Reach your greatest financial potential without compromising on technology and support.
For captive agents looking to find new opportunities in the independent world, taking the leap can seem scary. I know the feeling—I've made the jump from independent to captive, from captive to independent, and from one independent role to another.
Having seen both sides, I know there is often a perception that the independent world means getting less—less support, less financial security and less access to technology. But that isn't necessarily true. If you find the right opportunity, you can get more. Through my experiences, I've learned how to evaluate potential roles and determine whether they will enable me to thrive and build strong customer relationships.
Whether you are looking to make the jump into the independent agency world or between agencies, here are four key things to look for to help you reach the greatest financial potential without compromising on technology and support:
1) Aim for a favorable benefit-cost ratio. Depending on how you set up shop as an independent agent, your financial obligations can vary widely. If you're starting your own agency, for example, all the costs will fall on you.
Alternatively, if you set up a franchise location or join an existing agency, some costs will likely be covered. In that case, be sure to ask about your financial responsibilities and benefits. Some questions to consider are:
- Will your compensation come exclusively from commissions?
- What back-end support is offered?
Whatever costs you might have to incur, weigh them against your anticipated compensation to determine which opportunity is the best fit for you.
2) Seek out the specialized support you need. When you're thinking about the skills your team can bring to the table, be sure to consider the specialized skills that you need to help you do business efficiently.
For instance, you may want to have access to a legal department to help resolve issues. Or, as I found when Hurricane Ian struck last autumn, you may want to consider organizations that will give you access to a qualified customer service team. Having that team in place when we had no internet or phone access in our office reassured me that my customers would be taken care of.
Another type of support agents always need, but often lack, is marketing and advertising. The lack of a significant budget for marketing and advertising is the second most challenging issue agencies face, according to the 2022 Agency Universe Study. By looking for opportunities at larger organizations, like franchises, you can typically expect a network of support.
Franchises can provide digital content and support, shared marketing and advertising, templates, playbooks and other resources to cut down on costs and administrative work, freeing up time to focus on building relationships with customers.
3) Evaluate your technology access. Independent agents need reliable technology at their fingertips to sell faster, efficiently serve customers and avoid headaches.
For example, an underwriting tool can scrub the criteria of a risk against multiple carriers to understand the eligibility. You can then take the eligibility to a rater. This not only saves you time checking updated guidelines, but makes your quote-to-bind ratio look better by ensuring that you only get quotes from carriers that are a good fit.
One of the benefits of joining a larger agency or a franchise is streamlined access to tech tools that can help you do your job better. Large agencies and franchises may even have an IT team dedicated to providing support with a customer database, website infrastructure and proprietary quoting tools. Working for an organization that prioritizes tech can help you feel confident that you'll have the resources you need to serve your customers going forward.
4) Look for organizations with a human touch. As anyone who has ever been a captive agent knows, being part of a larger organization doesn't just mean more resources—it often means more red tape. And that red tape can make it harder to help your customers and build relationships with them.
But that doesn't have to be the case. There are larger organizations that allow you to maintain a human touch.
If you're considering a role at a larger organization or franchise, a good way to assess whether the organization supports its agents and customers is to look at its leadership. When Hurricane Ian hit, our co-CEOs traveled to our small town, rolled up their sleeves, and started handing out much-needed supplies and grilling hot dogs for our community members. Also, on regular days, when I need to elevate an issue, I know I can contact them or anyone else in the company to help get the issue resolved.
That kind of responsiveness and people-first mentality is a testament to the organization as a whole. Those traits filter down through an organization and help make it an environment where my customers and I can both thrive.
Pivoting can be hard, but ultimately, it's worth it. Every day, I feel lucky to be able to help customers protect what matters most by providing more choices and better value. The key is to do your research to find the place that will allow you to flourish.
Debbie Reynolds is an insurance agent and the owner of We Insure Debbie Reynolds Insurance Group, a We Insure franchise. We Insure, part of the PEAK6 InsurTech family of brands, is an insurance company with more than 200 retail locations across the U.S.