Americans turn to the Internet for nearly everything, including researching insurance products. Still, no matter what technology platforms are available now or in the future, advisers will continue to serve an essential role.

“We love the independent agent model. There’s advice, there’s counsel,” Thomas Motamed said last week during a panel at the Big “I” legislative conference in Washington, D.C. “That usually brings the best client to us.”

Education is one of the most important aspects an adviser helps with, said Motamed, president and CEO of CNA Financial and one of four CEOs on the panel. “An educated consumer is really the best thing we can hope for,” he said.

When it comes to service, consumers’ expectations have changed — they want it immediately — and the industry has to evolve with that, said David Long, chairman and CEO of Liberty Mutual Insurance Group. “It’s no longer a 9-to-5 service model,” he said.

Consumers also want personalized service, said Dave Kaufman, president and CEO of the Motorists Insurance Group. And it’s that aspect that will ultimately help independent brokers standout from tech giants, like Google, that are moving into the insurance space. “In the long-term, consumer needs will trump consumer wants,” he said.

Tech companies can use their technology to improve touchpoints, Kaufman said, “but independent agents are going to continue to dominate. No one can compete with an independent agent.”

Ultimately, it’s the consumer who will decide which companies survive and which will thrive, Motamed said. “They will determine whether our channel — the independent agent channel — has value, or they’ll determine that Google has value,” he said. The quality of both products and service affect that determination, Motamed said. “It’s all about professionalism and providing value to the customers — and listening to the customers as to what their needs are.”

Regulation

All four CEOs agreed the current state-based regulation model is working, but cautioned against further oversight from the federal government. “The states have done an outstanding job,” Kaufman said.

Adding complexity to the regulation system would result in consequences, said Christopher Swift, chairman and CEO of The Hartford. Kaufman agreed: “Insurance is best done locally,” he said. “The regulation falls right into that.”

Also see: How much regulation is too much?

Need for young talent

While many say that insurance isn’t “sexy,” Swift disagrees. The industry is using data analytics and is modernizing 40-year-old technology — and that needs to be promoted when searching for young talent to enter the business, he said.

The best way to diversify the industry — mostly made of up aging white men ­— is to attend job fairs and visit colleges with diverse student populations, Motamed said. “You have to be very focused,” he said. “You cannot wait for them to come in the door or send you a resume. It’s not going to happen.”

Also see: Brokerages need to change hiring practices  

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