Smart Choice – Everything you need to know
About Smart Choice
Smart Choice is an independent insurance agency network based out of Greensboro, North Carolina. It serves over 7,400 independent agents and 100 carrier partners in 45 states across the country. The network offers its member agents access to personal, commercial, life and health insurance markets, in addition to other beneficial products and services like insurance technology, funding advice, and agency perpetuation consultation.
Agency partners can gain access to markets through Smart Choice in three different ways. They can use the network’s traditional agent program for personal and commercial lines, through which they can gain appointments with markets through sub-codes with Smart Choice. On this program, agents retain full ownership of their books of business and any commissions, and they also qualify for bonus and contingency sharing. They can also access markets via Smart Choice’s Smart Start online insurance platform for personal and commercial insurance, and through the Express Markets platform, which provides nearly instant access to over 30 standard and non-standard insurance markets at the click of a button.
History of Smart Choice
Smart Choice was launched in 1994 by current chairman and CEO Douglas Witcher. He claims it was set up to “help independent agents access better markets and establish solid relationships with some of the top insurance carriers in the nation.” The network was launched with only a handful of markets in North Carolina, and it has since grown into one of the largest independent agency networks in the US.
The Smart Choice network was born out of a tough decision made by founder, chairman and CEO Douglas S. Witcher in 1988. In his founder’s message, he explains how he reached a realization that he had to either sell his independent insurance agency or merge his agency with another. Why? Because he didn’t have enough relationships with “Blue Chip” markets in order to boost his agency growth. At the time, he only had a contract with one of these so-called “Blue Chip” companies. He knew he needed more but was worried about how that might impact his existing relationships.
He writes in his founder’s message: “Having received some good advice from a trusted friend in the industry, I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was to sell or merge my agency. I took the risk and brought in an additional carrier. Within 12 months, I was notified by my lead ‘Blue Chip’ carrier that it was pulling out of my agency. My termination was not due to profitability; it was due to not meeting their mandated growth objectives. This was a carrier I had represented since 1979 and with which I had built a book of business from scratch to over $700,000 in premium. I had excellent growth and profitability, but the company was upset because I was placing the majority of my new business with my new company.”
Through this experience, Witcher came to the realization that he wasn’t alone. There were likely other agencies that were struggling with similar situations … and that’s how the network concept of Smart Choice came to life.
Leadership at Smart Choice
Douglas S. Witcher, known as Doug Witcher, is the founder, chairman and CEO of Smart Choice. He’s held this position since January 1994. Prior to launching Smart Choice, Witcher was president and co-founder of Southeastern Agency Group between 1991 and 1994, and before that he was president and CEO of Douglas S. Witcher and Associates Inc. between July 1979 and October 1991. He attended Western Carolina University and High Point University before wetting his feet as a sales rep at White and Wood Realtors from 1977 to 1979.
Culture at Smart Choice
Smart Choice is all about providing independent agents with the “Freedom to Succeed”. The network is built on the premise of enabling independent agency owners to grow their businesses, establish new market relationships, and keep up to date with the latest technology trends and customer expectations. It’s also about control. Essentially, Smart Choice is backing the Davids of the insurance agency world against the Goliaths. Member agencies retain complete control of their business; they just have a steady stream of new business opportunities coming their way.
Another philosophy that the network follows is to give back. The firm states: “We choose to support our industry through agent and carrier partnerships, and by creating ground-breaking programs to facilitate good business practices for consumers. Thriving communities are able to support successful businesses, so we strive to promote social responsibility and awareness through our philanthropic efforts in our own community.”