Independent insurance agents have a unique tool in their toolkit when it comes to helping small businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic. They have the advantage of true empathy. Why? Because the vast majority of agencies in the United States are small businesses themselves. They’ve had to weather the same storms as their small business clients; they’ve had to make the same transitions to enable remote working; and they’re all facing the same concerns and considerations about bringing people back to the workplace and safely ramping up in-person business.
These similarities, and the potential camaraderie they produce, are going to be vitally important as insurance agents help small businesses through the reopening and return-to-work process, according to Dan Killins (pictured), loss control program manager at EMPLOYERS, a small business workers’ compensation provider. He told Insurance Business: “From my experience thus far with policyholders and agents, I think this is a huge opportunity for agents to deepen and solidify their relationship with their clients. The events that have happened are tragic, and, unfortunately, they’re ongoing – but this is an opportunity for agents to really bond and become a valued partner with their clients.
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“First of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge that many independent insurance agents are small businesses themselves. That’s important for a couple of reasons: 1) because of the understanding and the empathy that they can provide to similar businesses, and 2) if they’re going to be valued and trusted partners, it’s important that they too have a solid plan in place for transitioning their own employees back to ‘the new normal’, and they can showcase this and share their own experiences.”
Policyholders are looking for agents to be valued partners and navigators to help them through the new risks associated with these unprecedented times. In order to be that valued partner, it is “critical” for agents to stay educated and up-to-date about local, state and national challenges, according to Killins. He advises staying abreast of local requirements, state requirements, and public safety guidelines from the CDC, the FDA, the World Health Organization, and other similar trusted entities, and then sharing that guidance without contributing to the uncertain messaging surrounding the pandemic.
“Helping clients anticipate risk is a big thing too,” he added. “Agencies can lean on their carriers for tools to help them with those risks. I think that’s important because we have the data, and we have decades of risk management and risk control expertise to share. At EMPLOYERS, we have consultants that are available by phone or by email, and many agencies have dedicated risk control personnel to supplement that. The point is, policyholders don’t have to navigate these waters on their own. That’s where agencies can provide support, or they can find and lean on the right carrier with that expertise to help policyholders navigate those challenging waters.”
When summarizing the role of the agent as businesses start to reopen and bring employees back into the workplace, Killins whittled it down to four key points. The first, he said, is to listen well, understand, and be a shoulder or a sounding board for policyholders to vent to. Killins said: “At this point, independent agents can emphasize that they’re a small business too. I think that empathy is very important, and will significantly increase the agent’s value with the client.
“The second point is to be educated and available. Small business owners are making decisions 24/7. Yes, things will change as they continue to run their business, and they need a partner who is there for them and educated about how any changes might impact their risk. Next, being positive and solutions oriented is really important. Small businesses have enough doom and gloom to worry about on a daily basis without insurance concerns to add to the list. And finally, agents should lean on the support systems that are there, be it a carrier, an industry group, or a trade group – there are lots of resources, solutions and tools out there to help agents help their clients. Those who follow those points, chart a course for their small business clients, and stay by their side through this crisis I think will find their relationships deepen and solidify as a result.”