Survey: Where Carriers Fall Short of Agent Expectations

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There appears to be a misalignment between carrier performance and independent agents’ expectations in both personal and commercial lines. These are selected findings of “Agent Voices 2018,” a soon-to-be-released report based on a survey of the nation’s independent agents cosponsored by Channel Harvest Research and Insurance Journal.

In commercial lines, agents expect high underwriting performance from their leading carriers, the survey found. Yet those same agents score their top carriers well short in that area.

Disconnects also exist in personal lines, where carriers fail to match agents’ expectations for competitive pricing, claims responsiveness and claims service quality. 

“We see a trend with underwriting performance, as we saw similar disconnects a year ago,” said Josh Miller, research director of Channel Harvest. “Commercial-focused agents expect their top carriers to excel in all underwriting areas (responsiveness, appetite and flexibility), yet underwriting was not one of the highest scoring areas.” Instead, agents gave their top carriers high marks for financial strength, brand reputation and customer service, Miller said.

In the 2017 Channel Harvest survey, personal lines-focused agents expected and received good claims service from their top carriers, Miller noted. And the story was similar in commercial lines when it comes to underwriting, as agents expected more than they received. “It’s not surprising that underwriting is possibly the biggest challenge for commercial lines carriers and their agents in an era of more complex risks,” he said. “If you look back a few years, that wasn’t the case.”

Five years ago, Channel Harvest found a near convergence between agent expectations and carrier performance. Commercial lines agents listed financial strength, claims quality and underwriting expertise as most important qualities in a carrier. Their assessment of actual performance was almost identical, with carriers excelling at the same three traits.

Personal lines agents in 2013 placed the most importance on financial strength and claims and reported their top carriers performed well in those areas. They also gave carriers high marks for underwriting, which landed near the bottom of priorities.

This year’s Channel Harvest survey was conducted between Jan. 4 and March 16. Some 7,000 respondents ranging from principals to producers to CSRs answered 140 questions about personal lines and commercial lines carriers. The survey was designed with input from an advisory panel of carriers including regionals, super-regionals and nationals. Besides weighing in on the most important traits in a carrier, they also offered opinions on agency aggregators, growth and technology.

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  • May 30, 2018 at 5:25 pm
    mike mansel says:

    It really should be no surprise and I think it’s due to “technology!” We used to pick up the phone to chat with the carriers. Now it’s a fast often curt email. We used to have relationships with our insurers – not so much anymore. It’s a shame but a way of life now.

    • June 1, 2018 at 7:02 pm
      John M says:

      Mike, I concur. I have been an agent for 28 years. I was a captive for the first 11 and have been independent for the past 17. When I went independent in 2001 it was not unusual to have my Travelers rep, my Hartford rep, my Progressive rep, or ANY rep visit my office monthly, often even more frequently. Now, my reps are 1-800 numbers and do-not-reply email addresses. Annual production meetings? LOL. We really are independent. And as I see, it is no different on the captive side. Jurrasic Park? LOL, try making a sci-fi movie on the extinct agency manager, state or district sales manager, or any other form of management.

  • May 31, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Not only as Mike says but having an UW actually respond to an email or phone call not to mention reading the information on submissions would go a LONG way to helping out. Technology has nothing to do with their lack of performance there.

  • May 31, 2018 at 5:59 pm
    Dan Fagan says:

    Companies have got to come to grips with the information overload. Process simplification must get attention. Don’t just do things because they have always been done that way. Progressive made some aggressive changes as to how they process auto policies and it seems to have worked pretty well for them.

  • May 31, 2018 at 6:01 pm
    Steven Smith says:

    I weep for the future!!

  • June 4, 2018 at 3:31 pm
    Truth says:

    That is no surprise. Many Agents (not all) want to dictate the claims process even though they have no knowledge or experience in that field. Their main objective is to make their client happy, despite what the policy allows.

  • June 4, 2018 at 7:01 pm
    John Q Agent says:

    Technology give us the tools to see if in fact the underwriter has even opened entire submission attachment. I’ve had risks declined because the loss ratio on one policy was just over 50%, basing decision on just opening the loss run report. And then defending their decision when confronted…. And then there are the situations where they refuse to open an encrypted file…

  • June 6, 2018 at 4:46 pm
    SacFlood says:

    It is mainly technology, in my humble opinion. 33+ years as an Agent/Broker.
    All you need is a carbon app, a phone, and a fax machine, instead of needing an Internet connection just to give a quote. Carriers don’t give paper options, & put everything in the cloud.

  • June 13, 2018 at 2:26 am
    cassandra says:

    I am retired 43 year insurance industry worker, 30 spent as an all lines commercial undewriter of tough classes and tough lines. I always felt that I owed my agents the same effort that they put in in providing the submission, therefore, when I received an app that a clerk copied year after year with no update, RC requested on aged properties whose values had not been updated, GL payrolls and sales carried forward year after year, and ancient drivers lists with 97 year old drivers, I couldn’t help feeling put upon. and yes, I read the whole app and gave cogent reasons for declinations, pricing increases, coverage amendments, etc, But you should also know that underwriters are increasingly subservient to actuaries who are involved now almost always with large lines, or the undw must complete a time consuming “profitability formula” prior to risk acceptance, initial pricing, and renewal pricing. undws tread fine line: if they decline everything, no one gets a paycheck and if they approve everything the company tanks. And as for personal contact, how many times are the undws calls/emails shunted to a clerical person who simply does not have the knowledge to cogently respond to undw queries? That being said, all agents deserve timely and appropriately thought out response…preferably in same day to at least advise submission received and would be reviewed within a day or so. Many nights I brought work home and when working at home put in 12 hour days, but then, I was “old school.” And I agree, “technology” wants to force every risk into “the box” when we all know how infrequently that occurs. That box cheapens my knowledge and service to my agents w respect to flexibility, creativity (yes, underwriters can be creative), acceptance and pricing. Wait til the AI bots take over. I sympathize.

  • June 19, 2018 at 3:47 pm
    Adjuster Talk/Jason Heenan says:

    As an independent adjuster of 14 years and host of an adjusting podcast, agent/adjuster relationships have also waned heavily since the beginning of my career.

    Agent feedback is hardly even sought on our side of things (independent adjusting).

    Would anyone be willing to speak with me about this? What can independent adjusters do better? How can we work with you guys better?

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