Glenmont, N.Y. – The nearly 100 independent insurance agents and company representatives who attended last week’s 2008 CEO Conference, “Challenges for our future: New Talent and New Technology” in Albany last week did so with hope and opportunity in mind.

Hosted by the Professional Insurance Agents of New York State Inc., and the New York Insurance Association Inc., the conference focused on the latest technologies available to agents and how agents can attract next generation of talented insurance professionals.

“At this annual conference, PIANY members and NYIA members come together to discuss issues that agents and companies have in common,” said Ellen Kiehl, Ph.D., PIANY’s senior research analyst. “Both wrestle with how to attract good people and use available technology better in their own operations.”

The event featured two roundtable discussions: The first focused on the latest technology and was moderated by Cal Durland, CPCU, manager of agent relations and AUGIE facilitator for ACORD. The discussion was designed to help agents and companies employ the modern technology that bright young employees (and customers) expect to use in transacting insurance business.

Durland’s presentation focused on new technologies and the next generation of insurance professionals entering the insurance industry. Encouraging agent attendees to incorporate the next-step technology into their offices, she shared ideas, such as: providing chat capabilities on Web sites; using text messaging; creating special Web sites for niche marking; providing customer- access portals on agency Web sites; using Web presentations with small-business clients; and researching and communicating with clients using the social networks Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.

Durland also emphasized the importance of using Real Time by both agencies and carriers. She said agents using Real Time found their staff spends their time handling current clients more efficiently, offering them more time to dedicate to sales and reaching out to new clients. Agencies that have current technologies also have an easier time attracting new employees.

For those daunted by the idea of spending money on a technology overhaul, Durland offered a road map so that agents, brokers and carriers could implement new tools at their own pace. She recommended starting with the use of ACORD forms; moving to implementation of downloads for personal lines, commercial lines, commissions and claims. Advanced steps involved using service functionality for inquiries for claims, policies and billing; using Real Time rating; and having an endorsement process though the management system.

The second roundtable spotlighted hiring, specifically attracting new talent and keeping successful hires challenged. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Thomas Denham, MCDP, founder of Careers in Transition LLC.

During Denham’s presentation, participants discussed the problems surrounding hiring qualified individuals in the insurance industry and ways they could combat these issues. Reoccurring issues included: combating the negative image of the insurance industry; getting people to understand that there are many facets to jobs within an agency or company; retaining employees once they’ve been trained; and recognizing the different needs and work styles of employees from the next generation.

To introduce the next generation of insurance professionals to the industry and to fight the negative image of the industry, Denham suggested agents consider setting up an internship at their agencies. But, he noted it is important make sure interns be exposed to a good mix of tasks from all facets of the business (producing, underwriting, claims, etc.) and that they be included in client meetings and social networking events. These new workers “adore” having mentors, he added.

Other possible solutions to the staffing dilemma were raised by participants and included: traveling to local high schools and colleges to participate in career fairs; helping recruits see the opportunities for growth within an agency; implementing a mentor program for new hires; and keeping up to date with new technologies.

“There aren’t any quick fixes to the issues discussed,” said Kiehl. “However, the participants walked away with valuable information to help them advance their business plans into the future.”

PIANY is a trade association representing professional, independent insurance agencies, brokerages and their employees throughout the state.

Source: Professional Insurance Agents of New York State Inc.


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