09:23 AM

Survey: Expectations Grow for Insurance Agents as Pandemic Persists

New Nationwide Agency Forward survey reveals key client trends, business challenges, and agent growth opportunities

Columbus, OH – More than a year since COVID-19’s onset, business owners, consumers and the insurance agents who serve them feel increasingly confident about the direction of the economy compared to this time in 2020. However, Nationwide’s latest Agency Forward survey found insurance clients continue to worry about protecting their assets through the ongoing pandemic and are looking for counsel from their agents on a wider scope of protection solutions.

The survey revealed three key areas for insurance agents to focus on as they serve clients and run their business in today’s environment:

  • Clients are asking agents to provide guidance on a wider range of topics than in years past
  • As clients reconsider their future work and living situations, agents need to be thinking more about digital tools to help retain and attract business
  • Both consumers and business owners prioritize similar areas when buying or renewing their policies

“Today’s insurance agent must balance both the growing needs of existing clients and the needs of prospective clients whose preferences are shifting toward digital offerings that provide easy, timely access to insurance help when needed,” said Peter McMurtrie, president of P&C Commercial Lines at Nationwide. “Our survey results show that while agents’ influence with their customers is growing, it’s critical for them to leverage new ways to advise clients virtually and in-person as well as sharpen their knowledge about complementary protection solutions clients may benefit from.”

Insurance agents are being asked to do more
The Agency Forward research identified clients’ need for insurance agents to be up-to-speed on a wider variety of insurance and protection solutions than this time in 2020, opening the doors for more cross-selling opportunities. Middle market business owners, often with more complicated and risk-prone operations, showed the most interest in a range of non-traditional insurance topics while small business owners saw the biggest increases in a range of topics compared to 2020. Outside of traditional insurance topics, clients are increasingly interested in:

  • Employee Benefits: Middle market owners – 59%, Small business owners – 37% (+15% since June 2020)
  • Retirement: Middle market owners – 39%, Small business owners - 32% (+14%), Consumers – 29%
  • Cybersecurity: Middle market owners – 41%, Small business owners – 28% (+10%), Consumers – 20%
  • Banking: Middle market owners – 52% (+12%), Small business owners – 18% (+7%), Consumers – 24% (+6%)

Agents need to be thinking about digital tools to retain and attract business
The pandemic has influenced many clients’ perspectives on where they’ll live and work in the next five years and how close they feel they need to be to their insurance agent. In fact:

  • 34% of consumers plan to move away from their current location in the next five years and about a quarter say the pandemic impacted this decision
  • At least 1-in-5 business owners intend to reduce, move, or eliminate offices in the next five years with middle market owners (77%) being three times more likely than small business owners to say the pandemic influenced their plans

As a result of these shifting dynamics, 47% of agents are concerned about their ability to retain clients who relocate and 61% plan to invest heavily or moderately to attract, maintain and foster relationships with clients outside their current geographies.

“Although 57% of agents feel clients want their agent located nearby, less than half of consumers and small business owners agree with that sentiment,” said McMurtrie. "As clients seek to utilize digital means of interacting with their agent more than ever, Nationwide is working with agents to offer resources and support to help agencies evolve their use of digital and grow their business.”

Consumers and business owners prioritize similar aspects when buying or renewing their policies
Business owners and consumers shared similar beliefs in what they identify as being most important areas when it comes to buying their policies. Having access to an agent who can help when needed and personalize coverage to fit client needs shines through as a high priority for all audiences.

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Clients’ top priorities include:

  • Being able to talk live to a person when you have an important question or issue
  • Working with an agent who can personalize coverage to fit your needs
  • The agency/carrier has a smooth claims process and has proven they can deliver in times of crisis

Insurance customers reported increased challenges with insurance in 2021
Small business and mid-market business owners had a particularly challenging year when it comes to managing their insurance. About half of small business owners struggle with finding the best price for their protection needs, understanding insurance terminology, and the length of time it takes to settle claims (45%, an 8% increase since June 2020).

Mid-market business owners have similar challenges, but about three-quarters also report difficulties with the length of time it takes to set up their coverage (+11% since 2020) or receive insurance quotes (+7%) and their ability to quickly connect with their agent by phone (+ 7%).

Similar to 2020, consumers continue to struggle with the length of time it takes to settle claims (69%), understanding different types of coverage (42%), and finding the best price (42%).

Despite these trials, business owners’ and consumers’ confidence in their agent’s ability to help protect them grew in 2020 as 90% of middle market business owners (+7% since June 2020) and 69% of consumers (+8%) say their agent regularly works with them to ensure they have the right coverage for their needs.

Carriers can help agents adapt to changing needs and preferences
As agents look for ways to differentiate themselves and grow their businesses in today’s environment, carriers can step up to provide solutions to enhance their interactions with clients.

  1. Look to carriers that offer a breadth of products, services, and expertise to help you address clients’ traditional and add-on protection needs, like cybersecurity, employee benefits and retirement. With 3-in-10 consumers sharing they’re worried they’re not making the right steps to reach their retirement goals, it’s a good time to open these conversations with clients.
  2. If you’re not already, talk with clients about bundling policies with the same carrier to save them valuable time and money. Seven-in-10 consumers currently bundle policies with the same carrier and feel it saves them time. Another 60% of personal lines-focused agents and half of commercial lines-focused agents also feel bundling for customers improves retention1.
  3. Use digital tools to grow your agency’s reach to help attract new customers and provide an optimized experience for current customers. Consider incorporating search engine optimization and identifying virtual networking and social selling opportunities to more efficiently reach new prospects.
  4. As business owners re-consider the locations of their offices and how they will be doing business in the future, leverage virtual safety resources, like Nationwide’s virtual risk management consultations, to have experts review client programs, identify potential risks and provide solutions to keep their businesses running smoothly – no matter where they’re located or how they’re doing business.
  5. Agency Forward offers timely, relevant expertise on the topics that matter most to agents and their clients; from economic insights and guidance for clients to advice to help agents manage and grow their business.

1 Source: Feb. 2020 Nationwide Agency Forward Digitization and Bundling study

Nationwide’s ongoing Agency Forward research series works to track industry trends by surveying independent insurance agents, various business owners, and consumers. Nationwide commissioned Edelman Data & Intelligence to conduct a 20-minute quantitative online survey among a sample of 2,800 U.S. independent insurance agents, small business owners, middle-market business owners, African American business owners, Hispanic business owners and general consumers between June 22 – July 7, 2021, to understand what business owners and consumers value when buying or renewing insurance policies, explore the different challenges each audience faces around insurance, gauge perceptions of the economy, and find out the actions business owners and consumers have taken as a result of COVID-19 and the conversations they’re having with agents. As a member in good standing with The Insights Association as well as ESOMAR Edelman Data and Intelligence conducts all research in accordance with local, national and international laws as well as in line with all 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.