Whether you are captive or new to the business you may wonder if the grass is actually greener on the independent side, and if so, how much greener? And what about the weeds?
No two agencies are the same, so the answer to the question really depends on you. Perhaps the experiences of two agents can illustrate.
First is Donnie. He worked with State Farm and excelled in selling life insurance. His marketing was passive, but he felt like his personal reputation was generating leads. He was so successful that State Farm would encourage agents from around his state to visit him and learn his system. He was personable and enthusiastic. As you can imagine our team was excited to work with him. He left State Farm and started life as an independent agent with us. Within nine months he could see that the captive model was a better fit for him, and he returned to State Farm where he is doing well.
Second is Justin. Justin was a producer for a State Farm agent. He was also extremely successful and had a different marketing method than Donnie. He was personable and enthusiastic. As with Donnie, we were excited when he chose to be an agent with us. He left State Farm, and in his first year he passed his own premium goal by 20%! Unlike his State Farm situation, he now is building a book for himself, and he receives more commission from our carriers than he did from State Farm.
Watch Justin describe his experience:
For Donnie, the grass was not greener with our model and with Justin it was greener than he had even hoped. What was the difference and how do you know if you are a Donnie or a Justin?
Here are a few categories to help you figure it out:
I love to watch live sports. Unfortunately, that means I also end up watching commercials. What’s worse, it seems like most of them are insurance commercials. In fact, in 2013 insurance companies spent more than $5 BILLION on advertising.
The reason the ad spends are so big is that getting in front of prospects is the most difficult part of selling insurance. It’s true for carriers and it’s true for agents. When I started in the business my dad (who had been agent of the year for Farmers in 1991) sat me down and said “Son, if you can get in front of people you will be fine. If you cannot, you’re doomed. It won’t matter how many companies you have if no one will talk to you about your products.”
He was (and still is) right. Justin is a great individual marketer. He didn’t need State Farm’s massive ad budget to get in front of prospects. He was already doing it on his own, so when he went independent he continued to get plenty of prospects. But his closing ratio and retention rate increased significantly. Combine lots of prospects with a great appetite and closing ratio and this business is a lot of fun.
Donnie was extremely personable and if he could get a prospect he had a great closing ratio. In fact, he closed a higher percentage of his prospects with us than he did as a captive agent. He just didn’t have enough of them. It turned out that State Farm’s advertising was generating more leads for him than he realized.
So, if you need your company’s advertising and reputation to get in front of prospects, you might want to stay put. However, if you are getting referrals and leads independent of your carrier or agency, you will very likely do much better working with us.
Every carrier is proud of their products, and will generally hold themselves out as the standard by which everyone else should be measured. Even Progressive has started to emphasize coverage and not just price in their commercials. We work with a lot and compete with a lot of carriers. I don’t know everything about insurance, but I know that most carriers have fine products and take good care of their customers. Being independent does give you more products and coverage options, so it is easier to find the right place for a unique customer.
Independents won’t always have the best rates, but we have yet to have an agent tell us their closing ratio went down once they started working with us. My brother likes to say that with Firefly, more often than not, price is not an obstacle to people choosing to work with you.
Still, you have to be able to get in front of people. Otherwise you close 100% of nothing.
Almost all of the independent carriers pay higher commissions than captives do. My personal opinion is that the captives spend so much money on advertising they don’t see the agent as bringing as much value. After all, if they take care of the hardest part of the business – getting in front of people – then they may be keeping their agents afloat. Like they did with Donnie.
As a side note, some captive carriers are starting to sell directly to consumers. To me, this seems to diminish the value of an agent.
Take a look at the insurance companies who spend most on advertising. You’ll see the only independent carrier on the list is Progressive. All of the other big spenders are captive or direct writers. That means independent carriers rely more on agents to get in front of clients. Instead of massive ad spends, they pay higher commissions.
This is another short one. Carrier appetites are much broader on the independent side. There are still risks that won’t fit any carrier, but it is much rarer than with a captive. This is especially true with business insurance.
If you are at all concerned about the insurance impact of self-driving cars, direct sales, or other disruptions to the insurance sales model, you should definitely think about writing commercial insurance.
Commercial insurance is very stable in the long run, and is presently dominated by independent carriers. More than 80% of commercial premium is placed through independent carriers.
Your ability to quote and write business insurance is much better than what most captive agents can do.
Learning curve and training
Then there’s the learning curve. If you are brand new to insurance, this would be one reason to consider starting as a captive and re-evaluating once you are comfortable with the industry.
Regardless of your intelligence, it is easier to learn the products for one carrier than for dozens. While captive carriers often have formal programs to teach agents about the industry and their products, independent carriers want to appoint people who won’t need much training.
We’ve been there; we know there is a lot to learn about carrier appetites and coverage differences when you go from one carrier to many. You’ll need to be patient with yourself as you work toward mastering it all. But if you choose to go independent with Firefly, we can help bridge the gap. Our agents are taught by full-time training and support staff through a process done over the phone, with computer screen sharing. Although your head may be spinning with all of this new information, the important thing is that you’re not alone. We’ll show you the way.
Experience has proven to us that if you are skilled at getting in front of prospects, all of the other strengths can work in your favor and the weeds can be overcome.
What this means for you:
Which of these factors are most important to you?
Experience has shown us that if you are good at getting in front of prospects, all of the other strengths can work in your favor and the weaknesses can be overcome.
Our friends at Ohio Independent Agents state that 80% of captive agents and 70% of independent agents end up failing out of the business. Firefly’s success rate is much higher than either of those two, but even then, independence is not for everyone. We can’t and wouldn’t say that the grass will be greener for you with Firefly than anywhere else. We don’t know you well enough (though if you give us a call, we’ll do our best to help you figure it out!).
No matter your chance of success, it will improve if you start in the place where the grass is greenest for you. You don’t want to be this person!
Find the right partner for you, start growing your business, and don’t look back!