Agency Productivity: Are You Investing in the Right Tech?

Tommy Dies, CFO of Bryan Insurance in Graham, Texas, says his firm switched agency management systems after 20 years.

Why make the leap after two decades? Dies needed a way to standardize workflow among the agency’s 23 employees.

“You could ask each of them how to do a particular task and you would have as many answers as people,” Dies says. “Everyone did it their own way. We had the same results, but no control.”

Swapping agency management systems gave the agency better scalability, automation capabilities and a greater handle on client and policy movement. The new system not only enhances E&O loss control, but also improves the customer experience and uniformity. “If we’re able to do a better job, be more proficient at it and do it quicker, it ends up helping the client on the other side,” Dies says.

But many independent agencies find implementing new technology daunting: According to the 2014 Agency Universe Study, 15% and 20% of respondents cited simply keeping up with the pace of tech changes and realizing efficiencies to justify technology costs, respectively, as top challenges.

“I see agencies feel that they’re behind the 8-ball—they feel like technology has passed them by and to invest in technology is too late,” says Laird Rixford, president of Insurance Technologies Corporation. “They’re going to do things the way that it’s always been done, just run it out and hope they can maintain as long as they can. But if you’re just going to do what you’ve done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten. If you want to maintain and grow that business, then you have to make those investments.”

Dayton Kilgus, a producer at Metz Stoller, Inc. with locations in Illinois, has seen the benefits new technology can bring. “I do see correlations between folks that are more productive and embracing new technology and change,” he says. “There is a correlation between people that have an open attitude toward change and embracing new technology and the amount of revenue they manage.”

But Dies says new technologies have the potential to deliver a negative, positive or neutral impact on an agency. “You have to ask yourself when you’re looking at the technology, ‘How is it going to affect my business?’” he points out. “If it’s going to be a complete diversion from the way you’re currently doing business by implementing that technology, you could see a negative impact on productivity.”

A shiny new piece of tech is stimulating for agencies who rarely see big workflow changes. But just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s the right fit. “Technology can adversely impact productivity if you’re not careful and not paying attention to it,” says Kilgus, who uses agency management systems as an example. "There are all these opportunities to gather data, to capture data and to use data. But if you’re a principal asking all your producers and staff to keep track of certain activities or information and you’re not using that information, you’re just capturing it for capturing it sake.”

If a principal or owner doesn’t spend time narrowing down the crucial information or guiding employees on why that information matters after introducing a new system, you can wave productivity goodbye. “Technology can actually hurt productivity if not properly implemented,” Rixford says, adding that improper training, understanding and accessibility can hinder an agency. 

“People just think that if you adopt all this technology, everything’s going to be smoother,” Kilgus says. Not necessarily: “It can be a dangerous weapon if not used correctly from a productivity perspective.”

Kilgus seems to have found a solution. Preserving relationships with larger commercial accounts is key at his agency, but because Kilgus doesn’t connect with clients on a daily basis, he needed a quick and easy way to re-familiarize himself with their activities before an appointment. To address the issue, Metz Stoller developed a system within its agency management system that compiles a one-page account summary detailing account changes, documentation and questions.

“I can’t emphasize enough the value that it brings to me as a producer if I can quickly go to this report and know what changes have occurred and I don’t have to weed through my system,” Kilgus says. “All management systems will capture that information—they’re really good at capturing that information—but where the productivity fails is pulling all that information out and presenting it to me in a concise, consumable manner so that I can digest it.”

The process boosted Kilgus’ personal productivity levels—a measurement he says is based mostly on feeling and his list of unanswered items in his virtual and physical inboxes. And it’s doing the same for the agency’s nearly 35 producers and CSRs across seven offices as backend processes, documentation and expectations became more consistent.

“When agencies start using technology to its fullest ability—where they invest not only their [personal] time, but their agency’s time in their efforts—the productivity they get over the use of technology far exceeds the cost of the technology,” Rixford says. “Their agency cannot survive without it.”

Morgan Smith served as IA assistant editor.