you handwrote the application. You could not use white-out. If you ever made a mistake on an application, you had to start over.

My first client took three hours to write. Veterans could write clients in one hour, sometimes 45 minutes, if previously quoted.

After all of this, there would be times when you “blew the rate.” What did that mean?

You missed a factor or used an incorrect calculation somewhere, and the office underwriter would red ink the application like a high school English teacher. You’d have to go back to the client to break the great news about the rate changing. I don’t miss that.


Once the application was written, photos were taken, money received, you had to bind it one of three ways: postmark, fax, or phone binding. You’d call a toll-free number and enter a driver’s license or other data points. Then, you’d get a confirmation number and had to mail it within 24-96 hours, depending on the carrier.

Or, you faxed the application, printed a fax confirmation, and added it to the file. Then, you mailed the application to the carrier. (We used to mail dozens of envelopes daily.) Accounting had to draft a trust check and deposit the insured’s money. It would take up to 30-45 days for policies to get issued, even policies with zero uprates or problems.

In Comes the Comparative Rater

One day in 1991, the agency announced that when we have a four-car risk, we could use what they called a comparative rater.

Instead of manually rating four cars, we could enter it in the comparative rater. The keyboard clicked loudly. The monitor took up an entire desk with only 13 inches being the actual screen. But it was awesome! After 15 minutes, you could print the quote on a dot matrix printer (that seemingly took another 15 minutes), and you were off to the races.

About one year later, we all received a computer for rating a policy and reached the point where we had computers on every desk in the office. Yet we weren’t networked. So, when a prospect called in, you had to find out who they spoke with and go to that person’s computer to find the quote.

A few years later, everyone in the office could see everyone’s quotes, and we had a network printer. Modem binding became the new fax or phone bind, and direct bill was introduced. Despite the modem bind, we still had to mail the application with a trust check. It has to be postmarked within a specific period otherwise the client was not covered. This was the insurance business in the late 80s and early 90s.

How to Find the Best Rate Today

Since we manually rated, we never “knew” what company was best. If you were an insurance agent who said you knew what carrier is best for a client is to say you’re an actuarial genius that possessed a photographic memory. This paragraph is should be refined.

You might have an idea or instinct, and you might be right seven times out of 10. But 100% of the time? No way. Going to every single carrier website is merely the modern version of what we did in the 80s and 90s.

The other part to the old manual process was manually filing computed quotes in accordion files to access the information when needed. This is similar to checking multiple carrier websites to find previous quotes today. Entering the same data several times into carrier websites is a waste of time, and it lowers close ratios.

Modern consumers don’t have time to wait. They want their quote now.

If we’re being honest here, you’re doing your clients a gross injustice if you don’t have a comparative rater for your personal lines, Because you never know who has the best coverage for the best price for every risk you speak with. It’s impossible unless you’re a captive agent.

A comparative rating tool does several things for you:

Quote More and Save Time!

You only enter data once for as long as the insured is with your agency. You can re-shop quotes at any time for endorsements, renewals and rewrites.

It used to take hours if you blew the rate. Now it literally takes seconds to change coverage, reassign vehicles or swap a named insured.

Makes Your Agency More Efficient!

Binding is a cinch. Click a link, and the carrier website opens with all quote data prefilled. Answer a few warranty questions, and you’re binding in seconds. (Remember we used to FAX or MAIL applications in for binding?!)

You can print evidence of insurance for escrow, ID cards for auto, and fill in ACORD forms when you need to submit business to excess and surplus lines brokers or MGAs.

Also, you can avoid double entry by bridging that policy into your agency management system. If you need to requote in the future, bridge from your management system to your rater for the most updated rating information.

Improves Value Proposition for Clients!

Independent agents have always represented choice for the consumer and a good price. The accuracy in a comparative rater is second to none. Quotes are real time because the carrier provides them to the rating vendor.

A comparative rater will display pay plans and quickly sort the quote by down payment, annual premiums, limits, deductibles. One carrier may have the best annual price, but another may have more favorable terms. Insureds love favorable terms.

Remarketing Made Easier!

Back when I was a young agent, if we didn’t sell the policy, we would always send a postcard with the price and coverages to the prospect. It was a manual process, and it was effective.

Nowadays, comparative raters make it easy to remarket. You’re able to automate a series of follow ups to any unsold prospects. This marketing automation is increasing closing ratios for agencies as they’re getting in front of those prospects multiple times after providing a quote. Beats a single postcard!

Improves Agency Insight!

Comparative raters do more than quote a policy. You can run reports and see where your business is coming from. You can see what carriers are being quoted, close ratios by producer, location, or carrier, and many other valuable metrics.

As a young agent, I would have loved the efficiency and speed a comparative rater would have brought to my sales process. Don’t take this technology for granted. You may save money by getting the rate directly from a carrier. However, the return on your comparative rater investment is exponential. You’ll save time and therefore be able to spend more time on your clients and sell more policies. In most cases, 1-2 policies per month pay for the rater with first term comms.

Looking for a comparative rating tool? TurboRater enables you to do everything listed above and more! Plus, no long-term commitments are required. Request your quick, hassle-free demo today!