Jump to winners | Jump to methodology
Agents can be supercharged by connecting to insurance networks. The top-performing networks harness a range of benefits such as greater access to products, the ability to tap into non-traditional markets, vendor discounts, and even marketing support.
However, finding the right network is key.
To that end, Insurance Business America’s 5-Star Networks and Alliances 2023 recognizes some of the best in the industry as ranked by agents across a range of criteria.
These groups are making a resurgence, according to John Tiene, managing director of Strategic Agency Partners.
“There was a time when agents worked together to take care of their community,” he says. “Sometime between the 1970s and 1990s, that got lost. But it’s back, insurance is about scale. The more scale, the more influence and opportunity exists.”
Strategic Agency Partners is one of this year’s 5-Star winners.
“There’s a demand within the agent community for what we provide,” explains Tiene. “We help them better manage their agencies. Help them utilize technology. Help with perpetuation – that’s just good business planning. If you get hit by a bus, what happens to your agency?”
By joining Strategic Agency Partners, agents can expect to:
increase contingency revenues into the double digits
acquire advice on deploying additional capital to improve operations
improve employee retention or attract more staff
leverage technology to improve efficiencies
act like business owners in a group setting
further empower women who account for 70 percent of agency employees
Some survey respondents had their reservations about joining a network. Reasons cited by some agents were that they may:
make members do things they don’t want to do
pry into members’ client files
withhold payment unless a commission goes to one central agency
However, Joe Craven, the CEO of 5-Star winner Fortified, explains why he feels this is an outdated perception.
“What they’re saying is the furthest from the truth,” he explains. “We don’t have any of the client information. We don’t take their commissions.”
Since forming in 2022, Fortified has been able to:
establish 61 agents in eight states
be present in over 170 locations and 1,800 employees
achieve close to $3 billion in written premium
Craven also offers a real-time assessment of issues faced by agents across the US, which can be alleviated by joining networks like Fortified.
“The rising cost of repairs, the rising cost of materials, are all having an impact on rates of the insurance companies,” he says. “They can’t get enough rate quick enough to be able to turn a profit. This has been going on for nearly two years, and we’re going to still be in this for another two years.”
Uniting 54 independent agencies across the southeast US, Fortified offers the following advantages:
helps manage carriers on their behalf
leverages its history of profitability to maintain good standing with carriers
provides better profit sharing
negotiates better vendor agreements
“Independent agencies are the foundation of our industry,” explains Craven. “They’re small businesses that work hard to provide the best coverage possible for their clients, but unfortunately being a ‘small’ business can make it harder to develop partnerships with carriers. Fortified is a collection of independent agents with similar core values.”
Director of operations Robert Qaoud of fellow 5-Star winner Valley Insurance Agency Alliance (VIAA) also knows how transformative a network can be for agents.
“Some of the other networks out there can really ruin it for the good ones,” he says. “Plus, there’s a lot of myths out there. If we can get them to listen, we can show them the value and the reality of what we have to provide versus the perceived loss of independence.”
89 percent of members make more with profit sharing and override the costs to be a member of network
165 members have over $600 million in-force premium
Director of enterprise development Bill Kaatman adds, “There are some enhanced commissions we provide, and we negotiate at a local or a national level. We run our numbers and we are very keen to the fact that we have a majority of our members who we pay more than they pay us, and we’re extremely proud of that.”
The family of Pierce and Sue Powers formed VIAA in 2006 to help small agencies meet common challenges and they:
provide a more cost-effective carrier relationship than a standalone agency
have a special collaborative spirit resembling a “brotherhood”
offer access to markets, business consulting, and profit sharing
“We’re nothing without our members,” explains Qaoud. “We’re fortunate just to work with really good people. We have core values, and unless a prospect exudes those values, we don’t work with them. We really want to work with good family people and help them enhance their legacy.”
Many of the major issues in the industry are a knock-on effect of the pandemic. However, that allows insurance networks to show their added value by assisting agents in a challenging economic climate.
“COVID happens,” says Tiene. “People aren’t driving. Regulators say you have to give customers’ money back. So, they forced carriers to either give credit or reduce rates. The commercial side was a bit easier. People were being laid off – we could do some stuff there.
“Meanwhile, supply chain issues are creating costs, so I can’t get the fender I need to put on my car. So, the rental car is going to be out a little longer. Then, because of the supply chain, the prices go up and then people start driving again, so frequency and severity go through the roof. Meanwhile, the regulators are still saying, ‘Well, it’s COVID.’
“You layer inflation on top of that and you layer climate impact on frequency and severity – and this is just the worst of everything.”
According to Tiene, networks help agents deal with these conditions by:
keeping them informed of the forces impacting them and their clients
collaborating with insurance company partners to gather information they may use with their clients, for example, why costs are going up
leveraging partnerships with insurance company partners to accommodate some of the impact from pricing pressures
And in relation to regional issues such as legislative changes in Florida and California, plus the challenging coastal regions, Tiene adds, “Being part of a network gives our members the flexibility and options to place those renewals with other markets because we offer much greater market access than your typical independent agent has access to.”
Insurance Business America reached out to agents nationwide to find out which networks and alliances are helping them reach new heights. The survey asked respondents to rate the performance and service of their networks on a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent) against the following 10 criteria:
access to insurance companies and products
commissions and profit share
access to niche and non-traditional markets
training and education
access to technology
overall business consultation
The networks and alliances that earned an average score of 8 or greater in at least one category were awarded a 5-Star designation. Networks and alliances that received an average score of 8 or greater in all categories received an All-Star designation.
Jump to winners | Jump to methodology