Distribution models for insurance companies are continuing to evolve as carriers seek to better connect with their customers. For some carriers, this has meant creating channels for selling and servicing customers directly. But for many other carriers, the role of the independent agent in this aspect remains just as important as ever, and ensuring the agent-carrier relationship remains productive and collaborative is critical to meeting and exceeding the needs of customers.
Agents face several external pressures including digital disintermediation, M& A activity, and an aging workforce. With forces increasing the pace of change in the industry, what do carriers need to do to ensure a healthy relationship with producers that leads to success? The answer to that will likely involve examining the most frequent interaction point between the two entities – the relationship between agents and the carrier’s field marketing representative.
What do agents think makes a great field marketing rep?
Field marketing and sales representatives act as the day-to-day liaisons for agents, and with their extensive knowledge of the carrier’s products, underwriting guidelines, and procedures, they can be an agent’s most valuable sales enablement resource. It’s no surprise that agents believe superior field marketing reps excel at providing information or guidance about carriers’ products or coverages, how to grow an agency’s business, or how best to use technology. Unfortunately, serving agents in this capacity are becoming more challenging for marketing reps.
A field marketing rep’s challenge
Marketing field reps are responsible for proactively providing information and responding to inquiries and questions of all sorts that come from their agent network. Challenges that prevent them from properly helping agents include:
1) More agents to manage. Since 2009, the number of people working in agencies and brokerages across the U.S. insurance industry has grown by over 25%. During that same time period, employment for P&C carriers remained relatively flat. If the same number of marketers must support more agents, then carriers can expect more requests from agents for transactional or administrative tasks like processing applications, onboarding, compensation inquiries, or managing disputes. This means less time for more valuable activities like onsite visits, strategic planning, and sharing performance insights.
2) Too much data to process and understand. Just like society in general, marketers are bombarded with information, whether it’s from internal sources that are tracking results and outcomes or from external sources like social media, which is playing an increasingly important role in the sales process. Marketers should be using that information to support agents by determining top performers, understanding what makes them successful, and packaging that in ways that a busy agent can understand and make use of. All of that data analysis is essential, but with information spread around in multiple systems that are often unsophisticated (spreadsheets, hard copies), it can be impossible to consolidate all the facts and organize them in a way that allows a marketer to identify actionable ideas that can improve the productivity of agents.
3) Inefficient administrative processes. Field marketing reps are responsible for more than just managing relationships with agents. If too much time is spent on administrative tasks, it will be to the detriment of the agents. Two inefficient admin processes stand out that have little to do with putting agents to work: performing audits and realigning after M& A transactions. Carriers periodically, annually, or quarterly audit their agents to ensure compliance with best practices. Field reps use tools to document the outcomes of audits, but there are a lot of manual activities such as status checks to determine how and when a field rep should follow up with an agency. Similarly, field reps are burdened with data transfer to ensure that the right contracts, contacts, and books of business are associated with the right agencies.
Rethinking the agent-carrier relationship
Market forces will change the way carriers and agents go to the market and support customers, necessarily causing them to rethink the way their relationships should work. The industry is trending towards agent sales approaches that are relationship-based and not purely transactional, growth strategies based on cross-selling, and carriers and agents having to share relationships with policyholders. Achieving that will require more effective enablement of agents while facing the challenges for field marketing reps that we described here. We expect that technology will play a big role to support this shift, with the increased adoption of modern distribution management systems at the core of increasing the productivity of agents and brokers while increasing operational efficiencies and ensuring continuous compliance.
Duck Creek recently hosted a webinar with industry analysts and insurance carriers who have modernized their distribution management systems in which you can learn their thoughts on the challenges of empowering agents and how these can be resolved with modern technologies.
 Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.