SO EASY, ANYONE
COULD DO IT!
How do we develop account managers quickly and effectively?
By Cheryl L. Koch, CPCU, ARM, AAI, ACSR, AFIS & Mary M. Belka, CPCU, ARM, ARe, RPLU, CIC
So easy that anyone could do it? Well, at least that’s what some people try to convince us (and themselves) to believe. But it’s simply untrue and an insult to the extraordinary account managers we enjoy working with every day.
Rather than getting easier, the job of professional account management continues to get more and more complex, and that’s not likely to change in the future. In fact, we operate in a world where, compared to the past, unprecedented levels of expertise and knowledge are required to perform properly as an account manager. The combined effects of a persistently harder market than in the recent past, intensified by post-global pandemic challenges, increasing consumer demands and the daily acceleration of technology, make us wonder just how account managers are keeping their heads above water.
Most agencies are doing more with less, due to the dearth of available, seasoned account managers; yet as discussed in recent columns, improved processes have often not kept up. This only serves to intensify the pressure to perform. The only way you could possibly believe that the job is so easy virtually anyone can do it, is that you have never done it yourself.
Cue the question, “How do I prepare account managers to do the job?” It begins by developing a deep understanding of the essential account abilities of an account manager.
Have you ever asked your account managers to list all they do? The breadth of activities is astonishing. Check policies, endorsements, audits, certificates and the like. Manage the renewal process and re-write or remarket accounts. Gather information and submit new and renewal business to multiple carriers. Review quotes and prepare proposals. Prepare agency bill invoicing and premium finance agreements. Follow up on open, incomplete items. Handle requests from and meet with producers, clients and carriers. Take claims. Account-round and cross-sell. Be knowledgeable about the appetite of 50 or more insurance providers. Comparatively analyze carrier forms. Interact with 25 to 30 different pieces of software each and every day. Attend continuing education classes.
This list causes some agencies to lose their nerve, throw up their hands in defeat, and carve up the position into seemingly logical parts. Insource, outsource—they think the answer is to move it out of the purview of accomplished, yet seemingly overwhelmed account managers.
True account management embraces all these components. We continue to work to bring this synergy back to the mainstream and encourage agencies to work to develop true account managers for the best result. Knowledge of all aspects of their accounts makes it possible for one person to handle those accounts most effectively.
Ironically, carving things up complicates rather than simplifies account handling. Our approach keeps the core servicing functionalities in the right hands—those of qualified account managers. We also recognize that account managers must be developed, perhaps from scratch, quickly and effectively. How do we get there?
Essential ingredients. Every recipe, including those for success, includes standard ingredients. Each could be—and some have been—the subject of an article or two. We include them here as a reminder that there are basic components that create a foundation for account management success in every agency, components that cannot be ignored and that include but are not limited to: competent operations management, agency-wide processes and procedures that are audited for compliance, and personality testing that increases the potential for hiring those individuals best suited for the position.
First step—know what to stop doing. Go back to the initial list of functions your account managers identify and examine each and every one. Ask yourself only one question: Does this really represent a value-added service for the agency’s client? In other words, is it a WOW—something they couldn’t get from any other independent agency—and as long as you keep providing it, they will always stay with you? Or is it something that the agency thinks is valuable, but really just represents a waste of time and money since the client wouldn’t even notice if you stopped doing it?
As we have said before—save time and money and increase the effectiveness of account managers by first eliminating those tasks no one should be doing, for instance, taking payments or contacting poor pay clients. Keep producers focused on selling—not duplicating or interfering with servicing. Avoid the temptation to split the components; understand the synergy of the moving parts. If you’ve followed our column over time, you likely have already ended these obsolete and time-consuming practices.
Receptionist ROI (return on investment). An additional critical support factor is hiring a receptionist who can answer all calls, monitor and direct downloaded and retrieved items from carrier websites to the appropriate account manager, track licensing, update password software, and update your system’s carrier contacts and certificate holder information.
A great receptionist is never an assistant, handling actual account manager tasks; rather, they support the account managers’ efforts, clearing the way for them to work more effectively—serving up work for them to do, rather than trying to do part of it. Even the smallest agency should hire a competent receptionist as soon as it is affordable. The right person in this seat doing the right things in the right way is priceless.
Establish a continuous learning trajectory. There is no substitute for real knowledge and expertise. We recognized years ago the importance of engaging new account managers quickly and creating a trajectory to introduce them to the many aspects of what can become an incredibly rewarding position. Our approach helps agencies to identify all areas where expertise and skills must be developed—and to fill those gaps methodically and completely.
Remember that long list of essential functions you had the account managers create? Now do the same for the essential classes, designations, training, and mentoring needed to match those functions. Once you’ve identified what is needed, it’s time to bear down, check the boxes, and make certain all account managers have the necessary training and education to do the job. Even season-ed account managers have educational gaps that must be filled. Dare to be different—and to develop your account managers to handle all aspects of the position.
[T]hose willing to spend the time and resources to develop real account managers find that the relationship
with each client grows stronger while productivity and efficiency increase.
Enter the educational career path. There really is not a moment to waste. We are helping agencies compress the timeline by using an immersion approach that some may consider aggressive. We have always operated on the belief that, in the end, nothing worth having is easy to attain.
The first 90 days are critical to any employee’s tenure, and the best path is front-end-loaded and learning continues with intensity the remainder of the first year and beyond.
Goals for that initial 90-day period include:
- Attend formal account manager school
- Learn the day-to-day workflow system for maximum efficiency
- Handle basic servicing on a small number (50 to 100) of assigned accounts from cradle to grave, with supervision
- Handle a “fair share” of calls, documenting and handling properly, per agency procedures
- Attain basic knowledge of industry issues and concepts and industry-specific terminology
- Complete training on all agency processes and procedures—the basics and more, including renewal, new business, endorsement, non-renewal and cancellation, claims, audit, and certificates/evidences of property, and excess and surplus lines
- Develop a basic understanding of insurance accounting, including agency bill and premium finance agreements
- Complete training on all agency and carrier systems and ancillary soft-ware
- Complete first introductory national designation, plus additional ancillary coverage classes to continue to reinforce what has been learned
- Read a book about customer service
- Gain an understanding of basic risk management, contractual, and E&O (errors and omissions) concepts, as well as applicable insurance laws, rules, and regulations
- Have access to regular role-playing and mentoring for continued development
Once the first 90-day educational goals are achieved, we have found that the investment made by these individuals in their own development, as well as that provided by the agency, reaps substantial rewards. The individuals become confident team players and exhibit a thirst for even more knowledge because of the habits that have been instilled early on. They are ready and even eager for the next 90-day installment. They truly enjoy helping clients and becoming valuable contributors in their agencies. They learn what the best account managers know—you cannot know too much—and that learning in our industry is never over.
Investing in account manager training and education is unfortunately becoming the “road less taken” for some. However, those willing to spend the time and resources to develop real account managers find that the relationship with each client grows stronger while productivity and efficiency increase. Account managers familiar with all aspects of their accounts have increased retention rates and lower E&O exposure.
We hope you will consider this option when tempted to employ less effective insourcing and outsourcing options.
Cheryl Koch is the owner of Agency Management Resource Group, a California firm providing training, education and consulting to producers, account managers and owners of independent agencies. She has a BA in Economics from UCLA and an MBA from Sacramento State University. She has also earned several insurance professional designations: CPCU, CIC, ARM, AAI, AAI-M, API, AIS, AAM, AIM, ARP, AINS, ACSR, AFIS, MLIS. Mary M. Belka is owner and CEO of Eisenhart Consulting Group, Inc., providing management and operations consulting to the insurance industry. She also is an endorsed agency E&O auditor for Swiss Re/Westport. A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Mary holds the CPCU, ARM, ARe, RPLU, CIC, and CPIW designations.