Small-town agency “bucks”
the system and pushes boundaries
By staying attuned to your clients, carriers, industry trends, and emerging technologies,
you can position your agency to identify and fill gaps in the market with unique and valuable services.
By Carolyn Smith, APR, TRA
When pondering innovation and creativity, the insurance and risk management industry might not be the first to come to mind. Usually, the creative thinking essential for groundbreaking innovation involves tackling challenges without predefined boxes, and the industry is typically laden with rigid structures and regulations.
Just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, in the unassuming town of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Peoples First Insurance has become a hub of innovation in this typically conservative industry. Recognizing a market gap, Zander Galloway, president of Peoples First, took a bold step to address a problem that clients were facing—contract risk management.
So, how did Galloway transcend these established boundaries, especially when they’ve been reinforced over time?
Beyond the box
Galloway started by identifying a market gap and tackling a prevalent issue faced by clients—risk management. He observed that a multitude of contract-related queries, originating from interactions with attorneys, were being directed toward the agency’s account managers, who lacked the necessary legal expertise for such responsibilities.
Emris Graham, vice president, Energy Casualty, at Synapse Services, LLC, says, “Contracts are where the rubber meets the road for any contractor or similar risk but important for all clients. A lot of clients don’t really pay attention to what they are signing or do not understand that the indemnity is always broader than the insurance policies they carry.”
Acknowledging that clients’ business operations inherently involve risks that, if left unaddressed, can significantly impact various facets such as business continuity, financial stability, and customer trust, Galloway saw the need for proactive contract risk management. He decided to revolutionize the contract risk management landscape and hired Noelle McCall, who is well known for her expertise in leading a national practice group for contract review at both Marsh and Aon, to head Peoples First’s new Contract Risk Management Academy.
Understanding that poorly executed contracts pose significant exposure, the agency leveraged cutting-edge technology and a profound understanding of evolving client needs to develop a tailored insurance platform. This platform seamlessly provides comprehensive contract risk management services, simplifying the complex process and addressing specific needs within the community that larger firms might overlook.
The results were quick. A few days after launching the academy, a warehousing business client contacted Peoples First, seeking to acquire multiple warehouses. Several insurers had declined to quote due to contract terms extending beyond the coverage limits of warehouse legal liability, coupled with a limitation of liability clause that was not favorable to either the client or the insurer.
Upon assessing the concerns raised by the underwriters and scrutinizing the problematic contract language, Peoples First proposed specific modifications to the insurance requirements while providing comments on other risk-related provisions. Then they initiated a collaborative call involving the client, the broker, and the warehouse customer to address any inquiries pertaining to the proposed changes.
“Our members are challenged to be remarkable, to think differently without making assumptions.
They routinely look for untapped potential, then create services that significantly impact clients and communities, showcasing beyond-the-box thinking.”
Beyond Insurance Global Network
The outcomes were remarkable: The client successfully negotiated more advantageous contract terms; the insurance requirements were revised to align with standard coverage for warehouse legal liability and other insurance policies; and the initially hesitant underwriters swiftly reversed their decision, providing quotes with favorable coverage within days. This proactive approach enabled the client to secure the necessary coverage for the property sale and contract execution within a remarkably short timeframe.
Jordan T. Bennett, a Selective agency management specialist, says, “I think the smaller to medium-sized businesses need to be more educated on risk transfer and how it can protect their assets and business from a potential catastrophic loss and help drive down their renewal increases year over year. As you would imagine, we, as the carrier, get far less opportunities to speak to the insured one-on-one, so getting them to understand that the disaster potential is real would be a huge leap forward. I believe that will, in turn, get them to start thinking about proper risk transfer more seriously.”
Galloway has not only transformed the local insurance landscape but has also set a precedent for fellow members of Beyond Insurance Global Network (BIGN), a select group of independent agencies on two continents, to lead with innovation and responsiveness. He was willing to step outside his comfort zone, abandon pre-conceived notions and backup plans, and commit to making success the only non-negotiable option. He also drew inspiration from the BIGN to fuel his entrepreneurial mindset and introduce his own innovative services.
Innovation through peer networks
A collaborative peer network often serves as a dynamic ecosystem where members pool diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise to foster an environment ripe for innovation. Through open dialogue, shared in- sights, and collective problem-solving, members inspire one another to think creatively, explore new possibilities, and push the boundaries of conventional thinking, sparking a culture of innovation within the network.
These peer-to-peer business networks with an emphasis on collaboration, communication, and efficiency, serve as catalysts for creative thinking beyond traditional boundaries and serious innovation among their members.
Ashley Correll, the executive director of BIGN, emphasizes her network’s transformative impact: “Our members are challenged to be remarkable, to think differently without making assumptions. They routinely look for untapped potential, then create services that significantly impact clients and communities, showcasing beyond-the-box thinking.”
Correll shared two examples: Dustin McClone, president and CEO of McClone Insurance in Menasha, Wisconsin, identified a market gap for legal intelligence, prompting the integration of in-house counsel, while Chris Peterie, CEO of Tower Street Insurance in Dallas, Texas, recognized a severe talent shortage and strategically hired an in-house recruiter to address specific needs in the insurance market. These innovative services inspired Galloway and other members to offer creative solutions not only to clients but also to network partners.
The key to unlocking this type of innovation lies in challenging pre-defined boundaries and learning from peers.
Innovation requires a departure from the familiar, an audacious leap into uncharted territory where the conventional norms no longer dictate the path forward.
To escape the confines of established frameworks, one must consciously climb out of the proverbial box, shedding pre-conceived notions and discarding the familiar. Success in this context demands a commitment to embracing uncertainty, allowing for the exploration of uncharted territories. It’s about adopting a growth mindset that views challenges not as obstacles but as opportunities for creative problem-solving.
Being innovative as an agency owner involves keen observation, creative thinking, and a willingness to take calculated risks. Here are some tips for identifying gaps in the market and creating services to fill those gaps:
Stay customer-centric. Understand your target audience’s needs, preferences, and pain points.
Actively seek customer feedback through surveys, interviews, and social media to identify unmet needs.
Market research. Conduct thorough market research that includes talking to your carriers to identify trends, analyze competitors, and uncover underserved areas. Allocate resources to continuously explore new ideas and improve existing offerings.
Look beyond your immediate industry to gain insights from related fields that might inspire new ideas.
Think beyond the box. Foster a culture of creativity within your team by encouraging brainstorming sessions and open communication, then reward innovative thinking.
Challenge assumptions and explore unconventional solutions that might differentiate your business.
Follow emerging technologies. Stay informed about technological advancements and how they can be applied to your specialty.
Embrace digital tools, automation, and data analytics to improve efficiency and create innovative services.
Networking and collaboration. Attend industry conferences, workshops, and network events to connect with peers and stay informed about industry developments.
Collaborate with other businesses and professionals to bring diverse perspectives and expertise to the table.
Identify pain points. Look for common pain points or frustrations within the industry that haven’t been adequately addressed.
Develop solutions that simplify processes, reduce costs, or enhance the overall customer experience.
Adaptability and flexibility. Be adaptable to changing market conditions and open to adjusting your business model based on feedback and evolving needs.
Embrace a mindset that values experimentation and learning from both successes and failures.
Keep an eye on demographics. Monitor demographic shifts and changes in consumer behavior that might create new opportunities or needs.
Adapt your products or services to align with those evolving demographics and societal trends.
Stay passionate. Passion drives innovation. Stay passionate about your business and the insurance and risk management industry, and let that enthusiasm fuel your commitment to finding new solutions.
Bottom line: Navigating the path of innovation requires courage and a willingness to redefine the parameters of success. By challenging the status quo, letting go of pre-conceived ideas, and making success the only non-negotiable option, you can transcend the confines of the industry’s historical boxes and pave the way for a new era of inventive solutions.
Remember, successful innovation often comes from a combination of creativity, market understanding, and a willingness to take risks. By staying attuned to your clients, carriers, industry trends, and emerging technologies, you can position your agency to identify and fill gaps in the market with unique and valuable services.
Carolyn Smith is the director of Marketing and Innovation for Beyond Insurance and a performance coach for the Quest for Success and Reach Your Peak six-month coaching, mentoring, and performance-enhancement programs. Beyond Insurance is the premier coaching and training organization for insurance agents, brokers, and carriers who desire a consultative, diagnostic customer engagement process.