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Hartwig: Talk of the Demise of the Independent Agent Was Way Off the Mark

Source: Insurance Financial Advisor

Posted on 08 Mar 2010

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Previous talk about the extinction of the insurance agent should be put aside, according to Robert Hartwig, president and economist at the Insurance Information Institute (III), noting the resilience and adaptability of producers in response to new technology.

"The purported suggestion of a decade ago that agents would disappear would turn out to be one of the worst predictions of the last decade,” Hartwig. “And it would show to be that again” in the next decade, he predicts.

“Nothing could be further from the truth” than a demise of independent agents, Hartwig added.

Speaking at a webinar sponsored by Fireman’s Fund and the institute, exploring megatrends for the new decade, Hartwig said projections on agents becoming “dinosaurs” early in the 2000s did not accurately portray the ability of agents to morph in response to consumers’ increased reliance and interest in insurance information provided through the Internet.

Instead, “channel fusion,” as Hartwig calls it, has taken hold. Agents have learned to supplement and augment the growing list of resources insurance buyers have about policy options and prices.

Hartwig cited figures showing that personal lines agents sold 30.3% of premium, down 0.9% between 2004 and 2008. Direct personal lines writers, including Internet sales and exclusive agents, saw their share rise to 69.6%, from 68.7%, during that four-year period.

In the commercial lines, agents wrote 69.1% in 2008, down from the 70.6% written four years earlier, while direct sellers saw their share increase from 29% to 30.4% during that time, Hartwig noted.