Agency of the month
Canada agency discovers formula for digital marketing
The retention rate is one of the most important measurements in the agency business. And it’s easy to see why. If your agency has a healthy retention rate of 95%, that still means that you need to produce new business equal to 5% of revenues every year just to break even. If the retention rate is lower than that, there’s a concomitant need for a greater amount of new business. Obviously, the goal is not to break even every year, so growth requires even greater new production. But I am preaching to the choir.
It is because of the notoriously poor retention rates that come with business written over the Internet that many agencies eschew digital marketing. After all, people who are searching online for the best deal on insurance are, obviously, shoppers and it’s a safe bet that when renewal time comes around, they will once again shop the digital marketplace.
But the statistics didn’t dissuade Excalibur Insurance Group in Clinton, Ontario, Canada. Led by the husband-and-wife team of Jeff and Una Roy, the agency has heroically jumped into the digital marketplace with both feet—and with a plan. The agency’s success at entering the digital arena and working on maintaining strong retention numbers led to its recognition by Safeco at Elevate 2018, where it was named Agent for the Future. Agency President and CEO Jeff Roy was the keynote speaker at the June meeting of some 650 agents. The honor was especially significant since Safeco does not operate in Canada.
Excalibur Insurance has been around for more than 60 years. It was started by Jeff’s grandfather, Victor Roy, in 1957. When Victor returned from World War I, he was given a farm of more than 100 acres in recognition of his service and the injuries he received when he was hit with mustard gas. He recognized that farmers needed access to cash to get them through hard times, so he started a credit union and later created an insurance agency to protect the growing assets of farmers.
It was a small agency, primarily focused on crop insurance. Today, the agency has offices in Clinton, Wingham, Exeter and Mitchell with 20 full-time people and $2.3 million in revenue. It writes a substantial book of farm insurance but has its greatest concentration in personal lines, accounting for 80% of revenues, while commercial lines accounts for the balance.
Making it work
There was only one problem with perpetuating the agency. Jeff hated insurance. During the 1990s, he would go into the office once in a while to help his dad with technology problems, but he was far more interested in going to Van Halen concerts than starting to work at a place that was filled with files and daunting paperwork. But then, as Jeff puts it, “a light went off. Technology could be the answer to making insurance less boring and more interesting to me and to clients. After all, insurance is too important for people not to understand what they are buying.”
So, he and his “knights of the round table”—Una Roy, vice president of operations; Paul Wettlaufer, vice president of personal lines/sales; and Ken Colquhoun, vice president of commercial and farm sales—got together around a, guess what, round table and started to discuss ways to “breathe life into insurance,” Jeff says. “We became laser focused, not on selling insurance but on finding ways to make insurance easier to understand, customize, compare and buy.” And it was after these meetings that P.A. Roy Insurance Agency became Excalibur Insurance.
It was a dynamic group, each with different talents. Jeff is the idea guy, Una is the people person, Paul loves numbers, and Ken understands that ideas are no good without implementation. Together, they created a plan that turned technology into a tool that helped clients better understand insurance so they could make an informed decision about what coverage they needed.
Key elements of Excalibur’s use of technology—and items that helped earn it the Agent for the Future Award—are its ability to generate audio quotes with Google Home and Amazon Alexa, its digital marketing solutions, a 24-7 chatbot, and a “shock and awe” new business kit.
As important as technology is, employees are trained on ways to establish H2H with every client that comes in contact with the agency, whether digitally or in person; H2H is human-to-human contact and it is the important ingredient that keeps the retention rate from plummeting.
“We’re in the experience business, not the insurance business,” Jeff says. “The human-to-human connection is critical. Technology just makes that faster. We exist to champion people, to protect them with our insurance offerings and also to help those who are less fortunate through our charitable work. We donate hundreds of hours and dollars to charities.”
“Another important factor is the employee experience,” Una adds. “We do weekly training on how to talk to clients, emphasizing how imperative it is to contact potential clients immediately after we get a lead from any source.”
“All told, we get some 600 to 700 leads per month,” Jeff continues. “Each one is assigned to a salesperson who gets back to them within five minutes. A number of leads are referred to us by current clients who are incentivized through a monthly promotion where the referrers are entered into a pool with the winner receiving $100. We also have several niche areas and use centers of influence to get referrals in areas like car dealers and farming.”
Turning shoppers into fans
Jeff readily admits that when they transitioned into this new way of doing insurance, the agency did take a hit to its retention rate. “We’d been enjoying retention in the high 90s, but that dropped into the 80s when we started to write business with clients who didn’t know us, hadn’t seen what we were doing in the community, and hadn’t heard about us from our current clients because they were outside what had been our traditional marketing area. But then Una, working with consultant Kelly Donahue-Piro as her coach, set up a system focused on retaining those new clients through human-to-human contact.”
“We set up a renewal review program,” Una says, “that has every client contacted 45 days prior to renewal. Our account managers pick up the phone and talk to them not just about their current coverage but about other possible needs, about ways they could save money, and about other coverages that we offer, including life insurance. The goal is to account round, which always helps retention, and also to establish a relationship with the client so they won’t look elsewhere.
“Even if they’re shoppers,” Una continues, “we believe we can keep them because we show them how we shop for them. We also point them to our website offerings, which include our Excalibur University, where videos and blogs provide information on key insurance coverages and other insurance-related concerns.
“Also at the website is our Rate Reducer™, which allows a client to see quotes for auto and homeowners from 10 insurers. This effort has paid off. Our retention rate is moving up and now stands at around 89%. At the same time, calls on nonpayment have decreased. We’re catching everything before renewal.
“Additionally, we send out a newsletter to all clients via e-blast,” she explains. “Our open rate is fairly high and we’re very excited about that.”
“In order to keep pace with our commitment to contact every client before renewal, we’ve had to staff up,” Jeff points out. The results show that the investment is paying off. The agency has been enjoying double-digit growth over the last several years, even in a year when there was a mandatory auto rate reduction.
Over the last several years, technology like Aiden, the digital insurance navigator—the agency’s online artificial intelligence that is available 24/7 for people with questions—has helped to cut down on the workload for the human intelligence at the agency, although they are always ready to help answer people’s questions, backing up the !nstashield™, an innovative system that allows potential clients to quote, customize, bind and print policies online.
“A key part of making this work,” Una concludes, “is treating employees like clients. We’re all about empowering them to do the right thing and see ourselves as coaches, not bosses. Their experience has to be enjoyable, and that translates into an experience for clients that is second to none. We provide funds and time off so employees can work for charities that they want to support. We support their educational goals in the same way. They really are the reason we are successful.”
Excalibur Insurance is focused on making insurance different because it’s just too important to continue to be part of a boring chore that people have to undertake annually. And they’ve done it by focusing on technology that helps people save time, money and reduce stress, and backing that up with a team of people who are committed to doing the right thing—a team of people who all believe that insurance can be different.
Rough Notes magazine is proud to recognize Excalibur Insurance Group as our Agency of the Month.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.