Review and Outlook: Independent agents and brokers
Agencies have had to prioritize operations this year, implementing
new measures to ensure that technology and recruitment needs
are met while driving toward long-term growth.
What are some major technology
challenges you faced in 2010?
Walker Sydnor: Technology does not
stand still. Properly steering stable technological growth is an ongoing challenge in
any industry. If you’re slow to adapt, you run
the risk of being left behind in the marketplace. However, if you adopt new technology before it is stable and has proven value,
you have wasted resources and exposed
yourself to the even greater risk of instability. The challenge is to determine the proper
balance between innovation and stability.
A specific challenge we faced in 2010
was maintaining communication and connectivity with customers and between
our 8 branches, given the need to reduce
the costs and environmental impact associated with travel. We’ve implemented
technology enabling us to deliver educational seminars over the web to clients,
prospects and internal staff. This allows
us to maintain our close contact and
provide that additional value that helps
differentiate us from our competitors. We
also have installed inter-office video conferencing throughout our organization
to foster communication and teamwork
between regionally separated offices.
Dennis Johnson: Difficult economic
times force difficult choices. We needed
to determine if we were going to invest
in technology to maintain the ability to
grow and develop the agency going forward, or freeze all spending. We decided
that it was important to think of future
opportunities; therefore, we invested in
the infrastructure of the agency.
➊ Storage. We have a tremendous
amount of data. We have a document/
enterprise management system that reduc-
es paper and increases efficiency and pro-
ductivity levels. We have installed a SAN
(storage area network) to address the data
storage issues and increase the storage
infrastructure for our virtual network.
➋ Data security. With the obliga-
tion that we have to protect our clients’
personal identification information, we
must make available to all associates
the ability to encrypt this information.
This becomes a challenge internally as
you work with the agency to develop
the process and build the habit, but also
externally as you respond to the carrier’s
frustration at having to retrieve this information in a different manner.
Tom Cotton: Technology is a major factor driving agency sales and mergers. The
last system upgrade we made was 2006
and we are scheduling our next upgrades
now. Electronic file storage, transactional
websites, dual or triple monitors, band
width, system speed, direct company
interface, all terms once discussed as
dreams of the future are now minimum
requirements of a modern agency.
Where do you turn for young talent?
How do you mentor young agents?
Johnson: We source our new talent from
outside the insurance industry, including from banking, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, printing and mortgage lending
industries. We have discovered that we
are not good at recruiting sales associates
directly from college. Our typical sales
associate has previous work experience.
Our mentoring program focuses on
both knowledge and sales learning. It
involves multiple people with specified
roles and responsibilities. We use a sales
selling system that provides a set offense
for the new sales associate to run.
Cotton: We have made several new
hires out of Project InVEST, an IIABA-sponsored program that provides high-school students exposure to the insur-
4 American AGENT & BROKER ■ Review and Outlook 2010-2011