Research report

The Agent-Customer Connection: Gaps and Opportunities in the Hard Market

Amid the ongoing challenges of the hard market, forward-thinking independent agents are embracing adversity and finding opportunities for growth.

The insurance industry is currently facing the hardest market seen in a generation, marked by rising rates and increased underwriting restrictions. As a result, renewal conversations have become more complex, placing new business is harder and workloads are ever more demanding.

Agents and customers alike feel the effects of the current environment. New research from Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance found that 83% of agents say this is the hardest market they can remember seeing, and almost 90% of consumers reported rate increases in the past year.

Although independent agencies continue to show stable growth overall, about a third are struggling with retention and new business acquisition. These impacts of the hard market are more pronounced among agencies that focus more on personal lines than commercial lines.

This report summarizes findings from the 2024 Agent-Customer Connection Study, which explored how agents and customers are experiencing the hard insurance market, the gaps and opportunities in agents’ communications with customers, and the strategies that are working for growing agencies.


Key takeaways

For the 2024 Agent-Customer Connection Study, the research team at Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance surveyed 1,133 independent insurance agency leaders and team members and 1,110 consumers, including 551 who purchased insurance through an independent insurance agent. The study explored trends impacting independent agents and customers, what customers want from agents, strategies that are working for growing agencies and more.

The research found that, broadly speaking, customers don’t fully understand what’s causing rate increases. Only about 20% of insurance customers say they understand the market forces behind rising insurance rates. Insurance clients want their agents to help them understand – 62% said it’s important for their agent to educate them on the changing dynamics of the market.

The research also revealed a critical communication gap between agents and customers regarding the impact of market forces on coverage and premiums. While most agents say they are proactively communicating with clients about market conditions, clients may not be getting the message.

This points to an opportunity for agents to better communicate their value as trusted advisors. Our research found that insurance customers want the expertise and easy options that agents have to offer, and the independent agency system is holding strong despite the challenges.

Insurance is a relationship business. In a hard market, those relationships have become even more important.

We already know that customers rely on their independent agents for advice and expertise on their insurance coverage. But this research goes further to show that today’s customers are turning to their agent for even more. They want their agent to educate them on changing market conditions, help them better understand policy changes and provide advice on risk mitigation.

Hard insurance markets are challenging, but they don’t last forever. It’s with a sense of optimism that I can say – and this research validates – that independent agents are well-positioned to weather this market and come out stronger, more resilient and customer-centric.

President, Independent Agent Distribution, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Four main factors driving current market conditions

The forces that shape insurance market cycles are complex, but there are four main factors contributing to the hard market. Click the images below for a summary of each factor.

The communication gap between agents and customers

One of the many ways independent agents add value is by educating their customers about insurance – specifically their policies and coverage. While 70% of independent agents surveyed said they proactively discuss market conditions with their clients, about one in three IA consumers expressed dissatisfaction with their agent’s explanation of market forces and the impacts on their specific policy.

What’s more, consumers are finding out about their rate increases from their insurance bills rather than from their agents. Only 20% of IA customers said they first heard about their rate increase from their agent, while 58% said they first learned about the increase when they noticed their bill amount change.

Although agents are communicating, the data suggests they could improve customer satisfaction — and retention along with it — by adapting their communication strategies, particularly when it comes to customers experiencing significant rate increases.

Eighty-five percent of customers said it’s important for agents to review policy coverages with them, and 79% said they want their agent to help them better understand their policy. One-third of customers said they want more frequent reviews of their policy coverages and insurance needs.

Our research suggests that agents should also tailor their communication channels based on the topic. While IA customers usually prefer email, they prefer the phone for more complicated conversations about coverage and policies.


Opportunities to show value in the hard market

In hard market communications, agents can build trust by demonstrating the traits that customers value most.

Good news: The top three traits customers value align with agents’ strengths:

  • 79% of IA channel purchasers value experience with insurance.
  • 77% value an agent who is responsive to their requests.
  • 75% value an agent who makes it easy for them to understand insurance options.

However, consumers value proactivity and listening more than agents indicate these traits as strengths.

  • 67% of IA channel purchasers value an agent who is proactive in knowing their needs, and 64% value an agent who is an excellent listener.
  • 31% of agents consider proactivity to be one of their strengths, and only 22% of agents rated themselves as being an excellent listener.

Independent agents have an opportunity to strengthen relationships even further by refining their communication style. Agents who take the time to actively listen to their clients and uncover their unmet needs may be better positioned for long-term success when the hard market ends.


The independent agency system remains strong

Even in a hard market, independent agents are still at a strategic advantage because of the ease, choice and advice they provide to insurance customers.

Agencies are working hard to navigate the changes in the market, communicate with customers and field questions. But many agencies have adapted to the market with agility, implementing strategies to keep their customers happy and their agencies afloat. In fact, a significant proportion of agencies reported increases in retention, new business acquisition or both.

The majority (65%) of agents said retention at their agency is stable or better than a year ago, and 69% said their agency is acquiring new clients at the same rate or better than a year ago. Agencies focused on commercial lines reported stronger year-over-year retention and growth compared to agencies focused on personal lines or agencies with an equal focus on commercial and personal lines.


3 strategies correlated with higher growth

Are there specific strategies these agencies are using to overcome the adversity of the hard market? We wanted to identify what set them apart so that more independent agencies could benefit and find new opportunities for growth.

Our research examined agencies that reported annual revenue growth of more than 10% and found three strategies that set their agencies apart. These strategies are working to fuel success today and prepare for when market conditions improve. Click the images below to learn more.



Hard markets don’t last forever. Forward-thinking agents have stepped up to today’s challenges, adapting to meet client needs and find growth opportunities. Through proactive communication, diversification and investment in their agencies, they’re successfully navigating the current environment and laying the groundwork for future growth.


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The 2024 Agent-Customer Connection Study surveyed 1,133 U.S.-based independent agency leaders and team members and 1,110 consumers, including 551 who purchased insurance through an independent insurance agent. The research was conducted online by in-house Liberty Mutual Insurance research experts from November 2023 to January 2024.

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About Agent for the Future

Agent for the Future is a free resource offered by Liberty Mutual, Safeco and State Auto Insurance to drive success and innovation in the entire independent agent channel. We publish research reports and guides, agent stories, expert insights and more. We also produce the annual Agent for the Future Award every fall. Agent for the Future is open to all independent insurance agents. Be sure to sign up for our mailing list to get notified when new content and resources are released.