The multitudes of fine regional insurance companies have been a source of salvation for independent agents. In the last 15 years, their share of the overall personal lines market grew from 18 percent to 23 percent. They are steady-eddies in commercial, writing a third of all premium. They own about the same share (28 to 29 percent) of total property/casualty premium as national independent agency company competitors.
Okay, now that all the execs have seen enough statistics to quit reading, let’s cut to the real reasons agents love regional carriers (and puh-leez, it’s not the beefy commissions):
Accent. Commercial general liability coverage is complicated, so why not speak the same lingo? If you’re an agent in Minnesota, your regional underwriter offers an enthusiastic “You betcha!” or “Oh, sure!” In New York, we want a reassuring “How youz guyz doin’?” To which we’ll respond, “Impair my property, I breaka you face!” In the Deep South, hello, we don’t have to explain that the plural of “y’all” is “all y’all.”
Trips. National carriers seem to have eliminated reward junkets for agents — unless you’re counting the all-you-care-to-eat fish fry at the Day’s Inn in Fargo in February. But regionals? They can throw a party. Trips and cruises to South America, the Caribbean and Europe are alive and well. And if they do choose Fargo, they at least know the right places to eat fish.
Leadership. Regional carrier execs are a friendly sort. They walk the walk on understanding agents. That’s because many, in fact, are former agents who sound like actuaries and thus could not communicate with customers. No problem! Run a carrier! It’s way less stress, as long as you can understand a combined ratio. Or not. And they hang around, unlike those national carrier CEOs who always are getting fired. (Whoops, according to the news releases, they’re “pursuing” — wait for it — “other personal opportunities.”)
Underwriting. Got a tipsy plumber? General contractor with a little gambling issue? Pit bull that occasionally nibbles on a bratty kid’s leg? When it comes to regionals, we’ve got three words for you: Bind me, baby! Heck, we might even be able to BOP that sucker.
Brand. Who needs one? Smaller or less distinctive is better. We can sell a carrier with the same Indian name as the mascot for the local high school football team. And who cares if our agency has accumulated more total premium than the carrier — we’re in Iowa, so give us warm and fuzzy messaging about barns and amber waves of grain. Besides, there’s something called reinsurance and we’re told London has it all covered. Another thing: Those regionals have corporate logos in the same shade of “safe blue.” We agents like safe — don’t you go rebranding on me!
Giveaways. Dear national companies: Don’t mail us cheap paperweights that can’t control our stacks of submissions going to the regionals. Lose the plastic pens that explode in our shirt pockets. And your magnets slide off the lunchroom fridge. Our agency seeks high-quality cheap crap, and we’re sorry, but we apparently only can get that from the regionals.
Service centers. We agents typically hate ’em, and if you were a regional, you wouldn’t consider a service center in Orlando to handle our clients in Missouri. When we call your office, take us to our peeps: Joe in claims who’s married to Sally in underwriting who has a brother on the janitorial staff.
Field reps. These regional cats actually still drive around and visit our agency. And forget manuals! They bring Dunkin’ Donuts for our CSRs and sand wedges for our principals. And when you’re facing a double-break, downhill 17-footer, it’s always a gimme putt by your regional buddy.
We fear for you, regional companies. Your underwriting and investment practices may get too successful. You could grow into a — perish the thought — super-regional. That’s too close to a national company. Yikes!
About the Authors: Peter van Aartrijk & Chris Amrheinvan Aartrijk (peter@Aartrijk.com) is an insurance retread, hanging around the industry for 30 years. Ditto for Amrhein (email@example.com), who, like you readers, has done a lot of really important stuff in his career. But we both agree that insurance is fun. No, really it is.
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