Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Technology

Polls and Pundits

In insurance, as in politics, numbers don’t tell the whole story

I am a big fan of the Sunday morning news shows—the ones where reporters and journalists sit around commenting on the past week’s worth of political news. Occasionally, the host will kick things off with interviews with the hottest politician to get fodder for the show.

These shows have evolved over the years, expanding significantly online. Now anyone with an Internet connection can become a pundit in the blogosphere. As a result, no matter what your position on any issue, you can find many compatriots who feel the same way as you, giving greater weight to that particular opinion than would normally be the case.

You hear a lot about how politicians determine their positions on different issues based upon what the polls say. What I don’t understand is, why? Polls have so many variables, from the specific questions asked and how they are asked to who’s doing the asking and who’s been chosen to answer the questions.

Related: Read the article by Laura Mazzuca Toops "Agents Prefer Carrier Portals When Placing Personal Business: PLGA."

Although I’m not a statistician, I have developed and conducted many surveys. You don’t have to be an expert to know that polling and its results are always subject to interpretation. As my father-in-law, a retired auditor, said, "Numbers are fungible," meaning they are interchangeable and subject to explanation. This is why I believe we place far too much weight on the results of surveys and polling.

This is evident not only in politics, but in our own industry. Insurance is full of surveys studying all aspects of our business. A lot of time and energy has been spent on trying to better understand the mindset of the independent agent, how they make decisions and choose where to place business, their definition of a company that’s "easy to do business with," and where they invest their limited dollars for marketing purposes and technologies to improve workflow.

Similarly, insurance companies are the focus of many studies to determine how they spend their IT dollars, their marketing and advertising budgets and their views on market trends, among many other topics.

Related: Read the article "Agent Survey Reveals Wishes for Carrier Portals."

Last year I was involved with a survey of independent agents and brokers who were members of the Personal Lines Growth Alliance. It was conducted by Novarica online during the summer. The key findings that resulted from the study were, in some respects, less than expected. They went against the generally accepted beliefs of how agents want to interact with carriers and caused some people to question some industry messaging on agency workflow and efficiencies.

The biggest challenge we have is in understanding how to interpret and weigh the various pieces of information we are bombarded with every day. Information alone is not enough; it takes a knowledgeable perspective of that material to fully grasp its impact. That intersection of information and intelligence is where communications and action take place.

So what does that mean? It means we should not take information on face value. Whether it’s the results of an industry survey or the most recent political poll, we must look at the elements that went into the findings. Who conducted the survey? What were the questions asked? How many people responded to the questions? Were there any unknown biases at play?

The PLGA Novarica survey came on the heels of another survey conducted by the IIABA’s Agents Council for Technology (ACT) of more than 3,000 agencies and brokerages. That survey confirmed the view that Real Time offers "a more efficient and responsive workflow than navigating through various carrier portals."

Those findings are in contradiction to the results of the PLGA Novarica study that indicated "agents prefer to work though a carrier’s portal rather than through their own agency management system." On the surface, you might want say, "What the what?" But when you look at the data with a discerning eye you learn that the latter survey represents 96 responses versus 3,110 responses for the earlier one.

Related: Read the article "Survey Shows Agents Want More Carriers With Real-Time Capabilities."

The Real Time survey is just the latest of a series of surveys that goes back to a 2006 survey on carrier communications to which some 7,500 independent agents answered questions on how they preferred to interact with their carriers. That survey led to the creation of the Real Time/Download Campaign.

My point is not to degrade the validity of the PLGA Novarica survey but to underscore the importance and value of taking a sensationalized headline with a proverbial grain of salt.

I was an architecture student in college and I always found that I could best envision and convey my design ideas when I would put them down on paper; not as a floor plan or elevation but only when I did perspectives. They gave my imagination an anchor in reality and helped me place the structure in the real world. The same can be said for studies. Looking at the results from different perspectives can give you a truer picture of what they mean.

I believe there is a lot to learn from this example. One lesson is to always consider the basis for the information. A second lesson is to look at what other information there is on the same topic. And a third lesson might be to question whether the findings are reflective of your own opinions. Did you participate in the survey? Regardless of whether you agree with the key findings, is your voice among the responses? If you want accurate findings and meaningful studies, you need to step up and participate.

While I’m more inclined to agree with the key findings from the Real Time/ACT/AUGIE surveys conducted over the years, the errant findings from the PLGA Novarica study do have one true message that must be acknowledged: Not everyone is on the same page. Even if the respondents represent an uninformed minority, it still is an opportunity for the Real Time Campaign to reach a new audience.

Perhaps I’m just a "half glass full" kind of guy, which might be why I place little reliability on the almost daily political polls being conducted. I do know one thing, however: Whoever ends up being our president next year, my voice will be among those whose votes counted. Be sure yours are, too.

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