DeWITT — Independent insurance agents are generally satisfied with insurance companies, according to a new report from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York, Inc. (IIABNY).
In fact, agents’ opinions of personal insurance companies and commercial insurers have changed little in the last year, found the report. It details the Winter 2012 IIABNY Industry Index, which was developed from a survey of insurance-agency owners, principals, and senior managers who are responsible for insurance-carrier relations.
The Personal Lines Index held essentially even with its 2011 level, dipping 0.6 points to 74.6. And the Commercial Lines Index also showed little movement, increasing 1 point to 75.8.
Those results show mostly positive feelings among agents. The highest possible index score is 100. The lowest possible score is 10.
“If you look at the numbers this year, [carriers] were generally satisfied,” says Kathleen Weinheimer, IIABNY’s senior vice president of industry relations and education. “I thought we would see a little bit wider swings this year.”
National carriers received lower ratings from agents than smaller carriers. Faring better were regional carriers, which write insurance primarily in New York, and super-regional carriers, which are carriers that provide insurance in multiple states without writing it nationwide.
Within the Personal Lines Index, national carriers had the lowest score, 71.8. That is down 0.1 points from last year. And national carriers were also rated lowest in the Commercial Lines Index with a score of 73.4 — although that is 2.1 points higher than last year.
Regional insurance carriers were the most popular in the Personal Lines Index with a 79.1 index score. That is 0.1 point higher than last year. On the Commercial Lines Index, regional carriers scored 77.2, up 0.3 points from 2011.
Super-regional carriers scored 76.8 on the Personal Lines Index, down 2.5 points from 2011. However, super-regional carriers scored highest on the Commercial Lines Index, notching 78.7 points. That was down 0.1 point from last year.
“It is surprising to me a little bit,” Weinheimer says. “It seems right now there are a lot of issues out in the marketplace that are creating perhaps some tension between agents and their companies. I would have expected more negative numbers at this point.”
The IIABNY report reveals one source of tension: insurers directly writing their own policies. Some agents felt that carriers were competing with them by selling insurance through 1-800 numbers or by offering lower prices for customers who purchased insurance directly from the carrier.
According to the report, 5.69 percent of insurance agents indicated carriers could assist them by eliminating direct writing. It was the fourth most popular suggestion, but trailed the top suggestion by less than 2 percentage points.
Advertising was the most popular suggestion, with 7.47 percent of respondents saying more carrier advertising would help. It was followed by underwriting flexibility, like making exceptions for certain agents or clients, at 7.12 percent and marketing help at 6.76 percent.
“For a long time there were two separate markets,” Weinheimer says. “The market that dealt with agents and the market that dealt directly with customers. Now we’re seeing it blend together. And the agents don’t like that fact. They feel like they’re being competed against by their company.”
Agents also indicated that they would like carriers to educate them on using the Internet and social media. When asked how carriers can provide assistance in those areas, 6.79 percent of respondents said training or education, making it the most popular answer.
It was followed by providing standards for content, which 5.36 percent of respondents named, and offering financial support, which came from 4.64 percent of respondents. Another 4.64 percent want carriers to have social content prepared, and 3.93 percent asked for website or media support.
“The training point really points out that a lot of agents don’t know where to start with this,” Weinheimer says. “As their trade association, we’re doing some things to help them, but they’d like to see it come from wherever, including the carriers.”
IIABNY is taking part in a program called Project CAP, which is aimed at helping brokers target digital consumers. The program is a national initiative with a price tag of $21 million, Weinheimer says. It is being funded by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc. and insurance carriers.
The project is in its first phase, which provides support to teach agents to do digital marketing. It will start a second phase that will set up a consumer-agent web portal this summer, according to Weinheimer.
“It’s going to be a program that will help agents compete with the direct writers like GEICO,” she says.
The 2012 IIABNY survey contained results from 261 agency principals and senior managers who are responsible for agency relations. Vincent McCabe, Inc., a Skaneateles–based research firm that specializes in financial and insurance research, conducted the survey for IIABNY between October and December 2011 and calculated the index results.
IIABNY is a trade association that represents more than 1,750 agencies and their employees across New York State. IIABNY is headquartered at 5784 Widewaters Parkway in DeWitt.