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Jack of All Trades: How Growing Insurance Agencies CAN Juggle It All

December 18, 2015

by Bruce Cox

Milford-Insurance_Business-CardAt a growing independent insurance agency, agency owners wear many hats. In addition to being the person in charge, oftentimes you’re the CSR, producer and operations manager. And that’s not only exhausting — it’s time consuming. With so many bases to cover, you may struggle with how to juggle it all while effectively keeping clients front and center to retain and grow your book of business.

My advice? Take advantage of technology to better manage your business. Now that may sound obvious. However, even if you currently use technology, you may not be using the right technology to optimize your agency’s operations. Our family agency had been in business more than 25 years when I joined.  At the time, we didn’t have an automated management system so one of my first responsibilities was getting us automated. Our first system was insurer-sponsored, allowing us to get a management system in place. But after a couple of years, we outgrew that system and in 1990 we chose Applied TAM to take our agency to the next level of automation. Having the right system enabled us to grow rapidly and reduced tedious, unnecessary tasks.

Agency automation is a critical component of your technology strategy. It is the best way to streamline your agency’s workflows so that you and your staff can wear the “hats” that make the best use of your time. A survey by Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America states that 27% of independent agent respondents said they are not automated. My question is, how many different applications are they using to manage their growth? How long is it taking these businesses to complete their daily, weekly and monthly tasks?

There are a variety reasons why insurance firms may not adopt or effectively use technology:  

  • Sometimes investing in the right technology is postponed. If a P&C agency or brokerage is new, rather than purchasing a management system at the start they decide to simply hire someone to handle workflows and operations manually until they’re in a better position to invest in the technology needed to automate the business.
  • Sometimes too much technology is involved. They may use too many disparate applications or systems that do not work together such as multiple insurer websites, Microsoft® Office, even paper documentation kept in physical file cabinets.
  • Sometimes technology isn’t fully integrated and employees are forced to work in silos. In this case, it may take too long to compile data and pull reports to understand how the business is doing.

If you want to juggle it all, using the right technology to automate your insurance firm enables you to attain business goals such as faster growth, higher client retention, reduced costs and more.

Here are some of the reasons why I recommend automating your business:

  1. 1 Team, 1 System
    What are the tangible benefits of a management system – what can it really do for your business?  The answer to that is: everything you spend hours doing for yourself, and some things you didn’t even know you needed. A recent article I read in Property Casualty 360 titled “5 Mistakes Agency Start-Ups Make” said the #1 mistake new insurance firms make is ignoring infrastructure. According to the article, “this list of to-be-deferred infrastructure includes vital agency technology, including: agency management systems, responsively designed websites, mobile applications, social media and ongoing IT support. In reality, much of this infrastructure is needed upfront to support anticipated growth.”

    This makes sense because growth increases your workloads. With the right management system, you can reduce time spent on administrative tasks, eliminate redundant keystrokes, automate workflows and eliminate having to log in to multiple insurer portals.You can start cutting down on the time you spend doing the basic maintenance of your business, freeing both you and your staff to direct your focus toward servicing your customers and growing your business. Say a top priority is hiring new staff. How do you keep track of employee workflows? One of the downsides of working with a paper system is that workflows can be complex, and once patterns are established, making changes – such as the integration of new staff into the process – can be confusing.

    A management system is designed to handle multiple workflows – from 3 to 3,000. It can help you facilitate communication between your staff, departments and customers. And when you find the perfect new employees for your growing business, the training and on-boarding process is standardized and straightforward, ensuring quality and consistency across your business. An automated management system can also reduce the need for multiple applications or systems. From accounting capabilities, to document management and marketing tools, most management systems have these features. This eliminates the need to invest in accounting specific software, 3rd party document management solutions and/or e-marketing software.

    Here are a few other points to mention if you’re not convinced about the need for automation:

    • Insurers over the years have cut commissions; a good automation system will offset those cuts by allowing you to be more efficient in your processing.
    • Tracking submissions back to the insurer to see which are successful and unsuccessful is critical for small agencies and brokerages. It can mean the difference between keeping a contract or losing it.
    • Cross selling is an easy process in the right automation system, this can be done for both personal and commercial lines and is also great for rounding out benefit accounts.
  2. Report, Evaluate, Improve
    When it comes to growing your business, you know that regularly measuring your success and conducting reviews is critical. What you might not know is that with an automated management system, the standardized workflows result in standardized data. When you have standardized data, you’ll get consistent reporting results that can change the way you view your business. When data is being input through various workarounds in spreadsheets, your reports could be far from accurate and most importantly, time consuming to produce. Imagine being able to pull your producers’ sales figures, or quickly and easily review data from across your business in a matter of minutes – not hours. That’s the kind of time-savings that can help you grow, and it’s only a small percentage of what automation can help you achieve. On top of that, regular reporting through your management system can give you a clear, single view of your business, enabling you to identify gaps and opportunities in the market that your agency or brokerage can capitalize on.

  3. Superior Client Service = Growth
    Whether in person, via email or phone, servicing customers is your top priority in order to retain your book of business and create a network of potential referrals. It’s important to think about how many hours your staff spends in the field each week. How much one-on-one time do you or your staff have with prospective clients? It is understandable that for small businesses with 1-4 employees, getting out in the field may be difficult. Once again, technology is the answer. Establishing an online presence offers multiple ways for consumers to contact you: whether via your website, social media or online self-service, you are providing the inbound channels for prospects to find you. By investing time in these digital channels you can spend less time in the field but still keep open lines of communication.

    Here’s something to think about: How long does it take your staff to process a plain ACORD 25 certificate? Let’s say your agency processes 100 certificates in a day, maybe it takes 1-3 minutes to process a certificate or maybe it more like 4-6 minutes. This sounds like a small difference but those few minutes really do matter. If it takes 2 minutes to process a certificate, your staff would spend 3 ½ hours to complete the job, assuming you process 100 certificates per day. Yet, those who take 4 minutes processing each certificate spend close to 7 hours in total. Those extra minutes double the amount of time it takes to process client information. That time could be better spent connecting with prospects online or in person to generate new sales. With a certificate processing application, not only can you streamline certificate processing, you can provide a self-service portal for your clients where they can view and edit their insurance and claims information on their own time.

In conclusion, for growing agencies and brokerages, leveraging the technology within a management system allows you to do more in less time so you and your employees can juggle all that is thrown at you. Too often agents and brokers are concerned with “how much automation costs” rather than “what automation can do” for the business. A management system lets you manage your business through a single application, build consistent workflows and reduce time spent on administrative tasks enabling you to focus on your customers and grow your business.

Do you currently have a management system? Share with us the tasks you couldn’t imagine doing without your system.

Bruce Cox

Bruce Cox, Agency Consultant for Applied Systems, has worked for Applied for more than 20 years and has held roles in training, enterprise sales, sales enablement & consulting. He has had years of experience in the insurance industry since joining his brother in the family agency in the early 80s. Bruce has extensive knowledge of agency management systems and works to help agencies find the right solution for their business.

May
03

“Edit their insurance and claims information.” I am concerned about E & O regarding editing insurance coverages and providing value added support for our clients. Why have an agent?

We plan to initiate paperless filing in our office. Do you have any information to guide us and avoid
any pitfalls and potential E & O claims. How much detail should we maintain to prepare for any claim?

May
10
Bruce Cox

Thank you Fred for your comment. Utilizing the self-service portal for your clients extends your role as a trusted advisor by providing 24/7 access to insurance information. Clients can engage with your portal to review information and request personal information changes, like an email address, but it doesn’t mean that they can change any coverage or information that would cause an E&O exposure. You maintain your role as their trusted advisor by providing coverage recommendations and managing their access to information and documents via the client portal.

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