(Image source: Nationwide.)
Understanding agents’ needs is one of the most important concerns of an insurance carrier, and it became more important than ever for Nationwide (Columbus, Ohio) on July 1, when the insurer completed its transition to a fully independent agency distribution model. As part of gauging those needs, Nationwide recently conducted its summer Agent Authority survey which identifies challenges and creates guidance for agents. The current survey provides insights into customer demand in the COVID-19 era as well as revealing how Nationwide works to help its agent partners be more effective. The insurer debuted Agent Authority research in early 2020.
Based on a 20-minute online survey sampling 2,600 agents, SMB business owners and consumers, the study found that economic uncertainty and unpredictable markets have forced business owners and consumers to reevaluate their finances and insurance needs—implying challenges and opportunities for agents. Nationwide characterizes the moment as one in which agents have a compelling opportunity to serve as a knowledgeable resource for customers and prospects to strengthen and grow their portfolio or business.
Four themes emerged from the research, which the insurer describes as follows:
- A perception gap between agents and customers when it comes to perception of service levels.
- Customers want more than just property and casualty support from agents.
- Understanding policy coverage and price are shared challenges across all audiences.
- The economy is a concern, and customers are looking to agents for guidance.
“Our latest research shows some emerging opportunities in the agent-customer relationship particularly when navigating this current environment and economy,” comments Jeff Rommel, SVP, Property and Casualty Sales, Nationwide. “But while the data pinpointed gaps, agile agents will see ways to address their clients’ concerns, enhance retention and grow their business.”
Helping those agents to become more agile is a fundamental objective of the Agent Authority survey, according to Blair Crossan, VP, P&C Sales & Distribution, Nationwide. “We know agents are experts in serving their clients, but the best agents are continual learners and looking for carrier partners who can help them enhance their skill and knowledge set,” he says. “Nationwide’s focus is to empower them with information, technology, personalization and diverse solutions to help them reach more customers, and provide differentiated value, in addition to trusted protection.”
Accelerated Digital Trends
Agents and their customers are not exceptions to disruption caused by COVID-19, which Crossan sees as accelerating digital trends that were already in motion. “Successful agents knew they needed to embrace technology and evolve with the needs of their customers,” he elaborates. “Now the need to be a digital powerhouse and proactively engage customers with a cost-effective and efficient personalized approach is going to be the key differentiator for them moving forward.”
The survey affirmed that a carrier’s role as enabler for agents is increasingly important for productive partnerships, as well as stressing that maintaining clients and driving new business are among agents’ top concerns as they navigate the pandemic. It also showed that while customers value strong, stable carriers, they also prefer to work with an independent agent who understands their needs, is local, has a digital presence and can offer guidance beyond traditional insurance, according to Crossan. He stresses that Nationwide seeks to use its resources to equip agents to meet those customer expectations.
“We know that agents want carrier partners who can provide tools to help them grow their business,” Crossan comments. “Nationwide is leveraging technology to help deliver more personalized protection for customers, streamline the new business process for our agent partners and help them be better marketers to grow their business.”
Among the ways Nationwide is using technology to help agents sell insurance is the Nationwide Express quote tool, which helps them to find the best price by generating quotes for homeowners and renters insurance in as little as two minutes, according to Crossan.
Speeding Sales Transactions
“As COVID-19’s impacts took shape, we accelerated a functionality to work with agents to create customized Nationwide Express websites for their agencies, which they can use to reach and sell to customers digitally as in-person meetings have become less frequent,” Crossan relates.
For commercial agents, Nationwide has partnered with Bold Penguin (Columbus, Ohio) to test an independent agent-facing commercial lines quoting and selling platform with a full suite of solutions from Nationwide and other carriers. The tool is designed to help agents streamline service for clients and reach the best markets in record time.
Telematics and IoT
Telematics and the broader Internet of Things (IoT) is another area where Nationwide seeks to provide innovative insurance solutions for customers, according to Crossan. For personal lines customers, the carrier offers the SmartMiles pay-per-mile program for lower-mileage drivers, which can save 25 percent compared to a traditional Nationwide personal auto policy, plus a further discount up to 10 percent for safe driving. The insurer’s SmartRide program offers customers a 10 percent discount for enrolling, with the potential of earning up to a 40 percent discount for safe driving. Commercial customers enrolled in Nationwide’s Vantage 360 program can access a suite of telematics solutions, including Vantage 360 Fleet and the Premium Partner Program, to help them improve driver safety as well as gleaning fleet insights to increase efficiency. In Feb. 2020, the insurer announced a new IoT-based smart home program in partnership with Notion (Denver).
Elevating Agents’ Knowledge
Key to helping agents understand customers’ needs is providing robust and easy-to-use sources of relevant information they can use when working with them. For example, Crossan says, Nationwide’s Agent Blog provides information to help agents grow their business and more effectively reach customers with digital marketing, social media and local search. The carrier’s Commercial Insight Center offers quick, specialized and actionable information to help agents’ stay up-to-date on trends and emerging risks and share client-facing resources like loss control guides to help mitigate client risks.
Nationwide also offers regular economic updates from the office of its Chief Economist to help agents have more informed conversations about the future of the economy with their clients, Crossan notes. The My Loss Control Services page offers loss control services, virtual consultations and a learning center with safety resources and guides for agents and businesses to keep their operations running smoothly.
“Our mission is to protect people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care,” Crosson says. “That’s why we go the extra mile to offer the best protection solutions for customers, and help our independent distribution partners deliver the best experience for their customers.”