The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the traditional insurance agency model. With varying degrees of mandatory lockdown and physical distancing measures in place, agents have had to forego personal interaction with clients and adopt new ways of working that are, for some, alien and quite uncomfortable. Over the past two months, the agency channel has experienced a fast-paced digital renaissance, with the majority of business being conducted by agents working remotely and with the assistance of technology.
It’s not just operational changes that have impacted insurance agencies; there are also major concerns about dips in revenue, especially in areas like auto insurance and workers’ compensation insurance, where premiums are expected to decline due to fewer drivers on the road and greater unemployment amid the pandemic. But like all things COVID-19-related, there’s no certainty in the challenges threatening the insurance agency channel. All they can do through this public health crisis is keep calm and carry on.
Read next: New pandemic insurance bill is "first salvo"
Brian Payne (pictured), principal of Field Insurance Agency - a multi-line agency offering personal and commercial insurance products in Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Hilton Head, and the surrounding areas of South Carolina – said the biggest impact on his agency so far during the pandemic has been the change of traditional day-to-day operations. He said his team has “missed involvement with peers and clients in the office setting” but they have adapted effectively to continue focusing on servicing clients.
“We were quick to adapt to working remotely - much faster than many others in the industry, as well as other industries,” Payne told Insurance Business. “It allowed us to react swiftly, while keeping clients and consumers at the forefront of our daily operations. The availability of technology and remote capabilities nowadays makes things of this nature more realistic, and we were well prepared.
“In fact, the lockdown has proven that some tasks and responsibilities can be effectively done from anywhere, under any circumstances. If we use the tools, such as technology, for what they are intended for, it makes conducting business smooth and efficient. Consumers are relevant even during times such as these, and they expect the same level of customer service in return. We’ve learned that circumstances can arise, and we must adapt in order to succeed.”
In terms of volume of business, Payne described a bit of a mixed bag in the context of COVID-19. He said that initially the consumer was very hesitant due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, but that over the last couple of weeks business has started flowing in and Field Insurance Agency is “now above normal workflow as things have surged”.
He commented: “There is a lot of concern and uncertainty in the business world. Of course, business interruption and loss of rent, etc. are hot topics at the moment. However, over the past few weeks we have seen more consumers gaining confidence in rehiring employees, purchasing real estate, and getting back to normal.”
Post-pandemic, businesses might struggle to ‘get back to normal’ – whatever that ‘new normal’ looks like – without the assistance of insurance agents, brokers and carriers. Payne is confident in the ability and willingness of the industry to band together and provide that support to the business world.
He sang the praises of Field Insurance Agency’s carrier partners, stating: “Many of our carriers and partners have been great, not only to the customers by adjusting premiums, but also to their agency partners. I have had many carriers reach out to help and offer any assistance that may be needed. That is very enlightening and generous to see from many of these groups. We truly treat these relationships as great partnerships and are very appreciative of their overall response and actions during COVID-19.”