Accenture’s recently-published Independent Agent Survey reached out to more than 1,100 IAs across the US to get their “take” on business priorities and learn more about their relationships with customers and carriers.

The agents who were surveyed saw the increase of insurance carriers’ direct sales via the online channel as a serious competitive threat, with 39 percent of respondents citing such direct solutions as their greatest source of competition. Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of the agents said that threat took the form of lower prices, while 48 percent saw better brand recognition and more effective marketing as key elements of the competitive threat.

The survey found that agents’ top priority is retaining and servicing existing customers—in various respects, improving the customer experience, offering a range of competitive products and making it easier for customers to do business with them. Interestingly, IAs put “upgrading technology,” including mobile and web, at the bottom of their operational priority list. This seems problematic in light of their high interest in providing a better, more consistent customer experience.

What else did agents say? Our survey report includes these key findings and insights:

Evolving to Compete and Win in the Long-Term
Read the report.
  • Adding sales capabilities is perceived as contributing to growth, but capital constraints may make this a challenge for smaller agencies.
  • When it comes to digital, building better connections to carriers is a top priority—specifically, web-based services and claims, and web-based quoting. Digital marketing, social media and mobility are lower priorities—although we believe agents will need these channels to compete in the new marketplace.
  • When it comes to choosing carriers, IAs prioritize quality, speed and pricing consistency higher than commission. Carriers’ support initiatives (in the form of marketing, operations, local market data and customer self-service) are less important in agents’ decision to place business.
  • Despite their strong focus on customers, agents downplayed their ability to provide differentiated and superior advisory services as a competitive advantage. Perhaps a missed opportunity?
  • Agents join clusters, alliances or associations mainly for better carrier access and commissions, and not so much for operational support. Since IAs are not looking for additional operation capabilities from these memberships, nor from carriers, a question arises as to how these mostly small businesses will fill the capabilities gap. One possible answer: a third-party industry utility (platform provider).

Our study examines the complex dynamic that exists between agencies and carriers. Clearly it is in both of their best interests to evolve the channel to compete and win in the long-term—but how to do it?  My next post will look at how agents and carriers can team most effectively for mutual benefit.

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