Louise “BeBe” Canter, the new president of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), announced she is prepared to address the changing reality of independent agencies and brokerage firms and meet new industry challenges through such dynamic Big “I” programs as InVEST and the Agents Council for Technology (ACT).
In her inaugural address, Canter highlighted the programs and activities of the Big “I” and outlined her agenda for the upcoming year. In addition expressing her support for existing programs, she also announced the formation of a Small and Rural Agents Task Force, established to address the needs of those agents.
Canter, senior vice president of Patterson//Smith Associates in Falls Church, Va., became IIABA’s first female president and 99th overall during the closing general session of the association’s Convention & InfoXchange in Las Vegas.
Canter’s ascension to the presidency is the culmination of 25 years of involvement with IIABA. “Little did I anticipate when I answered the phone back in 1978 and was asked to attend a Young Agents organizational meeting that I would quickly become involved in our association through the Young Agents network,” Canter said. “I am a living example that our Young Agents system does work. I can personally testify that the rewards for Young Agents who stay involved in our association are life-long friendships, business contacts, and a very successful career path.”
Canter believes that two key Big “I” programs are primed to meet some of the most daunting tasks that lie ahead for agents and brokers. “Two of the greatest challenges we face in my agency, and I believe we all face as agents, are getting new blood into our industry to perpetuate it and harnessing technology to cut costs to make us all more profitable,” she said.
Canter noted that the 2002 Agency Universe Study completed by Future One determined that agency owners are getting older and that agencies run by agents less than 50 years old are more profitable.
“So how do we bring young people into our industry?” Canter asked. “One of the best ways is to build upon an existing program that is sometimes called ‘the best kept secret in the association.’ In reality, it is a partnership between some of our companies and our association called InVEST.”
The InVEST program entails setting up a mock insurance agency at a high school or community college and providing students the opportunity to assume the roles of insurance agency employees.
“Some of our insurance company partners have already stepped up to the plate and donated computer and office equipment to the schools, as well as provided much-needed funding. What is needed is more agent support. We need agents to embrace this program and bring it to more local communities. … Today, I challenge each of you to use the InVEST program as a way to give something back to our industry. Volunteer your time and help perpetuate our industry by opening up the world of insurance to as many young people as possible.”
Canter believes ACT already is tackling critical technology issues in amazing fashion. “This initiative has the goal of making both our companies and agencies more profitable by efficient and realistic use of technology,” she said. “This is an incredibly important mission. By establishing a forum in which insurance companies, agents, and management systems have an opportunity to work together and implement real solutions, ACT is well on its way to achieving its ambitious goals.”
Canter reported that among her first orders of business was to appoint a new Small and Rural Agents Task Force. “The goal of this task force, comprised solely of small and rural agents, will be to examine and implement procedures to help these agents fully utilize association resources to improve their profitability and independence. … We will give special attention to small and rural agents and their unique business concerns in the areas of markets availability, agency perpetuation, and technology. In reality, these challenges are not unique to any one agency segment, be they large or small, but cut across all agency sizes.”
IIABA will continue to be a powerful presence in Washington, D.C. and will “persuade Congress on issues that are important to us,” Canter said. “Primary among these is the federal versus state regulation issue. We will continue to strongly advocate our position that what we need is improved state regulation, not federal control. We will continue to work with our state associations and Future One company partners on issues such as credit scoring and privacy. We will continue to have a vigilant Technical Affairs Committee work on our behalf negotiating and crafting endorsement wording with ISO on such major issues as terrorism and mold.”
Canter said independent agents not only have an eye toward the future legislatively, but also in terms of their future market share. “Trusted Choice is a very real example of how we, as agents, are taking steps to control our own destiny,” she said. “In a changing world of brands and purchases made because of brand recognition, our national branding effort is designed to drive business to us and to our company partners.
“We have built a strong foundation of more than 3,000 agencies and 25 company partners who can now call themselves Trusted Choice members. Our next step will be to focus on public relations and advertising to consumers, so that they will intuitively understand that Trusted Choice members offer integrity and choice in the buying process,” Canter said.
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