Independent agencies have appointments with an average of nine personal lines and seven commercial lines carriers, according to the 2018 Agency Universe study produced by the IIABA. One of your biggest questions as you transition to the independent agency system is probably how to access the markets like these that you’ll need (and want) to attract and serve customers.
There are several different options you may be considering to help you build your portfolio of insurance coverage options. Keep in mind that most property & casualty insurance companies will be looking for a long-term relationship and a commitment to a minimum amount of production, especially the first year that they appoint you as their agent. Getting a direct appointment also requires a track record of successful marketing and selling, a marketing territory geographically desirable to the company, and a solid proposed business model.
If you have not already done so, the first thing you should do is develop a formal business plan for your agency. This will not only help guide the direction of your agency’s future growth, but it will also be a critical component of your discussions about direct appointments with carriers.
As mentioned earlier, there are many options for market access. It’s important to understand these options before making a decision about which direction to pursue to make sure you have access to the best products to offer your customers and that you partner with companies that will be a good fit for your agency down the road.
Direct appointments with a variety of established carriers that have broad, competitive insurance products to offer is the ideal situation but they may be hard to come by unless you have a sizable book of business that you will bring to the table right off the bat. As you first enter the independent agency system, especially for commercial lines, market commitments will likely come from a combination of a few possible direct appointments and/or a variety of indirect markets such as wholesalers, managing general agencies and market aggregators.
Many Managing General Agents (MGAs) and wholesalers are receptive to working with newer independent agencies. Many will have little or no volume commitments and are compensated per transaction through policy fees that are passed on to the customer.
Market aggregators give new independent agents access to otherwise unattainable markets and niche programs, the opportunity to obtain direct company appointments and a chance to share in the network’s profitability. In return, these networks usually ask agents to pay a percentage of commission, a membership fee, or require them to give up a small stake in the value of the book of business built up through the aggregator. Be sure to review the contractual relationship with these entities carefully, especially as they relate to book ownership, commission or revenue sharing and exit costs.
Agency Clusters or Alliances
Another option and one that may be appealing for established agencies is to join or form a cluster arrangement or alliance with fellow independent agencies. Clusters or alliances are formal associations of insurance agencies established to provide “members” with mutual support and group benefits, including access to markets with standard carriers. Clusters or alliances can help agencies gain access to carriers and products as part of a collective bargaining group, allowing them to provide their customers with desired markets.
We also offer options for market access programs as well as opportunities for you to connect directly with carriers at our conference trade shows: Annual Convention (held in Spring or Summer), Fall Education Conference (held in October), and Young Agents Conference (held in July or August).