For Independent Agents, Carriers’ Claims Service is Top Performance Measure

By | September 15, 2008

Independent insurance agents want their property/casualty insurance carriers to provide quality claims service above all else, according to an exclusive survey of agents’ attitudes about the insurers their agencies use.

Independent agents named quality claims service as the number-one factor they consider when judging a carrier’s performance in the recently released “How Independent Agents View Carriers” survey conducted by Channel Harvest Research and sponsored by Insurance Journal.

The next two criteria in agents’ ranking of carriers are competitive pricing and underwriting responsiveness, followed by underwriting knowledge and financial strength.

Underwriting issues are of primary importance to agents, with 25 percent of the top-10 areas of importance relating to some aspect of underwriting.

The survey also found that for the most part individual carriers appear to be in sync with agents and, overall, they perform well in these areas of greatest importance to agencies.

Agent respondents ranked individual carriers in 23 performance areas, which became quantitative data for Channel Harvest “report cards” on those companies.

Top Carrier Performance Areas as Ranked by Agents
1 Quality of claims service
2 Competitive pricing
3 Underwriting responsiveness, flexibility, decision authority
4 Underwriting knowledge/expertise
5 Financial strength/Rating
6 Consistency of product/price in marketplace
7 Underwriting appetite: clear on what will/will not write
8 Quote/Endorsement processing speed and accuracy
9 Product/Industry expertise
10 Dedicated/Available underwriter

Source: Annual Survey of Independent Insurance Agents on Carrier Relationships, 2008, Channel Harvest Research

Other factors that agents ranked too low to make it into the top 10 include quality of staff contact, real-time interface technology, brand reputation and compensation to agency.

Channel Harvest Research, a partnership of The van Aartrijk Group and Campbell Communications, conducted the national survey of more than 1,600 independent insurance agents this past spring to determine their attitudes toward the carriers with which their agencies do business.

While individual insurers do better or worse in some categories, insurers in general perform above average in areas of greatest importance to agents, according to the agents surveyed.

“Most insurers are aware of their agency clients’ preferences and are making the effort to do well in those areas,” said Peter van Aartrijk, of The van Aartrijk Group. “Yet, some of the biggest carriers with good reputations received negative reviews in underwriting and their relationship with agencies. These are critical areas of importance that should be addressed.”

The study’s authors say there is a positive correlation between a carrier’s scores across the board and its underwriting ratings.

“By and large, when a carrier’s scores on underwriting are mixed, its performance throughout other areas is also mixed. If underwriting scores tend toward poor, ratings in other categories tend toward poor. The same correlation holds true, in general, for high underwriting ratings,” said John Campbell of Campbell Communications.

Where agency respondents complained about carrier performance, there is some consistency, the survey found. A third of carriers reviewed received unsatisfactory ratings for aspects of underwriting and agency appointments. More than 20 percent were flagged for underperformance in quote/endorsement processing speed and accuracy, pricing, real-time technology and local underwriter relationships.

Also, agents tend to rate carriers similarly for both personal and commercial lines across performance areas, suggesting that insurers are either strong or weak in an area no matter the type of product is being sold.

The survey was sponsored by Insurance Journal, a leading insurance industry magazine reaching 42,000 readers in all 50 states, and its popular property and casualty Web site, www.insurancejournal.com.

Insurance Journal will report more selected findings of the survey, such as agent attitudes on industry issues, in subsequent articles.

About the survey: The survey instrument covered more than 65 separate questions. A total of 1,609 agents responded to the survey and passed validation criteria. For most general questions in the survey, the number of responses yielded a margin of error of 3 percent and a 95 percent confidence level. Quantitative survey results are presented in a variety of formats, including rankings of frequently used carriers, ratings of individual carriers, and comparisons of carrier ratings. The “How Independent Agents View Carriers,” is the first in a projected series tracking agents’ views on issues in the insurance marketplace.

The survey is available through Campbell Communications. Contact John Campbell at john@campbellsurveys.com or 202.868.2069.

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