Young Agents Speak Out on Generation Differences and Technology Needs

by Agents Council for Technology on February 22, 2010 · 9 comments

About this Article

Young agents talk about the generational differences among agency employees and consumers and point to ways in which the generations can work better together and how they can help their agencies attract more young customers. They speak to the inefficiencies in current agency technology and the need to have improved automation to meet their customers’ expectations for a real-time response. The young agents also discuss additional value added services their agencies could provide their customers, as well as urge carriers to provide readily available underwriters.

944607E5-9B5C-4186-B90B-3B9BC2E89027.jpg Editor’s Note: Angelyn Treutel is Treasurer, Vice President, and Chief Information Officer of Treutel Insurance Agency as well as Chair of the Agents Council for Technology (ACT). Angelyn can be reached at angelyn@treutel.com. ACT is part of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and its Web site can be found at www.independentagent.com/act. For more information about ACT, contact Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director at jeff.yates@iiaba.net. This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.

A disturbing reality is that the insurance industry is aging, with the average age of agency principals at 51, and the average age of the agency customer base at 53. Current statistics indicate that there are 2.3 million workers in the insurance industry, and more than 1.0 million of these workers will reach retirement age in the next 10 years. Where are all of the young people? How do we attract them to our industry? And how do we position our agencies to succeed in the future?

Last Fall, ACT sponsored a Technology Forum at the IIABA Young Agents Leadership Institute to discuss generational differences and technology preferences from the perspective of the young agents. The group of more than 70 young people was predominately made up of Generation X (under age 46) and Millennials (under age 28).

In the young agents’ opinion, Boomers (over age 44) are motivated differently from the younger generations and measure their success in life by their career achievements and seem to assess the productivity of their employees by the number of hours they put in. The X’ers believe they are more willing to try new things, are more impatient than Boomers because they want everything now, and they measure productivity by “getting the job done.”

The Millennials are the most tech-savvy with digital-everything, and are even more impatient than the X’ers, because they don’t just want it now, they wanted it yesterday! The young agents suggested that the best way to describe the generations was to listen to how they greet their friends: Boomers will ask “How’s your job?” X’ers will ask “How’s your family?” And Millennials will ask “What did you do this weekend?”

While everyone in the room smiled at the distinct differences between the generations, there was no dispute that the different generations need to understand one another and work effectively together. Some of the agents said they had been very successful in addressing the natural friction between producers and CSRs (particularly when the differences are generational) by taking the CSRs on client visits, so the CSR has a better understanding of what the producer does and the support he or she needs. Likewise, the producers discussed the CSRs’ workflow with them in order to gain a better understanding of their particular needs and frustrations.

The young agents encouraged agency principals to encourage a discussion of generational differences within the agency and adopt flexible employee policies that are results driven and reflect the needs of the different generations. After all, generations are evolutionary, and each will change their perspectives based upon their life cycles of graduating from college, getting their first job, getting married, starting a family, buying a home, becoming absorbed in their careers, and beginning preparations for retirement. The same is true of our customers.

Young people are well suited for the insurance industry because they enjoy working in teams and working with people. They also have a keen insight into how other young people think and are more adept at soliciting young people as clients. With the profound changes in marketing we are starting to see from the emergence of the Social Web (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), the younger generations can teach established agencies how to be visible in cyberspace where the young and young-at-heart do their research, purchase products, and network. What a wonderful opportunity we have as agents, to begin to use these tools, not only to learn about new ways to communicate and network, but to establish a marketing presence to attract new clients.

The young agents pointed out that the Social Web enables them to do virtual networking in a similar way to the in person networking Boomers have excelled at in their communities. In fact, social networking is putting the person back into the Internet which promises to put relationship oriented agents into a stronger position than when the Internet was dominated by large corporate direct-writing companies.

Targeting younger consumers may be a longer term investment, because the Millennials may not yet have a need for complex insurance products. But haven’t we discussed capturing these emerging customers when they are young, just as our competitors have done for years? Now we have the competitive insurance products to do it. We need to look at the life-time value of these insureds because soon they will be starting families, purchasing homes and establishing businesses. If we have a presence on the Internet forums where they are comfortable and if we are capable of doing business their way, they will recognize us for what we are – their trusted advisor.

Internet customers are known to lack loyalty, but agents still need to reach out to these customers, work to develop relationships, and add value to their purchasing process. If a consumer gets a quote and a policy with no counseling, there is no value added and that customer is likely to change carriers frequently. But if an agent is able to insert herself into the process offering additional quotes, optional coverage, and insurance advice, we can change the customer into a loyal client. As they become familiar with our services, they will seek our advice for their more complex coverage needs. Much research has shown that consumers may do their research on the Internet, but most people still want to do business with people and buy insurance from them.

Turning to the technology in the agency office, the young agents expressed extreme frustration with continued processing inefficiencies and voiced the immediate need for all carriers and agencies to embrace Real Time. Consumers demand a real-time response today, and we need to implement the tools to provide it. With Real Time, agents are able to work with their multiple carriers through their agency management systems and comparative raters, rather than having to logon and enter data into multiple carrier Web sites.

Today’s consumers are bombarded with the advertising claims of direct-writer competitors who can provide quotes in only 15 minutes, and without Real Time processing, independent agents are unable to meet these consumer expectations, because our archaic processes are too slow. Unfortunately, there is still far too much clerical effort required in the agency office, the young agents added. Agents need to demand Real Time from their carriers and MGAs, so they can provide direct value-added service to their clients and use their time to create relationships and make sales.

The young agents said that carriers, too, need to be able to provide more of a personal touch and supply dedicated underwriters, rather than taking a 1-800-UNDERWRITER approach, as many carriers currently do. To be most effective, the young producers said they need their carriers to work with them to assist with complex coverage issues and risks that do not quite fit into the “black box.” And the young agents added: please let us know whom to work with if our underwriter is out of the office, so that we can handle the risk promptly!

What new competition does the future hold? The young agents feel that Internet distributors, niche marketers, and larger cluster agencies will be the forces to be dealt with over the next three years. With new technology emerging at exponential rates, the agency of the future will have great opportunities to leverage these new applications to expedite sales and servicing. Agencies that stay on top of technology by keeping up with the current versions of their systems and implementing available tools (such as Real Time, Commercial Lines Download, and electronic information management) will be best positioned to take advantage of these new opportunities. Technology enables our machines to do the clerical and mundane work to free agents and CSRs to do what they do best – work with people and make sales.

The young agents raised several additional useful and energizing ideas to add value for agency clients, such as offering chat capability on the Web site, creating specialized Web sites for niche marketing, providing customer access portals on Agency Web sites, using virtual meetings through the Internet with small business clients, and researching and communicating with clients using social networks.
What is the message? We need to continually reach out to youth, via the Internet and the Social Web, in our advertising and in our communities. Young employees are best positioned to attract young prospects. And agencies which are innovative with technology, and have flexible employee policies that are results driven, will be most likely to attract young employees.

A perfect way to introduce young people to our industry is through IIABA’s Project InVEST. The Trusted Choice brand, likewise, offers agencies a modern and value added identity that positions them well to attract the future generations of consumers and employees.

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  • This article is perfect. I am right on the line of a Xer and Millenial and work in an independent agency. These are my frustrations. Doing busy the "old way" doesn't work anymore. When I hear older agents talk about how we don't need technology and blather on about HardCopy Paper applications and using Rate-Books I completely zone out.

    I think older agents equate technology to "skipping steps" in the process. Not true at all… Faster does not mean Less Service or Less Personal Feel… It just means faster…
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    • Ryan, thanks so much for your comment. I find your situation to be an issue at almost every agency I work with. I'm not sure what it will take to get older producers and agency owners to "get it". It is important that all young producers keep making their point about embracing available technologies to improve both the agency's workflow and the client experience. Less time with data entry and other processes that can be automated, leads to more, better quality time with clients.
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  • A big red flag for me is the comment I hear too often from Baby Boom and beyond agents (aka, AARP eligible): I'm an insurance agent, I don't have time to learn all this technology stuff. The communication tools we talk about today – social media and the web in general – are just that: communication tools. A 51 year old agency principal thinks in terms of what dialogs are more appropriately handled face-to-face or by phone vs. email. A Millenial thinks in terms of what goes to Facebook, text message, or YouTube. In this respect, blogging and web video are no more technology than is the telephone, email, or the telegraph wire (those were the days…sigh).

    Across the generations we have differing comfort levels with alternative communication tools. But if we Boomers want to do business with Gen Y then we had better learn to use the communication tools they are comfortable with. When we choose to dismiss web based communication alternatives as 'technology' we become our own worst enemy.

    • Kevin, thanks so much for your great comments. I think the more senior members of agencies seem to dismiss young people as serious clients. They have forgotten at one time the only thing they had to insure was their auto. I would suggest the owner of your largest commercial account began just that way. So if you neglect the young consumer of today, then they will go elsewhere when they have more to insured.

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