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If You Work in Insurance, This Should Be the Only Article You Read on the Future of Social Media

I recently attended a local lunch-and-learn presentation on the current state of insurance in regards to technology and how independent insurance agents will compete in the future.

NOTE: This post was originally written in 2013 but has been updated every year since to reflect the current state of social media in the insurance industry.

There were two specific conceptual ideas brought up during the presentation that tweaked my brain. 

I needed to get the thoughts down on paper. 

That is what this is…

But before we dig into the two ideas I want you to understand something about me, (since many of you reading this do not know me personally), so that you can hold a frame of reference throughout the article.

I’m passionate about the ideas I believe in and my personal vision of how independent insurance agents will succeed through technology.  When it comes to insurance, my vision quest is destroying the misconception that insurance agents are a commodity.

I believe the opportunistic use of technology will allow agents to separate themselves from their mediocre peers.

Capturing the Connected Generation

Passion for the value of insurance and the importance of the independent insurance agency is what allows me to consistently pour my heart out about an industry I adore and career I cherish.  I affectionately refer to this as “Bleeding on the Keys.”

This is why after eight years working for a family-owned independent insurance agency and working as the Chief Marketing Officer for two different insurtech startups, I continue to preach the gospel of the independent agent.

For me, the quest to help independent agents capture the connected generation is the most valuable work I can do as my career moves forward.

I hope this introduction will help you understand why as a thirty-nine-year-old former independent insurance agent and standard-bearer of the insurance industry, I am in such vigorous disagreement with the following two beliefs I’ve heard circulating throughout our industry:

  1. The Millennial Generation does not value the service independent insurance agents provide and prefers to deal with direct writers. 
  2. The ability to provide online quotes is essential to competing with online direct writers.

How can it be that these are the prevailing ideas of the insurance industry’s thought leaders?

I hope that I am wrong… But in case I’m not, let’s discuss these two statements.

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1.  The Millennial Generation does not value the service independent insurance agents provide and prefers to deal with direct writers

I’ve heard this statement packaged a couple of different ways:

“Millennials grew up with computers and want to buy through computers…”

“Millennials associate anything with an “Agent” as more work and more expensive…”

“Millennials have been marketed to their entire life and don’t respond to brand value…”

Have you ever heard these arguments or some variation of them?

I bet you have.  These viewpoints make me cringe.

The problem is not that Millennials do not relate to independent agents… The real issue is that independent agents do not relate to Millennials.

Too many of us are sitting in our agencies ignoring the Internet, marketing as if it’s 1979, and selling with the same tired pitch we’ve always used.

Coverage this… Price that… Review once a year whatever… It’s all bullshit.

The independent insurance agent’s value proposition is NOT coverage, price or service.

Coverage, price and service are simply the barrier to entry for attracting Connected Generation consumers. Connected Generation consumers know that technology allows us to provide great coverage, a competition price and high-quality service with minimal effort.

What attracts the Connected Generation is the experience they receive working with your agency.

The Customer Experience

What Millennials want is the same thing that your Baby Boomer clients want, a relationship.

But Ryan, how can you say that when these people make insurance-buying decisions based on conversations they’ve had on Facebook? 

I didn’t say that Millennials want the same type of relationship that Baby Boomers want.

In fact, Millennials don’t want the same relationship at all. 

The reason your independent agency is struggling to attract Millennials is that you are either unaware, unable or unwilling to provide the type of relationship that Millennials seek. 

That my friend, is a YOU problem, (an “us” problem really), not a Millennials problem.

Some of you are saying, “We’re old school here. We’ve been successful doing business the same way for 30 years. We work on referrals…”

Do you think technology is going away?

Do you think that technology is going to become any less integrated with our daily lives?

Please tell me you don’t believe the whole “The World is Swinging Back to 1950’s Cold Calling and Direct Mail Marketing” thing.

Let me answer both those questions for you:

  1. No, technology is not going away and,
  2. No, technology is going to become even more a part of everything we do.

To pretend like that is not the truth is like saying the sun won’t rise tomorrow.

Just because YOU don’t like technology doesn’t mean you’re prospects and clients don’t like technology. Millennials want a relationship and they are going to seek out that relationship with whoever is willing to provide the relationship.

But here is the trick, as long as that relationship is provided on their terms.

So far direct writers and captive agents are the only companies within the insurance industry willing to attempt to provide Millennials with the relationship they want. 

But there is hope, they stink at it.

2. The ability to provide Online Quotes is essential to competing with online direct writers

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about online quote integration for independent agency websites with the idea being today’s consumer wants to be able “shop” online for insurance themselves.

Go back and read the last two sentences of the third paragraph of this article.  If that is too taxing a task, (I don’t blame you), here it is again:

“When it comes to Insurance my vision quest is destroying the misconception that independent agents are a commodity.  I believe technology will allow us to do that.”

Do you think that as independent agents we have any chance of competing with big-budget direct marketers if our value statement is “Come to our site where you can shop for your own quote?”

UPDATE: When I first wrote this section, the way in which independent insurance agents address online quoting was completely different. The platforms were awkward, clunky and provided limited and relatively inaccurate results. These platforms were not extending the value of the independent agency system. Today with the introduction of platforms, such as Bold Penguin and others, easier and more streamlined to integrate online buying tools for consumers who desire online rating a more valuable experience.

I hated the way we used comparative rating when it was first available to independent agents. We used comparative rating to scream “PRICE” as loud as we could into the Internet. Then we’d hope someone comes running to buy insurance from us…

Crazy, right? We were essentially broadcasting our own commoditization to the world.

The 2019 Model for “Get a Quote”

When this article was first published I was pretty aggressive against online rating. I’m sure some of you reading this have some form of do-it-yourself-online quote system that you pay some amount of money for and you’re completely offended by everything I wrote at that time. 

So let’s skin this cat a different way.

As independent insurance agents, how do we differentiate ourselves from direct writers?  What is our value statement?  What makes doing business with a human being more advantageous as an insurance experience than doing business with a computer?

At its simplest form… WE CARE!

We care that our clients have proper coverage.

We care that our client’s service needs are met in a manner they appreciate.

We care that our clients receive the competitive price in the market.

We care that our client’s insurance carrier will respectfully and dutifully respond to a claim.

How do you establish that value when insurance consumers are quoting their own insurance through an online rater?

If your answer is “After they purchase a policy,” you are so sadly mistaken.

At that point, we’ve established ourselves as order takers… Our opportunity to make a great first impression has come and gone.

The independent insurance agents KILLING IT online are NOT order takers!

Now process my change or I’m shopping my insurance for something cheaper. 

All I have to do is go online… “NOW, I SAID!”

Not me Compadre, I want to establish relationships of trust and respect with my insurance consumers.

Creating and maintaining a conversational and educational online presence is part of that. Understanding customer experience is not service is the defining value proposition fo the independent agency system. Building relationships with carriers, wholesalers, MGA’s, vendors and peer insurance professionals is a part of that.

“Get a Quote” is only part of the solution.

The Future of Insurance and Social Media

True I haven’t always believed in online raters, but I have always loved the Internet.  

I believe so strongly in the power of marketing, communication, for their potential in developing a relationship and trust-building strategy through social media for independent insurance agents that stopped selling insurance to help our industry.

That’s why I do the work I do today.

I believe in the independent insurance agent more than ever.

Insurance consumers need independent insurance agents more than ever before.

But the marketplace is changing and if we’re really as good at business as we’d like others to believe we must be willing to adapt to the marketplace.

The thing is, we can’t think of ourselves as insurance agents, I never did.

We are relationship builders.  Businesspeople. Leaders. Creatives. That’s what we do, we build relationships with people, it just so happens that the service we provide is insurance (or risk transfer for you old school cats).

And I know it to be true that so many of you feel the same way.  That is why you are so successful at selling insurance. And that is what social media is all about, building relationships.

Yes, these relationships are built through a computer, but they’re certainly not meant to stay there.  I tried, if geographically feasible, to sit face-to-face with every client I had and I sell a decent amount of insurance to people my first contact with is over the computer.

What I’m trying to say is great relationship builders, (YOU!), absolutely kill it on social media.

This is what Millennials (Connected Generation) want, a relationship, they just want to build it on the computer first. 

Millennials still want to know that there is a living, breathing human being who gives a crap about their insurance program on the other side of that computer looking out for their needs.

This is why we as independent insurance agents, we should not rest on the success of online self-service quoting platforms.  We’re not building the relationship upfront that sets us apart from the machines.

Pride yourself on educating consumers first, before shoving quotes down their throat.

If done correctly, with diligence and dedication, an online social media presence can build the trust and respect necessary to establish a quality agent/client bond.

I promise.

The Rub

I’m hoping that this article stirred up some emotions. It’s been six years since I published the original version of this post and the funny thing is, not too much has changed.

We’re still fighting direct writers and independent agents are still questioning the validity of digital marketing and social media as a tool for attracting new business to their agency.

It’s time for this to change. I don’t want to update this article three years from today facing the same questions from agents.

The time for action is now.

Let’s hear your thoughts!

This is an extremely important topic facing our industry. 

The debate is crucial.

Thank you,

I am Ryan Hanley

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