The independent agent (IA) channel continues to dominate the US P&C market, and the Accenture Independent Agent Survey found that in general, IAs don’t see technology as the solution to their problems. More generally, several factors are putting pressure on the agency channel—including competition from insurers’ direct channels, aggregators and new entrants like Google.

On the one hand, the Accenture Consumer-Driven Innovation Survey showed that customers are willing to consider buying insurance from non-insurance companies, and are more likely to use digital channels to buy insurance. But consumers want more than just indemnification: 92 percent said it was somewhat or very important for their insurance provider to help them manage risk, not just prevent it, and 80 percent said they would switch in order to obtain more personalized services.

That’s where the agent comes in. Whether captive or independent, agents can provide the human element to what is often seen as a routine transaction. Importantly, agents that foster strong customer relationships can successfully up- or cross-sell products as the customer’s insurance needs change.

I’ve noticed a number of industry developments aimed at helping agents plug into online sales channels. On, Jim Holm writes about a digital insurance store that agents can attach to their website—essentially providing the 24/7 access that many customers want. And Google Compare recently announced that it would enable agent support for customers using its service to shop for auto insurance.

Especially for agents in the auto insurance industry, which is quickly becoming commoditized, innovations like these will help them stay relevant, visible and valuable to customers. Insurers and agents should investigate how tools like these can help them better serve their customers.

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