What does it take to get a company appointment these days? When IIAT’s Committee on Small & Rural Agencies asked company representatives that question, they responded virtually in unison: An agency must possess characteristics the company is looking for and approach company decision-makers in a deliberate and professional manner.
Not every company is looking for large agencies. Size is only one facet of an agency’s value. If the agency is well managed, has a strong book of business, and has a compatible marketing philosophy, a company would be short-sighted to concentrate only on agency size or the population of the town in which it is located. As the number of independent agencies continues to decrease, it’s more important than ever for owners of agencies large and small to take a systematic approach to planning their futures and seeking appointments. Toward that end, committee members and company representatives developed these suggestions.
How to Find Companies
First, find a company willing to write in Texas and determine what type of business the company is looking for. The Company Appointment Guide is an excellent resource. It is updated annually and is based on company responses to a written survey. Each company’s listing shows the territory served by the office surveyed, the company’s business strategy, the type of agency the company may consider for appointment, the company’s address, and a phone number for a contact person. For the latest information, review the company appointment guide online at www.iiat.org. Also available on the IIAT web site are personal lines and surplus lines market searches.
Agents in your area or other parts of the state may be another source of company information. Ask other agents who their favorite companies are. Perhaps an agent will give you an introduction to the company representative. And don’t overlook opportunities to cultivate company contacts during IIAT seminars and conventions.
No matter how you identify company prospects, obtain basic information about the company before you make an approach. If it is obvious that the company’s strategies don’t include appointment with an agency like yours, don’t waste your time or theirs.
The Agency Profile Form
In cooperation with company representatives, the IIAT Committee on Small and Rural Agencies developed a standard Agency Profile Form, which summarizes important agency appointment information, including personnel, premium size, and loss history.
When you have identified the companies you want to approach, send the agency profile information with a cover letter. The cover letter should briefly describe the agency and explain why you are looking for an additional company and why your agency would be a good match with the company. If a fellow agent referred you to the company, mention the agent’s name. Tell the company you have a complete agency profile package available (see below) and that you would appreciate an appointment to present the package. Then follow up with a phone call within two weeks to determine the company’s interest and to establish a firm appointment date and time.
The Agency Profile Package
You should prepare a complete company appointment submission package and keep it updated even if you don’t need a company right now. To present your agency in the best possible light, the package should be carefully and professionally prepared. It should include a cover letter that briefly reviews the agency’s qualifications and explains why you need an additional company. The package also should include details on past and current agency operations, financial information, business and perpetuation plans, and premium and loss history. The company also will be interested in the local economic climate. Your chamber of commerce may be able to provide you with brochures and other information to include in your package.
Do not leave out adverse information; the company will investigate your agency, and intentional omission of pertinent details will kill the deal. But by all means, accentuate the positive.
Include a brief history of the agency’s formation and its name and ownership changes. Resumes of agency principals and key personnel are essential, as are details of agency efforts to educate the staff. Give special emphasis to any professional designations such as AAI, CIC, CPCU, or ACSR. Explain how your agency operates and detail current and planned automation capabilities. Insurance agencies that have computerized their operations can serve their customers more efficiently and market products and services with greater focus and at less cost than those that have not. Companies look for agencies that have committed to automation for accounting, marketing, and agency analysis.
It is best to include profit and loss statements and balance sheets for at least two years. If you don’t want to include this personal information, at least provide current financial ratios or credit reports and tell the company that your financial statements are available for inspection in your office.
Business, marketing, and perpetuation plans help identify where your agency is headed and make a good first impression with any prospective company. Vague goals of steady growth and profitability won’t cut it. Companies are looking for agencies with a written plan for achieving specific goals. Committing your plans to paper gives you something tangible to use in your discussions with potential carriers, and it allows companies to quickly see whether their plans for marketing in your part of Texas mesh with your direction and resources. A sample plan is available in the Agency Management section of InfoCentral. If you’ve done your homework on the carrier, your business plan will clearly represent your attractiveness as a partner.
The prospective company will want to see computer-generated production and loss runs for at least the last three years, preferably five, for every carrier in your office. Also include a one-page summary of company experience, showing agency loss ratios and premium volume for all companies by year and an overall agency loss ratio for all years shown. If the agency experience for the last three to five years has been unfavorable due to occurrences beyond the agency’s control, go back even further to show that the agency has been profitable in the past and can be again. Provide details on aberrations in the experience, such as large shock losses, storms, and lines that traditionally have been poor for all companies, such as workers’ compensation.
Don’t Give Up
It’s hard not to get frustrated when every overture to a company is answered with “You’re a great agency but we don’t want to write any business in West Texas, in the first tier, in rural areas, in big cities (fill in the name of your own area or town).”
The effort it takes to develop and sell your agency’s strong points may not result in an immediate flood of company representatives knocking at your door, but it will pay both short- and long-term dividends. It can only help your relationships with current carriers to be viewed as a professional agent committed to profitability. And the next best thing to getting a company appointment today is having one or more of your target companies flag your agency as the one it would like to add when it opens up capacity in your area.