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Mar 16
Two Women Leading Digital Transformation with Adoption of New Communication Tools

Risk advisors and insurance agents can be hesitant to adopt new technology, but changing minds and habits can be accomplished by proving the success of other agents using those technological tools. When we entered our respective agencies, we wanted to bring in new technologies that would drive revenue for our agents. The primary obstacle we encountered was that we both worked with successful agents who had established ways of operating and were not looking for change.

It can also be challenging as a woman in a predominantly male-dominated field to advise on new technologies. Even though current practices might not be the best way to do business in the modern era, even the best ideas for improvement can fall on deaf ears. Adoption of new tools at Swingle Collins & Associates and Columbia Insurance & Wealth Management was relatively slow.

Both our agencies had ambitious growth goals. The fastest way to scale was by leveraging marketing tools. For example, each Swingle Collins & Associates' Personal Risk Advisors had 750 - 900 clients when I arrived. It was nearly impossible to deliver personalized service to existing clients while trying to generate new business and maintain a high retention rate. Columbia Insurance & Wealth Management was conducting a majority of its business face to face. Transitioning to email felt impersonal, like control was being relinquished.

Our agencies are great at insurance, but there was definitely room for improvement when it came to procedure. We lost opportunities because of onboarding challenges and keeping up with renewals. We searched for digital tools that would help our agents service clients, and it became clear we needed a solution that would easily integrate with our existing agency management system.

Digital transformation can become a bottleneck if you're managing programs across the organization that don't speak to one another. When incorporating digital tools, they should be saving you time and money. If that's not happening, the tool is not worth keeping.

One of the first tools we introduced was Fuse, Agency Revolution's marketing automation solution. We share this because it is a perfect case study into the deployment lifecycle of a new software solution within an agency. Everyone looked at this solution and saw the potential, but no one wanted to be the first to use it because it was unfamiliar.

Fortunately, there was one other woman at Swingle Collins & Associates willing to take that initial step. She had a growing book making it difficult to keep up with her clients. One of the most time-consuming tasks was onboarding. Together, we created a process that automatically sent every new client a personalized email providing all necessary documents and welcoming them to the agency.

We were also able to automate the initial renewal touchpoint by setting up emails for all her existing clients 90 days before their renewal date. This provided a white-glove level of service while actually freeing up the agent's time. Once the other agents saw her success, they all wanted to know her “secret". As a result of automating customer experience, the agency continues to boast a 95 percent retention rate, just hired 24 new employees, and is on track for double-digit growth within the next five years.

For Columbia Insurance & Wealth Management, the “ah ha!" moment came in 2017 when established agents saw that the tech solutions we put in place were working together in sync – we knew exactly what was going on with clients every step of the way. It took time for them to believe that marketing automation and the agency management systems could work together and make their lives easier.

Based on our experiences, we can offer some tips to those transitioning to automated marketing tools. The first critical action is to get others involved. When reviewing applications, include employees who will actually be using the product. At SCA, I put together small focus groups who participated in demos and were encouraged to ask questions. Inevitably, these team members always thought of something I'd missed – their buy-in and perspective was essential.

Once you've decided to move ahead with a new product, be transparent. Explain to your team why you've signed up and what benefits are expected. Acknowledge up front if a substantial time commitment is required to onboard the new product. We also encourage employees to hold us accountable. Did the product do what it is supposed to do? Is it causing more work or issues? Have an open door policy that makes people feel comfortable sharing experiences or asking for help.


When vetting a new program, be sure to ask about the training process. Sometimes a tech company will install the new program but then leave it to you to figure it out. Always try to get formal training for your team. Record these sessions and add them to your Education Library so current and future employees can benefit. Work with your vendor for access to a dedicated support team if possible.


It's also important to educate your clients as to the value of your content as communication channels evolve. Don't overwhelm them, or future messaging might be ignored as sales pitches. You will also want to take a close look at your client demographics – there are age-related differences when it comes to the effectiveness of text-message communications as well as technology usage between urban and rural areas.

We overcame initial hesitation and now automated marketing sequences are required for every incoming agent in the organization. Agents start with a template and then easily personalize information to match their voices. By leveraging a marketing automation solution, our agents are saving at least three to five hours a week – time they can spend interacting directly with customers.

It has also saved us considerable money on agency operations. A board member had initial concerns about the return on investment when “the old way has always worked in the past". A quick side-by-side comparison of the time it takes an agent to pull together renewal information on their clients, vs. the 10 - 15 minutes for specially designed software and the cost of that software vs. the salary of that agent clearly demonstrated it costs less to let technology do the heavy lifting.

We're both proud of the advances we've made by driving digital transformation. Swingle Collins & Associates is seeing increases in both retention and policy-line per client, and we continue to be one of the largest privately owned agencies in Texas. Columbia Insurance & Wealth Management invested in a new web property that increased website traffic by 4x, helping the agency attract and convert leads to clients. We've also implemented segmented digital communications processes based on account size and complexity, policy type, and geography, which bumped up retention by two percent.

We also learned that the value of an automated marketing program goes well beyond new business commissions. While client retention and errors and omissions protection cannot be immediately measured, they are every bit as important for the long-term growth of your agency.

If well-established agencies like Swingle Collins & Associates and Columbia Insurance and Wealth Management can be responsive to ideas and adopt new technology, then it's possible for any agency to reap the benefits of digital transformation. Our successes showcase how fresh ideas from women are changing the insurance industry, bringing innovation, and proactively addressing agents' needs.


About Joanna Paredes
Joanna Paredes assumed the role of Director of Operations in August of 2021 for Swingle Collins & Associates after serving as the Director of Quality Assurance after joining the company in 2018. She works with the agency team to create, audit, and streamline workflows to increase efficiency and productivity. Prior to joining Swingle Collins, Joanna managed and adjusted ocean marine cargo claims. She is a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and Power Broker award winner for Marine from Risk & Insurance Magazine (2016). She also actively serves on the Advisory Panel for the Management to Leadership Certificate Program at the University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business.  

About Whitney Norcup
Whitney serves as the Chief Operating Officer for Columbia Insurance & Wealth Management. She understands the importance of protecting a business and its assets and is passionate about educating her staff and clients on the various resources available to them. While obtaining her undergraduate degree, Whitney became a co-franchisee with a major national brand and spent four years working for a franchisor as part of their marketing team. Whitney's experience as both a franchisee and current insurance professional allows her to connect and educate from a business owner's perspective, giving Columbia Insurance Group the insight and ability to build out the strongest and most cost-efficient Risk Management Strategy for each franchisee. 


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