Google has shown interest in the insurance market for years. With the amount of data under their purview as well as other big tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Facebook, insurance agents should not ignore the potential disruption to the P&C industry. For now, these tech giants are primarily dabbling around the edges through partnerships in distribution, data (think wearables and smart devices), life and health insurance.

While agents need not panic, they should learn from experience. When Geico and Progressive started actively marketing their online sales platform, many feared that the independent agency world was doomed. The threat was real, yet smart agents were able to pivot, offering a value proposition to clients not solely based on price.

However tempting it is to believe, price is not the only reason consumers seek insurance quotes online over their local independent agent. For many, it comes down to a more convenient way of doing business. While some still enjoy, and want, a face-to-face consult on their insurance needs, an increasing number of insureds prefer a quick transaction so they can continue with the tasks of their busy lives. Some may believe they’re avoiding pushy and aggressive sales tactics often associated with insurance agents.

So, What Did We Learn from Direct Writers?

Companies like Geico and Progressive have engineered their websites to be very user-friendly. Purchasing insurance coverage is simple and accessible 24/7. Post-purchase, the insured receives a text and email with an insurance summary, freeing up space in their filing cabinet. They offer a downloadable app, further placing everything about the account within a few taps of a smartphone.

Alas, the secret weapon of the independent agency system are the agents themselves. Having a local person – not a lizard or some other TV character – available to help in times of need is a primary reason that have remained with their local independent agent.

Independent insurance agencies already have the upper hand when it comes to relationship building and access to markets, but what if they offered the same ease of doing business as the online giants? If the local agent is going to be prepared for the next big transformation, whatever that may be, they better be well-positioned now against what we already know.

Putting a Win in the Independent Insurance Agency Column

Online Quoting. With the technology available through most comparative raters, independent agents can easily implement online consumer portals. Consulting with an agent is required to bind coverage, but identifying the client’s preferred method of contact and explaining that your advisor may find you additional discounts is a great way to have them hold out for a communication follow-up.

Texting. From policy renewal reminders to wishing a client happy birthday, texting is the new standard for communication. Most agency management systems can integrate text, a great addition to an agency’s E&O toolbelt.

Mobile Apps. Now affordable and turnkey, a branded agency app can significantly enhance service and marketing. App development companies that work exclusively with insurance agencies have made the app creation process a breeze for agency owners. Customers can submit claims, view declaration pages, ask questions, and even print certificates or auto ID cards.

Availability. In a 24/7 world, insurance agents need to be available. This can be accomplished many ways: through a call center, text messaging, Facebook Messenger. Whatever that looks like, we no longer live in a world where consumers accept a 35-40 hour window of availability.

Web-Ready. If existing and prospective clients can’t easily find their local insurance agency online, it doesn’t exist. Overstatement? Perhaps, but having an online strategy that includes a search-friendly, mobile-friendly, customer-friendly design is table-stakes in today’s tech-driven world.

A Note to the Digital Skeptics

While analysts have been predicting the demise of the independent insurance agent for years, the fact is that many factors have contributed to this not actually turning out to be the case. The insurance industry has been slow (relative to other industries) to experience a massive digital disruption. Agencies that have used this time to evolve their strategies and digital capabilities will be much better prepared to meet the moment – one in which a tech-giant with a built-in customer base successfully invades this space in one form or another. Will you be ready?