Jeff Smith is CEO of Ohio Insurance Agents (OIA), the premier trade association for independent agents in the state. OIA is passionate about their mission to promote, progress and protect the professional advice and guidance only independent insurance agents provide. Jeff was interviewed by Michael Fiedel, a Community Leader at InsurTech Ohio and Partner at PolicyFly, Inc.
Jeff, as the insurance industry evolves, how do you see the role of agents changing?
“Agents are responding really well to how the insurance industry is evolving. I see agents taking the more traditional roles of risk advisors and coverage experts and marrying them with more modern ways of communicating and operating their business. For instance for agents who are more outspoken, they’re constantly writing blogs or posting other forms of content, trying to educate their current clients and provide value to prospective clients in order to earn their trust.
Agents are not shying away from technology solutions. In fact, it’s important that as the role changes you’ve got to have a little bit of flair for being a technologist or at least being very curious about technology, and willing to learn about how it can enable and empower your agency.”
There are a number of technology options, which can be overwhelming, how should insurance agencies be approaching technology in order to make the right choice?
“We encourage agencies to use developers and providers that are independent agency specific. There are a million different companies trying to do everything, especially for something straightforward, but really important like building your website. If you can work with a company that has a specific expertise for independent agencies, I think you’re going to start off in a better spot.
In addition, you need to have a long term idea on your business strategy and the tangible value you seek to gain from a technology solution. You shouldn’t make a choice just to address an immediate need, without making sure you know what the long term gain is intended to be. There’s simply no technology solution that you can onboard and become proficient at, and optimize in a week’s time or in a month’s time. It’s a long term commitment.
So I think consultation is crucial. OIA is consistently providing agents with resources to help educate them on new technology being built to support their workflows and drive business growth. We have an agent that coined the phrase ‘I’ve never seen a demo I didn’t like.’ It’s so true! It’s a totally different thing to show someone something you’ve baked up versus actually using it in the real world. The vetting process has to be deeper than just a demo alone.”
Has COVID-19 created any urgency to adopt new technologies to allow agents to be more digital in their operations?
“We’re definitely urging agents not to make long term errors with their technology needs due to a short term crisis. You have to be purposeful, beyond the moment of crisis, when planning around technology.
And be weary of over promises or flashy discounts. A good deal right now may get you committed to a product that’s free for three to six months, but then all of a sudden, you find out that it’s not the right option for your agency long term, but you’ve already committed to a multi-year contract and invested time building your business around this tool that doesn’t really work for you beyond the immediate future. Eventually nothing is free and there’s also a cost of breaking away from technology that isn’t working for your business, which can erase most if not all of the initial gains it delivered.”
Which insurtech trends are you particularly educating agents to anticipate or take advantage of?
“The number one thing that we tell agents is integrations across all of your solutions is critically important. So your phones and your email have to integrate into the same tools that track your customer experience and marketing. They all have to be connected, so that every time you make a phone call, send an email, or get a like on your social media platform you can use that data to be successful with existing and prospective clients.
We’re seeing more and more agencies go from having an agency management system as the system of record to a CRM as their system of record. This move better aligns agents to track every single interaction and touch point. This is vital to help you determine, evaluate, understand and score where that prospect is in my funnel or where that client is in my retention percentage and ratios.
Most agencies will still have an AMS that they’ll use for policy management, but the true system of record is that relationship manager that agents can integrate other offerings and communication tools into. Policy management will continue to be critically important, but relationship management will be more important for agencies in the future.”
What will it take to be the best agency in this brave new world?
“You’ve got to have incredibly strong relationships with your policyholders. You’ve got to have a meaningful value proposition for your prospects that differentiates you. If it’s a particular line of business that you’ve got experience in or a niche industry that you focus in, you must truly understand the needs of the client.
It comes down to your relationships, your knowledge and the ease of doing business with you. People need to be able to find and connect with you twenty-four-seven.”
I want to expand on OIA’s goals: in what ways does OIA support agents in their day-to-day growth?
“There are three very important ways in which we serve agents: as an advocate, a resource center and an educator. Right now for example, we’re going to the state and federal government and advocating for agents and their clients for relief from this COVID disaster. We’ve been working with the department of insurance to get insurance agencies and their companies declared as essential businesses in our state.
Additionally, we’re an indispensable source of information for agents and agencies. OIA has provided a data analytics platform where we can now collect, clean and disseminate data analytics, plus performance benchmarks on independent insurance agencies. We have right now what we believe to be the largest data warehouse in the country as it relates to the performance of independent insurance agents with fifteen total states involved and over 6,000 agencies.
As an educator we take a more proactive approach. Right now, we’re educating agents on how to engage with their clients during a downturn in the economy. We’ll help them find the resources that are available and consult on why they should take advantage of those resources. It is all about making the agent’s life easier in every way, shape or form.”