2020 was a year that many of us are happy to see in the rear view mirror. For the P&C Industry it presented large challenges. The pandemic required companies to quickly transition to remote work. We had to learn new processes and get used to communicating in new ways—less in person and more virtual. This transition was easier for some than others.
The increase in remote work environments had an upside. It freed some of us from time-consuming commutes, allowing us more flexibility with work-life balance. Productivity improved for many companies, leading some to plan to continue supporting remote work even when it is once again safe for more people to work in offices.
This dramatically abrupt change in processes and work environment did not impact just our daily tasks and interactions with our coworkers. It also impacted how we serve our customers. The vast majority of Property & Casualty Insurers that work with Independent Agents saw an impact on key customer relationships.
Successful carriers understand that, within agencies, they are competing with other carriers to attract the business that will be most profitable for them. Carriers that make it easier to place business win these daily placement decisions. In 2020, 99% of almost 5000 independent agents surveyed agreed that ease of business is CRITICAL to where they place business.
Because ease of business is so important to the carrier and agent relationship, and 2020 was a “Black Swan” year for work environments, we were curious about how carriers performed. As depicted in Chart 1, Carrier Performance Trends 2019-2020, some rose to the challenge and improved their ease of business. Others faltered.
Our data shows that for Ease of Business performance in all factors combined, more carriers’ performance ratings decreased in 2020 than those that improved their performance. 52% of the carriers’ overall performance declined compared to 43% that improved. 5% remained the same.
Underwriting and claims handling figure prominently in agents’ perceptions of how easy it is to do business with carriers. For these factors, less than 39% of the carriers improved their performance.
This disparity in performance is a strategic opportunity for the carriers that maintained focus on their agency relationships. Those who innovated and successfully improved their ease of business with independent agents will benefit.
We see a couple of themes that explain why the majority of carriers slipped.
External Communication is an Opportunity
Agents are finding it more difficult to reach underwriters and claims adjusters. Here is a comment from an agent that is representative of this struggle.
“Communicate! We still need to talk with underwriters and claim reps. Making personal contact is most difficult. Everyone seems to be hiding behind technology.”
Here are a couple more.
“We’ve had a year of poor claims experience from carriers that in the past were really responsive.”
“Just have people answer their phones and be available. Also, working from home does not work for everyone.”
In these and many similar comments, agents tell us that contact with their underwriters and adjusters should be quick and easy. It should not matter whether these people are working from home or the office. Most carriers do not deliver this experience, but the winners do.
Internal Communication is Impacting Responsiveness
Agents are experiencing increased response times when decisions are escalated.
Here are a couple of examples of what agents are experiencing from some carriers:
“Responsiveness and synergy. This has been lost with COVID and most of the home office personnel working from home. The bottom line of the carrier looks better because of this but the burden has been put on the agency side to handle this and I do not think they even realize this. They need to get everyone back in the office.”
“Have adequate underwriting staff and personnel to assist in the placing and retention of business. 30 day turnaround on simple changes (or longer) is unacceptable. Over a week on email responses is an unnecessary delay and only exacerbates unfavorable situations or makes me hesitant to place accounts there.”
It is easy to imagine why this might be going on for many carriers. When I was an underwriter and had a burning issue that exceeded my authority, I was sitting next to more experienced coworkers who could sign off. If needed I could walk a few steps to my boss’s office and get their sign off. If I had been working from home, it would not be that simple—unless my company had considered this issue when innovating their work-from-home processes.
All carriers faced the same challenges in 2020, but those that improved their performance found ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their internal communications and processes.
In 2020, COVID-19 was a Black Swan event that forced P&C carriers to change their work environments and processes. A select group of carriers took advantage of this opportunity to innovate and improve their ease of business with their agents, giving them a strategic advantage with independent agents.