During the Thanksgiving holiday, I ran into an independent agent who is a long-time friend of my father-in-law. Ed was moving into his new house, and I dropped by to show him my son, Christian, who was born October 26.When I hear industry observers discuss how the Internet will affect the future of insurance agents, I immediately think about the agency that bears Ed's name. I know that Ed enjoys his business and that he does not intend to retire soon, but he does recognize that the industry is undergoing significant change, and he's concerned about what the future has in store for him and his staff.

Every year in May, Ed joins us on a fishing trip to my in-law's cabin in Wisconsin's North Woods. And when the walleye aren't biting-which is most of the time, unfortunately-Ed and I like to talk about the future of the insurance industry.

Ed is a knowledgeable businessman who has successfully navigated the rough waters of change that have engulfed the industry during the last 20 years. We've debated whether the Internet will significantly reduce the number of independent agents and discussed how some major carriers are now cutting back on captive agents. Given his age and the amount of time that it will take for consumers to truly embrace the Internet as a medium to purchase insurance and other financial products, I think Ed's future as an independent agent is secure. Ed is also confident about his future, but he recognizes that the Internet is transforming how insurance is marketed, sold and serviced.

I recently received a telephone call from an independent agent who questioned the amount of coverage that Insurance Networking provides on e-commerce initiatives. I explained to him that our editorial mission is to report on "strategies and solutions for electronic commerce." He told me that he has been an agent for more than 40 years and that the Internet will never replace agents. I agreed, but I don't think he believed me.

The Internet cannot provide the personal touch that comes naturally to Ed and other dedicated agents. In their rush to embrace an Internet strategy, insurance executives cannot overlook the valuable services that their agents provide, whether it's explaining the intricacies of insurance or it's taking the time to go fishing with a customer.

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