Money is the lifeblood of any business. But when it comes to running insurance agencies, money isn’t the main thing that principals look for when they do business with a certain carrier.
Claims handling, it turns out, is the truly coveted prize — at least that’s according to more than 450 agency owners and senior executives who were surveyed by a regional affiliate of the Professional Insurance Agents of America.
Agents in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire participated in the survey. Respondents consistently ranked “adjust claims fairly” and “pays claims promptly” as the top two factors they look at when evaluating an insurer. Rounding out the top 10, in decreasing order of importance were: Communicates clearly, honestly; resolves issues quickly; underwriter knowledge, experience; listens, responds to agents; easy, intuitive technology; stable markets; consistent underwriting; and competitive pricing.
Anecdotally, the comments from agents bore out the results of the survey. Ellen Kiehl, a senior research analyst for PIA, shared some of those comments with Insurance Journal. Some of the more poignant ones:
“When it is hard to work with a company, we don’t use them a lot.”
“A company can have bad enough service that no compensation will offset it.”
“Perhaps insurance companies should concern themselves more with customer service to their agencies. … It is very frustrating to be unable to speak with a person and solve a problem in a timely manner.”
The agents’ answers very closely match a survey conducted by Insurance Journal last September — “How Independent Agents View Carriers” — that found that quality claims service is valued above all else. Given the ways the market has changed in the ensuing period of time — an extended economic crash, the collapse of AIG, the persistent soft market, to name a few — one can infer that agents still place the highest premium on how their carriers will treat their customers.
Although hinted at in some of the comments, there’s another reason the survey results are so interesting: The absence of “compensation” as a top-10 item.
Its conspicuous absence did not go unnoticed by the PIA, whose members — particularly in New York where agents’ pay is a heated issue — rightly or wrongly feel there is a perception in some parts of the country that agents’ sole area of concern is their paychecks. Or as Jim Pittz, business issues director for the four state associations, put it: “Quality of service clearly overrides the ‘profit-only’ motive that agents are falsely accused of being driven by.”
If nothing else, the survey lends some scientific weight to the knowledge that anyone who has worked in this business has known for years: When it comes to dedication, independent agents’ biggest concern is that their clients are happy and well taken care of when they have a loss.
Then again, the agents out there didn’t need a survey to tell them that.
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