Ashley General Agency CEO says insurance agents will always have value

A strong agent needs a helping hand

Ashley General Agency CEO says insurance agents will always have value

Insurance News

By Bethan Moorcraft

Talk of direct-to-consumer disruption never goes away. Some see the gradual development of insurance technology as a threat to the agent and broker channel, whereas others see it as an opportunity for intermediaries to let their true value shine.

For agents to reach their full potential, a helping hand from carriers, wholesalers and MGAs never goes amiss, according to Billie Gorrell, president and CEO of Texas-based, independent wholesale MGA, Ashley General Agency (AGA).

Speaking with Insurance Business, she said: “At the end of the day, I’m not sure how relevant those Amazon-style disruptors will be. Insurance is a people business and customers want to have a relationship.

“Yes, some of the younger generations are more comfortable buying insurance directly, but if they have a problem they’re still going to want to talk to somebody. While some of these direct-to-consumer models are a threat, the agent and broker can still be valuable to the customer by offering that communication and education service, especially in more complex commercial lines.”

AGA was founded in 2010 by Lyle Ashley. He wrote the first policy for AGA in June that year, with five employees and five contract carriers. When Ashley passed away in January of 2014, his daughter Billie Gorrell took over as president/CEO and helped to grow Ashley’s legacy to over 25 employees and over $30 million in gross written premium.

The family spirit is deeply engrained within AGA. Gorrell describes the firm as a “boutique general agency,” which provides “full service” to agents and offers perhaps more targeted support than a huge corporate wholesale operation. The independent wholesaler, like the independent agency, can give that extra human-touch relationship, she said.

“At AGA, we will work with any agent who wants to learn and grow. There’s a lot of corporately owned wholesalers out there who want to move business through quickly, but we will take the time to work with an agent and give them what they need to write a risk,” Gorrell told Insurance Business.

“We’ve been successful because we provide a full service to our agents as well as recording good turnaround times. We treat every agent the same, whether they write $500 a year with us or $1 million a year. They’re all our customers and we will do what we can to help them.”

Championing the agent in today’s marketplace doesn’t just require a kind word here and a piece of advice there. As tech-savvy firms try their hand at market disruption, insurance agents and brokers also need to up their game in technology fluency. Gorrell says it’s the job of wholesalers and MGAs to ensure agent partners are equipped with the tools they need to survive and thrive in the digital era.

“We have agents who want to be able to write and quote online and we have agents who want to call us and walk through a quote over the phone. Some of our agents are still not as computer savvy as we are, but we will work with them to try and tap into the way they do business,” she said. “We know every customer works differently and has different needs, so we try to address that.

“As AGA continues to grow, we’re looking at new ways to communicate with our agents. We’re investing in marketing and social media to be more creative in how we get the word or the message out. Another thing we’re looking at is Facetime meetings, so that we’re not taking too much valuable time away from the agent.”

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