The future of Canadian wholesalers working with independent insurance agents may look quite different as a result of the pandemic. Change, once thought likely to take place in three to five years, needed to be more quickly implemented.
Conducted just prior to the global pandemic, Redefining Wholesaling: The LIMRA-EY Canadian Wholesaler Study found that communications among wholesalers and independent insurance agents took place predominantly through in-person, face-to-face interactions. Only 2% of wholesalers were meeting with independent insurance agents via video conferencing.
“The COVID-19 pandemic redefined what was possible, and video conferencing became an immediate need,” said Laura Murach, associate research director, Distribution Research, LIMRA. “Recognizing that face-to-face could include virtual as well as in person started prior to the pandemic, but shelter-in-place completed the process as virtual became the only option for face-to-face communication.”
Why Use External Wholesalers?
Product expertise is the primary reason independent insurance agents say they need a wholesaler, with half of wholesalers concurring. Wholesalers know that in order to be effective they must provide value-added services beyond product expertise. Independent insurance agents agree, and 75% indicate that wholesaling adds value to their practices.
Another way wholesalers can add value is through providing sophisticated data analytics. Wholesaling organizations use data analytics to determine how and where wholesalers spend their time. Independent insurance agents use data analytics for prospecting, marketing, and, to a lesser extent, selling. Over 70% of independent insurance agents see data for prospecting and marketing segmentation as important in the near future, and a higher percentage of wholesalers believe data analytics will increase in independent insurance agents’ practices.
“In the pandemic environment, technologies developed for cost savings and enhancing customer reach, such as e-app, e-delivery, e-policy disbursement, and e-claims, have become necessities. These simplify the process of doing business,” Murach notes.
With increased regulatory focus on fair treatment of customers, the wholesaling approach will become more consultative and product agnostic, thereby adding value beyond product, tax, and legal expertise. Ninety-four percent of external wholesalers believe, more so than in the past, that wholesalers are trying to understand advisors’/brokers’ needs rather than “push product.” Fifty-three percent of independent insurance agents agree.
Despite this, almost twice as many independent insurance agents prefer a specialized wholesaler (where product expertise is dedicated to individual products) than a consultative/generalist wholesaler. This underscores independent insurance agents’ perception of wholesalers in the traditional role as product expert. Wholesalers split about evenly in their preference to act as specialized wholesalers versus consultative wholesalers.
“We believe the trends that were already underway pre‑COVID-19 will continue post‑COVID-19; most importantly, the trend in wholesalers pursuing a consultative approach with independent insurance agents. How wholesalers communicate, the technologies they use, and the data analytics expertise they utilize will redefine the wholesaler model going forward,” Murach notes.