Insurance agents learning It’s time to take a fresh look at your agency’s education program — and if you don’t have one, get started. (Photo: Fotolia)

“The trouble with every one of us is that we don’t think enough… Knowledge is the result of Craig Mostthought.”

– Thomas J. Watson Sr., former CEO of IBM

I’ve pursued knowledge my whole life. I’m inquisitive. I enjoy learning … it seems natural to me. If you are NOT growing and learning, then you are sliding back the other way. I like to learn from my peers and from people who aspire to do things better or more efficiently. It’s a journey that’s never quite over.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, yet I find that so many in our industry believe they’re done learning once they have their insurance licenses. Why do they just grudgingly get the minimum continuing education required by the state?

For that matter, why do so many agency owners frown upon or avoid spending money for education? It is shortsighted to want your employees’ butts in their seats every possible working hour, every day, every week, every month, and not want to invest in their education.

Investing in professionalism, education

If an agency is not investing in the professionalism and education of their agents, they signal their stance on professional development, and become less relevant. They are doing a disservice to their staff and customers alike.

It’s time to take a fresh look at your agency’s education program — and if you don’t have one, get started. The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America’s (IIABA) Best Practices agencies budget each year for education for their staff members. Here are a few ideas:

Strategy trumps tactics.

The most successful agencies follow a brand and culture strategy. Where does strategy come from? You learn it.

Computers screens put ideas in front of your eyes, but what puts ideas into your brain? —teachers, training, role-play, educational material and hands on-learning.

Congratulations, you want to move forward with brain-changing activities. First, you must disconnect from the day-to-day tactical time voids. For instance, I’ll bet your associates right now are reading and dealing with a lot of emails. The average email takes four minutes to manage, whether you’re reading and deleting, drafting, forwarding or replying. So, you’re talking hours and hours each week just on email.

You’ll learn fresh approaches to work when you pursue new avenues of education.

Agents who specialize are high performers.

Niche players are often more profitable. And how did they come to specialize? Producers and service staffs gained deep knowledge about positioning, marketing and underwriting a product line or two … back to learning.

Agencies without any specialties are 100% in the commodity space, always hunting for the lowest price. To me, that’s just a scary place to be. Consumers don’t want a generalist — they want a specialist, someone who understands them. And the path away from being a generalist is education. If you’re going to sell something to the public, aim to be the best at it.

Education is flexible today.

Take your pick. You and your colleagues can go to association-sponsored classroom education. You can take online classes. You can set up tailored education in your own offices. And even check out company-sponsored programs — yes, they’re back and they’re probably better than ever. Just ask your favorite carriers what they offer if you’re not yet aware.

It’s not just about getting your minimum CE credit.

Don’t stop at understanding insurance policy language; learn about how to work with people and educate them. Most E&O claims against agencies aren’t about the coverages per se. They involve FTC — failure to communicate. When you hear customers — or, really, ex-customers — say things such as, “You never told me,” or “No one called me back,” that’s a problem and an E&O claim in waiting.

Here are a few examples of various training available to agents:

  • Developing effective business development plans.
  • How to match up with carrier underwriting appetites.
  • Understanding consumer expectations.
  • Using risk identification techniques to gather pertinent prospect information.
  • Procedures for controlling errors and omissions, including policy review and delivery, endorsements, claims processing, and handling of client complaints.

Whatever it is you and your associates would like to pursue, go for it: insurance training, sales and marketing training, time management advice, business classes, customer experience training, etc. A better educated insurance professional will not only help you with your own prospects, customers and network, but will elevate the industry. Imagine if the entire industry was one step ahead of where it is today … but that is unlikely, so here is your chance to take the step so many peers are not.

You really don’t have a choice.

These days, your firm must have a formal education plan to inspire and retain employees. Your team is the most vital asset that differentiates you from the next insurance agency. For younger employees, training and mentoring is not a once-and-done program, and seasoned professionals should feel the same way.

It’s humbling to recognize that you do not have all the answers all the time. Your team should demand an education path. And you, the agency principal, will be better for it.

Every business book I’ve ever read essentially says the same thing: No matter your age, never stop learning.

Craig Most, CPIA, CIC, a principal with Tampa, Florida-based Most Insurance, serves as president of the American Insurance Marketing and Sales Society. He can be reached at [email protected]. Opinions expressed are the author’s own.