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A New Generation of Ideas: Q&A with Two Rising Stars

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ACT News wanted to get a take on today's landscape from some of our younger members as we approach the May ACT Meeting, so we turned to Matt Wood, president of MetzWood Insurance, and Perry Myers, IT manager at Peel & Holland, to get some perspective on why the industry needs to tune in to what our younger members are saying.  Their words may inspire your own change agents.



ACT News:  Why is it critical for young agency representatives to have a voice in ACT?

Perry Myers:  For long-term growth and planning, young agency rep's voices are crucial.  The more their voices are part of the conversation, the more they will buy into the initiatives in the industry.  We also bring new perspectives based on how we have interacted with the rest of the world.  From what I've seen, the really, really younger people expect a totally different work experience.  They expect to operate from a browser.  Our industry is not there yet.  They expect to use Slack or other platforms, not email.  But there are no great tools yet to put conversations into document management systems.  That's an opportunity for somebody.  If you can get that young representation in there, you might see them influence change on that with the vendors.

Matt Wood:  Not only does it help ACT members understand a younger perspective, it also enhances the perspective of the younger participants.  Once you join some of the conversations, you get a broader view of the industry outside your own role.  It concentrates the dialogue and helps you understand the people you interact with and makes you more effective.


ACT News:  Are your voices heard?

Matt Wood:  Our carrier partners often take the agency's voice seriously and use it as a springboard for further action.  In ACT, my contribution has been well received not just an open ear, but people consider it and take action where appropriate.

 

ACT News:  What first motivated you to get involved?

Matt Wood: aware of it, I looked at the Big I" website and discovered the Customer Experience Lifecycle planning website and found it very useful.  There were several areas where I could contribute, so I shot Ron an email and said I was interested in joining.  I figured this would be a way to get some insights before they were more widely available to the insurance public and stay ahead of the game.  It gives me an advantage over where I would have been without it.  I've developed good relationships as well who to talk to when you have a question on X topic or Y topic.  One of the great things in general is there's a willingness to help each other people are generous with thoughts and time.

Perry Myers:  Initially, my agency's leadership encouraged me to get involved in ACT.  Our president has kind of taken a step back on tech as the IT department was created.  The Security Issues and Changing Nature of Risk groups were interesting to me, so I got more involved.  The Customer Experience Work Group is one where we get a lot of information that is useful for our agency.  I am more of a consumer there.  But even where I am a bigger contributor on committees, I am always getting new ideas from the others.


ACT News:  With all the demands on agency finances and staff time, what's the best method you two have found for setting priorities and accomplishing goals?

 

Perry Myers:  Our agency has a rigorous annual planning process that starts in October/November and ends Dec. 31.  Everything we're going to do for the next year is identified during that period.  Our COO holds us accountable to meeting those goals personal (what am I going to do to be a better team member/contributor to the industry), professional (what am I going to do for the agency in my specific IT area) and industrywide (how am I going to improve the customer experience).  We have some flexibility, so I have to be nimble - Prioritizing helps with that.

Matt Wood:  Prioritization is key.  There are many interesting things, valuable things, but we have to say no pretty often.  You can get distracted by the shiny objects," but you have to focus on accomplishing goals.  We try to narrow our focus to one particular project per quarter.  We don't ignore critical things that pop up, but we try to make meaningful progress on our highest-leverage projects. We have regular management meetings where we report on progress.  That helps with accountability.

There are many sources for good ideas for projects.  Some ideas are generated from what we read, watch or listen to.  Sometimes staff or leaders offer ideas, and those get brought up in our departmental and management meetings.  Many times our staff spot problems or things that could be done better.

 Quick fixes are done fast.  Bigger projects are planned annually, typically in a one-day offsite that sets the map for the next year.  We ask the participating managers for a list of 10 potential projects.  We sort through these and come to agreement on the priorities for the next year.


ACT News: How do you get buy-in from staff? 

Matt Wood: From a staff perspective, it's important to have properly aligned incentives. Our staff knows that when the agency does well, they do well, too.  When we roll out a new initiative, they know this is not just more work but will actually have an impact to improve the agency.  The open dialogue keeping them in the decision-making process helps as well.

Perry Myers: We have a technology committee at our agency: someone from each of our other departments (P&C, personal lines, benefits, operations, etc.) and myself from IT.  We are all tech savvy.  The ideas come to the committee for filtering. Then the reps on the committee get buy-in from their teams.  The budgeting question is where the annual plan comes in.  If it's a low-cost good idea, we can usually move forward process improvements are a good example.  If it's a significant amount of money, our high-level leadership looks at it in the annual planning process and decides.


ACT News: There are so many emerging technologies, challenges and customer expectations for agencies in this rapidly changing world. What do you see as the biggest challenge(s) agencies are facing today? 

Perry Myers:   Changing client expectations.  We live in a digital world, and insurance is really paper driven.  As the client base gets younger, that has to be reconciled.  We have to make the industry work for multiple generations.  Our industry needs to work together - agencies, vendors, carriers to implement the technology advances that other industries are out ahead on.  An everybody-involved approach is needed ACT seems to do this well.

Matt Wood: You have to be nimble.  We look ahead strategically but still need to produce results day today.  We are a fast follower, but we still need to be informed about what is going on.

All sorts of tech trends are on our radar, but it is more evolution than revolution.  The trusted advisor is still crucial to help customers work through insurance contracts, which are not getting simpler.  Probably the opposite is true.  The world is getting increasingly complex, and so is coverage.  Endorsements, exclusions they need us to interpret.  We need to know how these trends impact clients, and we need to work with carriers on new coverages that respond.  So we need to keep up.

I would tell young industry members to expand their network of insurance professionals they can use as a resource.  The number one way is to get involved and give back - When people see you are giving, they will be more likely give to you in return.



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