Consultants for Deep Customer Connections, specialists in insurance carrier/agent research and consulting, ask the agents to gauge carrier performance based on how easy it for the agents to do business with the carriers as part of the work the firm is hired to do for carrier clients, explains CEO Nort Salz.
Based on that work, the top 10 P/C performers are:
- Safety Insurance Company
- MMG Insurance Company
- West Bend Mutual Insurance Company
- The Central Insurance Companies
- FCCI Insurance Group
- SECURA Insurance Companies
- Donegal Insurance Group
- Integrity Insurance
- Accident Fund Insurance Company of America
While the name Deep Customer Connections is inextricably linked to these annual rankings, Salz stresses that the firm’s surveys are not conducted for the sake of publishing a top-10 list. Instead, they are a byproduct of work the firm does for individual carriers who specifically seek to improve their relationships with agents, he told Carrier Management during an interview at the PCI annual meeting in October last year.
“We don’t do this on an annual basis. We do this for carriers. They’re really our clients,” he said.
In a video excerpt of our interview accompanying this article, Salz explains the history of his firm, the work it does for carriers, and the evolution of 11 ease-of-doing business metrics that form the basis of the consulting firm’s work and its top-10 rankings:
- Acts on Agency Needs
- Underwriting Responsiveness
- Once & Done (quotes and issues without rework)
- Underwriting Flexibility
- Policy Services
- Effective Technology
- Handles Claims Promptly
- Handles Claims Fairly
- Marketing Support
- Insurance Expertise and Support
- Makes It Easy for the Agent to Do Business with the Policyholder
The 11-factors grew out work that Salz and his colleagues began a decade ago. “One of the things that we observed is that…how easy it is for agents to work with a carrier is a really important issue. [But] there was nothing in the way of common language, or common understanding or any metrics about that,” he says.
“Those factors weren’t something that we just pulled out of the blue. It was first based on the experience that we had in talking with lots of agents, [and] secondly, after developing a model, going back and validating that with agents.”
Over the years, the firm has had close to 70,000 interactions with agents to validate the model, finding that ease-of-doing-business means a number of things—“transactional things like do you handle claims promptly [and] are you responsive in underwriting,” Salz says.
Beyond that, it means things like, “What’s your technology like? How do you deal with policy services?”
Also considered are relationship issues, such as, “Do you, the carrier, understand what it’s like for me to be an agent? Are you paying attention to that and thinking about that in our working relationship?”
Continuing to explain how the factors are used to help carriers understand how they stand with agents, Salz adds that a part of the process that “makes a really big difference” in terms of data validity “is that we don’t just ask about a [client] carrier. We [also] invite agents to identify other carriers they frequently work with. So when they’re doing the rating, they’re not just thinking about you. They’re thinking about the host of the carriers that they represent.
“The data really comes from the agent’s thinking in that competitive environment.”
“We first ask, ‘How important is the factor,’ and once the importance of that factor is established, then the agent has the opportunity to rate each of the carriers that they’ve selected against that factor. We go from factor-to-factor that way.”
“It’s helpful to a carrier to understand themselves in their competitive context,” Salz says.
Salz says that his firm is meticulous about protecting agents’ anonymity and about protecting carrier clients in a similar way. “We don’t share data about our clients. It’s theirs.”
Does that mean that Deep Customer Connections isn’t actually sharing data that shows the carrier how it measures up specifically against Carriers X, Y, and Z during a typical consultation?
“Yes, we are. But that is only data that come from their specific survey,” Salz says. “When we conduct a survey for another company, that company is the only company that gets the data that come from that survey.”
In other words, if ACUITY’s survey mentions SECURA Insurance Companies, then ACUITY sees those responses, Salz confirms. “But nobody else does,” he says.
Which of the 11 factors do agents view as most important?
“Handling claims promptly and fairly continues repeatedly to be the most important thing,” Salz says, noting that this is true for both personal and commercial lines carriers.
“We do see some differences. Technology is a little less important for commercial carriers. When you think about that, it’s not surprising because by and large, commercial policies are a little more complex and need more touch. They need more interaction back and forth between the carrier and the agent,” he says.
Overall, the agents and brokers evaluated more than 270 P/C insurance carriers on the 11 unique performance factors that determine an agent’s ease-of-doing-business experience, according to Wednesday’s top-10 announcement. In total, there were over 300,000 ratings for the year.
Ninety-nine percent of the agents and brokers surveyed in 2013 reported that how easy it is to do business with competing carriers is “critically important” in deciding where to write business, the announcement said.
Applied to individual carriers, the 11-factor model Deep Customer Connections’ Agent Business Indicator model prioritizes opportunities for improvement, Salz says.
Are carriers more interested in improving these days? Are levels of engagement with his firm increasing?
“It occupies a steady strong place in their minds,” he says.
“People are always talking about the distribution channel. They’re talking about the threat from direct writers. That is certainly out there.”
“Technology makes it possible to do things that couldn’t be done a few years ago.”
“At the same time, certainly our data suggest that insurance at a really basic level is still a relationship business. The role of the agent is really important,” he says.