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Agents looking for help to up their digital game in a post-pandemic marketplace

Nationwide survey indicates agents who invested in digitization were better equipped to navigate the pandemic

Columbus, OH  Marcus Haith of Dodge Partners Insurance knew that at some point, he and his staff would need to embrace digital tools to meet their customers’ needs.

“Before, I thought only the younger people want to go digital, but I’ve seen customers of all ages going digital,” said Haith. “We’re learning which of our customers want to be self-sufficient, and which ones want us to handle their needs. We have got to be able to manage both.”

For Marcus and other agents around the country, the challenges of 2020 accelerated the need to adopt digital insurance processes. And while digitization has benefited customers and agents, the journey hasn’t been without a few rough patches.

New research released today by Nationwide shows 93% of agents feel digitization has enhanced their agency’s success, but 8-in-10 also say they have found it difficult to integrate digital tools into their agency. This latest Agency Forward survey* also revealed that while more consumers utilized technology during the pandemic, the agent/client relationship remains vital.

Nationwide’s research uncovered four key themes among consumers and the independent agents who serve them:

  1. Agents and consumers find added value using digital tools
  2. Agents have experienced some bumps in the road while implementing digital tools
  3. Consumers are using digital tools throughout their insurance journey
  4. Consumers still think having an insurance agent is important

“Agents want to work with carriers that can help them create a strong digital presence, enhance customer access, provide a better user experience, and assist in retaining customers,” said Beth Riczko, Nationwide’s president of P&C Personal Lines. “During the past year, Nationwide has worked to deploy technology that can help agents who need to sell and serve customers more effectively and has dedicated resources to help them implement and use those digital tools.”

Agents and consumers find added value using digital tools

  • More than half of agents (53%) think a digital benefit is providing customers access to an agent 24/7; consumers agree (52%)
  • 52% of agents think digital tools provide better customer service; 45% of consumers agree
  • 51% of agents think digital tools help retain customers; 55% of consumers believe it provides them faster access to information

Agents have experienced some bumps in the road while implementing digital tools

  • Agents see the benefits of digital tools for their agency and clients but, at the same time, 80% feel the digital integration has been a challenge.
    • The greatest challenge is the rising costs for 76% of agents, followed by having the resources to teach agents about the tools (72%), staying on top of and getting clients to use new technology (69%)

Consumers are using digital tools throughout their insurance journey

  • Nearly half of consumers associate digital insurance capabilities with online tools or mobile apps that help with filing claims and reviewing policies (48%), compare insurance policies and costs (46%), and make the claims process much faster (46%).
  • In fact, 45% of consumers say working with a carrier with strong digital capabilities increases their customer satisfaction.
  • The data also show consumers are using digital tools throughout their insurance journey:
    • 48% of consumers have used a customer self-service website
    • 37% of consumers have used mobile apps for customer services and claims
    • 36% have used online mobile tools to quote and compare policies and price

“There are carriers out there that don’t have strong app capabilities, and my production force wants that as they’re trying to sell to clients and prospects,” explains Haith. “Just having options that you can give customers, they want to be able to work with you, the way they want, and if a carrier does not provide the digital capabilities, it is a detriment to them.”

Consumers still think having an insurance agent is important:

  • 87% of consumers say an agent plays a critical role to the customer experience
  • 88% of consumers still value being able to speak with an agent when they need one
  • 57% of consumers prefer to have insurance agents located physically nearby — mostly for accessibility and trust

“While digital tools can make certain parts of the insurance experience easier, sometimes customers need to talk to someone to help them understand the nuances of insurance. That’s when an agent’s personal relationship with a customer can make a big difference,” added Riczko. “We invest in digital solutions that enable our agency partners to strike a balance between in-person support, when it’s needed, and empowering their customers to self-serve, when they choose.”

Agent takeaways:
Nationwide developed Nationwide Express, which helps agents quote multiline policies and complete sales in minutes. In addition, it released "conversational texting," a technology that allows their customers to connect directly to their claims representative from a smartphone. So again, the power is in the customers' hands by allowing them to reach out to their claims representatives from anywhere in the world. It's both technologically savvy and a thoughtful way to respect customers’ time. The contagious nature of COVID-19 also inspired Nationwide to accelerate and expand the use of virtual damage appraisals, using videos, photographs, and drones to assess and settle damages.

*These insights and more were uncovered through Nationwide’s ongoing Agency Forward (formerly Agent Authority) research series, which includes samples of independent insurance agents, various business owners, and consumers. Previous Agency Forward research reports can be viewed on Nationwide’s P&C research page.

Survey Methodology:
Nationwide commissioned Edelman Intelligence to conduct a 20-minute quantitative online survey among a sample of 400 independent insurance agents and 1,000 general consumers between February 5 – February 19 to help position agents and associates as credible and knowledgeable about complex consumer and industry-specific trends. As a member of CASRO in good standing, Edelman Intelligence conducts all research in accordance with Market Research Standards and Guidelines.

About Nationwide

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the United States. Nationwide is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. An industry leader in driving customer-focused innovation, Nationwide provides a full range of insurance and financial services products including auto, business, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities and mutual funds; excess & surplus, specialty and surety; pet, motorcycle and boat insurance. For more information, visit www.nationwide.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.