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Profitability & Growth: Technology Gets Agencies There, Report Principals at ASCnet's 2011 TENCon

Posted on 26 Sep 2011

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Profitability and growth continue to be the drivers of independent insurance agency valuations, and leading agencies around the country are using new ways to produce profitable growth, according to speakers at the TENCon "Insiders Idea Exchange" held last week as part of ASCnet's annual Technology, Education & Networking Conference in Florida.

"You cannot have strong profits, and you cannot grow, unless you are using technology effectively," stated Shirley Lukens, AAI, principal, Reagan Consulting, Atlanta, and project manager of the Best Practices study series produced in conjunction with the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Noting that the first Best Practices study in 1993 found an average revenue per agency employee of $81,000, compared with $150,000 in the most recent 2010 study, Lukens added: "Most of that increase in revenue per employee for Best Practices agencies has been driven by technology implementation."

Citing new data in the 2010 Best Practices study, these agencies also are using technology in marketing by embracing email and social networking tools to reach out to prospects and connect with clients, Lukens said.

Three agency leaders gave insights into methods of agency management system utilization:

Ryan Headley, principal and chief technology officer, Stratton Agency, San Carlos, Calif., which aims to exceed $210,000 revenue per employee, noted that his Silicon Valley-based agency must use social technologies to match its customer base. "We use the power of social media. We are using these ways of communicating that you didn't have three years ago. We can publish something on our blog that is then sent out through Twitter and then to Facebook."

Headley added that consumers younger than 40 are looking for knowledgeable, professional independent agents to protect their interests, but want to be connected via social networking tools. "We're in the data revolution now. We had mainframes, then software, then the Internet. Now we have data and all the connections it can give us" as agents.

Donna Barr-LaGoy, president, Premier Insurance Consultants, Palm City, Fla., said she took her agency paperless after purchasing it just two years ago. Experience was her teacher. Barr worked for a large broker with home office operations in New York City's World Trade Center, and encountered several hurricanes when she worked in its South Florida office later in the decade.

"I knew what I wanted when I bought my agency," she recalled. "I needed to be paperless, and I got rid of every single paper file." Her current two-person agency also uses call center backup capabilities on a routine basis, which allow her flexibility to be in touch without having employees in the office. "Because of the technology we are able to spend more time being proactive with our clients, reaching out to them and actually spending time visiting them."

Barr-LaGoy's disaster-preparedness advice is simple: "One: Go paperless with Epic. Two: Artizan CSR24 for backup. And three: A generator to maintain power."

Lisa Parry-Becker, vice president, William B. Parry & Son, Langhorne, Pa. and immediate past chair of ASCnet, added that the recent experience of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee found her out of power but not out of business. She was able to stay in touch with clients via cell phone, email and social networking, despite not being able to physically cross the Delaware River from New Jersey to visit client sites in Pennsylvania.

Technology is enabling growth opportunities, Parry-Becker added. For example: Her agency used analysis tools in its agency management system to generate a list of clients with coverage gaps in medical benefits, then created an email and letter campaign to those clients. "In most cases we were able to upsell" by following up with a phone call, she noted.

ASCnet Chair Brian Bartosh, CIC, LUTCF, who is president of Alpena, Mich.-based Top O' Michigan Insurance Agency, led the session. Noting that the 2011 TENCon event drew 150 first-time attendees, including numerous agency principals, Bartosh said, "It's not that agencies are not doing a good job, but this is about the future of the independent agency for the next generation."

New education components of TENCon are built around on sales and marketing tracks, Bartosh added. "Agency owners are focused on sales and marketing, and using technology to enable those to happen. As agencies and brokerages, we're sales organizations, and ASCnet wants to get us from point A to point B in sales and marketing.

ASCnet has published several videos of the "Insiders Idea Exchange" on its video site Agents with questions or comments about topics covered in the ASCnet videos are encouraged to share them on Twitter using the hashtag #Press@TENCon.

Barr-LaGoy's disaster-preparedness advice is simple: "One: Go paperless with Epic. Two: Artizan CSR24 for backup. And three: A generator to maintain power."