Innovation and Technology in Insurance with Angela Noble | Ep. 26

Innovation can be a scary word for agencies owners and agents. If COVID taught us anything, it was the need to get comfortable with rapid change. Yet, coming up with innovative ideas, choosing the right technology for your agency, and implementing those changes shouldn’t be the decision of just one person…should it?

I’m joined by Angela Noble, Vice President of Innovation for EMC Insurance. Angela’s hands-on experience with insurance innovation brings a wealth of knowledge to the virtual table. During our conversation, we discuss:

  •       Why it is crucial to have a process for innovation
  •       The things that are most important to consider as you prepare for the future
  •       What the future of the independent agency looks like
  •       Whether agents and consumers even want innovation and technology, and, if so, what they need to implement it (Spoiler alert: They need skills and expertise to help them!)
  •       What could happen to agencies that don’t want to embrace innovation
  •       The secret to getting through innovation and implementing technology (getting everyone involved in the conversation and being willing to learn, even from failure!)

This episode with Angela is a can’t-miss episode. Innovation is a topic on everyone’s mind. Angela’s insight and experience makes the process easier. Make sure that you share it with your colleagues!

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Angela Noble:

A boss, a really long time ago, told me, "Angela, the only rule you need to know in business is no surprises."

Tony Caldwell:

Hi everybody. It's Tony Caldwell and welcome to another edition of Uncaptive Agency. We're talking about the future of insurance and the future of insurance distribution with a specific focus on the independent agency system. 

Today I'm so pleased to have as my guest, Angela Noble, who is vice president with EMC Companies for innovation. Angela has been involved in change management and innovation management for a number of years now and is outstanding at what she does. I know that because she was just recently named an outstanding leader by Insurance Business Magazine and is the recipient of a number of other leadership awards inside the insurance industry. 

Angela, I was reading your interview, I guess, in the newspaper. I was impressed by something. I was impressed that you have looked for jobs in your career, and you've had a series of assignments in innovation. I really want to dig into that in just a minute, but what impressed me was that you made the comment that you look for things that scare you a little bit. I'm thinking innovation: scary. You're really an unusual person. You're, what I would call, an ENTERpreneur. Kind of like an entrepreneur, but you're working inside a really large organization, driving change. We work with entrepreneurs here in our organization, love entrepreneurs. So, you're just like that, except you're working for a big company. That's cool.

Angela Noble:

Thank you. I appreciate that. I think doing things that scare you a little bit, we've all heard that quote, but I also think it shows that, in insurance, there's so much you can do and there's so much that's always happening. 

It is not a stagnant, boring industry. There's actually so much happening all the time. I've been very fortunate to be able to capture some of those scary feelings and do some different things throughout my career. Thank you for calling that out. I appreciate it.

Tony Caldwell:

Sure. I have a business coach, Dan Sullivan, who says about entrepreneurs, and he coaches entrepreneurs and has for a long time, that if an entrepreneur's not scared, he or she's not making progress. 

That really resonates with me because as soon as you succeed at something, you put yourself in a position where you're challenged again. Obviously, you've done that with your career. Most recently, for the last number of years in fact, with innovation. Let's dig into a little bit of that because people don't think of insurance companies, they don't think of the insurance industry, generally speaking, as being very innovative. But you believe that it is. Tell me why.

Angela Noble:

Yes. I think we've been using that term just recently. So, that's why I think there's that perception that insurance isn't innovative. But, Tony, we've both been around insurance for a while. And the things that we would call innovative today, were actually innovative years ago, but we wouldn't call it that. When I first started insurance, we were using paper files and fax machines. We're not using those things anymore. But when we went away from those things, we didn't call that, necessarily, innovation. It was just, "Okay, here's some changes. Here's how we're going to change with the business. We're going to make things more efficient. We're going to start doing things via email." 

I remember when I first got my first email address and that was a scary moment. Look at me now, I use emails all the time. I think we are an innovative industry. Think about how much we've gone through and how much change we have, and now we're really embracing it in a more formal way. That's really what I'm doing at EMC today.

Tony Caldwell:

It's interesting. I have said a number of times that I think the next 10 years, so as we're talking, it's just at the end of the third quarter of 2021, so call it 2030, in the next decade, I think there's going to be more change than there has been in the last 100 years in the industry. I mean, we're in a period of really profound change and a friend of mine, who wrote a book called Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think, talks about change in terms of it being deceptive until it's disruptive. So there's this curve and it takes a long, long time for things to pick up steam. But when it does, then it just goes shooting straight up. 

I think the industry itself is on the knee of the curve of exponential change or the real rapid change. So, one of the challenges, I believe for everybody in the business, whether you work for an insurance carrier or you're on the distribution or sales side, is coming to grips with the fact that change is happening all around you, which is emotionally disruptive as well as business disruptive. 

I'm curious, you work in this area every day. What are the things that people need to think about? What are the anchors, I suppose, that people can use to get comfortable with that rapidly changing environment there?

Angela Noble:

I love that you said anchor. I'm going to steal that. No, I won't steal it. I'll give you credit for it. But I love that because I think that's one of the most important things because of the volume of change and the different types of change. 

It's not just technology. We have to be focused. You can only do so much at once. I think that's why people feel overwhelmed with change or innovation sometimes because there are so many things you can do, and there are so many things that are happening to you. That's why I always tell my team that we need to remain purposeful, intentional, and focused with our innovation and really think about what we are doing and what's going to be the impact on our company or agents, or our policyholders. How is this a strategic, innovative change? Who is it going to impact and what do we think will happen? 

I agree with you. I think there's going to be so much change because it's not just technology right now. It's about culture, people, leadership, and communication styles. All of that is happening all at once. I think it's really exciting, but, at the end of the day, we're human and we have to prioritize and choose a place to start.

Tony Caldwell:

Well, just to put this in perspective, in terms of the pace or the rapidity of what's going on in our world, I read a study that was done in 2018, so a couple of years old, but I think it has done nothing but accelerate since then. Anyway, according to the study I read, there was more information being created in 2018 than in the entire history of the world up until then. That's how much information is being created. That's accelerating. It's really a time that's really hard to get your arms around. 

You talked about culture and you talked about a couple of other things. I know from reading an article that you wrote, you talked about some of the hallmarks of the way that you're looking at innovation and change, and so help our audience. Give us some framework for the really important things that are the three, four, or five things that are really important as you anchor yourself and prepare for the future. 

What are those?

Angela Noble:

The way that we approach innovation on my team at EMC is I'd mentioned being purposeful and intentional. That means we really want to understand what problem we were trying to solve. Who's the audience, and then how do we collaborate [with] and involve them? It's one thing for Angela to say, "Hmm. I think I found a solution for underwriting," and then go and develop it out and then just hand it to them one day and say, "I think you're really going to like this. You should implement it." It's another thing to have a structured process for innovation of identifying gaps or opportunities together, and then guiding our business partners through that process. At EMC, we definitely have a really comprehensive process that not only includes the end business user, which can be someone ... A business unit with EMC, it can be our agency partners, or it can be policyholders.

But throughout that process of involving our IT teams, our information security or data teams, our customer experience teams, all throughout, ensuring that everyone has that voice at the table to really shape how is this innovation related back to what we're trying to solve for, and what's the value that it's going to bring back to our company or the people that it's impacting. That's really where we start as being really purposeful and intentional, and having a process. 

Then, of course, Tony, as soon as I say process, you create a process so that someone can change it probably the next day. It's always evolving. That's just the thing, too, we've got to come from a place of learning and understanding that even if it doesn't go perfectly the first time, talking through that and being brave enough to say, "Okay, that didn't really go as we thought it would. What did we learn? Let's talk and be honest, and then let's move forward together." Together is definitely the key word there.

Tony Caldwell:

What I'm hearing is a willingness to take risks, a willingness to experiment and fail, knowing failure leads to success down the road. I mean, that's what I'm hearing you say also. Is that fair?

Angela Noble:

Absolutely. I think also being able to demonstrate and link it back to something that will add value for the company, the agency, or the policyholder because I will say it's really fun to chase those shiny objects and to bring in really cool ideas that are just interesting to listen to. But, at the end of the day, we need to make sure that we are helping our company evolve and grow along with all of those consumer and agency preferences, and all of that, too. It all has to link together.

Tony Caldwell:

Okay. You obviously work ... EMC company is a very large organization and you've mentioned teams, and you've mentioned a whole bunch of teams. If we step back and say, "Okay, in the agency business, there are certainly some insurance agencies that are also huge, but many are small, like 3, 4, 5, 10 people, confronting the same sorts of challenges that you would in EMC are facing." 

I don't mean to dumb this down, but if we can simplify a little bit, one of the things I heard you say was being really intentional, and so figuring out what the problem is, what's the problem. You didn't say this, but I think you've implied it, which is what's the vision, where are we going? And then bringing everybody to the table, maybe it's the CSRs and the producers and the accounting staff.

I had an interesting experience recently. I'm chairman of the board of a small community bank and we have a new business unit, and there've been some issues in that business unit. The leader left. The CEO had to step in and run it for a little bit. He came back and said, "The sales team's not talking to the compliance team, and they're not talking to the accounting." 

I'm like, "I've been telling you this for three years. Anyway, but the point is, they weren't doing what you said." They weren't all at the same table saying, "Hey, how do we solve this problem?" in a collegial manner. When they did that, it was interesting because not only did they solve the problems very rapidly, but then the productivity just skyrocketed. I'm sure that you believe the same thing happens in agencies when everybody sits down and confronts the same kinds of issues together.

Angela Noble:

Absolutely. I think that the key thing that you're saying, too, or what I'm hearing you say, is it's all about relationships and there's not a one size fits all solution. That's the same at a carrier within an agency within policy holders, everyone's going to be a little bit different. I think it's really key for us leaders to listen, to humbly ask, "What am I not asking that I should be?" So we understand who we're working with. And then, "What am I not saying that you need me to say?" I think there are some questions that [we], as leaders, while we're trying to understand others' perspectives or trying to understand what gaps or opportunities are there, we also need to be asking questions and giving people an opportunity to speak openly with us, which is hard to do, but that's part of an innovative culture, too.

Tony Caldwell:

You mentioned, I think you used the term partners earlier, and I think you were describing an internal process inside your own company, but, clearly, insurance agents are generally viewed by insurance carriers as partners in the business and they should be, I think. And, clearly, because EMC has a Vice President of Innovation, a leader at the senior level driving and facilitating a process of moving through the changes that are coming, you view that as really important. How does this work as we go forward with both the creators of insurance carriers and the distributors of insurance agencies, what are the kinds of approaches to innovation, or mindsets around innovation, that carriers are going to be looking for in their agency partners, as we move forward?

Angela Noble:

I think, again, it comes back down to the one size doesn't fit all. I think it's coming in with an approach that innovation isn't siloed. Just because Angela has innovation in her title doesn't mean that only Angela can do innovation. It means getting the right people in the room. At EMC, we have a really strong agency team that works every single day with our independent agents to really get to know them, to understand their business, to understand their strengths and opportunities. Those are the people that I need at the table to ensure that we're having the right types of conversations so that we can empower our agents, and find innovative solutions that will help them. Again, I would say innovation doesn't happen in a silo or a vacuum, or whatever term you want to use, but we have to have everyone feel empowered, to have and lead those conversations.

Tony Caldwell:

Do you think though that agents and agency owners that don't want to change, don't have a mindset around evolving into a changing future, how do you view folks like that compared to, say, the people that you interact with who do? What's the future for somebody who wants to do it on paper, for example, and doesn't want to change? Is there a viable future for folks like that in your opinion?

Angela Noble:

My opinion only, I think it would be very difficult, just because we know that more and more services are moving online. Even with COVID, the face-to-face interactions, that was difficult over the last year, or so. That's a huge part of relationship building too, not only in agencies, but in our carriers as well. I think resistance to change would be difficult. However, I think what we have to do is understand the why. 

That's, again, back to my one size fits all. I'm going to be repeating myself, I think, throughout this time, but you're understanding, what is the resistance to change? What are the reasons why? Maybe there's some benefit there. Maybe the resistance to change is because the relationships that they have with their book of business are, "Hey, face-to-face, I've been doing business with them for 40 years. I know them. This is how I do business. This is my brand," and, I think, having respect for that.

I think respectful, open conversations are the key, and knowing that everyone will move at a different pace, respecting that. It's okay to make decisions that might not include everyone. I think that's really hard to do because I think, just as a human being, you want to find a solution that does work for everyone. But as long as you can have those open conversations and say, "Okay, this is the direction that we're moving. This is why. We want you to be part of it. If you choose not to, okay. Then let's continue to figure out ways that we can have a respectful relationship."

Tony Caldwell:

I spent a chapter of my book talking about why and how it's so important for insurance agency entrepreneurs to have really solid reasons that they believe in and have internalized about why they're taking the risk to start a business, why it is that they're creating an insurance agency, why they are in the marketplace, and how that's different than other people's whys. I think everybody is influenced to some degree by Simon Sinek's books on that subject. But I think it really is important. Understanding your own personal whys is a beginning point to creating institutional whys. Then understanding each other, it becomes the why we're doing things the way we do them, but comes really, really important to understanding each other. I'm glad you brought that up.

Angela Noble:

Absolutely. I think, actually I had in back of my varied career, I had a role where I was leading change management. There was a lot of discussion about resistance to change and understanding that why. Because, a lot of times, what you discover is the root of that resistance isn't just because, "Oh, I don't want to," but something else. 

Do you have the tools that you need to change? Do you have the resources that you need to change? I think that's where, when we really look at these innovative changes that are happening to us, we also have to consider how do we help and enable people to embrace that change and then move forward with it. I think, as carriers especially, this is again Angela's opinion, but I think we should really think about that, of how do we enable our agency partners to embrace and move forward with change. Just wanted to add that in.

Tony Caldwell:

I think this is really helpful. As you think about the next decade where, I think we both agree, there's going to be a lot of really interesting things develop. 

What does the insurance company of the future look like? How does it look differently than it does today?

Angela Noble:

Oh my goodness. Well, if you'd asked me this a couple of years ago, I think I still would have had the lens of, "We'll be working in office buildings and it will be ..." 

I think what I learned over the last 18 months is I cannot actually predict the future, even though that is something I try to tell my kids that I can do. I cannot actually do that, but I think, what I love is, and actually it makes me think of the A.M. Best Innovation scoring criteria, which is a relatively new portion of A.M. Best, and what they focus on isn't, "Okay, we're going to score you on the number of technological changes you made." 

What they score us on, are leadership, culture, resources, [and] processes. Then we talk about output. I think that the company of the future is really focusing on what we've been talking about the whole time, Tony, of embracing change, putting human beings first, being purposeful and intentional. I think that's what it looks like, is that opening up more ways to communicate, making decisions, being open with each other, and being respectful. I think that's it. I think it's more about culture and I think, yes, we'll have a lot of technology and things that will amaze us. But I think it's going to be about people.

Tony Caldwell:

Well, I certainly hope it is. It's always been about people up until now. You just mentioned COVID a second ago. Clearly, COVID has changed a lot of things. But it's done something else, I think, which is it's brought a new value to the fore that I don't see people talking about very much, and that's agility. When I remember the beginning of the pandemic was announced in Oklahoma City, when the Thunder NBA basketball team didn't play one night, because one of the players of the opposing team showed up with COVID, and what do we do? That was March 13th. Beginning on the morning of March 14th, the entire world changed. It was interesting, we have nearly 200 agencies in our organization, and some people move very rapidly into a virtual environment and didn't miss a beat.

They were already equipped with tools, but also with the mindset that, "Okay, we're going to roll with this." Other people, it took months. In fact, we had an agency open their doors on March 14th, and I talked to them, I don't know, a week or so later. They were loving what was going on. They were right in business hand over fist. They said, "Everybody's at home. It's easy to get a hold of people." While other folks were bemoaning that they couldn't sell insurance in the way they were used to. This agility, I think, or the ability to be agile, began to really show up in the second quarter of 2020. I think it's something that, if you think about a rapidly evolving world, is a virtue that everyone ought to focus on. What do you think?

Angela Noble:

Oh my gosh, I couldn't have said it better. Yes. I completely agree. I think we proved to ourselves how agile we can be. We had to do it in a matter of days and here we are, a year and a half later, and we're still doing this and we're successful, and we've done a lot of great things. Yes, ditto to what you said.

Tony Caldwell:

You mentioned that maybe working in offices, it's an up for grabs thing. I mean, people are experimenting and trying to figure this out. My comment is that I think geography is dead. I was on the phone with one of my attorneys on Friday and learned that his office is literally six blocks from here, but I hadn't seen him in a while. I did not realize he had moved to Fort Worth, Texas, which is 200 miles away. He had all these reasons, "Why would this family," he goes, "No, people don't care where I am." That's exactly right. I don't care where he is. We were having a Zoom conversation. He could be six blocks, 60 miles, or on the other side of the Earth for that matter, it doesn't matter.

Angela Noble:

It doesn't. I agree.

Tony Caldwell:

That's fine. There's some really interesting things to think about in that regard. How are you at EMC? How are you thinking about this death of geography in terms of how your teams work, where they work, and who they work with? What kind of opportunities is that presenting for you?

Angela Noble:

Many opportunities. I think we haven't solved the problem yet, or the riddle I should say, not the problem. But we haven't solved the riddle yet. We intend to go back and open up offices and have people working for them. However, at the same time, we also intend to listen, to understand, "Okay, well, what do our team members want and need? What types of schedules do they desire and how do we address that?" I think the other thing is too, is empowering leaders. Leaders were kind of in that middle bubble. We all were at home and then now, okay, not only am I a leader that I have to do my role and make sure my boss is happy, but now I'm leading a group of people who are going through immense change and trying to ... It was so much. 

Now, as we're thinking about returning to work, or what do we want that to look like, hoping and empowering leaders to make decisions, to learn how to build skills. If you were a leader that had never led someone who didn't sit right next to you in an office, does that change how you lead, what skills and experience do you need to make sure that you're still growing and evolving as a leader? And you are an effective leader.

I think that's what we're talking about EMC right now, is really empowering everyone. Making sure leaders have the tools that they need to make sure that we continue to have effective teams, no matter what our geography is. I agree with you. Actually, I work with someone who ... She did the extreme even more than what your friend did, Tony, but she has sold her house, bought an RV, and that's where she will be working from, for the future. [She] and her husband are both working. They're just driving around the country, living out of an RV, and living and working. Which, I think, is a really good story. We might have to have her on your podcast later this year to see how that's going.

Tony Caldwell:

That's awesome. As I'm hearing you talk about this and you said, "Okay, leaders that are having to lead people that they're not necessarily sitting next to anymore." What occurs to me is, "Okay, so what do you want in a business leader?" You want business acumen, you want technical skills, you want great decision-making and good judgment, and analytics, and all those things. Those are all hard skills. You go to college to learn a lot of that. What I'm taking from what you're saying is that here's the skill of the future that everybody has to either come equipped with or figure out, which is empathy. I mean, is that ...

Angela Noble:

Absolutely. Empathy, human perspective. You said it too, insurance has always been about humans, and definitely going forward. I think also helping leaders develop their coaching skills and just developing those soft skills. We know that our leaders are technically sound, they know what they're doing, but to be able to coach and empower others, I think is where we can really help our leaders as well. I'm included in that.

Tony Caldwell:

What makes a great coach?

Angela Noble:

Just what you just did, asking questions. In fact, I just had a session with my coach. Most of that session is him just asking questions of me. I think helping people get to those solutions on their own, rather than telling them what the answer is. Even if you really know it and you have this burning desire to share, a coach helps others learn and grow on their own.

Tony Caldwell:

One of the things I think a great coach has is a great perspective. Everybody has a perspective. The problem is our perspective of ourselves and our own performance is so flawed because it's always out looking. I remember, many years ago, taking a trip with my family, and later my father was showing pictures of the trip. There was a guy with my overcoat holding the hands of my children down by this river. But I didn't recognize him. Everybody else did, but I didn't because that guy was bald. That was the first time that I realized I'd gone bald, because looking in the mirror, I'm not looking with the back of my head. So, my perspective was different than everyone else's. 

A great coach brings a different perspective to a performer, whether it's an athlete or a business person. Then, to your point, asking questions really seeks to create understanding between the two perspectives. Isn't that right?

Angela Noble:

Absolutely. I love what you said about different perspectives, too. That's what we need sometimes. We get really tunnel vision into what we're working on, or an issue that we have with another team, or working with a business partner, we sometimes lose sight of that perspective. Yes, a good coach will draw that out.

Tony Caldwell:

I think there's a really interesting opportunity here, and I'm glad we're talking about this, because insurance agents and insurance carriers talk, I think, a lot at each other, but not with each other. Even inside of organizations, you have a hierarchal, which has really died, I think, over the last 10 or 15 years, management structure. It's got to be more lateral, and I think it is in many organizations, but I don't necessarily see that in the conversation between agents and companies. What do you think?

Angela Noble:

I agree again. Yes. I think that's where it's really important for carriers to invite agents in to have a seat at the table and say, "We do want to hear what you're thinking, what you're feeling." Then also running things by our agency partners. I think it's a really big thing, especially from the innovation space. 

Let's say that I go out and I find a solution, I think, "Oh my goodness, this will make it so much more efficient for people to quote with our company. Let's do it." I never ask an agent, “Well, how do I know that will actually help?” So, yes, I think opening up those lines of communication, I'm seeing that more and more every day and I think that's wonderful, but yes. Seat at the table.

Tony Caldwell:

Yeah, for sure. I had a conversation with a friend recently and he had a meeting with one of his carrier partners who brought in some data and said, "Here's some data. Here's what we're doing about it." And he said, "That was the first time it was ever like an edict." 

So, he set a follow-up meeting and they gave the carrier a bunch of data. And it was interesting, because it's like, "Okay, here's your data, Here's my data." 

Totally different data. Really, the data was perspective. He said, folks from the carrier, he's like, "They've never had anybody do that to them before," And he said, "After they got over that, we had a great conversation." 

So, it makes the point, we have to all be willing to listen to the other side.

Angela Noble:

It does. Absolutely. Yes, I think that it's just relationship building. Which is what insurance has been about since the first day, anyway. But yes, it's all about relationships and being humble.

Tony Caldwell:

Back to COVID. It's been a horrible, tragic thing that's happened to the whole world. Yet, I don't believe that people are really latching onto this or talking about it, but it's also creating enormous, good and enormous opportunities. The Renaissance, when you go to Europe and you go through museums and things, you look at all this wonderful artwork, and what gave birth to the Renaissance, which literally means the rebirth, was the black death when 25% or 30% of the population actually died. Had that not happened, we wouldn't have had this amazing outburst in human history of creativity and all the things that led to that. I think COVID is actually going to do the same thing and it is actually doing the same thing. For example, we're having this conversation today on Zoom.

I've been trying to Zoom with people for five years. What is Zoom? We had this clunky stuff, but now we have this ability, and what's coming in two or three years, actually, and I've experienced, it will be untethered virtual reality, where you're sitting across the table from me in cyberspace, not as a weird looking funky cartoon character, but as you. I had an opportunity recently to see Tony Robbins. They said he's coming in a hologram because he had to be in some other city at the same time. I was sitting, I don't know, 25 feet from the stage. I thought, they're putting me on. He's really here. I mean, he's not a hologram, and then he threw his arms out and his hands disappeared, and I'm like, "Oh my gosh, he really isn't here." But that's how realistic and lifelike it was. 

So, again, we're all learning to communicate differently as a result of COVID. I think it's just a down payment on what's coming. I think that means that you can bring agents into your innovation centers or labs, or wherever you're doing this work, in a way that you've never been able to do before. Do you plan to do that?

Angela Noble:

Absolutely. Yes. It's interesting that you said labs, so I'll address what you decided in just a moment, but I want to make sure it's said. At the beginning of our conversation, I talked about being really structured and having a process for innovation. You're having all this stuff. 

There is a flip side, though, to saying, "Okay, yes, let's dedicate some time to this process, but we also need to pay attention to really kind of the things that we think, well, that's a little far out." One of those things that we've explored at EMC is augmented and virtual reality and insurance. We've talked about, "Well, what are some use cases that we could use at EMC to help and empower others?" We've actually started using it and we're revisiting it again this fall. More to come on that, but we have to think outside the box a little bit.

Then, with our agency partners, yes, right now how we have it at EMC, we have our agency development team, our marketing team have those strong, existing relationships, our field team. We need them to be able to help us get that voice of the agent, just how we're structured at EMC, that just makes the most sense. Other carriers or other agencies might have a different approach, but it is really important for us to be able to do that because we need the independent agents, period. There's no more to say on that. We need them, and their success is our success. I mean, to say it in business terms, it really is. So we want to make sure that we're listening, helping, empowering, embracing change, all of those things for our agents.

Tony Caldwell:

I'm glad to hear you say that you need agents because there's been an ongoing conversation, I think, in the industry over the last couple of decades, about what's the future of the agent. I think actually technology is very threatening to agents and things like direct writing and things, many carriers trying to be in all these different channels, all which threatens agents and their ability to do business. If there has been, I don't believe it's so much present today, but I think over the last number of years it has been a real question. 

How many agents do we need? How many agencies will there be? Does the independent agency have a future? What does it look like? 

While it's evolving, I do think most people now believe that you know what? People like talking to human beings about their really serious issues, and that you can't really replace that with technology. That what the role of technology in our businesses is just to take away the drudgery so that we have more conversations. That's my vision. I don't know. What is yours?

Angela Noble:

I 100% agree with you. I absolutely do. Because what we're finding is that people do want the technology. They want the ease of use, what they're doing is doing their research, but then thinking, "Okay, I need the expertise. I need the knowledge of an independent agent to make sure that I'm getting the right coverages." Especially when it comes to commercial lines, my goodness. Commercial lines, we need that skill and expertise. 

That's where the agent comes in. Now that technology is there where they could do this over Zoom and still write policies. I think that's actually helping the independent agents as well. Then I think, just from a carrier perspective, "What can we do to help and empower agents to embrace that change?" Because it's still all about relationships. I really, really do believe that. EMC is 100% committed to independent agents. We see their value and we know that consumers, yes, they're looking for ease of use, but they do want the expertise, and they want choice. That's where the independent agent comes in of being able to say, "Okay, here's what you need. Here's the options you have." I can't Google that. I mean, I could, but it would be scary.

Tony Caldwell:

Well, I think they want something even more fundamental than the things you listed, which are all important, and I think prospects often, as a commercial insurance agent for a long time, you have to get over some barriers before you get to this point with somebody, because they want an apples to apples quote, which is ridiculous. But anyway, you got to get past all that. At the end of the day, though, when you get to the point where you're really having serious conversations with somebody about, back to fear, "What are you scared of? What keeps you up at night? What's really important to you? What are your hopes, dreams, and ambitions for your business or your family?" 

It's only with that information that an agent can do the very best work for somebody. Because there's a million ways to do insurance and risk management, but only through really deep personal connectedness are you able to do the very best work. To me, the exciting thing about the future of our businesses is that doing applications and processing, and all those kinds of things, are going to go away. AI is going to take over most of that stuff, and faster than many people suspect, which if that's what you think creates your value, you've got a real problem for the future. But if you think it's having conversations with people, making friends and that sort of thing, it's going to be exciting.

Angela Noble:

Yeah. You, too, well said. Well said, Tony, completely agree.

Tony Caldwell:

As we wrap up, any last thoughts you want to leave our audience with around the topic of innovation? We've talked a lot about relationships. We've talked a lot about intentionality, teamwork, listening, and understanding, so that we're on the same page, but making sure that whatever changes that we're doing are solving problems. We talked about a lot of those things. Anything else you want to throw in?

Angela Noble:

I don't think so. I was listening to the list. I'm like, okay, okay, okay. I think we covered it. I feel pretty good about it, but, of course, as soon as we hang up, I'll think of at least three more things.

Tony Caldwell:

You'll have to come back.

Angela Noble:

I will, I guess. But yes. Thank you. Thank you. That was a good recap. I appreciate it.

Tony Caldwell:

Okay. Well, Angela Noble, thank you for being with me today. I've really enjoyed our conversation and I will get this out to you as soon as we finish it up. Thanks very much.

Angela Noble:

Thank you. Thank you, Tony, it was so much fun. I appreciate it. Great conversation. Thank you.

Tony Caldwell:

I'm talking to independent agency owners about this all the time. If you'd like to have a more personalized conversation, click on that button or the link in the description and we'll make that happen. You can also reach out to me at tonycaldwell.net/contact.

 

CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES: https://www.tonycaldwell.net/uncaptive-agency-the-future-of-insurance-podcast

VIEW THE BLOG: https://www.tonycaldwell.net/blog

TONY’S BOOKS: https://www.tonycaldwell.net/books

TALK TO TONY: https://www.tonycaldwell.net/contact

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