What Lies Ahead for Personal Lines Agents?

I don’t want to revive the old discussion about whether insurance agents are a dying breed, but it would be foolish to ignore the changes in the industry—particularly for personal lines agents—and what the future holds for them.

There remains a need for trusted advisors in insurance and that will never change. People who don’t seek counsel on important issues are either incredibly smart or incredibly foolish—with a much heavier emphasis on the latter.

Not everyone knows what the best coverage is. Technology can play a role in helping to determine that, but self-help quizzes will never probe into your life the way an experienced agent can.

With the constant push/pull on the price of a personal auto policy, there may come a time when it doesn’t make financial sense for an agency to bother marketing such policies unless it serves as a loss-leader for agencies to maintain a full-service status, particularly for customers too valuable to lose.

Maureen Boeing, chair of the ASCnet user group, points out that agencies have lost a fair number of policyholders in recent years to direct writers, but she believes there is a place for agencies in the personal lines. Young adults may not fear going online to shop for a personal auto policy, but they have seen the comfort level their parents have developed with an agent and should appreciate how that makes difficult decisions easier to make.

Still, as business rules have made underwriting online or on your smartphone a simple process, smart agents need to push their expertise to a new generation. If the industry continues the rapid pace of change—and who here doesn’t believe it will—more customers will be turning to technology for their answers.

Karlyn Carnahan, a principal with Novarica, believes carriers have to weigh the push for direct sales against the challenge they face to provide those potential customers with the best information to make the right choices on coverage. Carriers have relied on agents to serve that need, but now have to weigh the choices between what is best for the company and best for the policyholder. Hopefully, those needs will merge.

Carnahan feels insurers will develop more sophisticated methods of integrating third-party data into the information they offer online. She also believes social media will grow and fill in the gaps that are left by the continually shrinking agency workforce.

Most of us have been using friends and family for advice long before the term “social media” came into play, but making the best decision somehow seems scarier when we turn to Facebook for answers.

Smart agents can’t ignore the valuable tools their customers have at their fingertips and must find a way to incorporate technology into their traditional role of advisor. There will remain a place for agents in the next decade, but like seemingly everything else in the world, there will be changes.

About the Author
Robert Regis Hyle, PropertyCasualty360.com

Robert Regis Hyle, PropertyCasualty360.com

Robert Regis Hyle is editor-in-chief of Tech Decisions magazine and technology channel editor for PropertyCasualty360.com. He has spent over three decades as a journalist for a variety of business and regional news publications including a stint with a weekly newspaper that he owned and operated. He has been with Tech Decisions since the magazine’s inception in 1999 and has written articles on virtually every issue and trend facing insurance IT professionals. Prior to joining Tech Decisions, he spent two years as editor of a sister publication, The Ohio Underwriter, where he covered insurance topics for the agency and carrier markets. He has spoken on insurance technology issues at various industry conferences such as IASA and ACORD LOMA and on a number of web seminars. He is a graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati with a degree in Communication Arts. Hyle may be reached at rhyle@sbmedia.com

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