The relationship between carrier and agent is as complex as it is longstanding. A new report from New York-based Novarica delves into the mysteries of the relationship to elucidate what factors make a carrier an agents’ top choice.

The report, authored by Karlyn Carnahan, a principal in Novarica's insurance practice who oversaw the research project along with analyst Tse Wei Lim, finds that convenience, relationship, responsiveness and speed are primary deciders for agents. The study, Novarica Agent Survey 2009: Small Commercial Lines – How Technology and Service Drive Carrier Choice, surveyed 256 agents across the country.

Not surprisingly, the survey elicited a wide array of responses, as agents cited 68 different carriers as their favorite carrier to conduct with. Worthy of note is that while almost 100 different carriers were mentioned as a top-three choice, Hartford, Conn.-based Travelers Insurance Co. and The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. received the most top-three mentions with 108 and 77, respectively.

More narrowly circumscribed were agents’ views about which functionalities they wanted delivered through portals and agency management systems maintained by carriers. The authors also found that satisfaction with agent portals is directly correlated with carrier choice, as producers show a clear preference for carriers with better portals and richer functionality. Functions such as quick quote, full quote and app submission are critical for portals.

“Agents were most satisfied with full, bindable quote, policy view, billing status checks and secure e-mail functionality from their carriers’ agent portals,” the authors state. “These are generally the functions that have been available the longest and agents are comfortable using them and familiar with their benefits.”

Novarica also found that portals have become more widely used for connectivity than AMS. “The most noticeable thing about agency management system (AMS) integration was its relative unpopularity versus agent portals,” the authors note. “Whereas an average of 72% of agents surveyed used any given feature of carriers’ portals, only 53% used any given AMS integration point.”

Carnahan and Lim also tackle one of the most intangible aspects of the producer/carrier interface, the interaction between agent and underwriter. While not discounting the importance of personal amity, they contend that technology plays a larger role in defining that relationship than many would credit. “While it’s tempting to think a producer/underwriter relationship is purely about the personal chemistry between the producer and the underwriter, just as important is an underwriter’s ability to quickly respond to requests and find creative ways to meet the agents’ needs.”

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