How Much Should a Personal Lines CSR Handle?

Q: “How many clients and policies should a personal lines CSR handle?”

Response 1: “Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. It depends on the types of clients and policies the CSR is handling. If they are largely direct-bill, automatic-renewal policies, then the CSR could probably handle a substantial number and commission amount. But if they’re working with a lot of complex, agency-bill policies, then the number should probably be much smaller—and even lower if a lot of renewal remarketing is involved.

I recommend checking out the latest Big “I” Best Practices Study as a starting point. The study provides averages by agency size, so it's a good way to open the discussion before getting down to the specifics.”

Response 2: “Because fewer agencies are participating in surveys, such specific metrics are no longer readily available. One helpful survey might be the Growth and Performance Standards Study by The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. However, keep in mind that no survey shows what a CSR should be able to handle. All such surveys are simply averages—the answer isn’t black and white.”

Response 3: “Personal lines productivity depends on the level of automation in an agency. We have CSRs in fully automated agencies with no files that handle 1,500 customers with an average of 1.3 policies per account. We also have manually driven agencies in which personal lines CSRs can handle only 800 clients. 

Another issue is whether the CSR handles quotes or claims, or if another department or person handles these tasks, which would further enhance productivity.

The best measure is not industry averages, but information about the historical performance of an agency, with goals of 5% annual productivity increases through more effective procedures and processes.”

Response 4: “There’s no magic number. It’s undeniably easier to benchmark personal lines CSRs than commercial ones, since personal lines accounts are typically more similar in size and amount of service required.

One source of information is publications from the National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. Two books may be helpful: ‘CSR Profile and Growth’ and ‘Performance Standards.’ The authors break down this question by geography and agency size. Another source is independent consultants, such as MarshBerry or others that work on benchmarking. A free benchmarking tool is available through Agency Consulting Group.

That said, here is my personal opinion: What CSRs do can varies dramatically from one agency to the next. Most benchmarking tools do not weigh all the variables, including:

  • Are the CSRs required to do all new business sales? Or are there separate personal lines producers?
  • Are CSRs required to cross sell and meet account rounding goals?
  • Is any of the book serviced by a carrier service center?
  • Are CSRs involved in taking, reporting or following up on claims? Or are customers encouraged to report claims directly to the carrier?
  • Does the agency use a dependable comparative rating system?
  • Does the department still maintain customer files?
  • Does the department maximize downloading and real-time capabilities?
  • Are the accounts rounded with three or more policies per account?
  • Is the book of business somewhat standard? Or does the agency specialize, such as in high net-worth clients?

When I consult with agency clients, I apply some benchmarking—and some common sense. Many years ago, when I was a personal lines manager, my selling CSRs were required to sell, handle claims, keep paper files up to date, keep the agency management system up to date and keep the carrier's system up to date. In other words, they’d do the work three times because there were no downloading or real time capabilities. Each CSR handled approximately 1,000 accounts. That makes most current benchmarking standards look pretty conservative.

Remember: You might be looking for an average number, but do you really want your staff to be just average? My rule of thumb: A personal lines CSR should be able to handle 1,000 average accounts or more, depending on the aforementioned variables.”

This question was originally submitted by an agent through the Big “I” Virtual University’s Ask an Expert Service. Answers to other coverage questions are available on the VU website. If you need help accessing the website, email logon@iiaba.net to request login information.