Insurance agencies continually find it difficult to attract and retain good employees. To solve this problem, more agencies are turning toward outsourced staffing solutions. Many of these solutions involve hiring “virtual assistants” (VAs) – employees who work remotely from other parts of the world. Agency principals who never imagined that they would consider such a thing are now taking a close look. How do they get started? How does it all work? What can they expect?
Rob Lopez, founder and chief executive officer of VIVA Virtual Assistants, says they should first ask themselves if they are ready for a VA. “Close to a little over 60% of the people that we talk to are not ready for VA’s.” Between 2016 and 2020, his company’s first years, agencies had no experience working with remote employees. That changed for a time during the pandemic, but he sees more agencies now unprepared. The problem is that agencies have not documented work processes, leaving little concrete direction for a VA to follow. VIVA helps prepare agencies that do not have processes written down get them documented.
When an agency is ready, the first step is to work with the staffing company to pin down the specific needs, explains Zack Walker, national accounts manager for Ocean Virtual Assistants. This is typically done during one or more conversations. The key, Lopez says, is to find out the real pain points that the agency is trying to solve and whether the principal has the time to make the arrangement successful. Santosh Kumaar of Insuserve-1 holds a 30 to 40 minute video chat for the client to ask questions and discuss the tasks they need done.
With processes documented and specific needs identified, the next step is to meet with some candidates. Insuserve-1 offers a free trial for prospective clients. The first few days of a work arrangement with a VA involve knowledge transfer, followed by a few days for the client to evaluate the VA’s work. Contracts are signed only after the client is satisfied with the work. Ocean also offers a free week, but their clients sign the agreement before work starts but after VA interviews and selection and start dates are set.
VIVA asks the client to choose whether they want a client-facing, people-oriented person for the phones or a detail-oriented person to provide back office support. The answer determines the candidates VIVA will offer. Their VAs have gone through weeks of insurance training before working with clients. Less than half finish the training and end up working with agencies.
After that first week, Walker says the time should be used to slowly integrate the VA into the agency while they nail down the processes until they are a seamless part of the team. Kumaar keeps in close touch with the client to address any concerns. VIVA provides mentors for new VAs for when they run into unfamiliar insurance situations.
Agencies can run into trouble when they fail to train the VA on what they want. Kumaar says that different agencies enter information in their management systems in different ways, and if the agency does not communicate exactly what they expect, problems can arise.
Walker says agencies are sometimes surprised by the range of tasks VAs can perform. “The talent you as the agency have access to from outsourcing is much larger,” he notes.
Lopez cautions agencies not to expect too much too soon. “It’s going to take time to do it, no different than if you hired somebody from down the street.” However, agencies may be pleasantly surprised. “Some of the things that we hear every single month are ‘I didn’t realize how much time I was wasting on answering calls, on downloading the statements, and working through each carrier by myself. Ever since I turned this over to you guys or your team, I have all this extra time to where I’m now, trying to figure out what do I need to do with this extra time?’”
If you have the time and are willing to do the work of documenting your processes and thinking through what you need, outsourced staffing may be just the solution your agency needs. It takes time, patience, and effort for a successful arrangement, but the return on investment may be more than worth it.