Insurance agents and brokers may yet be able to take advantage of the changing economic landscape. Despite regular reports of impending doom by the media, Kenneth Auerbach, principal of E&K Agency and president of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA), contends there are several factors working in favor of independent agents and brokers.

“It’s a personal service business,” Auerbach said at American Insurance Marketing & Sales (AIMS) Society’s 22nd Annual Pro-to-Pro conference in Nashville. “Customers will increasingly demand more value, better choices and more personalized services. Business relationships are built on trust—in short, everything that differentiates us from our competitors.”

While the insurance business is “taking a hit in this financial environment, like all industries,” Auerbach said independent agencies are largely holding their own. And they have a unique opportunity. “You are the one the customer deals with, whether you’re in a five-person agency or 1,000-person agency,” he said.

Auerbach acknowledged that obviously there are challenges caused by the down economy—the largest involves federal legislation.

“We always get frustrated when Washington does things slowly,” he noted, “but more frustrating and scary is when they do something quickly—like passing a stimulus package nobody has read, or calling to revamp federal regulation for the entire financial industry without pausing to note the stability of the state-regulated insurance business. We need to leave here and remind our policymakers that it’s the feds who failed in their oversight, not the states. It’s very easy to get lost in the sauce.”

PIA opposes federal legislation, contending it “undermines, rather than supports, functional modernization of state regulation.”

Another agent association, the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA), also sees the effect the government can have on agents and brokers. Spencer Houldin, an independent agent from Connecticut, chairman of the IIABA government affairs committee and the Connecticut representative on the IIABA Board of Directors, testified on insurance regulatory modernization on behalf of the association.

“We must carefully examine the causes of the current crisis, and determine how, or if, regulatory policy should change to ensure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past,” Houldin says. “While IIABA is committed to helping improve the system, it is worth noting that relative to other segments of the financial services industry, the property/casualty insurance market has remained solid and vibrant. In short, the property/casualty insurance industry continues to operate without the need for the federal government to step in to provide any type of support.”

To manage through the internal challenges brought on by the struggling economy, agents and brokers need to position themselves for success, Auerbach said.

“They need to trim expenses, maximize their use of technology and make their marketing work amid the advertising clutter, particularly in personal lines,” he said. “This is a difficult task for all independents. They have to distinguish themselves as the trusted go-to professionals, trusted to protect the lives and livelihoods of their clients.”

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