Once again, pundits are predicting the demise of “traditional insurance,” namely the local independent agency channel.

Our successors? Insurtech startups; fast-moving technology disruptors willing to prioritize a “one-click” customer experience over everything else.

This is a narrative we refuse to accept at TrustedChoice.com.

What real threat could disruptors pose to an established industry such as ours?

The answer begins and ends with customer experience. As an industry, we have not kept pace with the rapidly evolving demands of the modern insurance buyer.

In a 2016 study, Accenture estimated consumer dissatisfaction with traditional insurance providers had created a $470 billion market opportunity in premiums globally. Disruptors, capitalizing on declining customer loyalty and the perceived commoditization of insurance products, view these premiums as low hanging fruit. And so should independent agents.

It was to this end that TrustedChoice.com, under the leadership of CEO, Charles “Chip” Bacciocco, launched its first generation platform in 2013.

“From its inception, TrustedChoice.com was founded as an independent company, to provide a sustainable and scalable competitive advantage to independent agents and carriers,” remembers Tom Minkler, president of Clark-Mortenson Insurance. “This is why The Big “I” and a small number of forward-thinking insurance carriers got together and created TrustedChoice.com in the first place.”

Three and half years later, TrustedChoice.com is attracting almost half a million visitors and delivering over 10,000 one-to-one, consumer to agent connections, (we call referrals), each month.

Disrupting the Disruptors

Would-be disruptors prey on the most basic of insurance buyer desires: cheap, fast and easy.

Easy replaces expertise.

Convenience replaces trust.

Price replaces coverage.

Bots replace humans.

But how can independent agents compete with venture capital-backed budgets and slick technology in a marketplace where consumers seemingly don’t care about the product?

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none” inject=”#insurance #insurtech”]We must digitize our defining competitive advantage, human connection.[/tweet_box]

As independent agents, we don’t sell insurance; we sell our people.

We sell a relationship.

Craig Welsh, Group Distribution Leader at Westfield Insurance, believes in this methodology, noting:

“TrustedChoice.com is digitizing the independent agent value proposition and allowing local agents to build new relationships they may not have otherwise found in the physical world.”

From day one, TrustedChoice.com set out to be a different type of marketing and lead distribution platform. We would not pander to the lowest common denominators of selling insurance: cheap, fast and easy.

Instead, we use the independent agency channel’s five distinct strengths as leverage over disruptive methods of distribution:

  • We are part of the community we serve
  • We have deep expertise
  • We have access to a full spectrum of insurance solutions
  • We advocate for our clients
  • We have greater scale than anyone else

It is the sheer volume of independent agencies across the country, 21,000-plus just in the Big “I” membership alone, which fuels our opportunity.
But we must do it together. We can’t disrupt the disruptors by ourselves. Hand in hand, we must all become participants in the digital marketplace.

The Mechanism of Disruption

As new technology flows into the industry, there is no reason independent agents should not harness the same technology-driven efficiencies heralded by disruptors.

This is why TrustedChoice.com was created, to sift through the sea of new technology, pull out the useful pieces and create tactical solutions for independent agents to use in their own business.

“People have sounded the death knell of the Independent agent for more than a hundred years. We’re still here. That said, we cannot be so arrogant and dismissive as to believe inaction is an option. We must accept Darwinian principles and adapt to the changing digital marketplace,” explains Mike McBride, president of Mason-McBride, Inc. “That’s what TrustedChoice.com is, the independent agent’s mechanism for adapting to change.”

Mechanism: defined as a system of parts working together in a machine; a piece of machinery.

What a perfect way to describe TrustedChoice.com.

The independent agency channel is a machine, TrustedChoice.com is its mechanism of innovation.

At its core, TrustedChoice.com is a data-driven company. By collecting massive amounts of data on consumers and their intent, agents and their expertise, and carriers and their appetite, we’re able to deliver unique, real-time fulfillment suggestions to insurance consumers at their exact time of need.

“No one else is doing this for the independent agent channel,” explains Derek Hyde, TrustedChoice.com chief technology officer. “No one else has access to the depth and breadth of data we do. Our platform learns alongside the data collection, continually improving the quality of lead delivery. We don’t always know what the data will reveal, so we’re innovating on the fly. Every day we move closer to being the ‘Amazon of Insurance.’”

The “Amazon of Insurance” is an inevitable path to fully exploit the five strengths of the independent agency channel: Local, expertise, choice, advocacy and scale.


Fueling the Mechanism

How does one go about building the “Amazon of Insurance?”

Well, it starts with data. Next, we must build an algorithm to harness the data.

We’ve named our algorithm The Appetite Engine. Bacciocco explains:

“The Appetite Engine assesses a particular insurance buyer based on the type of risk, type of insurance sought, geographic location and various other factors. The results return a search listing derived from the entire database of Trusted Choice agents. It then determines the best agent and carrier combination for that specific consumer, creating an unbeatable customer experience in real time. That’s a game changer that the disrupters can’t match. This is our unique approach and ultimately our unique value proposition to the independent agency channel.”

The TrustedChoice.com mantra is simple:

Deliver the right risk, to the right agent, at the right time.

Each referral delivered brings us one step closer to disrupting the disruptors.

This isn’t to say we have it all figured out.

On an almost weekly basis, our technology team will adjust the algorithm to provide improved search results.

With each change, we test the impact by tracking insurance buyer behavior. When the algorithm is dialed in, both insurance buyers and independent agents win.

Justin Watters, an insurance producer at Vogue Insurance recently shared with us:

“This week we’ve been slammed with referrals from TrustedChoice.com, and we love it! I just wrote a Garage policy that was over $15,000 in premium. We had another client sent from TrustedChoice.com that needed just workers compensation, and now he has four policies with us including his General Liability, Commercial Umbrella, and Business Auto.”

In talking with Watters, we’ve also learned some valuable best practices to consistently writing new business: Pick up the phone, and view every new opportunity as a chance to solve a problem.

Solving prospect problems has yielded results for Jennifer Anglesey, principal at Anglesey Insurance Agency, as well.

“It pays to contact every lead in a timely manner, but most importantly, the key is not to treat that call as a ‘lead.’ This is a person on the other end of the line that is trusting us to be an expert in our field, and although we don’t know them yet, we should have their best interest at heart.”

However, TrustedChoice.com is far from perfect and nowhere near complete.

But as Ken Finch, executive vice president at Adams, Eaddy & Associates, Inc. explains, we’re on the right path.

“If you had spoken to me two years ago, my message would have been the program is not working and many of us have little faith it will ever be what was originally promised,” shares Ken. “We have received 12 referrals since July of 2016. Of these, we were successful in writing seven: that’s a 58 percent hit ratio.  Of the seven, six of those were personal lines, and one was commercial lines. Total written premium for the seven accounts was $21,794. Today, I want to say thank you to the entire TrustedChoice.com Team. You have truly delivered a program we, as  Big “I” members, can be proud of and we agents are becoming more successful due to your commitment.”

Your Turn to Disrupt

What we do next is all that matters.

“We have misclassified insurtech startups as disruptors, whom, by their very definition, are meant to cause disorder and turmoil,” explains David Walker, president of Hartland Insurance Agency. “I do not believe the goal of the recent influx of investments into insurtech companies is digital anarchy. Quite the contrary, these startups have identified that buying habits, technology and consumer attitudes are changing and they want to be participants rather than spectators. TrustedChoice.com is the independent agent’s opportunity to move from spectator to participant in the digital marketplace.”

In a disrupted marketplace, it is those slow to adapt that get left behind.

As Matt Nickerson, former president of Safeco Insurance, now head of Liberty Mutual Asia, succinctly puts it:

“It’s time for independent insurance agents to ‘Lean In’ to the future of insurance.”

By providing digital connections to new insurance buyers through technology-driven tools and marketing expertise, TrustedChoice.com gives local independent insurance agents a mechanism with which to participate in the digital marketplace at a scale previously unavailable and unheard of.

It is the disruptors turn to be disrupted. Together, we will write our own narrative.

Thank you,

Ryan Hanley

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NOTE: A version of this article was originally published on IA Magazine here.

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