As the coronavirus pandemic created untold levels of instability across all levels of society, the Big “I” has been a hub of resources to help its members.
As the coronavirus pandemic created untold levels of instability across all levels of society, the independent agency system was shaken to its core. But if one thing could be relied upon, it's that the Big “I" was going to be there for its members.
The award-winning Big “I" coronavirus resource page has been home to webinars, marketing resources, HR help and more, responding to member needs on a daily basis. Here are seven ways the Big “I" has been supporting you:
As the realities of continuing agency operations during the pandemic hit home, agencies were forced to rely on technology in ways they had never done before, creating technology challenges in two categories: agency staff and customers.
As agencies transitioned to a near 100% remote workforce, challenges involved not only providing the right technology and system access to all staff, but also readdressing internal job roles to pivot to the new normal. In conjunction with Work At Home Vintage Experts (WAHVE), the Agents Council for Technology (ACT) revised and released Workplace Flexibility and Remote Work Best Practices, which contained must-haves and tips for successfully implementing a work-from-home program.
Meanwhile, adapting to the digital world meant confronting challenges with meeting customer needs without face-to-face interaction, while also providing immediate and quality service. As interactions and document sharing moved online via webchat, self-service and mobile functions, ACT reiterated their Agency-Customer Texting and eDelivery Agreements to help ensure agency compliance when meeting clients' digital demands.
In addition, agencies contended with increased exposure to cyber threats. ACT released several on-demand webinars discussing risks and solutions for implementing a healthy, secure agency environment for both staff and customers, along with their new Agency Cyber Guide 3.0 resource. Further, as agencies relied on their website as their new storefront, ACT reminded members of the lurking dangers surrounding ADA compliance by reissuing resources to keep agencies safe from an often forgotten, yet potentially catastrophic, threat.
In many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has served as a confirmation of tech in the independent agency system and “is going to have a lasting impact, because it has given agencies the shove forward that they've been commiserating on," says Ron Berg, executive director of ACT. “Now, the independent agency channel has to move forward and view the digital world as necessary."
One of the things that makes the independent agency channel special is its people. As the pandemic put never-before-seen pressures on businesses of all sizes, the Big “I" partnership with Affinity HR Group Inc. sought to relieve the biggest pain points around ensuring agency employees were protected from the pandemic's many ruinous consequences.
Not every independent agency is large enough to demand a full-time HR professional. However, agencies were faced with navigating the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Paid Family Leave regulation, applying for a Payment Protection Plan (PPP) loan and, worst of all, dealing with infections in their workplaces.
“All of these issues required knowledge of HR. It seemed like every week brought a new set of complex decisions and most agency owners just wanted to do the right thing," says Claudia St. John, president of Affinity HR. “By far the hardest part is dealing with employee exposures and how to keep them, their family and the workplace safe and healthy."
As businesses turned their attention to reopening offices, agencies began to realize that reopening was an even bigger decision than closing had been. Questions flowed in about restructuring the physical workspace, whether to require masks, sanitizer use and temperature checks, offering accommodations for childcare issues, and staggering employee returns.
Since March, the Big “I" has been working closely with Affinity HR to provide as many resources as possible, including sample HR policies for agencies reopening and closing their offices, as well as webinars, whitepapers and weekly Facebook Live call-in sessions to answer member questions.
3. The Trusted Choice® COVID-19 Relief Fund
In April, Progressive Insurance donated $2 million to establish the Trusted Choice® COVID-19 Relief Fund in response to the economic and operational challenges the coronavirus crisis presented to independent agencies. Later that month, Foremost® Insurance and Bristol West® Insurance donated $500,000. Shortly after, National General Insurance donated $250,000 and New Jersey Skylands donated an additional $50,000.
The fund is being dispersed directly to independent agencies via an online Big “I" application process. While not intended to provide funds for payroll, the funds are available to Big “I" members to cover out-out-pocket expenses for technological purchases that facilitate continued client servicing, as well as hardships connected with an employee who has died as a result of COVID-19.
As the pandemic has developed, the funds have been more frequently used to pay for the costs associated with reopening offices, such as masks, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and new furniture. Overall grants have ranged between $500 and $8,500.
“Currently, we've helped over 675 agencies and distributed over $1.5 million," says Madelyn Flannagan, Big “I" vice president, agent development, education and research. “We're working to ensure that agencies can continue their operations and keep their employees safe by providing funds for telework or safety measures in their offices. There are many things they've never had to consider before."
After the 2020 Level Up Summit, Big “I" Diversity began the year on a high. However, over the past few months, “we've had two pandemics," explains Whitnee Dillard, Big “I" director, diversity & inclusion. “One focused on coronavirus, the other focused on social and racial injustices."
Amid the upheaval of both pandemics, Big “I" Diversity highlighted the importance of being a leader in the community by embracing the human side of all that has taken place during a three-part webinar series called Inclusive Leadership as We Work Towards a New Normal, which explores the unique challenges agencies, their staff and their customers may be facing during this unprecedented time.
Big “I" Diversity also engaged with association staff on a national and state level and top-level executives at national carrier partners discussing how to make a positive influence and become an inclusive leader.
“We've been holding 'Courageous Conversations' at Big 'I' national to address issues surrounding race in America, as well also holding calls with state association staff to talk about what's going on and how they should address it," Dillard adds. “When your community sees you and other leaders rise up in these unprecedented times, the community itself rises up. We're asking our members to be an MVP for your community."
As states closed public spaces to flatten the curve, business owners looked to their insurance policy and their agent for both answers and support. Business interruption insurance attracted the most attention with even President Trump weighing into the debate by suggesting that uncovered losses should qualify as covered business interruption claims.
However, since the outbreak occurred, “nearly every common coverage has come under a microscope," says Chris Boggs, Big “I" executive director of risk management and education. “Most of the media is still focused on business income and will be for quite a while, but the industry has had to review just about every line of business."
After the initial shock of business interruption died down—even though debate in Congress continues—auto coverage for food delivery became a key topic on both the personal auto and business auto side, as well as workers compensation for individuals who may have contracted the virus at work. Then, as protests against social injustices were followed by rioting, questions surrounding damaged business property and whether a business was “vacant" weren't too far behind. As businesses reopened, general liability also came into focus.
In addition to publishing a myriad of articles, the Big “I" Virtual University recorded multiple webinars which attracted over 11,000 viewers, illustrating the demand for answers surrounding liability, coverages and best practices during the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic meant that the rulebook for nearly every aspect of business had to be rewritten—especially marketing. As certain messages became outdated, insensitive or no longer appropriate for the new economic climate, Trusted Choice® set out to give Big “I" members new and much-needed marketing resources since many did not have the time and resources to develop a new campaign on short notice.
With the nation under lockdown, Trusted Choice created the Marketing in a Crisis Guide and the Stronger Together campaign, as well as continuing to offer digital reviews to equip agents with the tools they need.
“We had been working on a national brand campaign but had to pivot in a new direction due to COVID-19, so we knew many agents would be in the same boat to find appropriate messaging while still promoting their services," says Kasey Connors, vice president of marketing operations, Trusted Choice. “We created the Stronger Together campaign to highlight agents as local trusted advisors, always there no matter what the circumstances."
Simultaneously, the national marketing brand created exclusively for Big “I" members set out to highlight the value of independent agents during a trying time. At the beginning of August, Trusted Choice launched a television advertising campaign on CNBC and a national brand campaign on Hulu and YouTube to drive insurance shoppers to TrustedChoice.com. Last year, the website received a record of 7 million insurance shoppers. Most recently the site welcomed over 500,000 insurance shoppers in May, while July it provided around 36,000 agency recommendations.
During a time of increased television viewership and price sensitivity in insurance shopping, “it's just another way that we're providing benefit to our members by elevating the Trusted Choice brand, particularly in a time when they might be cutting their spend on marketing," Connors adds.
7. Government Affairs
In Washington, D.C., the Big “I" Government Affairs team has been fighting on multiple fronts, with most attention focused on supporting legislation to provide financial support to Big “I" members and their business clients, as well as pushing back against harmful and shortsighted proposals that could directly or indirectly impact independent agents in the future.
Over the past few months, the Big “I" Government Affairs team scored multiple victories. As a staunch advocate of the PPP and the CARES Act, the team has also been successful in opposing numerous harmful retroactive business interruption insurance proposals.
Like insurance agencies, meetings and interactions on Capitol Hill needed to change. “We had to quickly adapt to an all-virtual world, which meant staying engaged with members of Congress and staff via phone and video calls and tapping into our extensive grassroots network as members of Congress remained at home," says Charles Symington, Big “I" senior vice president of external, industry and government affairs. “We also attended virtual fundraisers to provide campaign support to elected officials as the 2020 election approaches."
The biggest adaptation the association made was moving the annual Big “I" Legislative Conference to an all-virtual event. “It was critical that Big 'I' members understood the new coronavirus issues in Washington, D.C., heard directly from leaders in Congress and were able to engage with their elected officials to deliver their message," Symington says.
The maneuver was pulled off in large part due to the prowess of the Big “I" Communications team, which Symington refers to as “the glue that holds the Big 'I' together," because they do so many things for the association. “The production aspects fell squarely on the communications team's shoulders," adds Symington. “The switch to the virtual event was managed brilliantly by the communications team and they deserve much of the credit for the success of the event."
Will Jones is IA managing editor.