Whether you are the owner of a local agency or the CEO of a large public broker – it feels like there is less and less oxygen in the room. Organic sales growth is tough; merger & acquisition activity in 2014 was near record highs; the competition is relentless; carriers are schizophrenic; technology changes are in hyper-drive; and one article after another is writing about the death of the traditional independent agent. No wonder it’s hard to get fired up for your weekly sales meetings.
Is there a roadmap to a vibrant, energized and high growth future for the independent agent?
Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline.com and now the CEO of Walker Digital, has a simple retort; “Of course, just give the consumer what they EXPECT.”
What a strange turn of a phrase. We’re all thinking, just give the customer what they want – what is all of this about “expect”?
In building Priceline.com, Walker had to imagine what a consumer would expect for all things travel. Imagine shopping, comparing and buying across hundreds of airlines and vacation options, with full price transparency, expert advice and having an online account for all things travel. Walker gave us what we expect for all things travel.
What does the consumer “expect” with insurance? Walker, an advisor to my company Insuritas, challenged us to ask then listen. Here’s a quick summary the feedback we get from the thousands of consumers and business owners we talk to every month:
“I’d like a single entry point for all things insurance; I’d like an advocate when I need one; I’d like an expert when it’s complicated; I want advice when I need it, and left alone when I don’t; I want a single insurance account; I want to shop, compare and buy online; I want pricing transparency – want to see carriers competing for my business; I want an online account that remembers me and all my data; I want this experience available to me online or on the phone; I want it to be focused on me.”
Who is best positioned to provide the consumer with what they “expect” for all things insurance? The answer is simple: the independent agent. But you know it’s easier said than done. Independent travel agencies failed, independent realtors have struggled against Zillow, banks are now losing billions in loans to OnDeck and Priceline.
Insurance as an industry has dodged and denied the changes that the digital age and the shift to consumer control are forcing on it. As agents we’re quick to lay blame for the state of confusion -at times both fearful and mocking of the disruptive ideas and outside entrants circling our business… telematics, credit underwriting, driverless cars and Google Compare. As a result, distribution is in disarray and outsiders with large amounts of capital are licking their lips in anticipation of eating our lunch.
The technology is emerging for independent agents to re-imagine their role as the omni-channel trusted resource for the customer.
The answer will not come from carriers, aggregators, agency management platforms, lead gen companies, Google or GEICO because none of them have the ability to deliver what customers expect.
The independent agency is in the perfect position to give people what they expect. It will take a commitment to putting all of the insurance products a customer expects to need in our stores, and making our stores omni-channel solutions. I am optimistic that the emerging generation of independent agencies will become the delivery system consumers look to for what they expect with all things insurance.
Chesky is president and CEO of the online insurance agency Insuritas, based in Windsor, Conn.