Owning and running an independent agency is an endeavor with unseen complexities that few can envision. What agency owners often begin to realize is that many responsibilities fall on them, and in the end, aspects of the business may suffer.
“Many agents end up working twice as many hours and are wearing more hats, such as human resources. Getting help allows them to spend more time on higher revenue-generating activities,” said Rob Lopez, founder and chief executive officer of VIVA, a Houston, Texas-based organization that supplies virtual assistance to insurance agencies.
Mr. Lopez said that his own agency experience provided the insight needed to give other agencies appropriate solutions and help them become more productive and efficient.
An important element missing in agencies is having documentation of the more than 20 identified procedures and daily processes.
“One of the things we’ve learned in the couple of years we’ve been doing this is that less than 3 percent of agents actually take the time to document their daily processes,” Mr. Lopez said.
As a result, when training new hires, “Most agents are used to having someone ride along, or sit in along with them to pick up the training needed.”
To help remedy this situation, “We have documented specific curriculum that will help agents be successful right away,” he said.
VIVA, which employs educated, bilingual workers in Central America, has created a comprehensive program for trainees, giving them an overview of the insurance industry—such as the difference between deductibles and liabilities, for example—as well as property and other coverage. Once they complete this aspect of their training, they spend time in an agency environment where they develop familiarity with the tasks they will be performing.
Benefits of hiring remote workers include more time for agency owners to focus on core business and “Enormous savings. Typically, the cost of a virtual assistant is about 40 percent of what you would pay for somebody locally to do those same activities,” Mr. Lopez said.
Angelo Aldi, vice president of Agency Administrators in Southington, Connecticut, which also supplies trained virtual agency staffing, said that as an independent agency owner and operator he found that, “You’re the firefighter and the accountant, and we wanted to get back to what we liked doing most.”
When Mr. Aldi’s agency began looking for help with offsite staffing, however, “We found that no one was doing what we wanted. We still wanted to own the book of business, but have someone service it for the agency. So we designed, built and implemented a system.”
That led to Agency Administrators, which supplies back office, telecommunications, management systems, daily downloads and mail management, he said. All workers are U.S. based and managed by Agency Administrators. “We take care of the hiring, the training, licensing and everything,” he said, adding that staff members are generally “U.S. insurance industry veterans who use our technology to work from anywhere.”
Both organizations have found that the pandemic has accentuated agencies’ weaknesses in both staffing and technology.
“Outsourcing is absolutely gaining in popularity. COVID-19 changed the way we do business forever,” Mr. Lopez said. “We have definitely seen a big increase in people reaching out, interested in working with remote workers in the past six to nine months. The whole idea of working remotely or outsourcing work to somebody remotely has been normalized.”
Mr. Aldi observed that the pandemic has driven more organizations to outsourcing, because they weren’t prepared for remote working. “The pandemic has brought a lot of people to the table who may not have thought they needed to get there,” he said. “A lot more people are starting to think about that, and it’s also more realistic at this point.”
Mr. Lopez noted that agents that have spent the pandemic documenting their processes are realizing that, “once you have a playbook of processes used daily in the agency, it doesn’t matter where you get help from—whether from overseas or down the road, working from their house—they will work more efficiently and be more productive when there is a playbook or a procedural manual to follow.”
He added, “We’ve also found that not everyone is 100 percent adapted to technology and we deal with all that.” Both companies provide a complete portfolio of services designed to bring clients into the age of remote working.