At Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance, we’re constantly looking forward to uncovering opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for the independent agent channel. By knowing what’s around the corner, we can share actionable insights and develop capabilities that enable you to be an agent for the future – one who is not only thriving today but is also continuously evolving to take advantage of new opportunities.
Safeco conducted its initial Agent for the Future™ survey to get input from independent agents about how they are adapting to current changes, what they think will be important in the future and what they are doing today to prepare. We received responses from 600 independent agents regarding industry trends and how agents expected those trends are to shape insurance through the year 2020.
The merging of roles
One discovery that really stood out to my team revolved around the gradual and continual merging of the producer and CSR roles. Not surprisingly, 73% of small agencies agreed that the roles were merging, however, 64% of mid-size and large agencies felt the same way. The agents we surveyed also reported that 37% of CSRs were regularly writing new business, while 43% of producers had been providing a great deal of customer service.
We think the old model of service staff focusing on service and sales staff focusing on sales is being replaced by a model in which most people in the agency are truly focused on – and able to meet – the clients’ needs, whatever they may be.
Many of the agents we surveyed believed that this change was enabled by the increasing presence of technology throughout the industry. With technology and automation streamlining mundane agency tasks, such as managing policies or tracking down payment information, producers and CSRs are freed up to focus on higher value interactions.
Therefore, it only makes sense to expect these roles to blend together further in the coming years. At Safeco, we think this fusion of roles stands to benefit customer service; it will create well-rounded employees in a prime position to look for opportunities to cross-sell additional products and services while they provide service to customers. Furthermore, this change could provide a better customer experience, because CSRs and producers won’t need to bounce clients from person to person within the agency.
Achieving agency growth
Our Agent for the Future survey showed that most agencies were focusing on customer service and retention, but growth was what was most important to independent agents who are poised to be an agent for the future. These agents understood that long-term agency growth can only be accomplished through change and innovation.
A new role with the shared ability to sell and serve clients will be essential to fuel the growth that agencies wished to achieve. In fact, our survey indicated that 31% of agents expected that CSRs would spend significantly more time writing business by 2020.
Who you’ll be hiring
But who will be filling these account executive and account manager roles? In another study by our team – Safeco’s 2016 CSR Engagement Survey – we found that 27% of CSRs said they would not be working in insurance at all in the next five years, many of them due to retirement. Fifty-eight of new hires in 2017 were millennials, so they filled a lot of these roles.
A survey compiled by the Griffith Insurance Education Foundation determined that 49% of millennials are drawn to positions that involve helping others. They want to be able to contribute to their community and make the world a better place. With the producer-CSR combination role enabling them to provide service and meet people’s needs for security and peace of mind, millennials can find what they’re looking for by working in an independent agency.
To better cater to the people who will be applying for these account executive and account manager jobs in the future, agencies should continue to move in a digital direction. In fact, 81% of millennial employees said the kind of technology an employer offers plays a role in their decision to take a job, and unlike the insurance industry of the past, agencies for the future offer people plenty of new and emerging technology opportunities.
I’m sure you’ve been hearing about millennials ad nauseam (54% of agents surveyed said ‘millennial’ is the buzzword they’re MOST sick of hearing about!), but for agencies to be successful in the future, they need to sell their vision to this generation and bring them into the fold. As time goes on, many more of your customers will be millennials, and customers generally like to talk to someone like them, whom they trust to understand their needs. Hiring millennials will help you acquire business from millennials, ensuring your future success by benefiting from demographic trends.