October 2014
Burand's Insurance Agency Adviser
Resources and Information for the P&C Insurance Industry
Volume 19, Number 5

~ For a printable PDF version, click here. ~

In This Issue...

Leadership Lessons from RTR 2014
by Jay Brenneman

Ride the Rockies is an annual 400+ mile, six-day road bike tour through the heart of the rugged mountains of Colorado. I made this trek for the fifth time last month. The second stage of the ride provided more than a few hours for reflection, a 95-mile route from Winter Park to Steamboat over picturesque Rabbits Ears Pass and finally down into the Yampa River Valley. Though RTR is a recreational event removed from real-life challenges, my mind kept identifying how the ride illustrated simple, but important leadership lessons. Here are my reflections. Read More...


Benchmarks: What's the Value?

I have developed excellent insurance agency and insurance company benchmarks available only to select clients. These are not perfect benchmarks. The term "perfect benchmark" is oxymoronic. They are extremely good though. So why don’t I publish them and make them available to everyone? Read More...


Are You Considering a Cluster?

Clusters are gaining ground for many reasons and arguably, most small agencies may belong to a cluster in the foreseeable future. I am not against clusters. Done well, they provide significant benefits at a moderate cost to small agencies. But the problems with many small clusters are significant. The cost may be down the road, like the federal deficit, and it is a really big price. Read More...


Three Tips for Greater Insurance Company Success

1) Teach top management, and I mean "C-suite" management, elementary math and basic finance. This knowledge, or lack thereof, is most pertinent to a single budget line item: profit sharing. Profit sharing is almost universally budgeted as a percentage of net premiums written. This model is wrong. Read More...


Two Quotes

I read a quote by Warren Buffett that concluded all consultants are a waste. Another quote by Harvey Mackay basically stated that all one needs to succeed is to believe. Read More...


Why Insurance Math is Special

More than two decades ago I was working at an insurance company that had three contingency contracts. We plebeians were only allowed to offer the best contract to agencies that asked for it. Since they did not know it existed, the only ones that got it were really just shooting in the dark. But they got it because the only requirement was to ask for it. Read More...

Solutions!

Chris Burand,
Accredited Business Appraiser
Institute of Business Appraisers

Burand & Associates, LLC

215 S. Victoria Ave., Suite E
Pueblo, CO 81003
p: 719/485-3868
chris@burand-associates.com

Visit us at:
burand-associates.com

FTE Calculations

If you sell group benefits, I suggest recommending to all your clients that they make an FTE calculation. Here is a link to one such calculator:

https://www.healthcare.gov/fte-calculator/

Only ONE opening remains for the 2015 Keystone Agency Management Meeting!

The 2015 Keystone Agency Management Meeting will be held March 2-3, 2015 in Keystone, CO! This meeting consists of a small group of agency professionals who meet only during the morning. The group discusses critical agency management topics, as well as attendees' ideas, roundtable topics, questions and concerns.

The schedule leaves the afternoons free for skiing and enjoying the breathtaking Colorado Rockies.

The registration fee for this two day meeting is $549 per person. Please contact me at chris@burand-associates.com to learn more.

We have just ONE space available so if you're interested, don't wait!


Reach your Agency's Peak Efficiency and Productivity!

The PEP System® Analysis (Peak Efficiency and Productivity System) is THE gateway for identifying the best opportunities for improving productivity (CSRs, carriers, producer and/or IT Systems) within an agency.

In a typical agency, the PEP System® Analysis commonly identifies:

  • As much as 20% wastage
  • Uneven workloads at deep levels
  • Opportunities to eliminate overtime
  • Mismatches between work and compensation
  • E&O exposures
  • The true top performers
  • Training needs
  • Potential morale problems
  • Producers that corrupt profitability
  • The root causes of productivity problems

This is the ONLY system that is specific to each individual agency. This means the BEST benchmarks are employed, with the following benefits: a) Waste, frustration, employment practices issues, and E&O exposures are minimized.  Generic benchmarks create these problems. b) The BEST benchmarks create a perfect environment for constant improvement in the most efficient manner possible. c) It is much easier to implement policies and procedures that are specific to an agency rather than basing such changes on generic and totally unproven external benchmarks.

Additionally, the VERY BEST benchmarks are self-correcting. Self-correcting benchmarks are extremely rare. This system IS self-correcting.

The value of a PEP System® Analysis is simple:

  • Easier agency management
  • Less stress
  • Reduced expenses of at least $60,000 annually per CSR redeployed or eliminated (based on industry norms and Burand & Associates' internal analysis). This equals the equivalent of $160,000 extra revenue based on industry norms!
  • When fully deployed, Six Sigma quality is inherently developed whereas NO OTHER INSURANCE AGENCY PROCESSING BENCHMARKING system achieves Two Sigma.

Set your agency on a path towards Peak Efficiency and Productivity. Get started on your PEP System® Analysis today.

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Leadership Lessons from RTR 2014
by Jay Brenneman

Ride the Rockies is an annual 400+ mile, six-day road bike tour through the heart of the rugged mountains of Colorado. I made this trek for the fifth time last month. The second stage of the ride provided more than a few hours for reflection, a 95-mile route from Winter Park to Steamboat over picturesque Rabbits Ears Pass and finally down into the Yampa River Valley. Though RTR is a recreational event removed from real-life challenges, my mind kept identifying how the ride illustrated simple, but important leadership lessons. Here are my reflections.

Expect the unexpected. I know this sounds trite. But you would be amazed at how few riders were emotionally and physically prepared for the rain, hail, and even snow on the first stage of our ride. After four years of nearly perfect weather experiences on RTR, I too was nearly seduced into expecting a repeat performance from Mother Nature. Snow on June 8th? That can't happen. But it did. As a leader, how do you prepare your people with the resilience and fortitude it takes to successfully weather the tough times that will inevitable hit your company or industry? If you have successfully navigated a season of company turbulence, perhaps calling the troops together to clearly identify what we all learned in the heat of battle would be helpful.   

Know when to draft. We faced a 15 mph head wind on a westbound leg from Granby to Steamboat Springs. I was keenly aware we had at least another 60 miles to complete that day. And, I was fortunate to have a riding companion who was younger, bigger, and a stronger rider than I. So I "got on his wheel" and drafted; that riding skill of following the rider ahead very closely, thereby reducing wind resistance and energy burn by an amazing 30%. I know more than a few executives who are unnecessarily exhausted from bucking their business head winds alone, refusing to let other highly talented team members lead. Their organizations and their own health would be better served if they knew when to follow and when to set their ego aside.

Pace yourself. It takes discipline to "ride your own ride," especially the first day of the tour when everyone is adrenalized and we finally get to put all the months of training to use on the mountain. There were folks walking their bikes at higher elevations the very first afternoon, not but 40 miles into the ride because they started too fast. They spent the morning exhausting them selves in a futile attempt to keep up with the others. Rarely is strong, durable leadership a sprint. It requires awareness of our strengths and limitations, trusting that our style and pace of leadership will get us to the finish line.

Know how to replenish your energy. One obvious challenge on a six-day bike tour with 60 to 90-mile stages is sustaining prolonged physical and emotional effort. It requires stamina. Power bars and honey zingers every hour is the magic formula for me on an extended ride. Entrepreneurial and business leadership takes an unusual capacity to maintain stamina, often for several decades. What are your emotional, physical, and spiritual "power bars" that will keep your energy level high and give you the endurance needed for the long haul? I know one CEO who disciplines himself to set aside the relentless demands of leadership for a weeklong personal retreat twice a year. He says the time away alone "feeds my soul and makes me a better leader. "So what feeds your mind, body, and soul, and how are you replenishing your leadership energy?

Recognize and respect risk. We were on a stretch of rolling hills between Kremling and Steamboat on a section of Highway 40 without shoulders. It offered 18 inches of space for single file riding. Much to my amazement, I saw a rider, ignoring the warning to ride single file and failing to look behind, pull out in front of an 18-wheeler not but 50 yards to his rear. Fortunately the truck driver averted the near disaster. As leaders we can become preoccupied with a product, strategy, or maybe a new hire. And, in that unobservant state, we often ignore best business practices and the input of colleagues. Ask yourself, "Am I getting feedback I resist hearing?" "Does one person or product take an inordinate amount of my time?" The marketplace and competitors are usually less forgiving than the truck driver on Highway 40.  

Stay off your high horse. There always seems to be a very small percentage of road bikers who take them selves far too seriously. They bark orders about riding protocol to those of us who have been riding for years. They need to give advice during electrical storms to Coloradans who lived in the mountains for 30+ years. They can't stop directing traffic, literally. Let's not be counted in the elitist group of leaders whose remarkable success, intelligence, or expertise, seems to give them license to comment and advice at every turn. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us were at the right place at the right time, were given amazing opportunity by others, and even are inexplicably blessed by God's good favor. Yes, we worked hard to get to where we are, but so have many equally gifted unsuccessful colleagues and friends. Servant leadership is the antidote to an egocentric style of leadership.

Challenge your reluctance to lead.  I grew up with a strong dose of Midwestern, minimalistic philosophy... "Stay at the back of the parade.” "Don't toot your own horn." "Don't get a big head." And the politically incorrect - "We need more Indians and not so many chiefs around here." Do these admonitions or variations on the theme sound familiar to you? I find far too many highly talented business leaders holding back, reluctant to offer their family or company gifts in their possession that are needed to get to the next level or initiate a needed change. Some have convinced themselves they do not have what it takes. On the ascent to the 11,000-foot summit of Vail Pass it was my turn to lead. I decided that neither my friend’s youthfulness and normal vigor nor my 5th day of the ride fatigue were good excuses for me to hold back. So I "pulled" my riding partner up the 12-mile climb. Check what you are telling yourself about a current leadership challenge. And confront the obsolete mental messages that may be holding you back.

Finally, enjoy the ride. It was a pristine perfect Colorado morning riding south out of Steamboat Springs through the Yampa River valley. Indigo skies. Hot air balloons. No wind. Horses and cows wondered why all the commotion. Meadowlarks singing. We would deal with the day's 6,000 feet elevation later. Don't be one of those riders, or business owners, who always has their head down, grinding it out, anticipating the next climb and thereby miss the joy and fulfillment of the present success. Give yourself permission, and help your people  celebrate the accomplishments, achievements, and times of business calm. Climb the mountain pass when you get there.  


Jay Brenneman and SageQuest Consulting:
SageQuest provides consulting services that preserve family integrity and family enterprises. They focus on guiding critical conversations that help navigate business transitions for the founder, the firm and the family. With over 25 years of experience as a counselor and consultant to family business owners, Jay Brenneman gets to the heart of family enterprise perpetuation challenges. For more information, visit www.sagequest.com.

Jay Brenneman, Principal
SageQuest Consulting
jay@sagequest.com
www.sagequest.com
720.308.5680

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Benchmarks: What's the Value?

I have developed excellent insurance agency and insurance company benchmarks available only to select clients. These are not perfect benchmarks. The term "perfect benchmark" is oxymoronic. They are extremely good though. So why don’t I publish them and make them available to everyone?

If I gave you, the reader, the perfect set of benchmarks, what would you do with them? Most readers would immediately compare their agency to the benchmarks. They would be elated in those categories in which they exceed the benchmark. Many would completely dismiss the benchmarks in which their agency is worse. In both cases, nothing has been achieved except irrational emotions. The fact the agency is better than the benchmarks is just as worthless as whether the agency is worse in other areas unless a plan is developed to build on the agency's strengths and deal with its weaknesses. In some ways, being better than the benchmark is worse than being worse than the benchmark. This is because reading that the agency is better than average sates the appetite for improving the agency.

But what's so great about being better than an average? That's like celebrating a C+. Maybe some readers believe that all effort should be rewarded, such as not keeping score at soccer games and giving every kid the same medal. The fact is, there are winners and losers and a C+ is not a winning score.

A few people would take action to improve and build their agencies. I congratulate these few people whom show so much initiative. Unfortunately their efforts, by themselves, will likely only partially succeed using benchmarks. One reason is that benchmarks by themselves are averages. The better and more sophisticated benchmarks are often difficult to truly understand. So by using the benchmark, an agency is only trying to stay above average. Most best practices types of benchmarks are misleading in that they do not actually describe the practices and most do not use correct statistical methods to actually identify best practices. So, even these benchmarks will often lead a proactive agency astray.

All agency owners talk about improving their agencies, but few are truly committed to doing so. It's like the story about improving at golf. Everyone is interested, but the committed ones practice every day. A few agency owners are truly committed to practicing, working on the management of their agencies every single day. These agency owners don’t shoot for benchmarks. They shoot the Holy Grail of constant, consistent improvement. What is the price of the Holy Grail?

Discipline.

Enormous discipline is required to transform, to create the paradigm change necessary to go from good to great. Discipline carries a steep price. Every person pays this price in some parts of their lives, but not others. So, if I gave you the perfect benchmarks, would you have the discipline to institute the changes necessary to go from good to great?

If not, benchmarks have little value and are likely to cause more damage than good. Agency owners who read the latest benchmark study and then tell their staff they’re under-performing, without offering a plan to improve, or the discipline to enact the plan, cause serious morale problems. These owners undermine their own leadership. How many times do the staff and producers hear an agency owner tout some new great idea but then forget it because they have no follow-up ability? Everyone just gets use to smiling while the idea is presented and then walking away knowing the owner will forget about it.

The other truly common example is the agency owner who reads a benchmark, tells everyone this is the goal, leaves, and comes back a month later expecting results. A benchmark is nothing but a number. The employees need a plan or they need the total authority to develop and implement their own plan. To say, "Get it done," and then not give anyone the total authority necessary to "get it done" is a recipe for frustration, anger and failure.

If you do not have the discipline to use benchmarks only as the goal to which a rich plan is developed, avoid benchmarking your agency if you truly have your agency's best interest at heart. If you have the discipline to completely commit to your agency's future, you have the rarest of all competitive advantages. Sometimes you do not personally have to do the work, especially if you know you are not the best person for this kind of work. Committing to hiring the right executives who can provide the discipline is just as good, sometimes even better. The point is that one way or another, you are committing the resources necessary to completely put into effect a plan that will methodically take your agency from good to great. That discipline is far more valuable than any benchmark.

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Are You Considering a Cluster?

Clusters are gaining ground for many reasons and arguably, most small agencies may belong to a cluster in the foreseeable future. I am not against clusters. Done well, they provide significant benefits at a moderate cost to small agencies. But the problems with many small clusters are significant. The cost may be down the road, like the federal deficit, and it is a really big price.

First, most clusters are horribly organized legally (I am not an attorney so I am using this term rather loosely and no one should consider this legal advice), even completely incompetently. This is usually fine until something goes wrong and when something does go wrong, the agency members are left holding the bag. Second, most insurance company executives with brains hate these clusters. I just had a discussion on this subject with a large national carrier. They advised they absolutely will not pay extra or support such organizations any more than absolutely necessary. In fact, I strongly suspect some carriers have plans to pull contracts from clusters when the market turns hard.

The carriers that are desperate--and several large carriers are still desperate for premium based on how they act--are willing to pay more. Their executives somehow seem to think that by paying more for the same volume, they will make more money, or these executive don't understand the volume is not increasing, which is a strong possibility. The smart carriers are unwilling to play this game because they know the math does not work. They get it that if four agencies each have $250,000, then as a cluster with $1,000,000, the company still doesn't earn any more premium.

From an agency's perspective, it is possible to make more with select carriers for the time being. However, the benefits are not perpetually increasing or even necessarily perpetual. Once minimum volume requirements are met, 80%+ of carriers do not actually pay materially more contingency dollars for volume. It is a myth that volume is a primary driver of contingencies. Once past $1 million, loss ratios and growth rate drive contingencies. This means agencies that join clusters that do not manage loss ratios will likely suffer if poor upfront underwriting agencies are allowed to join clusters.

Second, clusters are extremely complex--even if you don't think so. The contracts may not be complex and the members may not know they are complex, but the contractual relationships are complex. Most agency owners do not know or stubbornly refuse to accept this reality. Virtually all clusters create a joint and several liability among the members that almost no one recognizes and the people creating clusters may intentionally not address. This liability can easily exceed the annual written premium of many members.

Agency value may increase or it may be impaired. Most clusters own the contingency income--the agencies do not. Few people want to address this either. Depending on the organization, the agency also loses its contracts. This means it has little value to any buyer that is not part of the cluster or is truly independent and already has the necessary company contracts. Depending on the organization then, an agency owner will have to obtain permission from the cluster to even sell. This hard reality is now becoming clearer in many locations and agency owners are wondering why they ever joined these clusters.

All that said, if a cluster is designed correctly, the contracts are written correctly and the agency owners truly understand the price they're paying--because there is always a price--clusters can be good. One of my biggest frustrations with clusters is that most of the people designing them are far smarter than the people joining. They are absolutely taking advantage of these agency owners. I don't really empathize with agency owners who suffer because they choose to remain naïve, but some of these cluster designers are taking advantage through unethical means.

So if you are considering joining a cluster, be aware that it is a complex situation with many considerations to make before making a decision.

NOTE:  None of the materials in this article should be construed as offering tax or legal advice, and the specific advice of qualified accounting/legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this article. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.   

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Three Tips for Greater Insurance Company Success

1) Teach top management, and I mean "C-suite" management, elementary math and basic finance. This knowledge, or lack thereof, is most pertinent to a single budget line item: profit sharing. Profit sharing is almost universally budgeted as a percentage of net premiums written. This model is wrong.

I have likely analyzed more contingency contracts and built more contingency computer models than the next ten people combined. The driving force of 90% of profit sharing agreements through time is loss ratios. The second most important factor is growth. Volume is third, but far behind the first two. Every other factor is of miniscule importance in aggregate.

So when the profit sharing driver is profitability, but the company's contingency budget is based on volume, a contradiction of significant proportion exists. This is why companies have stability clauses in their contingency contracts. Their solution is that when agencies in aggregate create too much profitability, the company cuts everyone's profit sharing checks. This is a rather oxymoronic solution, but if one ignores the perverse consequences, it works to assure companies’ profit sharing never exceeds budget.

I continually find top insurance company executives do not get this. They really think profit sharing is a function of premium--like commissions. In other words, they do not know how their own contracts work. The result is worse relations with agencies, less profit, and less respect by their own field people and agents, less trust, and even less volume.

A few company executives get this. They are smarter. They get it that if contingencies go from 2.5% of written premium to 3.5% of written premium but profit goes from 10% to 15%, their company is far, far ahead. They get it that the current system is a beautiful example of being penny wise and pound foolish. If you want to increase your profit, respect, and ROI, fix your profit sharing and if you need to know how, call me.

2) Stop appointing agencies that you have already fired once. This happens all the time with clusters. If the agency was not giving you the necessary results previously, why in the world do you think they are going to give you the results simply because they are now part of a cluster? A few clusters do manage loss ratios and growth better for their members, so I can see the logic in these specific cases. But these clusters number less than the fingers on my hand, so what is the logic here? Or is it simply acquiescence?

3) Quality underwriters and field reps make a difference. When an agency owner, a producer, or a CSR has to call someone at the company that does not know enough, the caller will be frustrated. When they feel that every time they call, they get people who do not know what they are talking about, the caller will get upset and eventually, they'll find ways to talk customers into moving their business to companies that have real, knowledgeable, intelligent people. Or maybe the opposite will happen. If an agency cannot work with good company people, they may have a tendency to give those companies the worst risks. By not employing quality people, the company is telling agents they don’t care about quality. So agencies reciprocate.

These are simple suggestions. One requires a little more knowledge. Another requires application of common sense. The third requires an acknowledgement of whether the company wants quantity or quality. For companies that truly want more profit, not just higher stock prices, the choices are easy.

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Two Quotes

I read a quote by Warren Buffett that concluded all consultants are a waste. Another quote by Harvey Mackay basically stated that all one needs to succeed is to believe.

Both quotes are by people I admire. However, both quotes are categorically wrong conclusions. The nature of these quotes is over simplistic, overly broad, sophomoric exaggerations and both carry consequences. When famous people like this speak, I hope they understand the responsibilities they inherently carry. They are really no different than sports stars are to kids. Kids mimic their sports heroes. Lots of business people mimic their business heroes. The only differences are the ages and the stages.

People, including sophisticated business people, inherently want to believe in a Field of Dreams. A Field of Dreams suggests one can obtain something without cost. So when a famous person says, "Just believe and you'll succeed," they're hearing or reading something they want to hear. In some cases, after years of being told by advisors, including consultants, that everything carries a cost, here is a big name author and speaker saying they do not need to plan, allocate resources, be financially prudent, or exercise self-discipline. They just need to believe in order to succeed. Perhaps many bankers went to his seminars.

I see today the absolute wreckage of many agencies, many once well-known magazine cover agencies, whose owners just believed. Literally, the principals just believed that if they had good thoughts, good Karma would follow. Believing would overcome bad producers. Believing would overcome E&O claims. Believing would eliminate the need for good IT, accounting, and accountability. And even theft of customer trust monies was nothing to sweat if one just believed enough. These examples are not exaggerations.

Moreover, well known consultants were and still are telling them they were just fine at every step if they will just keep believing. So I can see where Mr. Buffett concluded consultants were bad. He has seen too many that practiced the number one secret of building consulting revenue--tell clients what they want to hear. Just believe.

A recent case of just believing resulted in an agency's failure. These agency principals liked to hear they were great so they could believe they were succeeding. They learned their advisor had been giving them the answers they wanted to hear, and therefore they thought they were hot, up until just a few weeks before they crashed.

I am fairly certain Mr. Buffett has had limited experience with consultants like myself or he would have qualified his position. Then again, Mr. Buffett does not seem to be a denialist or a person that just believes. He also seems to have a mind and skill set possessed by extremely few people. With such a skill set, he does not need business consultants. So I can understand from his point of view why he would make such a comment.

However, because most business people do not possess such a rare skill set, a good honest consultant that does not just tell their clients "to believe" brings tools clients do not possess. For example, the odds are highly unlikely that any agency owner knows more about contingency contracts than I do. For that matter, few company people know more than I do. So if an agency owner wants to enhance their contingencies, should they just "believe" or hire someone that knows more than at least 95% of the people in the entire industry?

Similarly, I have critiqued and designed more producer contracts than probably 99.9% of agency's attorneys outside the big brokers' attorneys. So an agency can design their own contracts using attorneys that have limited, and sometimes no agency specific experience, and just believe everything will work out, or they can hire a consultant that knows which details truly matter and how to balance a contract to protect and simultaneously promote the welfare of both parties. I recently witnessed a forced agency sale. When the agency sold, the producers left because they did not have strong contracts. The buyer and its consultant/attorneys missed this significant point. Now two agencies failed.

The best consultants also bring market knowledge unattainable elsewhere. For example, good consultants see huge swaths of the country and industry so their scope is bigger. It is valuable to compare one's local knowledge against something bigger.

One last benefit to hiring honest consultants is that outside parties likely can see the forest for the trees. They are not emotionally attached. They do have to be confident enough to be completely forthright. I recently had the unpleasant task of telling the new owner of an agency that his management was incompetent. Such criticism must be constructive, but even then constructive criticism still invites conflict. Few people enjoy conflict. I certainly don't. But when a consultant is hired to evaluate a firm or provide insight in how to improve a firm, they are being paid for an honest assessment including constructive criticism. Some people just cannot bring themselves to offer constructive criticism because of the potential conflict it will create. They are good people in the wrong position.

These same people do have a valuable role because many executives absolutely cannot deal with any criticism, no matter how minor or how constructive. I applaud all the others who can deal constructively with honest criticism. They have a strong will, not to "just believe" but to succeed. Putting oneself, one's life work, and one's ego on the line by inviting constructive criticism takes a tough constitution. For the others, they need consultants that only deliver good news.

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Why Insurance Math is Special

More than two decades ago I was working at an insurance company that had three contingency contracts. We plebeians were only allowed to offer the best contract to agencies that asked for it. Since they did not know it existed, the only ones that got it were really just shooting in the dark. But they got it because the only requirement was to ask for it. I inquired as to why we did not tell every agency about the best contract and offer it to every agency that achieved certain goals. It could be an incentive to write more business at lower loss ratios. I reasoned we would make more and agencies would make more, a perfect win/win. I reasoned this solution was much better than paying agencies more money for the same results as we were currently doing every time an agency asked for our best contract.

Of course those with more insight advised a better course was to only offer the better contract to those who asked for it. To offer it to every agency that made the company richer was a bad idea.

Mathematically, the formula I reasoned was:

(xp + g) x (ylr-Decreaselr) – Extra profit sharing > xy
Where p is profit and lr is loss ratio.

In other words, because the extra profit sharing was a small percentage of the extra profits earned, the company would make more money. Management advised that even if the company was making more money, it could not afford extra profit sharing. In other words, if the company made five points more profit, it could not afford one more point of profit sharing.

However, it could afford to pay .2 points more profit sharing for the same results to those agencies who asked for the better contract. They tried to explain it to me but I simply could not understand how more profit resulted in less ability to pay more but they could pay more for the same results. They kind of gave up on me as one of those hopeless people who would never get the special insurance company math.

That company soon sold their entire P&C division with a certain portion going to a special run-off company. Management was dispersed throughout the insurance industry and they must have been proliferate because today, I find their progeny espousing the same logic in many, many companies. My former managers were correct to write me off as hopelessly never understanding the special logic of insurance company compensation math. Something special truly must exist for companies to pay so much more money for no better results.

For example, why would so many companies have stability clauses in their contracts if this was not the case? An even better example is, why would a company ever pay two points more to five agencies that combine their business under one code, with nothing else really changing? It is not as though the changing of the agency master code is a growth catalyst. It is not as though the frequency or severity of claims changes. In fact, the only real change is that now the agencies, because they have a master code, have the courage to ask for more money. That is the only difference.

My suggestion to agents then is just ask for more money. Many companies are willing to pay more if you just ask. The importance of volume is vastly over estimated. Find your courage and ask for more money.

What if the math used by most insurance companies turns out to be absolutely perfect? What would the hypothetical consequences be? If a company pays lots more for no better results, they just decrease their profits unnecessarily. The decrease will likely not be enough to cost any upper management their bonuses or jobs. Some agents will be lulled into working lazily and when the companies change their minds, as companies always do, and cut agency compensation, those agents will be awfully angry, lost, and wondering how to pay their bills.

On the other hand, what is more likely in this hypothetical world that uses real math rather than insurance company math, is that many entities being paid more now for the same or even worse results will not take the pay cut. Here’s the deal: some of the entities now are quite large whether they are brokers, aggregators, clusters, or one of the other forms. If they have to take a two point cut, this is a 13% decrease on a 15 point commission. That is a huge decrease. Those two points used well provide some huge competitive advantages. They can use that money to hire better people, pay more for choice acquisitions, invest more in IT, and build services for clients. When companies cut their compensation to normal and these entities refuse, what is the company really going to do?

Using real math, the agencies who have not asked for more money are already subsidizing those who have asked. The playing field is not level. I suspect companies will just take further advantage of these wall flowers, who often have the best loss ratios but are paid less all else being equal, because that special insurance math that I still do not understand is so pervasive. Real world math suggests that insurance company profits will be squeezed harder than before. They may leave current deals intact so ask now. You have maybe waited decades to ask for more money. The window of opportunity is closing. Ask NOW!

One last thought for those companies not using insurance company math. Make sure your agents know it.

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Chris Burand is president and owner of Burand & Associates, LLC, a management consulting firm that has been specializing in the property/casualty insurance industry since 1992. Burand is recognized as a leading consultant for agency valuations, helping agents increase profits and reduce the cost of sales. His services include: agency valuations/due diligence, producer compensation plans, expert witness services, E&O carrier approved E&O procedure reviews, and agency operation enhancement reviews. He also provides the acclaimed Contingency Contract Analysis® Service and has the largest database and knowledge of contingency contracts in the insurance industry.

Burand has more than 20 years' experience. He is a featured speaker across the continent at more than 180 conventions and educational programs. He has written for numerous industry publications including Insurance Journal, American Agent & Broker, and National Underwriter. He also publishes Burand's Insurance Agency Adviser for independent insurance agents.

Burand is a member of the Institute of Business Appraisers, a department head for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America's Virtual University, an instructor for Insurance Journal's Academy of Insurance, and a volunteer counselor for the Small Business Administration's SCORE program.


NOTE: The information provided in this newsletter is intended for educational and informational purposes only and it represents only the views of the authors. It is not a recommendation that a particular course of action be followed. Burand & Associates, LLC and Chris Burand assume, and will have, no responsibility for liability or damage which may result from the use of any of this information.

Burand & Associates, LLC is an advocate of agencies which constructively manage and improve their contingency contracts by learning how to negotiate and use their contingency contracts more effectively. We maintain that agents can achieve considerably better results without ever taking actions that are detrimental or disadvantageous to the insureds. We have never and would not ever recommend an agent or agency implement a policy or otherwise advocate increasing its contingency income ahead of the insureds' interests.

A complete understanding of the subjects covered in this newsletter may require broader and additional knowledge beyond the information presented. None of the materials in this newsletter should be construed as offering legal advice, and the specific advice of legal counsel is recommended before acting on any matter discussed in this newsletter. Regulated individuals/entities should also ensure that they comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.


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