We’ve all done it. We’ve all dreamt of a world where Captive (CA) and Independent Agents (IA) are breaking bread and high fiving each other as we conquer the world, while sipping a Starbucks Venti Frappucino out of double straws.
No? Just me?
Let’s be honest for a minute here — after you’ve been in the insurance world for a while, you basically develop the talent to sell for, or against, any company you need to. For example, I got my feet wet at State Farm Insurance and bled that red blood. Both figuratively and literally (those paper cuts on renewal declaration pages could kill you).
After five years there, I made the swap to Allstate Insurance and I bled that blue blood. After that, I decided that I was tired of being loyal to a company and not my customers, so I ultimately decided to become what we so lovingly call an Independent Insurance Agent.
Now I bleed my own blood.
The point is, I can sell for, or against, any company/brand I have ever written business for — including my own.
So why does the rivalry between Captive Agents and Independent Agents exist? Why do I peruse YouTube and find videos of American Family insurance agents basically bashing Independent Agents?
Furthermore, why do I see independent agents knocking the Captive Insurance World? The reality of this is, by CA’s and IA’s becoming #agentbesties, we could actually be doing a greater service to our customers, while forming a legitimate team that fights against the new technologies threatening to do away with insurance agents all together.
Captive Agents already have a brand people trust
As an independent insurance agency owner myself, the greatest challenge for me was creating a brand that people trusted. Before I opened my agency, I specifically remember thinking to myself:
How can I start brand trust when I’m brand new?
Captive Agents are an amazing example of branding consistency. All offices look, feel, and exude the same brand-tone of that specific company. Their staff normally (under good circumstances) dresses the same, answers the phone the same way, and even sells/services the products they offer the same way.
This is branding consistency at its finest.
So picture this— a Captive Agent has a client who found them based on their recognizable brand, and visits their office for an auto insurance quote. Once the agent helps them review rates they find that they can service their homeowners insurance, however, they sadly can’t help them at this time with their auto policy due to excessive violations.
The client is there and that agent calls their #agentbestie, and together they can help the client.
Now, if you are an IA you immediately are thinking “I don’t want their crap”. To this, I am going bold here and say:
Anytime you can help a customer IT IS NOT CRAP.
Develop your matrix of service as an IA and if it fits your parameters then be open and honest with your CA bestie and blow it out of the water. By allowing the Captive Agent to vouch for your Independent Agency you are cutting out the #1 problem most IA’s have — brand trust and mass marketing.
Independent Agents are the Kings and Queens of “let’s figure it out”
As both CA’s and IA’s know, we are at the mercy of our underwriting guidelines right?
John Snow from Castle Black has 2 water claims in the last 4 years (yes I am a Game of Thrones fan), one of which might not be surcharge-able (all my Captive Agent besties just shook their heads in relation to what I’m saying). So instead of losing an entire account to an IA, why don’t we go ahead and see if we can place John Snow with your IA bestie so you can keep those autos.
*Pro-Tip*: before committing to an IA bestie you need to make sure they have a system in place to account for those referrals coming from a Captive Agent. The importance of this is that when they are marketing or cross-selling to a customer it is imperative that they not sell to your clients. I like to use my Agency Management Software to indicate where my business comes from, thus preventing an over step.
Get educated about each other
Did you know that most information passed from a Captive Agents’ “management” team about Independent Agents is actually inaccurate? Here are several common misconceptions you need to be aware of about the IA Community:
- Independent Agents can’t provide the level of service our Captive Agents canThis is beyond false. In fact in most cases IA’s are now actually providing superior levels of service. Once we have a customer we have over 30 carriers (in my agency) to allow us to re-market them and their rates, so ultimately we will very rarely lose a customer based on rate. We try to provide a higher level of customer service, since ultimately that is what we are really up against.
- Independent Agents don’t have the ease of access for their customers, such as a 24/7 customer serviceThis is also not accurate. IA’s know this was a weak spot for us for a long time. Mostly because no one was willing to think outside of the box. However, now IA’s have access to after-hour service centers to make sure their customers are always taken care of all hours of the day. Also, IA’s aren’t strapped by “company approval” so we are now utilizing things like Facebook messenger, live chat on our websites, and video proposals to accommodate the millennial buyer and make sure even the hardest-to-reach customer is serviced.
- Independent Agents don’t have as many offices throughout the country so they won’t be able to service you if you go out-of-state and need to transfer your policiesWRONGO. I can’t speak for many other IA’s however my agency alone can accommodate customers in over 40 states. Furthermore, if my agency can’t then guess what… I have other IA #agentbesties across the country who can. We all can work together to accommodate our/your customer.
Here are some I’ve encountered personally about the CA Community:
- Captive Agents don’t have optionsLet’s do away with this statement completely. Personally as an IA, it makes me want to cringe every time I hear it. Just because a State Farm Agent only writes State Farm products doesn’t mean they don’t have options. Did you know that there are different tiers and products within 1 auto product written through State Farm? Did you also know that at Allstate, you can have different levels of a Standard and Non Standard auto policy? Sure, different companies aren’t an option, however these Captive companies have started acquiring other companies like Bristol West, Foremost Insurance and so on, to give their customers more options.
- Captive Agents are discriminatory due to claimsThis one chaps me. As with any company, underwriting guidelines are a must — even on the IA side. By understanding what they are and by choosing clientele to fit in those parameters, it is not being discriminatory, it is closing the gap for clients who fit, and clients who simply do not. Just because an IA may have more carrier choices doesn’t mean some of those carriers won’t turn away business that isn’t a good fit.
- Captive Agents are never in the officeLet’s take a minute and squash this. Insurance Agents get a bad wrap in general but more often than not it is the tenured Captive Agents who really get a bad wrap. When I started in the State Farm world I had an agent who was in her office all day, every day, 5 days a week. She lived it, breathed it, and churned out new business with the best of us. I admired her and still couldn’t understand why the heck she was there so often. Now, as an agency owner myself, I get it. Are there State Farm agents out there who golf? Sure. However, most agency owners are in their office and ready to take care of their clients. And one area Captive Agents always win at (especially at State Farm in my opinion) is their staff is well trained by corporate programs to provide that customer experience even when an agent is not in the office.
So let’s forge this friendship shall we?
So you might not be ready to call up your Farmers Agent down the street quite yet, however, what I am going to do for you is give you my successful tricks to forging that Frappucino, #agentbestie relationship.
You must be equipped and honest
The slight-of-hand magic tricks don’t work here folks. If you say you aren’t going to cross sell someone else’s clients then guess what that means — YOU AREN’T GOING TO CROSS SELL SOMEONE ELSE’S CLIENTS.
How you can make sure this happens is communicate about systems in place. Make sure your Captive or Independent relationship uses an Agency Management System and has an indicator to prevent stealing (oh yes I use the word stealing– because it ain’t cool) of each other’s clients. Just don’t do it.
Track Inter-Agency Relationship Referrals
One thing I like to do is, I have created a very simple excel worksheet that tells me where my business comes from. One of the tabs I have is “Captive Agents”. Here I list the customer name, the referral source, the amount of premium of policy, and any excessive notes.
At the end of the quarter, month, or whatever time you feel necessary, I like to send an update to agent. Something like “hey this is how you helped me this month and how together we helped our clients”. I include the premium amount and also thank them excessively. Do this and you will notice how exciting it is for both parties.
*Bonus points- make a thank you video and include it in the email sent*
Make Your Friendship/Partnership Social-Media “Official”
This one might not be for everyone but if you have the mentality of “let’s do it together” then this will only benefit you while strengthening your referral relationships. If you have an agent who sends you business and just simply exudes excellence, it’s often nice to give them a little head nod on social. Example:
Huge thank you to my Farmers agent buddy Chaz Elstein. Together we saved our customer 1300 a year combined and also was able to put him in his new home when no one else could!
Independent Agents might be shaking their heads and Captive agents might be doubting Thomas’, however I promise you this works. Having a friendship/referral relationship with industry beasts is nothing to be ashamed of. Work together.
It’s all about the Benjamins Baby
Nothing says I love you more than contributing to an agency give-a-way or contest. I know this might be one that Captive Agents have a hard time with, however normally on the IA side we can easily support our local Captive Agents by throwing them some raffles items, give a ways, or even some cash if they are donating to a good cause or doing an office party. Get creative and know your state laws on referral incentives as an insurance agent.
Where do I find Captive and Independent Agents who want to work together?
Google is your friend
Pull up Google and search for local Allstate/StateFarm/Farmers/IA’s and put them in a spreadsheet. Find their emails, and send them an introductory email. If you’re not sure what to say, you could simply provide them with a link to this very article.
Hey saw this article and immediately thought of you and me. Want to meet for coffee? Maybe this is something we might want to consider doing?
Something that worked great for me personally over the past few years was networking groups. They are a great way to get out in your community and meet not just Captive agents, but other business owners who can potentially refer you business. Don’t be turned off though if there are other insurance agents in the group. That’s okay, and actually a good thing.
Go to Facebook, and in the search bar, search for “StateFarm agents in __________”. Then, like their page/profile and maybe shoot them a quick message or comment on their wall, introducing yourself.
There are other ways to do it, but those three things will give you an excellent head start in building your network of #agentbesties.
Why you should do this now
We are all in the same boat. The boat that is constantly having holes punched through it by new tech start ups like Lemonade, for example. These are companies that will rarely meet or even speak with their customers.
So, would we rather lose our customers to an online tech company or would we rather find a balance with each other and work together?
The moment we realize we are trained to sell against/for whatever product we are selling, is the moment we can start simply taking care of our consumers — together.
Do I see a Captive/Independent convention in our future? Meh probably not.
However I do see a conversation happening within our industry to stop challenging each other on “who wore it best” and ultimately trying to work together to take care of our customers.
I want to hear your thoughts! Comment below and share within your insurance community! And be sure to give us a shout out on Facebook if you would like to connect!