A Look Ahead to 2020… and Reflections on Our Past Year

For many of us, birthdays and anniversaries that end with “0” seem to have an added sense of significance. I think the same is true for calendar years as well. As we enter the decade of the twenty-twenties, I’ve found myself thinking back to the last decade change and recalling what some of the big topics of discussion were at that time.

As we closed on the 2000s and entered into 2010s, there was tremendous discussion on, and awareness of, three phenomena that we were watching unfold in our lives on a daily basis:

  1. Social Networks: Facebook opened to the public in 2007, and as we were entering 2010 we realized that “everybody” either had, or would soon have a Facebook page.
  2. Huge growth in e-commerce: While Amazon had been around for 15 years, by the end of 2009 it had clearly transitioned from an online bookstore into an e-commerce giant, and was growing at a massive rate. (At the end of 2009, Amazon stock was around $130/share. At the time of this writing, it is $1,810/share). iTunes was disrupting the music industry, and nearly all travel was being purchased online, either directly with the airline, or through a new breed of “travel agencies”, like Travelocity or Expedia. Many of the predictions about e-commerce that fueled the dot-com boom of the early 2000s were coming to fruition.
  3. Smartphones: Similar to the story with Amazon and Facebook, was the story of the smartphone. Steve Jobs introduced the world to the Apple iPhone in 2007, and as we were entering the new decade, everyone either had a smartphone, or would soon have one. Mobile connectivity and the ability to do almost anything from the palm of our hand became a fact of life. (At the end of 2009, Apple stock was around $30/share. At the time of this writing, it is $257/share)

As for how our members have responded to the big societal trends discussed above, as to be expected, the answers are all across the board. Some members have been building communities on social media, and running various ads, promotions and lead generating contests for 10-12 years now, while others have virtually no presence (or strategy) on social media. As for e-commerce, my message to agencies at the time was to focus on the aspects of Amazon that were making it so popular…competitive price, tons of product choice, customer reviews, customer service and convenience. But, very similarly with agencies wanting to adopt effective mobile strategies, there were very few “off the shelf” solutions for agencies wanting to make significant advancements in those areas. Today, there are dozens of companies and software solutions that specialize in helping small businesses (and agencies) in nearly all of these areas (plus some!)

If you have interest in your agency becoming an “Agency of the Future” by better implementing technology, then I would strongly urge you to attend IIANC’s Technology Symposium on February 27, 2020.

Before I get into some of the big things that IIANC and our members should be thinking about in 2020, let me first review some of the big highlights from IIANC’s 2019. We enjoyed a 5th consecutive year of record-breaking new member recruitment, with 64 agencies having joined IIANC. InsurEXPO continued on its remarkable growth track and has clearly evolved into one of the biggest and most dynamic insurance conferences in the country (mark your calendars now for April 16-17, 2020!) With membership growth, also came growth in nearly all of our programs, such as our education classes, E&O and more! We added new events and engagement opportunities, with a Legislative Day in Raleigh as well as a Technology Symposium. Our iLEAD (Young Agents) committee continues to lead the way with IIANC’s annual charity golf event, supporting Make-A-Wish, and raising over $56k in 2019.

Despite all of the successes that we had in the areas above, the activities that cause the most excitement with me, have been in the tools that IIANC has added to help our members grow. We have tremendous resources now available to help agencies with consultative services in a number of agency management related areas (visit www.agencyprosper.com for more information). IIANC has hired Mick Hunt as its Director of Agency Prosperity. In addition, George Robertson continues to provide a broad array of services related to technology consulting, and IIANC’s Videographer, Myles Primm, is now available to assist member agencies with the branding and storytelling that video is able to do in a powerful way. We will be adding more resources to this valuable team in 2020.

Through IIANC’s investment in IntellAgents, we are now able to bring very meaningful insights to member agencies through our business intelligence and data analytics initiatives. In addition, we can offer full service agency valuations, as well as assistance with perpetuation planning.

We will also continue to offer seminars on the topics that are most critical for insurance agency owners operating in today’s competitive and evolving market. Keep an eye out for our Executive Series of seminars that will be delivered in 2020. These are special classes designed specifically for agency owners that will cover the topics most important to their agency’s success. And realizing how important top producers are to the success of independent agencies, we will once again be conducting the highly-regarded Trusted Risk Advisor program, which offers great training to producers on escaping the commodity trap and learning to differentiate and sell on features other than price.

Finding top employees to add to their staff continues to be a top concern of insurance agency owners. The suite of staffing solutions offered through IIANC is guaranteed to make this task much easier. Headlined by Big I Hires (www.bigihires.com), the number of candidate referrals, successful hires and positive feedback from agency owners has been extraordinary. Let us help you find your next great hire.

All of the areas above focus on very tangible ways that IIANC is prepared to help agencies now, and in the future. Engaging with us in these areas is how you will maximize the benefit of being an IIANC member. We can help expand your knowledge and that off your staff. We can help you become an agency of the future. We can help your agency grow by working with you to enhance your operations. We can help your agency find, attract and hire the top talent that you need. Agencies need help in these areas, and IIANC can deliver.

This decade will undoubtedly bring new challenges and opportunities our way. The big trends that I am paying close attention to in 2020 are:

Artificial Intelligence: How do agencies start the process of harnessing the power of AI to augment its employees and provide enhanced levels of customer service?

Big Data & Predictive Analytics: How can agencies start utilizing all of its data on customer behaviors and demographics in order to accurately identify which customers would be the most profitable ones to have a conversation with about cross-selling, or to know which customers are at most risk of non-renewal (and what the agency can do to lower that risk!?) There are new tools and systems being developed that will potentially allow data-driven and focused insurance agencies to operate with that level of sophistication (visit www.batomic.com to learn more.)

InsurTech: There are a lot of interesting rumors floating around about how some of the hot insurtech companies may be looking for ways to partner with agents. It will be interesting to watch this potentially develop. Before getting into an agreement with any insurance company or vendor, independent agents should always make sure they are fully aware of contractual provisions regarding the ownership of the client relationship and the data related to that relationship. Other tech tools continue to emerge that will allow agencies to compete with some of the conveniences offered by the various “disruptors.” Remember, the only difference between innovation and disruption, is whether it’s being done by you (innovation) or done to you (disruption!)

Mergers & Acquisitions: Private equity firms continue to actively acquire the reliable income streams produced by profitable insurance agencies and are paying historic multiples for those acquisitions. And while the acquisitions made by P/E are the ones that make the headlines of the trade press, a far greater number of smaller mergers are taking place in small and medium sized markets across the country. How many agencies will be sold in the next few years, and what will the replenishment rate be (the rate at which spinoffs and start-ups get created as a result of a large merger?)

I would love to hear what is on your mind for 2020, and what are the BIG THINGS that you’ll be paying attention to. In the meantime, check out this link for some of the predictions made long ago about 2020 and be prepared for a good laugh: https://bestlifeonline.com/2020-predictions/

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