Q&A with TM Keri Fox

Keri Fox is a Smart Choice Territory Manager serving Washington state.

1. What options and/or tools are available to help agents communicate with new clients and engage with existing clients as states enforce Stay At Home orders?

I think one of the biggest challenges agents face during Covid-19 is how to do business effectively when access to the office is lost. Trying to manage new business, active clients and staff from home, isn’t ideal. However, there are a number of useful tools. ZOOM has become a “must have” for most agents. The basic version is a full-featured, easy-to-use online meeting tool…..and it’s free. VOIP phones make the transition from office to home easy. Agents and staff can all take office phones home without losing a call or forwarding lines.

Nerdphone and OOMA are the two most popular options. They both provide an app allowing your cell phone to function as another office phone. Microsoft Office 365 includes several programs such as Teams, Sharepoint and Yammer to keep office staff connected. MS offers a wide variety of apps, and some like POWER AUTOMATE, allow you to create automated systems and tasks. EZLynx has package options to link your website, management system and rater, providing potential clients a comparative rater for self-quoting online and a self-service feature for active clients.

2. With so many business closures and the virus spread, is Personal Lines a better option than Commercial, and what about Life?

This is a great time for all lines! Independent agents have a huge advantage over captives as people shop for better rates to counter their economic losses and changes. Though certain commercial risks, such as restaurants and hospitality, are experiencing closures, many markets are surging. Adaptation is key. Add a line of business, such as personal lines, or find new commercial markets. Carriers and MGAs will happily provide

a list of best market options based on written premium. Life? Write it! Rohrer and Associates reported a 200% surge in submitted applications. Younger people are realizing they may not be immortal, and it may be too late if they wait. Ask us for guidance. We’re here to help and have the advantage of a broader perspective.

3. How important is building a referral network and what can I do?

According to every top producer and sales training company, creating and engaging in a regular referral system is what makes top producers. It is the best free marketing system you can have, with one of the highest close ratios. When it comes to referrals, agents are taught to just ask; however, there are other options. Loan officers and mortgage brokers make fantastic referral partners. Give each new client 3 stamped referral cards for friends and family. Your client gets a Starbucks card (or card of choice) for every three cards returned where contact is made. Read and watch videos. From Kindle to YouTube, and your local library, there are mountains of instructional material with many options. Try several until you find what works. Join an insurance FB group and ask other agents what works best for them.

4.  What are some creative ways agents can take advantage of slower times to gain deeper industry knowledge and expertise?

Insurance is a constantly changing industry. You should be, too. It is a good idea to try to devote 30-60 minutes each day for education. The time is there if you manage your day. Whether it’s CE classes, learning new marketing ideas, watching sales training videos or gaining an in-depth knowledge of the products you sell, it is valuable. Time and money spent educating yourself will result in better client retention, better coverage recommendations, better marketing ideas, and may help avoid costly errors and E & O claims.

5.   What is the most rewarding part about being a Smart Choice State Director? What is the most challenging?

I love Smart Choice and feel so incredibly fortunate to be part of this amazing organization! I think if I had to name one thing, it’s helping new agents learn about commercial insurance and write business. Commercial insurance was my passion as an agency owner and being able to pass my knowledge on to my agents and watch them thrive is exciting. Witnessing agents gain a renewed love of insurance and contributing to that experience is just plain wonderful! There are always challenges. Like my agents, I am learning and adapting.

Navigating the highs and lows of the insurance world with grace makes us better agents and better people. We are a very special insurance family, and I so thankful to be here!

From the Front Lines: 2020 Smart Choice Magazine Issue III

by: Oliver Travieso, Vice President of Commercial Lines

The first half of 2020 has been interesting, to say the least. We are facing unprecedented times as we try to manage our work and personal lives from home – working remotely, participating in zoom meetings, juggling school schedules and workloads, while doing our best to continue the roles and responsibilities of our own jobs. This has proven a challenge that most of us couldn’t have imagined. However, we are all doing the best we can, and I have personally witnessed our company and our agency partners persevere through these difficult times, despite the many challenges thrown at us.

Throughout this time, I have fielded some very unique and challenging questions surrounding this pandemic and how it relates, or translates, to claims. It is a topic on the mind of every agent and consumer alike. The most consistent question I receive, has been whether there is coverage for business interruption due to pandemics, and the answer has consistently been: “Coverage is not triggered” and “Communicable Diseases are not triggers” on a business owners policy. 

This wording is specifically located in a common BOP policy under the “Exclusions,” section. However I have kept my messaging consistent with those agency partners of ours that I have spoken to. If you believe coverage is triggered for any line of business due to this pandemic, you should err on the side of caution, and contact the carrier this policy is written through and submit the claim regardless. This is the directive from our partner markets, and we believe it is a sound one. 

While this news may not be the most satisfactory answer, our Commercial carriers have done some incredible things for both our agents and small businesses across the country, such as gift card programs, premium forgiveness, billing leniencies, interest free installments, cancellation moratoriums, agency loan programs, and more. 

Please make sure you remain updated on some of the programs that your carrier appointments have to offer, as this situation is fluid and continues to change with each passing week. Our carrier partners also have excellent information and resources with regards to applying the appropriate risk control measures to help your insureds reopen in a safe way. Please make sure to reach out to your local carrier reps for that information and use them as a resource for knowledge. 

Insurance for Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission reports that identity theft tops its list of complaints by consumers nationwide. Policies to protect from this rapidly growing crime include internet technology, security analysis, and customer profile monitoring to identify and prevent identity theft and privacy breeches.

Statistics show that Americans are the most highly targeted for identity fraud, and in 2016, over 791 million identities were stolen. It is important to note that in 2018, identity fraud rates fell for the first time ever, thanks in large part to chip based debit/credit cards, and other insurance measures put in place by financial institutions.*

It’s important for agents to begin considering offering this vital protection to clients as more and more of our personal data moves to online formats.

A solid identity theft policy should provide the following services to ensure clients are safe from this time-consuming and costly experience:

  • Constant monitoring of personal information such as:
    • Bank accounts
    • Social Security Numbers
    • Credit Card Accounts
    • Driver’s Licenses
    • Email Addresses
    • Telephone Numbers
  • Vigilant monitoring of Internet and websites trolling for information
  • Assistance in documenting and reporting crime
  • Aid in recovery of funds/identity
  • Follow-up

How can clients obtain it?

You can offer clients several options if they wish to purchase identity theft protection. Some companies offer it as part of a homeowners policy, others offer it as a rider that can be purchased and added to the homeowners policy, or you can offer it through a standalone policy.

However it’s offered, this coverage can be an invaluable part of protecting your clients most valuable asset – their very identity.


The Networking Web Works

As you go about your daily tasks of running your agency, is reaching out to clients who don’t have an immediate need on your list? It should be. Insurance Journal recently published its 101 Sales and Marketing Ideas for Agencies*, and our president and CMO offered the following tips:

  1. Don’t Pitch, Connect. If people don’t like you, they aren’t going to do business with you. Build relationships, be present and available, and follow through on commitments and promises. Show your value by being knowledgeable in your field and maintain your connection with clients well after the deal is closed. — Andrew Caldwell, President, Smart Choice
  2. W.O.M. Marketing Works. Customers buy based on recommendations from trusted sources. Ask your clients to recommend you to their friends and family or post a review online or on social media. The added bonus is that not only is Word of Mouth Marketing proven to be effective, but also it is free. — Jef Morgan, Chief Marketing Officer, Smart Choice

There is a common theme in these gentlemen’s advice about networking. Because you build great rapport with your clients, they then tell their friends about you. It’s no secret that the key to success in this business (in most businesses, really) is relationships. When you become a trusted partner for your clients, they become your best advertisements. It’s so easy to get stuck behind a computer screen or to be so busy that time gets away from you; however, make it a priority to make a client connection each day. You’ll be amazed at how the networking web works its magic on your behalf if you just put in a little effort. Reach out to one of your clients right now!



RPS Examines the State of the Market

Risk Placement Services, Inc. took an in-depth look at the commerical trucking and property markets in its latest “The Navigator” newsletter.

Here is an excerpt:


Commercial Auto
From a carrier perspective, the Commercial Auto market has been a losing game for the past seven years. Transportation has consistently underperformed the rest of the insurance market by 12 to 15 points, and 2010 was the last year Commercial Auto posted a combined ratio under 100%. The good news is that sophisticated carriers are leveraging data and predictive analytics to better refine risk selection for improved future results. Those carriers that are ahead in the technology process are starting to outperform the competition.

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The 2nd quarter of 2019 has been a challenging market cycle. The best thing to do is have open and honest communication with your clients and carrier partners to manage expectations and make sure no one is surprised or caught off guard by the outcome of any deal. One thing this market does better than the others is weed out the good brokers from the bad, the good underwriters from the less savvy, and it allows those with a good handle on their business to rise to the top. RPS continues to be poised to serve our clients with some of the best brokers and underwriters around the country.

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