A new website launches this month aiming to give consumers one location to find and critique local insurance agents. Agentreview.net founders Harley Gordon, attorney and principal creator of the CLTC designation, and Jonas Roeser, founder of long-term care planning organization 3in4 Association and insurance marketer, spoke with EBA about their vision for the platform. Although targeting agents primarily in the consumer market for now, the pair explain why employee benefit group agents should be interested as well.

Why start agentreview.net?
Gordon: The core of what we’re trying to do is based on my deep belief that agents matter and that direct-to-consumer sites say agents don’t matter. They try and cut out the middle person. One of the things we have on our website is a study that indicates you don’t save money going direct — that there’s no such thing as simple insurance and certainly not in the health care benefits field.

Why should employee benefit advisers be interested in being listed on the site?
Gordon: One of our approaches would be rather than look at the employee benefits market per se, let’s look at the brokers, which we call agents, and give them an opportunity to compete by using their area of expertise. Many of them are also licensed in life, health, disability, LTCi. Rather than look at it as [why] would Agent Review focus on employee benefit brokers, we look at it as [targeting] agents who are looking to, if not transition, to supplement their business.

Roeser: It’s the single platform out there for consumers to find insurance agents and review them just like they would use Yelp to find a restaurant review.

Gordon: I’ve been doing work with local NAHU chapters who have employee benefit brokers and one of the things that they’ve asked me to do — I’ve spoken in about half a dozen markets — is to come up with some ideas that help them compete in a drastically changing marketplace where these brokers are doing unbelievable amounts of work for short money. What they’re looking for is to expand their practice into other forms of insurance.

What are the limitations of existing platforms to find an agent, like Google or LinkedIn?
Roeser: We found each other on LinkedIn. That’s the place for insurance professionals to connect to each other, but it’s really not the place for even the most savvy consumer or maybe even the most savvy HR manager to be going to look for the most qualified employment benefit broker.

Gordon: Let’s say you have a health benefit broker and she wants to compete in the world of the Internet. So I, as the consumer, put in [a search engine], “health insurance information [zip code]” … I go down one, two, three, four pages before I even find the individual. How in the world does this woman get credibility? No one goes that far. So where do they go? They go to the direct-to-consumer sites. If we do our job right, they’re going to be ticked off at us. But that’s OK because it comes back to what I always believe — that agents matter.

Roeser: We want to make it known to the consumer that this is where you’re going to go, to Agent Review, to find your credible agent giving credible advice for insurance products, but at the same time, let them feel comfortable working with a verified agent … because all their information has been independently vetted by a third party. It’s really important today, because people don’t necessarily take a testimonial at face value. They think, “Oh their brother or their friend or someone else could have written that.” We are making it so that everything from a testimonial to a star performance rating … to the actual professional profile criteria — who they’re appointed with, what states they’re licensed in — is all vetted.

If the licensed agent fills out their criteria to the utmost [on Agent Review] it’s only going to benefit them. There’s an area that asks if they speak various other languages … activities, things that help profile who they are. Because people want to work with people that they have things in common with. So if you’re able to go into the zip code where you live, you’re looking for life insurance or something, and you want to work with someone who speaks Mandarin, chances are our platform will be able to source that to you.

How will this site help employee benefit brokers focus on the direct consumer?
Gordon: The bigger picture is, how do you get visibility in a field where you really didn’t need a lot of visibility? You didn’t really have to be out there when you had a core group of employers. Now, you need visibility within the community.

Look, here’s what I’ve learned in working with some pretty influential people at NAHU. … The rising cost of health care is just driving the health benefit brokers to distraction and sometimes driving small businesses to the exchanges, right or wrong. They’re doing more work for less money. Another challenge is how do you remain relevant in the health care environment? … NAHU has told me brokers are looking to diversify themselves. …. But their business has primarily been with small group or individuals. They have to be able to go out into the larger marketplace and try and compete for business and that’s where we see a company like Agent Review giving them visibility and, just as important, credibility when it comes to health care.

If they believe they have to diversify, if they’re looking to get traction in a marketplace, that starts online. The majority of consumers now look at the Web as the Yellow Pages for everything, including insurance. These individual brokers who really had no reason to be out there in the general public because they were dealing with specific businesses, it would give them that opportunity, that visibility and a sense of credibility of having their credentials verified.

We see them as a broker who has to make a business decision about what they’re going to do about their business, what they’re going to transition their business to, and then giving them a platform that helps them do that.

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