John Costello, Big “I" chairman, reported on the state of the association, stating it remains strong.
During the General Session Breakfast at the Big “I" Legislative Conference, John Costello, Big “I" chairman, reported on the state of the association, stating it remains strong.
Costello's address followed the Dan Fulwider Award presentation, and the Big “I" chairman opened his remarks by praising the community spirit exhibited by independent agents and brokers amidst a year of economic uncertainty, severe weather events and a hard market.
“That's what independent agents are all about. People helping people. Agents helping their communities. National and state associations helping their agents and brokers. It's what we do. And it's what makes the independent agency community thrive," he said.
In the same spirit, Costello paused his address to broadcast a short video that documented a visit Costello and Bob Rusbuldt, Big “I" president & CEO, made to the area of Florida that was hardest hit by Hurricane Ian. During their trip, they visited members who had reached out to the Trusted Choice® Relief Fund in their greatest time of need.
Thanks to generous support from individual agents, agencies, 37 state associations and Big “I" carrier partners, there were approximately $250,000 in pledges of donations last year. In 2022, the Trusted Choice® Relief Fund distributed $91,366 through 25 grants to insurance industry personnel impacted by natural disasters.
“I've never been more proud," Costello said. “Agents lifting up other agents, it's what we do."
Costello went on to address some of the biggest challenges independent agents and brokers face and to outline the numerous Big “I" resources that have been designed to help agents overcome them.
Specifically, in a tight labor market made tighter by an aging workforce, the Great Resignation and other employment trends, Costello emphasized how Big “I" Hires is helping agents find, screen, recruit, onboard and train their next great hires.
“From small to large, Best Practices agency to a start-up … finding good talent is tough," he said. “Not only does the platform help you recruit new talent, it makes assessing, onboarding and training easy." Since launching in 2018, Big “I" Hires has delivered more than 90,000 candidates.
Meanwhile, the Big “I" national Young Agents Committee launched a free mentorship program to support aspiring agents who are early in their careers to meet their personal and professional goals.
“You have told us you need technology support, and the Big 'I' has listened," Costello continued. “Anyone who was at our inaugural InsurTech Summit in Savannah this past January knows what an engaging and awesome event that was. We brought carriers, InsurTech innovators and agents together to demystify technology and help agents sort through the noise to embrace the best technology for their agency."
Costello also stated that the Big “I" is at the leading edge of technology and is shaping the future of InsurTech, pointing to Catalyit, a technology guide for insurance agents that was founded by seven Big “I" state associations, and TechCompare, a platform founded by Trusted Choice that helps agents connect with and compare a bespoke list of preferred technology vendors.
“There's no one better to rely on than the Big 'I' to help you with your technology solutions," he said.
Likewise, marketing is another major challenge and, “once again, the Big 'I' is here to help," Costello said. “Over the past year, Trusted Choice has produced even more free customizable, ready-to-use, co-branded digital content, an array of timely social media graphics, digital ads and videos ... The brand has also recently expanded its marketing reimbursement program. Use the Trusted Choice logo in your marketing and the Big 'I' will offset your costs. It's that simple."
While reaching new customers is a challenge, placing business in a hard market is tough, too. Costello referred to it as an “uphill battle," noting the confluence of inflation, high reinsurance rates, climbing loss ratios, supply-chain delays and more.
The current market has been referred to as the “hardest market in a generation" by the APCIA, “but once again, the Big 'I' is going to support you," Costello said. “We recently expanded Big “I" Markets, our member-only market access program, to include more than 20 lines of business and we initiated a new agency incubator program we call SOAR, to help our newest agents with a host of resources to support their success even in this difficult market."
As the last few years have illustrated, the only constant is change. And this year, the Big “I" is embarking on one of its biggest changes in a long time. Last year, Rusbuldt announced that he will be retiring on Aug. 31, and Costello referred to the outgoing leader as independent agents' “biggest advocate and hardest worker."
“He leaves this association well positioned to help agents now, through these challenges I have mentioned, and into the future—whatever it holds," Costello added. “It's been an honor to work with him. … We are very fortunate that our new leader Charles Symington—who has been with the association for nearly 20 years—is a terrific choice to take the reins to ensure that independent agents remain at the center of the insurance marketplace."
Will Jones is IA editor-in-chief.