The Accenture 2014 Independent Agent Survey found that IAs prioritize the ability to deliver a better customer experience, and their access to competitive products, as their most important marketplace differentiators. They ranked better brand or name recognition and access to a selection of offerings as significantly less important, followed by their ability to provide superior advisory services to their customers.

Evolving the independent agent channel - sources of competitive advantage over other agencies
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But consider this: Accenture’s Personal Lines Consumer Survey revealed that, while independent agents have been surpassed by insurance company websites and web search engines as consumers’ preferred source of information about insurance products and prices, they are still the most trusted source of advice when it comes to a customer’s insurance policy (ranked as a top-three choice by 66 percent of survey respondents). In addition, we found that 38 percent of customers would pay more for personalized service—and on average, would pay nearly 10 percent more for it. Still further evidence—as detailed in our full report—shows that 3 out of 4 consumers are willing to switch to a different provider in order to get personalized customer service.

Lots of survey results, lots of numbers, what do they mean? Perhaps independent agents are undervaluing their ability to provide superior advisory services as a competitive differentiator. If so, I’d suggest it’s a missed opportunity for IAs, who already enjoy a competitive advantage over exclusive agents and direct writers. They can offer more choice than the former, and more personalized customer service than the latter, although “mass personalization” engines (think about Amazon’s “you may also like…” feature) are starting to narrow the gap.

Additionally, while IAs may have an edge in helping their customers to identify exposures and mitigate risks, serving as an effective risk manager in the future will increasingly require insights derived from the Internet of Things and big data. This will require IAs to form new competencies and connect into the digital and big data ecosystem.

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