We are coming up to a new millennium. Everyone is excited about the year 2000. We are spending millions of dollars correcting our computer systems for the year 2000. But what about the year 2010?
Between the year 2000 and the year 2010 Baby Boomers who can take early retirement will be leaving the workforce. Beginning in 2010 we will see an accelerated pace of retirement of the producers, customer service personnel, and trained administrative personnel who operate our insurance agencies. What are we doing to prepare for that scenario?
Unfortunately, many agency owners are looking forward to their own retirement and fully intend to leave this problem to their successors. But without years of preparation your agency can disappear simply because of the lack of trained personnel available to operate it.
Certain actions and changes in the way insurance agencies do business taken during the next ten years can insulate you against the labor-related disappearance of your insurance agency. Some can already be seen on the horizon. Others require innovative agents to begin testing.
1. Fully automated, paperless insurance agencies
Yes, Virginia, relatively paper-free agencies are not only possible, but the technology is already here and is beginning to take effect today. The things that have to change in an insurance agency that permit this to happen are:
a. The full use of database automated system – full policy detail, transaction logs to record customer contacts and integrated upload/download with your primary insurance carriers are the prerequisite for a paper-less agency,
b. Optical scanning – imagine the transferal of every piece of paper coming through your agency to a CD-ROM that is instantaneously accessible from every terminal in your agency. These systems can be installed in an agency for as little as $750.00 a month (on lease) for hardware and software. The insurance departments are reviewing this document filing system now, but all indications are positive they will be ruled as evidentiary because the system date stamps every item scanned and, while they can be viewed, printed, or faxed they cannot be changed.
c. The Internet – For most agencies, the Internet is the low-cost answer to E-mail for all employees. Fourteen percent of all American households now have access to the Internet. An additional ten-percent have personal computers but are not yet “hooked-up”. Within five years, that percentage may reach fifty percent or more. When this happens, those troublesome phone calls to customers who are never there requiring multiple calls and returned messages and “snail-mail” (USPS) aptly named because it can days or weeks to get mail from one point to another and responded to will be replaced by e-mail, both standard and registered. E-mail permits the instantaneous shipment of messages to a recipient’s “mailbox” to be opened when he/she is available to the computer. Registered e-mail sends back a response to the sender when the e-mail is opened and read by the recipient (providing proof-positive that the message was received). Imagine the efficiency gained simply because of e-mail to insurance companies and to customers
As qualified trained employees retire, many of them will want to simply shorten their workdays or work weeks. If the functions in an agency are standardized properly, you can offer qualified staff part-time positions as long as the service desks are covered for the full customer service day. This will permit you to keep your employees longer by flexing to their need for reduced hours.
For many years, we have had the ability to connect remote computers with our network in an agency. Producers have done so, owners have done so and administrative managers have connected into the agency’s network from home. As telephone systems continue to improve, many geographic areas already have the capability of transferring calls to remote locations as simply as transferring calls to another desk. Telecommuting has been done since the 1960’s when keypunchers and programmers worked from home because they did not need to be in the office in order to get their job done. When the insurance agency industry is able to change its mindset from a time-based one to a productivity-based one, there will be no reason for telecommuting not to become available to our industry as well. Imagine your customer service representatives being able to work from home or from the office. They would still work normal customer service hours but, without the burden of paperwork (everything would be available through the system on optical scanning) and with all reading and reference materials on-line as well, the need for them to be physically in your office diminishes. Obviously, management would have to change. Right now, we assure ourselves that our employees are in our office eight hours a day. But we are much less assured that they are working efficiently or effectively. If we were to convert to telecommuting, we would also convert from time-based management to transaction-based management and we will be recording every contact delivered to the service representative and whether that contact was completed -properly- in a timely fashion. Telecommuting would permit older, semi-retired employees to continue to work. It would also permit young employees with children to remain gainfully employed while working mother’s hours. Finally, it would give access to many more qualified but handicapped individuals.
4. Family-friendly insurance agencies
There will still be younger people who are trainable and available to work in an insurance agency in the next millenium. But qualified employees will have a much broader choice and may never face unemployment. Those businesses that are amenable to the life cycles of their employees will find that they will get and keep the best workers. A family friendly agency will have more liberal policies toward illness and family leave. It will also assure younger employees that their children can be cared for while they are at work. Many larger corporations have already instituted daycare centers for their employees with young children. Even small businesses can do likewise by combining and forming co-op daycare centers with other businesses geographically central to your office. The employees will still pay for daycare but will do so at a more favorable rate and will have the comfort of knowing that their children are nearby and are being cared for by competent, qualified professionals.
The alternative to making changes like those cited above are very limited. The Baby Boomers aging and retiring is a fact, not conjecture. The smaller population of Americans born in the sixties and seventies is also fact. If we don’t start preparing for this change in our employee statistics in the next twelve years, many agencies will have to merge or disappear because they simply cannot manage the workload with the staff they have available.