creases for the coming year—but not nearly
where they were in 2007 or 2008. In the
Northwest it is going to be a while before
commercial construction comes back.
E ROUSSEAU: For independent agents with a
personal-lines focus, the ability of consumers to buy insurance direct from carriers such
as Geico and Progressive has presented a
serious business challenge. But what about
on the commercial-lines side—are you at
all worried that certain commodity-type
commercial products could be made available directly online? Or are you really not
concerned that you could start to lose some
commercial business to a carrier that aggressively tries to adopt a direct model?
BARTLETT: In the segments of the market
we work in, the upper-middle market, the
CFOs we’re working with value us for the
advice we’re providing—not just simply for
insurance policies. So I can’t foresee that the
independent broker or agent will be taken
out of that process. At the lower end of the
commercial market, it is probably inevitable
that more of the market will be taken to
direct online platforms.
DIETZEL: Our target market is not buying a
commodity from us. They’re buying advice
on risk. And risk is not just insurance. If you
allow even a small-business owner to buy
his own insurance, he will make mistakes.
When I do look at personal-lines policies
for any business-owner clients of ours, I’m
ashamed of what was sold to them on a
direct basis. Business owners don’t have the
time, nor can they understand the importance of certain coverages, to do this work on
their own. If we encounter a prospective client who is looking to buy a commodity, we
will very politely walk away and introduce
them to somebody who sells in that way.
E ROUSSEAU: What is the best strategy you
have found for recruiting new talent and
getting them excited about insurance?
DIETZEL: Limiting yourself to either folks just
out of school or folks with insurance experience for that account-manager position is
not a good idea. We don’t: We recruit from
all industries that lead to having a detailed
E DIGITAL INNOVATOR: Greg Collins’ firm uses
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orientation—engineers, CPAs. And we show
them that in this business, the sky is the limit.
For those who know how to delegate,
know how to do the detail work and really
have the intellectual curiosity that it takes
to be a coverage expert, we tell them that
our account managers have the same earning power as our producers.
People still think an insurance career
means wearing polyester suits and doing
door-to-door sales. It is not that. It’s sophisticated. It’s touring plants. It is meeting
different people in different industries and
helping them manage their risks. Just with
the education piece of what insurance is, we
can do a much better job of it.
E ROUSSEAU: What can carriers do to improve
their relationships with agencies? What
would you tell them to do differently?
E THE INDIE EDGE: Richard Bartlett relishes
the chance to converse with prospective clients
who currently use “one of the alphabet houses”—he’s sure he can sell them on his superior
service. Digital subscribers: click Play for more.
COLLINS: Our competition every day on the
street is the publicly traded brokers. We
don’t mind at all competing on an equal
basis, but it feels like we’re moving to a
situation where there are two classes of citizens. There is the carrier approach to the
national brokers and the carrier approach
to the independent brokers.
We don’t want an advantage in competition, but we don’t want to be disadvantaged either. So there is one thing carriers
can do: Whatever decisions they make,
and however they work with their broker
partners, let’s focus on what is in the best
interest for the about bringing value to the
client, it becomes about how you generate
and capture revenue at the broker basis.
We’ve just got to stay away from that.
That’s not client-friendly.
DIETZEL: We like the carriers that communicate often. If they have a particular appetite
or are solving a problem that they identify in the marketplace with new coverage,
more education is better. We like to say the
squeaky wheel gets the grease. Water flows
to the path of least resistance. The more we
understand how a carrier operates, what the
carrier does—so we can read each other’s
minds at the end of the day—they are going
to get more business.
I am a little bit fearful [of some of the
ramifications of] the soft market. We’ve seen
things said like “we closed 16 claims offices
to serve our clients better.” I fear [statements
like] that. As carriers are trying to get a profit,
the first things they go to cut their expenses
in are the most important services out there:
loss controls and claims. We’re looking at
that real closely and monitoring that and
trying to stay away from the carriers approaching that type of model.
BARTLETT: Some carriers still don’t do things
electronically, which is a surprise. If you ask
for an electronic policy, I am always amazed:
“Really? You can’t issue that electronically
in a simple format, making our life easier in
terms of efficiency?”
E ROUSSEAU: All three of your firms do business around the globe. For an agency here
in the United States that wants to expand
its international presence, what advice can