To further its partnership with its agency force, earlier this year the Progressive Group of Insurance Companies created an agent technology advisory board. Ten independent agents are joined by insurer-side leaders in web, mobile, social media and IT on the board to help guide Mayfield Village, Ohio-based Progressive's agency-facing technology strategy.
Agency-sold policies account for more than half of the new business brought in by the personal P&C lines carrier, according to Karen Barone, agency distribution leader, Progressive ($690.7 million in agency written premium). Techology, she says, is a big enabler of that success, and Progressive considered it important to have a dialogue with agents about their expectations and requirements for doing business with the carrier.
"We like to say tech is in our DNA," Barone relates. "We have two primary focuses -- one is to help agents run their businesses more efficiently and accomplish things easier, and the other is to enable marketing technology that helps them get noticed in the marketplace."
Jim DeVito, Progressive's agent experience manager, presides over the board. The 10 agent members will serve two-year terms, with five rotating off at the end of each term. Board insights will be shared through an agent-targeted blog and newsletter, according to Progressive.
"In the past, we've introduced a number of ways to interact with our agents -- a blog, state-specific Facebook pages and an interactive newsletter," DeVito says. "We wanted to gather new ideas and hash out potential investments in technology."
Active Social Lives
Social media is a dominant topic at the board meetings, which kicked off Jan. 25, Devito reports, noting that the state-based Facebook pages allow agents to discuss issues with colleagues operating in a shared business environment. "Being a state-regulated business, a lot of the time the issues are state-specific in terms of the regulations or weather events," he explains. "So the hotter topics today tend to be around social media -- how do I convert 'Likes' [on Facebook] to applications, for example."
Barone adds that agents also leverage social media to get in touch with her and other members of the Progressive management team. "Agents are more comfortable engaging in that idea-sharing online," she says. "They are trying to figure out what their strategy is going to be and what tools will help them execute on that strategy. We can be advisers and counselors to them to help them through that process."
If there's one lesson that Progressive already has learned from the board, according to DeVito, it's that agents are a diverse group that brings unique ideas and perspectives to the table when it comes to using technology. "Some are focused on the transactional, 'How can we be more efficient transferring data to the carrier?' issues," he says. But there's also a lot of interest in how mobile, for instance, will change how they do business, DeVito adds.
"There's an array of agencies, from new start-ups with people who grew up digital natives, to people who may have learned they need to be on Skype to talk to their grandkids," he continues. "It's hard to bucket them."
Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio