Rewriting the Story: Don't Accept the Disruptor Narrative

Pundits are once again predicting the demise of “traditional insurance,” namely the local independent agency. Our alleged successors? InsurTech startups. These fast-moving technology disruptors are willing to prioritize a one-click customer experience over everything else.

Independent agents should not accept this narrative.

What real threat do disruptors pose to an established industry like insurance? The answer begins and ends with customer experience. As an industry, we have not kept pace with the rapidly evolving demands of the modern insurance buyer.

In a 2016 study, Accenture estimated consumer dissatisfaction with traditional insurance providers had created a $470 billion global market opportunity in premiums. Capitalizing on declining customer loyalty and the perceived commoditization of insurance products, disruptors view these premiums as low-hanging fruit. And so should independent agents.

That’s why TrustedChoice.com launched its first-generation platform in 2013. “­TrustedChoice.com­ was founded as an independent company to provide a sustainable and scalable competitive advantage to independent agents and carriers,” remembers Tom Minkler, president of Clark-Mortenson Insurance in Keene, New Hampshire and former Big “I” chairman. “This is why The Big ‘I’ and a small number of forward-thinking­ insurance carriers got together and created TrustedChoice.com.”

Three and half years later, TrustedChoice.com is attracting almost half a million visitors and delivering more than 10,000 one-to-one, consumer-to-agent connections—or referrals—each month.

Disrupting the Disruptors

Would-be disruptors prey on the most basic insurance buyer desires: cheap, fast and easy. Easy replaces expertise. Convenience replaces trust. Price replaces coverage. Bots replace humans.

How can independent agents compete with venture capital-backed budgets and slick technology in a marketplace where consumers seemingly don’t care about the product?

Independent agents must digitize their defining competitive advantage: human connection. As independent agents, we don’t sell insurance; we sell our people. We sell a relationship.

“TrustedChoice.com is digitizing the independent agent value proposition and allowing local agents to build new relationships they may not have otherwise found in the physical world,” says Craig Welsh, group distribution leader at Westfield Insurance.

From day one, TrustedChoice.com did not want to  pander to the lowest common denominators of selling insurance: cheap, fast and easy. Instead, we use the independent agency channel’s five distinct strengths as leverage over the disruptors:

  • We are part of the community we serve.
  • We have deep expertise.
  • We have access to a full spectrum of insurance solutions.
  • We advocate for our clients.
  • We have greater scale than anyone else.
  • Our sheer volume of independent agencies across the country—20,000-plus just in the Big “I” membership alone—fuels our opportunity.

The Mechanism of Disruption

As new technology flows into the industry, there is no reason independent agents should not harness the same technology-driven efficiencies heralded by disruptors.

That’s why TrustedChoice.com was created—to sift through the sea of new technology, pull out the useful pieces and create tactical solutions for independent agents to use in their own business.

“People have sounded the death knell of the independent agent for more than 100 years,” says Mike McBride, president of Mason-McBride, Inc. in Troy, Michigan and Trusted Choice® chairman. “We’re still here. That said, we cannot be so arrogant and dismissive as to believe inaction is an option. We must accept Darwinian principles and adapt to the changing digital marketplace.”

If the independent agency channel is a machine, TrustedChoice.com is its mechanism of innovation. At its core, TrustedChoice.com is a data-driven company. By collecting massive amounts of data on consumers and their intent, agents and their expertise, and carriers and their appetite, we’re able to deliver unique, real-time fulfillment suggestions to insurance consumers at their exact moment of need.

“No one else is doing this for the independent agent channel,” says Derek Hyde, TrustedChoice.com chief technology officer. “No one else has access to the depth and breadth of data we do. Our platform learns alongside the data collection, continually improving the quality of lead delivery. We don’t always know what the data will reveal, so we’re innovating on the fly. Every day we move closer to being the ‘Amazon of Insurance.’”

That path involves fully exploiting the five strengths of the independent agency channel: locality, expertise, choice, advocacy and scale.

Fueling the Mechanism

How does one go about building the “Amazon of Insurance”? It starts with data. Next comes building an algorithm to harness the data.

The TrustedChoice.com algorithm is called the appetite engine. “The appetite engine assesses a particular insurance buyer based on the type of risk, type of insurance sought, geographic location and various other factors,” explains Chip Bacciocco, CEO of TrustedChoice.com. “The results return a search listing derived from the entire database of Trusted Choice agents.”

Then, the engine determines the best agent and carrier combination for that specific consumer, “creating an unbeatable customer experience in real time,” Bacciocco explains. “That’s a game changer that the disruptors can’t match. This is our unique approach—and ultimately our unique value proposition to the independent agency channel.”

The TrustedChoice.com mantra is simple: Deliver the right risk, to the right agent, at the right time. Each referral delivered brings us one step closer to disrupting the disruptors.

On an almost weekly basis, the TrustedChoice.com technology team adjusts the algorithm to improve search results. With each change, we test the impact by tracking insurance buyer behavior. When the algorithm is dialed in, both insurance buyers and independent agents win.

Justin Watters, a producer at Vogue Insurance, in Arlington, Texas, recently wrote a garage policy that totaled more than $15,000 in premium through a TrustedChoice.com referral. “This week we’ve been slammed with referrals from TrustedChoice.com, and we love it,” he says. “We had another client sent from TrustedChoice.com that needed just workers compensation, and now he has four policies with us, including his general liability, commercial umbrella and business auto.”

Watters also illustrates best practices for consistently writing new business: Pick up the phone, and view every new opportunity as a chance to solve a problem.

Solving prospect problems has yielded results for Jennifer Anglesey, principal at Anglesey Insurance Agency in San Antonio, as well. “It pays to contact every lead in a timely manner, but the key is not to treat that call as a ‘lead,’” Anglesesy says. “This is a person on the other end of the line who is trusting us to be an expert in our field, and although we don’t know them yet, we should have their best interest at heart.”

Your Turn

“We have misclassified InsurTech startups as disruptors, whom, by their very definition, are meant to cause disorder and turmoil,” explains David Walker, president of Hartland Insurance Agency in Brighton, Michigan and former Big “I” chairman. “I do not believe the goal of the recent influx of investments into InsurTech companies is digital anarchy.”

On the contrary, “these startups have identified that buying habits, technology and consumer attitudes are changing and they want to be participants rather than spectators,” Walker points out. “TrustedChoice.com is the independent agent’s opportunity to move from spectator to participant in the digital marketplace.”

In a disrupted marketplace, those slow to adapt that get left behind. As Matt Nickerson, former president of Safeco Insurance, now head of Liberty Mutual Asia, puts it, “It’s time for independent insurance agents to ‘lean in’ to the future of insurance.”

By providing digital connections to new insurance buyers through technology-driven tools and marketing expertise, TrustedChoice.com gives local independent insurance agents a mechanism to participate in the digital marketplace at a scale previously unavailable.

It is the disruptors’ turn to be disrupted. Together, we will write our own narrative.

Ryan Hanley, senior vice president of marketing at TrustedChoice.com, has been teaching the business of inbound insurance marketing since 2009 through writing, podcasts and keynote speaking.

The Right Path

TrustedChoice.com is far from perfect and nowhere near complete. But as Ken Finch, executive vice president at Adams, Eaddy & Associates, Inc., says, the platform is on the right path.

“If you had spoken to me two years ago, my message would have been that the program is not working and many of us have little faith it will ever be what was originally promised,” Finch says. “We have received 12 referrals since July of 2016. Of these, we were successful in writing seven—that’s a 58% hit ratio. Of the seven, six of those were personal lines, and one was commercial lines. Total written premium for the seven accounts was $21,794. I want to say thank you to the entire TrustedChoice.com team. You have truly delivered a program we, as Big ‘I’ members, can be proud of. Agents are becoming more successful due to your commitment.” —R.H.