I’m sure many independent agency principals will concur when I say my relationship with technology is a bit … complicated.
In part this is due to the fact that I have a “business” thought process where technology is concerned, as well as a personal view on it.
In case I hadn’t mentioned this previously, I’m a blind person. However, I often say that if you’re going to be blind, being blind in the 21st century is the best possible time to do it.
Technology is deeply empowering for someone with the visual challenges that I and millions of others have: it allows us to read things that 20 years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to read. It allows us to write things that 10 years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to write. I often say that if it wasn’t for the accessibility that technology grants me I’d now be retired, sitting on a porch in a rocking chair, sipping lemonade and listening to the radio.
Which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad endgame – but I still have much to accomplish before that day comes.
Thus on a personal level, I’m a huge fan of technology. On the other hand, I’ve been in the financial services industry for 35 years: Over that period of time I’ve witnessed the arrival of dozens of massive technology-platform projects – some of which have turned out to be successful, and many of which have not. It’s not uncommon to have seen millions or tens of millions of dollars spent on creating a solution that was supposed to deliver a world of efficiencies, with the end result proving all but useless.
Having borne witness to this, I bring a healthy dose of skepticism. Not to the value of technology, nor to what it can do to support the kind of experience we all want to bring to our customers, nor to the kind of efficiency we want to bring to our organizations.
My skepticism comes from understanding that navigating technology is difficult, for several key reasons: It’s hard to identify exactly what technology will be necessary or ideal for the task, who the right partners are to work with, how to train people in using that technology, and how to ensure that it becomes embedded in the culture of the business.
Not one of those steps is easy, and all are equally critical.
They all contribute to the hard truth that broadly speaking, independent agencies and technology are often at odds with each other. Many an agency principal has told me that historically, the tech tools they’ve used were often inadequate for their needs.
However, I believe that we’re now at a point where most independent agencies recognize the importance of technology in achieving their goals around profitability, growth, enhancing their agency’s valuation and delivering an efficient experience to their customers.
What independent agents have always understood, and what we at Renaissance Alliance are very supportive of, is that their true value is exhibited in the relationships they build with their customers – individuals, families, small businesses – their client base. That relationship is all about providing advice, mentoring and being a trusted partner in terms of managing risk. Frankly, they’re busy selling. It’s what they’re great at.
As a result, many agents have pushed the idea of wholly embracing technology to the back burner, believing that managing those customer relationships – critical as those may be – is far more important.
However, they’ve come to realize that approach is no longer adequate. They need to be able to provide the very best capabilities in serving those clients – and in order to deliver the level of efficiency their customers have grown accustomed to in the age of Amazon, employing the right technology is a game-changer.
This requirement to employ the right technology tools is perfectly illustrated by the plateau that’s often seen in an agency’s lifecycle. While first building a book of business, the agency principal knows exactly how to sell. He or she hits the bricks, the agency grows very quickly, and before they know it they get to the point where they’re managing a rapidly growing office staff and they’re forced to spend less time doing what they do best: selling. As a result, the success they worked so hard for begins to plateau.
That’s the critical stage where an agency needs the right tech in place in order to move forward. Those principals need to balance an inevitable investment of time and money in technology with the agency’s ability to grow. Those should never be opposing forces.
Think about it: If selling is what you’re best at, wouldn’t you want the right tech in place to free you up in order to get out in the field and do more?
Why a trusted technology partner is so valuable
Turning to outside experts for help isn’t a foreign concept for agency principals.
Consider the complexities around accounting and tax: Most independent agents know that having professional accountants handling the financial affairs of their firm is necessary. The principals recognize they don’t need to be the experts on such matters, but they do know they need to align with with a firm or or an individual that can help them cover those bases.
The same can be said for finding the right technology enabler to help chart your course – and those needs for each agency are very specific.
Adopting new technology means adopting new workflows. Even if a tech solution delivers on its promise of efficiency, your staff still has to not only learn how to use it but also to make it part of their process on a daily basis. That, too, is never easy, because in any organization, people always push back against change – and technology always brings a bit of disruption when new tools are introduced. A capable partner is needed to help ensure these things are achieved smoothly.
It takes an investment of time, money and patience to achieve new efficiencies. But once the proper investment is made and all hands are on deck, the benefits will far outweigh any temporary discomfort during that transitional period.
When we find ourselves talking about technology, these days what we’re really referring to is data and analytics and how those can be put to work for your benefit. The right technology enables the ability to collate that data, and then deliver insights around how to better serve your customers.
Believe me when I say that agency principals wouldn’t be the first insurance-industry leaders to be stymied by the challenges of achieving this.
About 25 years ago I had a meeting with Hank Greenberg, then Chairman and CEO of AIG. One of my colleagues from Goldman Sachs and I were discussing with him the possibility of taking what Bloomberg had done for the financial services area by bringing the the data and information around the securities industry (stocks, bonds and commodities) and applying that template to create a new organization specializing in information around insurance risk management.
It only took him only five minutes to say he wanted to toss us out of his office.
Not because Mr. Greenberg didn’t think data was important: because he was so frustrated that AIG had tons of data stored around the world in warehouses, in paper files, that couldn’t be accessed for such a project. The ability to efficiently access that valuable information and truly realize its value didn’t exist.
It’s critical for insurance agency principals to understand that the ability to capture and leverage their own data is the new path forward, and the importance of partnering with the right technology experts who know how to use that intel to unlock new revenue opportunities.
Renaissance can help on that journey, and be the trusted technological advisors to trusted risk-management professionals. Our team can help agency principals identify where efficiencies are needed, how to select the right tools, and then, most important, how to train the agency’s staffers and implement those tools into daily workflows.
Being part of a forward-looking agency network is about achieving new growth – and matching the right technology with the specific needs of your agency is the key to taking things further than you ever thought possible.
In my next post, I’ll expound on some of the tech solutions that are of the greatest benefit to independent agencies – and how they can be put to work for you.