State of the Association: 5 Ways the Big ‘I’ Works for You

Like many independent agents, Joe Leahy, Big “I” chairman, grew up in the community his agency now serves.

But long before Leahy became president of Leahy & Brown Insurance + Realty, Inc. in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Big “I” was already working hard to ensure the success of his agency—and the independent agency system as a whole.

“The independent agency system would not be what it is today without the Big ‘I,’” Leahy told attendees of last week’s 2019 Big “I” Legislative Conference. “We would not own our expirations, many of our agency appointment contracts would be problematic, our taxes and regulations would be more burdensome and possibly threaten our businesses—and so much more.”

From legislative advocacy and errors & omissions protection to market access and talent recruitment, the Big “I” accomplishes “many things for me as an agency owner, and for our employees, that I could never afford to do on my own,” Leahy pointed out. “The Big ‘I’ knows what Main Street agents need.”

During his State of the Association address at Friday’s General Session Breakfast, Leahy outlined five key ways the Big “I” is working hard for you at both the state and national level:

1) InsurPac

In 2018, InsurPac not only established a new fundraising record by topping $1.13 million in receipts, but also set a new standard for the election cycle.

To put that in perspective, Leahy discussed how, during the last election cycle, InsurPac tallied $2.24 million in receipts—compared to the other independent insurance agent political action committee’s $120,000. InsurPac disbursed $2.1 million to legislators and candidates, while the other PAC disbursed just $129,000.

“InsurPac lays the foundation for the advocacy efforts your national government affairs team does on our behalf,” Leahy said. Consider that when the 2017 tax legislation was first introduced, there was no mention of subchapter S businesses—meaning 70% of Big “I” members weren’t going to benefit. The bill was fast-tracked, so the Big “I” had to work quickly to share the independent agent perspective with lawmakers.

“The relationships our government affairs team has with members of Congress and their staffs enabled us to make the case that S corps, particularly independent agencies, should also benefit from the tax law,” Leahy pointed out. “InsurPac opens doors to building those relationships.”

2) Trusted Choice® and TrustedChoice.com

At a time when many independent agencies have abdicated personal lines to the directs, “we must fight back for personal lines market share,” Leahy said.

And independent agents are making gradual process in winning personal lines business. “In 2009, independent agents bottomed out in personal lines market share,” Leahy said. “Each year since then, we have grown steadily. We’re up between three and four percentage points from the low watermark.”

That doesn’t sound like much, you say? “Consider that one percentage point of market share represents $3 billion in premium,” Leahy pointed out. “Then think of what a slight gain—or loss—in market share means for agent commissions.”

TrustedChoice.com has helped Leahy’s agency grow its personal lines book in a competitive market. “My agency has benefitted not only from the resulting referrals, but also in learning how we can better respond to the changing needs of the consumer in a digital world,” he said. “If you’re not participating in the TrustedChoice.com Advantage program, I want to say thank you—because agents like me are getting all your referrals.”

3) Big ‘I’ Hires

Independent agents cited “finding and screening job candidates with strong potential” as their No. 1 challenge in the 2018 Future One Agency Universe Study.

Big “I” Hires is a new one-stop, member-only resource for Big “I” members to attract, identify and assess top-performing producers and CSRs—and the program is working. According to Leahy, more than 135 agencies have used the system in just a few months since its launch, resulting in 129 hires. There are currently 132 active job postings.

But Big “I” Hires offers more than just a platform to recruit candidates. The site’s DIY Hiring Toolkits offer customized job descriptions, interview questions and more by agency position, as well as onboarding and training materials to make sure your new hire hits the ground running.

4) Diversity

Non-white and female agency principals continue to be underrepresented in the independent agency ranks—at 12% and 35%, respectively, according to the most recent Agency Universe Study. But the Big “I” is actively working to help agencies with diverse ownership take their agencies to the next level with the Right Start Training Series and mentorship program.

And when Leahy selected committee appointments for his term as chairman, diversity—in gender, ethnicity, age—was a priority. “I’m proud of the fact that our committees this year include more women and minority professionals than ever before,” he said. “For the first time, three young agents were appointed to national association committees as well.”

Historically, “we have had a challenge attracting diverse members, elected leaders and customers,” Leahy admitted. “We need to not only talk about diversity when we talk about expanding our customer base, but also look at diversity from a membership point of view.”

5) Trusted resource

“In an age of ‘fake news’ and a million sources of unverified information, the beauty of the Big ‘I’ is the credibility it brings to the information, products and services available to members,” Leahy said.

But Leahy said he is always astounded as he travels the country by how many members do not know what the association does. “They say they would use various programs, services, and products the Big ‘I’ offers if they knew they existed,” he said.

That means the association must do better in communicating the value proposition of the state and national associations to members. “Your state and national association membership offers so many tools to help your agency be more efficient, profitable and, ultimately, successful,” Leahy said. “Make sure you’re leveraging Big ‘I’ member benefits—and spreading the word to other agents to do the same.”

“We all carry weight when it comes to the messages we deliver to member prospects—state association staff, national staff, elected agent leaders,” Leahy added. “But agent-to-agent communication is perhaps the most powerful influence of all.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.