One Year Later: Progress and Potholes In Cyber Risk, The Most Dangerous Threat No One’s Talking About

One Year Later: Progress and Potholes in Cyber Risk, the Most Dangerous Threat No One’s Talking About
By: Michael Miller, State Director Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa

A year ago in this magazine, I introduced the most dangerous threat no one is talking about in the insurance industry—cybersecurity—and why that was great news for your business. For every four business owners who walk into your agency, three will not be protected against cybersecurity risks. It’s a staggering number, and one that gave you a valuable opportunity to help your clients.

Now, a year has passed, and I wanted to update you on the state of cybersecurity risks today and the progress—and potholes—our industry is making to help protect individuals and businesses.

Notable Cyber Risks in 2017

More data breaches occurred in the first half of 2017 than in all of 2016. Misconfigured security settings, out-of-date software, and lack of strategy on how to prevent and stop data breaches were largely to blame. Uber, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), and Verizon all experienced cyber-attacks and data thefts, affecting millions of consumers.

But the largest breach of 2017 occurred at Equifax. In September 2017, Equifax announced 145.5 million consumers were affected by a data breach. That’s nearly half the US population’s sensitive information, including addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and credit card information. The breach was absolutely massive, and experts believe it will cost consumers and Equifax around $4 billion to ameliorate.

Progress and Potholes within the Insurance Industry

Fortunately, the insurance industry continues to develop products to protect consumers and businesses from cyber risk. More than 60 carriers now write monoline cybersecurity policies, with gross premiums into the billions of dollars. Popular carriers include many in the Smart Choice® program, such as Travelers, Burns & Wilcox, Liberty Mutual, CNA, and Crump. Experts at the NAIC believe the number of carriers who offer cyber risk policies and the types of liability those policies cover will increase over the next few years.

However, protecting against cyber risk with insurance is still relatively novel for consumers and businesses. Many continue to learn the hard way that their general liability policies don’t cover losses from a data breach, hack, or other cyber-attack. This puts businesses and consumers at risk of having sensitive information stolen, held ransom, or used against them. Businesses face their own set of cyber risks, from damaged reputations to loss of valuable assets such as customer lists and trade secrets.

What 2018 Has in Store for Cyber Risk

While cyber insurance and cybersecurity regulations will grow stronger and more numerous this year, so will the intensity and frequency of cyber attacks. Sophisticated attacks using artificial intelligence will be increasingly difficult to identify and prevent. Bad actors will continue to hijack consumer and business networks and hold them ransom. Cryptocurrency technologies will sustain attacks, too.

With these threats on the horizon, you can’t afford not to offer cyber insurance to your consumer and business clients. This year, learn about the cyber insurance policies your carriers offer and develop a plan on how to cross-sell them to your current commercial insurance clients. Once you have your pitch down, start promoting cyber insurance in every conversation you have with potential commercial insurance clients. Become the local resource on cyber risk and offer solutions that empower businesses to protect their own data and the personal information of their customers.

What Cyber Insurance Covers

Cyber insurance policies cover liability and property losses that occur when a business is hit with a cyber attack.

Coverage may include:

  • Business interruption from cyber attack
  • Computer fraud
  • Costs of credit monitoring, fines, and loss after a data breach
  • Cyber extortion
  • Data loss and destruction
  • Funds transfer loss
  • Liability from data breaches
  • Liability from web content
  • Notification costs in the event of a data breach

Sources:
Burns & Wilcox
CSO
NAIC
Property Casualty 360

Life In The Fast Lane

Life in the Fast Lane By: Pat Wedeking

Life insurance is important…we all know that.  Life insurance rates have gone down significantly over the past 10 years as people live longer…many of us know that. Now life insurance is easier to transact… I know some of us might even challenge that one.  This article seeks to update you on the latest advancements in life insurance underwriting and how Smart Choice® is embracing this change making life insurance easy.

Americans are dangerously underinsured when it comes to life insurance; the opportunity to do the right thing for your clients and earn a significant income doing so has never been greater than it is today.  One of the largest life insurance growth markets in the world is the U.S. middle market and companies across the globe are recognizing this and investing in the effort to deliver life insurance to the masses.  As a result, there is more competition and prices have come down consistently for a decade. Recently, more and more companies are introducing new, better ways to get life insurance in force quickly.

Accelerated Underwriting Programs are hitting the market in a big way right now with different carriers introducing their version of Accelerated Underwriting each month.  These programs rely on data to assess risk as opposed to what used to be invasive bodily fluid draws asking your clients to give blood and urine to a medical professional they’ve never met in order to determine the proper underwriting class.  “What kind of data?” you ask, the list includes driving records, prescription data, credit scores, lifestyle index scores and the life insurance industry’s centralized database they call the medical information bureau (MIB.)  Add it all up and many actuaries are saying this is an equivalent way of assessing risk.

What was a 6, 8 or 10-week process can now be done in a matter of moments. Policies that used to be issued quickly at rates that are 200% to 500% of fully underwritten rates are now being issued at the same lowest rates available.

This is an evolution – or a revolution – so still most policies are underwritten the “old way” but more and more we are seeing products and processes that accelerate the process.

One of the carriers on the Smart Choice Quick Life platform, for example, has eliminated the need for blood and urine for all cases with face amounts of $500,000 and under.   Another carrier on this platform is offering some applicants the chance at the best prices without blood and urine up to $1 million and still another is reviewing all cases that fit a certain profile and giving us pleasant surprises with “Issued as applied for, underwriting requirements waived” messages often within hours of submitting the case to underwriting.

Yet another carrier has gone one-step further… the furthest of any carrier in the market today.  This carrier is instantly issuing policies up to $1 Million in face amount for all applicants who fit a certain profile and where data is available for consideration.  These are policies are issued on the spot, delivered electronically, with electronic payment and at a price that is most competitive.

Smart Choice has embraced this evolution and offers access to instant coverage through the expansion of the Smart Start program that we call Smart Start Life.  This makes Smart Choice among the select few in the country to have access to this product.  In partnership with InsureNOW, part of the largest distributor of life insurance in the United States, this program is available to Smart Choice offices nationwide.

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How to Sell (More) Life Insurance:

  1. Create awareness that you offer this type of insurance. We call this one “State Farm Sells Life Insurance” because this company is one of the top sellers of life insurance in the country simply by letting it be known that life insurance is available to their policy holders. No commercials, no pushing or pressing, just awareness.  Let your clients know that you offer life insurance.  Ask us, we can help you with email signatures, announcement letters and emails and even a customer friendly shopping mechanism you can link from your website.

Life Happens Pro ( https://lifehappenspro.org/ ) offers a simple, cost effective way to leverage best-in-class life insurance marketing resources to drive business to you.

  1. The one sentence that works. “Life insurance rates have gone down. Part of our service is to see if we can save you money so I am going to have our life insurance expert give you a call. Okay?”     When you get a “yes” to that simply enter the name and contact information into the Smart Start Life online form and you will hear from our life insurance expert that will act on your behalf.  Wait for commissions to arrive.
  2. Offer a Policy Review. “When is the last time you reviewed your life insurance progam?”  is another great question to ask.  They either say “Recently” in which case you can ask if you can review to see that they got the best price available – or they say, “It’s been a while” to which you can respond with an offer to do it right away – or they say, “I don’t have life insurance” which is your queue to help that family.
  3. Ask all Business Owners about Life Insurance. What can be an emotional, slow decision for families becomes a simple economic decision for most business owners. Buy Sell agreements and Key Person policies are some of the easiest life insurance sales you will ever make.
  4. Use a Quick Entry Process. Make your life easier with a new breed of processes that take the processing burden off your task list.  Smart Choice Quick Life and Smart Start Life are two of the best available.

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Brief Bio

Pat Wedeking is the Founding President of the Life Insurance Direct Marketing Association (LIDMA.org) and the Chair of the Life Happens. He is the founder of two life insurance distribution companies and now operates Crump’s InsureNOW platform.  Pat lives in

Front of the Pack: Coming Out Ahead in an Everchanging Financial Landscape

Front of the Pack: Coming Out Ahead in an Everchanging Financial Landscape

by Michael Miller, State Director Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa

The stock market has climbed to new heights over the last few months. Recently, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 26,000 points, a record high. While this is great news for the country, it overshadows some serious challenges the insurance industry faces.

While stocks climb, insurance companies are hurting after billions of dollars in losses after several major hurricanes last fall and wildfires and ensuing mudslides in California in December and January. The latest tax bill gave businesses substantial breaks, but left a wake of uncertainty regarding healthcare. Meanwhile, distracted driving is a persistent problem, driving claims and premiums up.

How does an independent insurance agent stay ahead of the game, despite the multiple financial challenges facing our industry? Here are a few ideas I’ve shared with my agents to help them get ahead and stay ahead.

Diversify your offerings and demonstrate your value.

One of the first things I recommend agents do is review the range of insurance products they offer. Many independent agents get into the business writing personal lines, but few expand into commercial, life, and health markets. They do so at their peril. Selling personal lines insurance is a great way to learn the insurance business, but there’s heavy competition from online brokers and captive agents. Adding commercial carriers and learning how to write a great life insurance policy can help you stay in the black, even when the personal lines market is in a downturn.

Regardless of what insurance products you offer, make an effort to demonstrate your value to every client and potential client who walks in your door. Your agency isn’t just a place to buy insurance, it’s a risk management consulting firm. Help your clients understand the risks they face as homeowners, business owners, spouses, and parents, then offer them custom insurance solutions that cover that risk. That’s a level of expertise and service the online brokers simply can’t provide.

Identify your lead generation strategy . . . and work it.

The most successful agents will all tell you that they never take their foot off the gas. They are always sourcing and reaching out to new leads, even when they’re running at or near capacity. Creating and implementing a consistent lead generation process ensures you’ll never run out of new business.

Where is your current business coming from? What opportunities are you ignoring? Identify them and create a plan. Will you join a networking group to get referrals or buy a list of leads? Once you have leads, will you reach out to them by phone, mail, or email marketing? How often? The answers to these questions will help you develop a lead generation strategy you can use all year.

Don’t leave talent on the table.

No agent is successful all on their own. We all rely on teams to grow our agencies, whether they’re outstanding producers and CSRs at our office or our families at home. Who are you underutilizing on your team? On the flip side, are you so overwhelmed with work that you need to hire someone? Make the most of the human talent available to you—your own and that of your team.

Think a year ahead.

The most successful agencies think long-term. It helps them stay focused on their goals and whether short-term financial downturns. Envision where you want your agency to be this time next year. What will you do to reach that goal? Consider subscribing to trade magazines and newsletters to stay ahead of trends in the insurance industry. Use these insights to recalibrate your goals and adjust your plan.

When It’s Time to Move On

You’ve spent your career helping families and businesses mitigate risk and protect their assets and loved ones. You have a full book of business, wonderful staff, and a great office. Have you ever wondered what will happen to the insurance agency you’ve worked so hard to build once it’s time to move on?

You’re in the risk management business, so chances are you’ve thought about this quite a bit. But if not, here are a few tips to take the mystery out of selling your agency:

  1. Get an insurance agency valuation to determine its actual worth, including your book of business, location, the markets you offer, and your phenomenal staff.
  2. Create a plan to sell your agency at least three years before you plan to leave the business with the help of a good business attorney.
  3. Know your sale options, from selling your agency for free through Smart Choice® to identifying a buyer within your agency, your family, or your professional connections.

 

Source:

Insurance Journal

Increase your book of business using existing clientele

One of the best ways to increase the size of your book quickly is by tapping into your existing base of customers. There’s almost always more business to be had with your existing clients. Start by doing a review of coverage with each client. Then sit down with them and ask the right questions to elicit and uncover coverage gaps you can offer to fill. Use that opportunity to make them more loyal to you when you offer to shop their coverage and find them better coverage at a better price.
Start with your top premium clients and work your way down – selling personal lines to commercial-only accounts, and ascertaining if your personal lines clients have businesses you could potentially write for them. You already have a number of P&C clients on your book. What better place to look to increase revenue, than the people you already do business with? Not only does this increase retention and loyalty, it makes less likely your client will want to shop and move their business elsewhere down the road.

Should I join an insurance aggregator or agency network?

Many independent insurance agents, both new to the industry and established agents, at some point find themselves asking the question: “Should I join an aggregator or agency network?” Independent agents aren’t tied down by the restrictive contracts and obligations that captive agents are – but they face their own set of challenges as an independent business owner. This blog series will investigate the different types of groups that exist in the insurance marketplace, as well as the benefits and drawbacks of aggregators and agency networks.

Benefit #1: Access to markets and carriers

Perhaps the most obvious advantage, and the reason a majority of independent agents seek out these types of groups, is access to markets. What does that mean? It means independent agents don’t automatically have a carrier or insurance company they represent. They have to actively seek out contracts with multiple insurance carriers in order to offer their clients insurance coverage. The advantage for independent agents is that by representing multiple carriers, they can offer their clients more options, including TYPE of coverage plans, AND at the best price. Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to get markets when an agent first starts out in the business because they have no history with the carriers in the industry. They have to gain the trust of the carriers first. Agency networks and aggregators can help the agent achieve this by establishing a relationship with the carrier first. This means that the agency network is directly contracted with the carriers themselves, and then – with their pre-established relationship – helps agents they’ve vetted and contracted with themselves, become appointed to write business with those carriers.

Stay tuned for more in our blog series!

Off The Record

Off The Record
By: Josh Seibert, Sandler Training

The STORY:
Tim had mentally decided that the prospect he was talking to was never going to buy. For the past 20 minutes Tim had tried all of the trial closes that had worked in the past.

“I have to tell you Tim, I don’t know that this will do what I need.”

Tim had already tried the “what do you really need” response with no luck. Figuring he had nothing to lose and might learn something that he could use on other prospects, he innocently asked the following.

“Off the record . . . since you have decided not to buy . . . what are you really looking for?”

For Tim, the resulting silence was painful, but he really wanted to know the answer. If I can get this information, he thought, I can use it. So I’m just going to outwait the prospect.

Finally, and much to Tim’s relief, the prospect responded.

“Well, since you asked, off the record as you put it, here’s what I’m trying to do,” responded the prospect for the next five minutes.

At the conclusion of the prospect’s response, still convinced that he’d never close this one, Tim answered.

“That’s very interesting. So I suppose since we’re still off the record, you’ll never see yourself purchasing this . . .” and as Tim struggled to find the words to continue, the prospect jumped back in.

“Hold on a minute, Tim. I didn’t say I’d never buy it . . . and now that I talked out what I was looking for, well, you know, what you have might actually do it for me.”

The RESULT:
Perhaps Tim will make this sale. What Tim did do by going off the record was to subtly pressure the prospect into defining just what he needed. And by adding the assumption that the prospect was never going to buy, Tim was forcing the prospect to see a future where Tim’s product was not part of the solution. Either the prospect would view this future as good, in which case Tim never had a chance to make the sale, or bad. If bad, then Tim had an opportunity to make a sale. Off the record, how do you see it?

DISCUSSION:
Tim did not act like most salespeople. How many salespeople have the guts to state, “Off the record, since you have decided not to buy . . . what are you really looking for?” What is the salesperson afraid of when he makes this statement? Simple — the prospect is going to walk out the door. Consider this, if the prospect does immediately leave, then he never had any intention of purchasing. You’ve just saved yourself a lot of time.

The prospect who remains after hearing this question has no option other than to respond. What he says at this point will help you in determining whether he is a serious potential buyer or someone to follow up in a phone or mail sales effort.

APPROACH:
Pairing “off the record” with “since you have decided not to buy” accomplishes two goals for you.

First, “off the record” suggests that now you and the prospect can talk freely. Neither of you will use what is said to make or break the sale. Of course, this is ridiculous. Anything the prospect says will be used by you to either pursue the sale or end it. But just the phrase, “off the record,” often achieves the goal of getting the prospect to reveal what his concerns are.

Second, “Since you have decided not to buy” forces the prospect to bring the future into the present. In other words, he perceives right now what it will be like without your product. If his concerns are painful enough, seeing the future today is often enough to get a prospect moving toward purchasing.

THOUGHT:
Giving the prospect a way to see the future often helps the prospect buy today.

Josh Seibert is the president of Training & Development Solutions, Inc., Sandler Training located in the Piedmont Triad.  He can be reached at 336-884-1348 or www.training.sandler.com

©Sandler Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.

Starting Your Own Independent Insurance Agency? Study Up on These 3 Key Success Factors.

Starting Your Own Independent Insurance Agency? Study Up on These 3 Key Success Factors.
By: Michael Miller, Smart Choice® State Director

Starting your own independent insurance agency is both exciting and overwhelming. In my 37 years in the business, three factors stand out as being essential for the success of any independent agency. Agents must be experts in all of the products they offer, have plans to market their agencies, and have systems in place to generate leads.

Success Factor #1: Expert-Level Insurance Product Knowledge

I always mentor new agents to sell on the value of the policies they quote, not cost. But to do so, they must have a solid understanding of every single product they offer, including differences between carriers. You should strive to become a resource for your clients as well as a risk expert. Your clients rely on you to identify and understand the products that will help them mitigate risk.

This is why it often pays to start writing just a few policies—P&C, for example. Once you have these products under your belt, it’s time to extend your offerings to umbrella policies, recreational policies, and even the commercial and health/life markets. Take the time to learn about each product in your new market.

Success Factor #2: Independent Agency Marketing Plan

Before you open your doors to clients, you need to have a plan in place for reaching out to your target market. A comprehensive marketing plan identifies your growth goals and the strategies you’ll use to achieve them.

Marketing plans should include what separates you and your agency from your local competition and how you’ll promote these differentiators to your clients and prospects. Take the time to outline the specific things you’ll do to market your agency. Will you hold homeowners insurance seminars for first-time home buyers? Send out postcards to every residence in your target area? Create a website where prospects can request a quote? There are all sorts of ways to market your agency; you need to pick a few ideas that you’ll follow through with.

Success Factor #3: Lead Generation Strategy

Your marketing plan should outline a strategy for how you’ll generate leads for your independent agency. Leads can come from outbound marketing efforts such as newspaper ads, radio and TV commercials, and email blasts. But often, agents focus on inbound marketing strategies, such as asking for referrals from existing clients, blogging, and social media marketing.

There are many factors that contribute to the success of an independent agency. But lead generation, a comprehensive marketing plan, and expert product knowledge contribute the most to your future success. That’s why Smart Choice® offers unlimited training these key success factors. Contact Smart Choice® today!

Cloud-Based Insurance Applications Put Agents on Cloud Nine

Cloud-Based Insurance Applications Put Agents on Cloud Nine
By: Michael Miller, Smart Choice® State Director

Gone are the days when insurance agents had to invest in expensive hardware and software to quote, issue, and place policies. Updating software was tiresome and time-consuming. And when a computer went down, your production ground to a halt.

Cloud-Based Tools Are Cost-Effective & Efficient

Fortunately, those days are now behind us. Today, the best quoting and policy placement tools are all online. Instead of buying software, you buy monthly subscriptions to cloud-based applications. A single subscription can allow all of your agency’s producers to access the application. This saves you money in software and hardware in the long run.

It also makes your agency more efficient. You can access cloud-based tools anywhere and anytime as long as you have an internet connection. Log in from your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smart phone, whether you’re in a meeting with a client or enjoying some time at the cabin.

My Favorite Cloud-Based Insurance Agency Applications

There are many online tools out there for insurance agencies, from comparative raters to agency management systems. One of my favorite raters is Applied Rater, formerly SEMCAT. Applied Rater lets agents compare quotes from more than 500 insurance carriers. It can integrate with your agency management system and your website so you don’t waste time duplicating data.

My top two choices for agency management systems are EZLynx® QQ Catalyst®. Both of these cloud-based agency management systems allow you to access all of your agency data from a single dashboard. Manage your prospects and clients and keep tabs on how your producers and CSRs are doing.

When you become a member of Smart Choice®, you receive significant discounts on my favorite agency applications. Quote, issue, and place policies from anywhere with no additional investment in hardware. To discover why a partnership is the smart choice, connect with Smart Choice® today!

3 Tips for When It’s Time to Move On: Selling Your Insurance Agency

3 Tips For When It’s Time To Move On: Selling Your Insurance Agency
By: Michael Miller, Smart Choice® State Director

You’ve spent your career helping families and businesses mitigate risk and protect their assets and loved ones. You have a full book of business, wonderful staff, and a great office. But not it’s time to move on. What will happen to the insurance agency you’ve worked so hard to build?

Here are three tips that help take the mystery out of selling your insurance agency.

1. Get an Insurance Agency Valuation

You’ve been busy growing your agency and working hard to make it profitable. But do you know what your agency is worth? Determining your agency’s value is the first step in selling it. Take into account the contributions of your producers and other staff, your agency’s location, the quality of the markets you offer, and the diversity of your book. Are your eggs thrown in the baskets of a few big clients, or is your risk spread out across many different accounts?

2. Have a Plan for Selling Your Agency

Planning the sale of your agency starts early, as many as three years before you hope to close the deal. You need to hire the right team to help you through the process, starting with a good business attorney. The first step is to complete the valuation. This gives you time to remedy any issues that arise from it. Then comes the research into potential buyers, negotiations, and closing the deal. All these steps take time. Don’t wait until you’re ready to call it quits to start the process.

3. Know Your Sale Options

Agency owners may choose to sell their agencies to an internal buyer, such as a producer, or an external one. When you sell your agency internally, your buyer may choose to take out a loan to buy the agency outright. This is called a leveraged buyout. Or, you may work out a deal where the buyer pays you incrementally until he or she fully owns the agency. This is called an owner-financed transaction.

Some external sales are roll ups. This happens when another agency absorbs yours into its existing structure. Other times, a buyer purchases your agency outright and moves right in without changing staff or location. On the other end of the spectrum, a book buy occurs when a buyer purchases just your list of customers, not your staff or your physical agency.

Selling your agency can be complicated, so it helps to have a great team on your side. Smart Choice® agency partners have the freedom to sell or transfer their agencies as they see fit, including to family members or agency employees or producers. We’ll even help you sell your agency for free, saving you in business broker fees. Contact us today to discover why a partnership with Smart Choice® is the smart choice

Sources:

Agency Equity

Insurance Journal

Property Casualty 360

The Key to Marketing Your Insurance Agency? Develop a Process, Follow Through, Be Accountable, & Get Help if You Need It

Key to Success - Wood

The Key to Marketing Your Insurance Agency? Develop a Process, Follow Through, Be Accountable, & Get Help if You Need It
By: Michael Miller, Smart Choice® State Director

As an independent agent, it’s easy to get so caught up in your business that you forget to work on your business. But, if we fail to continuously develop and close leads, eventually, our agencies will suffer.

That’s why I encourage insurance agents to create a formal, repeatable sales process for selling and cross-selling all lines of insurance. With proper follow up and support, such a process can keep leads and prospects coming in the door.

Develop a formal, repeatable sales process.

As the state director for Smart Choice® MN, WI & IA, I offer my agents training on a marketing system that develops formal, repeatable processes for each insurance line. We start with defining an agent’s sales goals and then create a process to meet those goals. Specific action items empower agents to generate leads and close more business.

Here are some action items that have proven effective for myself and the agents I work with:

  • sending direct mail letters
  • tapping the power of digital marketing tools, such as social media and email
  • making follow-up phone calls and call scripts
  • using fact-finder sheets to guide the conversation in initial client meetings
  • cross-line selling other insurance products
  • sending thank you cards
  • requoting old leads

Whatever action items you choose, write down your process and review your steps to make sure it’s repeatable.

Follow through with your sales process & be accountable for each step.

Even the most thoughtful and efficient process is ineffective if you don’t put it to use. Now that you have the steps in place to develop your agency’s prospects, you need to follow through. Block out time on your calendar to complete every action item. Ask a staff member to remind you to work through each step. Consider delegating tasks to staff members, too.

Get help if you need it.

Sometimes, relying on staff just isn’t enough to make your process successful. If this happens to you, consider calling in some outside help. A business coach or mentor can be a helpful partner in the sale process. So can a formal marketing system.