As Incoming IIAA President, Hofmann is Ready to Promote One Voice For Agents

After spending the past year hammering away at a series of initiatives to get agents closer to the cutting edge of technology, IIAA Outgoing President Bill Houston is getting ready to hand off the presidential gavel to Bill Hofmann III, partner in Massachusetts-based Provider Insurance Group Inc. The ‘changing of the guard’ will take place at the 105th Annual Convention & InfoXchange in Orlando.

‘The biggest thing that I learned from Bill is that the Executive Committee absolutely has to operate as a team with a one-for-all and all-for-one attitude,’ Hofmann said. ‘We need to be one unified group, body and voice as we go forward.’

Hofmann was elected to the Executive Committee in September 1995. Prior to serving on the Executive Committee, Hofmann chaired IIAA’s Education Committee for four years, and in 1994 he received a Presidential Citation for his work in this area. He is a member of IIAA’s Membership and Dues Task Force, IIAJC and Finance committees.

On the state level, Hofmann served as president and state national director for the Independent Insurance Agents of Massachusetts. In 1980, he received the ‘Mr. Chairman’ Award from the American Association of Managing General Agents for chairing its state’s Education Committee.

Getting personal

Hofmann has dreams of achieving a merger of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA) and the Big ‘I.’ ‘It’s a personal goal and an issue I’ve championed for over 20 years, and it’s long past time that it happened at this point—on both the state level and the national level,’ he said. ‘It’s ludicrous that we have two trade associations that purport to represent the same agent and represent them differently.’

Hofmann was a dual-association member in Massachusetts for roughly 20 years. ‘But there’s no reason for it,’ he said. ‘There isn’t another industry out there that has two trade associations representing the same group of people.’

Unfortunately, the odds of the two associations merging, he said, are ‘slim to none, but that doesn’t mean I don’t talk about it.’ On the day of the interview, Hofmann was in Portland, Ore., talking to counterparts at the PIA about working together.

‘In New York, where we’ve got a strong PIA and a strong Big ‘I,’ why are we competing for the affections of agents? It’s ridiculous,’ Hofmann said.

On an unrelated note, Hofmann is hoping for a smooth transition as Jeff Yates—after a quarter-century of dedication and service to both the association and its many members—retires from his position of IIAA CEO for industry and state relations. IIAA CEO Paul Equale will be filling Yates’ shoes at the close of the convention.

‘I’ve got to be the first president of the association in 25 years that doesn’t have Yates as the number one staff guy,’ Hofmann said.

‘It’s an issue that I want to see go as smoothly and as effortlessly as possible.’

Talking technology

As for association goals, Hofmann knows that branding needs to take center stage. ‘It’s a key initiative that we’ll be working on over the next several years—driving consumers to our way of doing business.’

But consumers aren’t the only ones that are involved in the equation.

In order for branding to be a success, carriers and agents alike need to see the importance of pitching in where they can. ‘We can’t assume everybody else is going to foot the bill for this,’ Hofmann said.

In addition to the branding initiative, Hofmann plans to continue with the efforts of ACT, or the Agents Council on Technology, an industry-wide group of agents, companies and technology providers who support the development and adoption of the ACORD XML Standards for Insurance. Efforts include a campaign led by IIAA and leading agency management system users groups to ‘Elect SEMCI.’

Agents attending this year’s convention will be able to see how this new standards-based technology will work in ways that produce the greatest benefit for their own agencies at a technology demonstration.

Another priority for Hofmann is the rollout of Big ‘I’ Markets, an Internet-based marketplace that combines the virtual world with the experience and personal contact of an agent. ‘We’ve got to get that into as many states as possible,’ Hofmann said.

The exact Big ‘I’ Markets rollout schedule is being finalized as system resources continue to be tested and expanded.

In addition, Hofmann has a plan to help agents provide more for their customers by getting InsurBank—the bank with no bricks and mortar other than its office at IIAA—online. ‘We absolutely have to have it online,’ he said. ‘We think we’ve got preliminary approval from one of the federal regulatory people, so it’s a step in the right direction.’

Speaking of going online, the Big ‘I’ is in the process of putting together a co-branded website with its state associations. ‘We’ll have it up and operational January 1 in 20-odd states,’ Hofmann said.

One voice for agents

As an extension of the IIAA’s commitment to creating market opportunities for multicultural agents, the 2000 annual meeting will be a first-ever joint industry affair, with agents from the NAAIA and the LAAIA.

‘I’m a firm believer in the diversity effort,’ Hofmann said. ‘In terms of marketing and inner-city and redlining and so on—it cuts across all color lines and we all ought to be under one roof.’

Regardless of race or ethnic background, Hofmann feels that independent agents all face the same problems. ‘If I could wave a magic wand, I’d put all of us insurance intermediaries together—representing all of us who make a living as middlemen in the insurance business,’ he said. ‘The financial services people do it, the large agents and brokers do it, the guys who sell life insurance do it, and they’re no different than we are, which is why I think we ought to have a single voice.’

It’s clear that this Massachusetts resident is passionate about the independent agency system. ‘We are alive and well, we’re going to survive and we’re going to be fine. Just like Will Rogers said, ‘The reports of our death are exaggerated.”