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It's a great time to be an agent.

Speaking as president of the National Assn. of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA), I can't think of a better time to be an independent agent. Too often we only focus on the challenges we face. We need to remind ourselves that what we are tempted to remember as the "good old days" were also tough, and that today is actually pretty good.

Despite increased competition from direct writers, independent agents continue to thrive.

Whenever I hear predictions that the independent agency distribution system is about to unravel, or as one consultant put it, that we're at "the end of an era for the local insurance agent," I know that such observations are coming from one source: my competitors. Far from contracting, the independent agency system is growing.

Why? Because customers continue to value agents. It is really that simple. The PIA Partnership, our national agency-company council, conducted nationwide research with insurance customers of all types to learn more about what they are looking for and what they expect from personal lines insurance providers.

Among the findings: Customers value what agents can do for them and are eager for producers to take a more active role in delivering those services. They care about coverage and price is not their primary determining factor. They are looking for expert advice and counseling, personalized attention and interaction, and excellent "relationship-based" customer service.

In 2014, The PIA Partnership will conduct a similar nationwide survey of commercial lines customers to determine their buying preferences.

Technology is the key to a successful future for independent agents. Social media has quickly evolved from a curiosity to a fully developed and deployed system of personal communications and marketing. Agents are using social media to market their agencies, compete against direct writers and build their books of business. It's more effective and it doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

Of course, external threats compromise our industry. That's why PIA devotes so much to advocacy. We lobby Congress, the regulatory agencies like the NAIC, federal regulators, state regulators and state lawmakers. As advocates of our American free enterprise system, we must guard against those who would legislate or regulate our agencies and our carrier partners out of business.

Professional insurance agents are strong, innovative, nimble and able to quickly adapt to whatever the marketplace or the government throws at us.

Ours is a great business. I am thankful that I chose it, and I intend to spend my year as president of PIA continuing to give back to this industry, which has provided so much for me and my community.

John G. Lee is a principal of Lee-Curtis Insurance Service, Inc. in Fredericksburg, Va. A member of PIA's national board of directors since 2005, he has chaired numerous committees. Lee served as president of the AIMS Society in 1994-1995 and received its Distinguished Service Award in 1997. He is a past president of the Fredericksburg (Va.) Assn. of Life Underwriters (NAIFA).

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Title Annotation:Sounding BOARD: A view from American Agent & Broker's editorial advisory board
Author:Lee, John G.
Publication:American Agent & Broker
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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