I love independent insurance agents and brokers.
OK, love is a strong word. I’ve been hanging around with these people for 30 years, and I know them very well.
1. They’re resilient
Count all the once-formidable Property & Casualty carriers that have gone out of business — their agents have outlived them. Continental, The Home, Connecticut General, St. Paul, Commercial Union, Fireman's Fund, USF&G … I could go on, but I’ll pause there.
2. They’re adaptable
Go ahead, throw something at them. Hard market, soft market, coastal property, mold, pollution, liability crisis. What else? Famine, pestilence, locusts (that's happened — ask crop insurance agents).
With 2,200 admitted P&C carriers in the U.S. — plus the E&S business and those “offshore carriers,” independent agents always find a way to a product. How do they do it? Anyone who can decipher a CGL policy is a winner in my book. Moreover, witness the smart agencies that have taken on Life, Health and employee benefits — locking in commercial accounts. They’re cleaning up.
3. They’re excellent at sales
Marketing? Not so much. They do need to get much more aggressive there, but if you’re on the phone or across the desk from a customer service rep or producer, the chances are high that you’ll be cutting a deposit check. Smooth as silk.
4. They evolve
Every wonder how general agents, managing general agents, managing general underwriters, wholesalers and program administrators originated back in the day? You guessed it: Because they own their renewals, their businesses and thus their destinies, agents found new ways to fill gaps and make a buck. As carriers pulled back from underwriting, policy issuance, claims and more in certain lines of business, they said, “Give it to Mikey. He’ll eat it!” Agents were more than happy to be Mikey, and still are.
5. They keep reproducing
That's right. Check the numbers. There are still tens of thousands of them around the U.S., more than any captive agency force and with plenty of talent to cover all the hamlets, towns and cities around the country.
Sure, there are a lot of aggregators gobbling up traditional firms, many of which are run by some principals who lack the energy, wherewithal or imagination to make the tough, required business decisions. And the stronger, larger agents and brokers are getting stronger and larger by buying weaker players.
But I believe the millennials are just getting started in the independent agent channel. They’re not counting brick & mortar locations — they’re counting online offices. I’ve met a lot of these new(er) agents. They’re growing fast. They’re smart at digital marketing and creating a new customer experience — one, actually, that baby boomer agencies should relish.
6. They really care
You can't overestimate how much these people are committed to their customers and communities. They’re authentically part of the fabric of America.
Say what you want about the insurance industry. It has some issues, yes. But don't mess with my friends, the independent agents. Or I will hurt you.