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Power in Number – IIABA Chairman’s voice

Recently, I ran into a 1904 quote about IIABA’s purpose: “The agency movement is built upon common loyalty to a common cause, the union of all agents in defense of the rights of a single agent…”

I love that sentiment. It is our union—our numbers—that continue to affect what happens to our individual members. Our numbers are changing though, and I’m nervous about what that might bring.

There are about 37,500 total independent insurance agencies in the U.S. today, a number that has leveled off. Our own Agency Universe Study places our agency membership count around 23,000, another number that has plateaued. But most importantly, the number of overall people working in those agencies remains constant at 300,000.

Most agents would likely say that they belong to the Big “I” for help with identity and branding, identifying opportunities and threats, legislative advocacy and education. How do our numbers affect these areas?

Our branding efforts—one of the main reasons we belong—is an example of how our numbers are working for us. How we get consumers to understand the value proposition that we bring to the table is important. What is it that makes us different from the competition they see all day on the TV and Internet? It’s hard to do on our own, but as a group we can make a difference. When all of our members use the Trusted Choice® print, TV and radio ads that have been developed, that differentiates us from our competitors.

Independent research reports tell us that in 2010, 74% of consumers used the Web at some point to research their insurance options. The independent channel is losing business every day, and we are not engaging the consumers who are out researching and shopping. We have to learn how to quit stealing from each other and go after the bad guys who have been eating our lunch on the net. Project CAP is helping us compete. It’s a simple solution to a complex independent agent problem: an Internet-based marketing initiative that uses our numbers and our carriers, along with the Trusted Choice® brand, to increase our online presence.

I remember the first time I went to visit my congressmen alone—how hard I’d studied the issues and prepared myself, only to find out that I’d be meeting with an aid who didn’t even know what an independent agent was. I felt dejected and alone. I learned very quickly that one person could not make a difference.

Since that time, however, I’ve seen countless times when all of our members band together and bombard our legislators with phone calls, faxes and emails on issues of importance, and they listen. Our numbers make us one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. Because of our numbers, we can compete.

IIABA’s Virtual University is another example of how our numbers can work for us. Creating education opportunities alone is almost impossible to support on a state-by-state basis. But by pooling our collective education resources, we are able to provide the best of the best for our agents and easily support it.

Our numbers make us strong, but what’s happening to all of the independent agents? Today there are two million people in our business, and in the next 10 years, 30% to 50% of us will be gone. Every seven seconds a baby boomer turns 60, and 60% of the insurance profession is already over 45. But are we planning for the future?

Our Agency Universe numbers say no. Almost 50% of our members have no perpetuation plan. What does this do to our association? What does it mean to you? Who will keep your legacy alive? This lack of numbers is a concern, and a big one. The time has come to get the message out to young people that this is a fabulous business and that independent agents play an important part in the business world and the overall economy.

We need to put our numbers to work and do what we do best: make things happen. Talk to people about what we do. Go to your colleges, junior colleges, trade schools, high schools and even grade schools, and talk to students about this business. Share with them what it feels like to be trusted and to be able to offer a choice; tell them how good it feels to be there when someone needs you, and how important we are to our communities. Tell them how proud you are of what you do.

Tell them you’re an independent agent! Our collective future is riding on it.

Michael Donohoe, Big “I” Chairman  from IA MAGAZINE Usa