Agents want a good relationship with underwriters and an efficient way to access and write new business, according to the “Independent Producer Survey,” a report from Celent.

The firm surveyed more than 900 producers (40% being independent) to find out what agents want from carriers in services and technology; if given an equal (or almost equal) price, what factors matter the most to an agent when they place business; and how are the investments by carriers in agent technologies making a bottom line difference in agencies?

Agency management systems were cited as the most frequently used tool, followed by proprietary Web sites. Craig Weber, managing director of the Celent’s insurance group and co-author of the report told INN in January 2009 that agents will go wherever they need in order to find functionality.

“If you tell the P&C producer, 'we'll take your upload from your agency management system so you do not have to retype an application,' three cheers,” he said. “But if you tell them 'the agency management system does not capture sufficient data to process the business—you must go to our Web site or enter supplemental forms,' they'll do that too, as long as you make it easy for them and provide the tool that solves the problem."

Celent research found that the key reasons agents use proprietary sites are the accuracy and timeliness of data that applies to issues such as case status.

Thirty-nine percent of the agents were “very satisfied” with the technology delivered by their best carriers. However, 50% rated their comfort level as “somewhat satisfied,” which argues that not all needs are being fully met. There is opportunity for differentiation.

The top determinants of an agent’s selection of a carrier were: “providing outstanding service to my clients,” “having a good relationship with my underwriter,” and “issuing underwriting decisions quickly.”

Putting agents in direct contact with underwriters is a powerful tool, according to Weber, but you have to be selective. "If you tell every agent, 'here's your underwriter; call them with any questions,' your underwriter would no longer be underwriting. He'd be fielding a fire drill."

Respondents were asked to name their favorite carriers and the reasons behind their choice. Travelers and Auto Owners were a close first and second, followed by a three-way tie for third place between Zenith Insurance, Hastings Mutual and The Hartford. From more than 800 respondents to the question, only 14 carriers received double-digit votes as a favorite carrier. Celent contends this wide distribution suggests that carriers that make progress toward meeting producer needs have an opportunity to improve their competitive position dramatically.

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