This article was first published in Agency Nation on February 19, 2020:

Agencies are feeling the pressure from every direction. Online rivals are selling directly to customers, and consumers expect a high-tech, always-on experience in all areas of their lives – including insurance. Whats more, carriers are squeezing in on the customer relationships agencies establish. Some are selling directly to customers, while others let you sell, then they service – effectively removing the agent from the equation after the hard work is done.

The agents I talk to all over the US know they cant compete in this environment without making big changes to how they operate and serve customers, but they feel paralyzed about where to start. My answer is always the same. Dont panic, just automate. Because while the idea of making dramatic change is scary, the actual solutions are not.
To understand why, lets take a closer look at the primary forces driving change in the agency universe:

1.Direct-to-consumer insurance players
Carriers are experimenting with direct-to-consumer models and creating new distribution channels to attract online consumers, reduce costs, and provide a positive customer experience. When consumers can explore and buy everything from motorcycle policies to workers comp directly and online, the pressure is on for agents to add value.

2. Technology everywhere
Tech itself is driving the futurization of our industry. It enables direct digital relationships, it reduces costs and inefficiency, and it allows for automated processes and real-time analytics. And the new workforce pipeline expects it. But many agents see IT investment and digital optimization as roadblocks instead of an onramp, and theyve been slow to adopt the tools they need.

3. New customer expectations
We bank online. We buy groceries online. We can track our 401K performance in real-time from our mobile devices. We expect real-time access, self-service tools and a seamless experience on-demand in virtually every area of our lives. And insurance is no exception. Policyholders simply expect that they can interact with agents and carriers when and how they wish and with complete freedom and transparency. After hours is a concept consumers simply no longer tolerate.

These are just a few of the multiple, diverse and complex forces driving dramatic change in insurance distribution and how agents must operate to survive going forward.

The question is: what can agents can do to adapt to the changes, pivot to the new realities, and stay profitable in the process? The answer is much simpler than you think, in part because the forces shaking up our industry are not exclusive to insurance, so the tools you need to adapt are already out there. It all comes down to automation – using technology to tackle the tedious, the time-consuming and analytically complex so humans can be reserved for relationship-building.

Automation is everything
The forces reshaping insurance distribution are powerful. But the technology tools needed for adaptation are readily available and well proven. The agents of the future are simply those embracing those tools today:

  • They are learning to use automation and artificial intelligence, to scale their companies faster and more efficiently, automating processes from mass renewals to past-due notifications.
  • They are learning to use digital marketing to acquire new customers faster, at scale, and at a much lower acquisition cost than before.
  • They are learning to use tools like self-service portals to reduce support costs and still provide a great customer experience.

Next time, well be back in this space to explore these solutions further. Its all good news, and it will make your path to becoming an agency of the future much smoother and simpler than you ever thought possible.