THE COMMUNICATIONS TRIUMVIRATE
Tennessee agency focuses on the client experience
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
In April of 2008, Mike Stansbury left a large banking operation to utilize his experience from owning and managing captive agencies to form Elite Insurance Solutions in Franklin, Tennessee. In February of the following year, Randy Hulett became his partner at the new agency as he also left the captive ranks.
“We saw our biggest challenge as finding ways to improve the client experience,” Mike says. “Part of that was offering a choice of coverage through the many companies we represent. But we also wanted to get away from a perception that insurance coverage could all be arranged in 15 minutes. Clients are bombarded with commercials that tout speed and price. Only later, when a claim occurs do people find out how important the right coverage is—and then it’s too late.”
Mike continues by pointing out that “insurance is a very complicated business where the need for professional advice should be paramount. Companies that offer quick solutions are doing a disservice to customers. They fail to inform clients about the need for insurance to change as individual or business needs change over time. Without regular monitoring of every client’s changing conditions, gaps in coverage could occur to the detriment of both the client and the trusted relationship that should be the hallmark of every insurance transaction.
“The number one concern in my view,” he adds, “is maintaining a three-way communication between the client, the agency and the insurer that allows for quick action when needed and trust that the communication lines will protect the privacy of the often-sensitive information that is required to properly underwrite an individual’s or business’s risk. This has been further complicated by the fact that agents are much less involved in the industry research and development in technology, which has become the way that most people communicate today.”
Doing it their way
Because improvement in both the efficiency and protection of sensitive information in the three-way communication is a critical goal for Elite Insurance, it is working with other concerned agencies to develop mobile connectivity alternatives.
“We have met with at least a dozen CIOs of insurance companies that share our concerns,” Mike says. “All have developed a digital roadmap that includes agents and focuses on the need for information to flow to both agents and the insurance company simultaneously when a claim or other concern comes in via our mobile app or through IM.” (That stands for ‘instant messaging’ which is known by almost all my readers, but I put that in for those individuals like me who border on being Luddites and continue to dream of the good old days when we used Selectric typewriters to prepare our submissions for mailing to underwriters or our articles for Rough Notes.)
The way it works is simple and quick. An accident happens. The insured sends an IM from his or her cell phone, and that goes to the insurance company and agent so claim processing can start to happen immediately.
“This focus on finding technology solutions that will improve communications ties in perfectly with our very simple motto of serving others,” Randy says. “We are laser focused on creating systems that look at all actions in our agency and in our communications with clients and insurance companies. That way we are able to measure whether we are providing service that is effective and efficient, both in terms of developing the right coverage package for each client and in dealing with claims and other risk management concerns when they arise.”
He continues: “We are constantly looking at the mobile app in the way we deal with customers and carriers. Most of our claims come to our producer or our process team. We have two people who are claims specialists who provide customers with our claim concierge service. They make certain that the claim is where it should be, starting with filing in a timely manner and follow-up that occurs automatically thanks to a prompt that is built into our management system.” (Elite uses Vertafore, but Mike attends Applied Systems meetings as well to “see what I didn’t know.” He also has attended meetings involving both Vertafore and Applied as well as insurance company CIOs.) Randy notes that “at the beginning of each day, a report goes to each producer that shows everything that has happened within their book of business.”
The agency is deliberate about its efforts to help prospects and clients understand risk. “We created a circular model for our risk management offerings that helps us recognize and respond to change quickly,” Randy says. “It starts with a discovery where we conduct a needs analysis to find out the nature of the risk facing the client. That is followed by an assessment of those risks in terms of severity and other factors to see if they are best handled by insurance or through some other mechanism.
“We then determine which carrier is best able to offer the right coverage and customer service for that client where insurance is needed,” he adds. “Once the client agrees to the plan we have developed, we place the coverage and monitor the effectiveness of the plan to see if any changes are needed as the client’s needs change over time. And that brings us full circle to another discovery at the start of a new policy year to see whether the plan needs to be tweaked to reflect business growth or new risks that may have emerged. Insurance should be an evolving product that grows or shrinks with the needs of the insured. It is our job to make certain that happens.”
Mike picks up, “Our focus on serving others extends to the community where we live. We support a number of local and national charities, including Shriners, Wounded Warriors, and Special Olympics to name a few. We do it because we want to make a difference, not because it’s good marketing. It’s part of our DNA. We serve our clients, our community and our employees. As a result, we are able to attract exceptional people to work here and have exceptional loyal clients who share our concern for proper risk management, not just because it saves them money in the long run, but because it creates a better workplace for their people.”
Attracting young people
Agency leaders are dedicated to engaging fresh talent to move the firm forward. “Insurance is one of the last places students think about when they graduate and start looking for employment,” Mike continues. “But I am pleased that our focus on serving others attracted a Millennial with a master’s degree to come to work here. She chose our agency over other opportunities because she saw what we do here and how we do it.
“I have spoken at several universities and talked about insurance as a career—how it helps people and how it can be a noble business when done properly. This is not about selling insurance. It’s about helping others achieve success and protecting them against losses that could interfere with that success. What could be better?
“I regularly hear that the next generation is looking for employment where they can make a difference,” he adds. “They don’t just want a paycheck and a 9-to-5 interruption in their day. They want to feel good about what they are doing. This is an industry that offers them the opportunity to do just that.
“I read recently that there will be some 400,000 new jobs opening up in our industry, so it’s clear to me that we need to do a much better job of explaining what we offer to students in high schools and universities so insurance is seen as a great industry to work in rather than the fallback position it often occupies when a student can’t find anyplace else to work. That’s the only way we can start to attract the best and the brightest to an industry that I consider to be one of the best in America.”
In its first decade, Elite Insurance has grown from one location to nine and now employs 47 people. “We’re producing a little over $1 million a month in volume and that keeps growing,” Mike says. “It really makes me happy that our growth allows us to offer opportunities to more people to come into this business at a place where they can have fun while serving others.
“One of my favorite days of the week is Monday, because I can wake up and go to work and see bright, enthusiastic people who are part of my extended family. Based on their smiles, I’m pretty sure that they are equally happy about coming into work and starting to help current clients as well as potential clients reach their risk management goals.
“We are focused on the future here, convinced that this industry can solve its communications needs in a way that will be beneficial to all concerned,” he adds. “We’re also focused on the future wellbeing of every client we insure and what could be better than that?”
Rough Notes is proud to recognize Elite Insurance Solutions as our Agency of the Month. The future of our industry is secure with visionaries like Mike and Randy looking to protect it.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.