NEW BIG “I” PRESIDENT PLEDGES REDOUBLED EFFORTS
Will push for increased branding efforts, continued grassroots and technological successes
ORLANDO, Oct. 11—In his inaugural speech as the 100th president of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Thomas A. Grau, CPCU, pledged to redouble his association’s branding efforts, its lobbying and grassroots work, its technological endeavors and its product development in the coming year.
Grau, a sales executive with Cogswell Agency in Great Falls, Mont., told the assembly of independent agents and brokers at the Big “I” Convention here that he hoped to build on the successes of existing programs and take them to new levels during his tenure.
“As great as our industry is, we still face challenges to our professional livelihood,” Grau said. “I want to steer a course for the future that leads us to an even stronger, more vibrant agency system. To me, there’s no more fulfilling position than to be on the front lines influencing the direction of this great industry for the betterment of our 300,000 colleagues.”
In his remarks on branding efforts, Grau noted the success of the Association’s brand, Trusted Choice® thus far, including its thousands of agency members, its 27 company partners, its aggressive advertising outreach, and the fact that South Dakota recently became the first state association to have 100 percent of its members in the program. But he said more work remained to be done to grow this crucial brand, and pledged to place renewed emphasis on recruiting more Big “I” members and agency system companies to join Trusted Choice®.
“This agent and broker consumer branding initiative is the most critical and most ambitious consumer outreach endeavor the Big ‘I’ has launched,” Grau said. “As the industry becomes more competitive and more fragmented, independent agents and brokers need a strong consumer marketing brand that separates the agency system from its competitors.
“Trusted Choice® is in its formative stages,” Grau continued. “We must remember that brands are not built overnight. The rewards will be significant, bringing new business to agents and brokers, as well as our company partners. I firmly believe Trusted Choice® is our present—and our future.”
Grau also promised that the Association, under his leadership, would remain a force on Capitol Hill and in the state legislatures, and he highlighted the Association’s continuing push for targeted, federal reforms that will preserve and enhance the state-based insurance regulatory system.
The Big “I” national board, three years ago, set the course for consideration of a middle-ground, pragmatic approach to modernizing and streamlining state regulation. The Association has been a key supporter of the discussion draft of the State Modernization and Regulatory Transparency (SMART) Act put forth by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) and Insurance Subcommittee Chairman Richard Baker (R-La.). Grau vowed the Big “I” would continue to work closely with both chairmen to push through agent licensing reform, speed-to-market reforms and other changes needed to make the industry more efficient and productive for its customers.
“Perhaps no other legislative issue is more pressing for agents and brokers than the current debate on insurance regulatory reform,” Grau said. “When the new Congress convenes in January, the Big ‘I’ will be at the forefront of the drive to enact legislation embodying this middle ground approach.”
Other legislative issues Grau highlighted included renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA), crop-insurance reform, tort reform and health-care reform.
On the issue of technology, Grau noted that the Big “I”-led Agents Council for Technology (ACT) is working with insurance companies, automation providers and user groups to encourage the adoption of efficient real-time technology among as many agencies as possible. He assured the audience that technology implementation and adoption will be a key focus of his presidency.
“Real-time transactions will increase agency efficiency, boost our employees’ morale and free us and our staff to sell more policies,” Grau said. “It is truly a win-win for us, our companies and, of course, our clients.”
Grau also said he would work to reenergize the Association’s role in developing new products, including homeowners’ policies, commercial coverages and terrorism insurance protection, and continue to support the growth of the Big “I” Virtual University, the “Best Practices” program, Big “I” Advantage and Big “I” Markets.
“As I embark upon my year as your Big ‘I’ president, I pledge to you my complete focus on the issues and challenges that are already on the table, and those that will emerge,” Grau said. “I will strive to make the business environment better for Big ‘I’ members everywhere by advocating common-sense solutions to our challenges. I will be tireless in my efforts to advance the cause of agents and brokers. This is my solemn promise to you.”
Grau has been active on many levels of IIABA member organizations during his career as an independent insurance agent. A past president and state national director of the Independent Insurance Agents of Montana (IIAM), Grau also previously served as chairman of the Association’s Finance Committee and twice as president of the Independent Insurance Agents of Great Falls.
Grau graduated from Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. He and his wife Cheryl have two adult children, Christopher and Shannon.
The Big “I” Convention, the Association’s showcase meeting, is taking place in Orlando through Oct. 12. The event features a compelling company CEO roundtable; several prominent guest speakers and panelists; a variety of innovative continuing-education (CE) classes and other cutting-edge workshops; the largest exhibit hall in the insurance industry; numerous networking opportunities; and many other exciting events.
Founded in 1896, the Big “I” is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of independent insurance agents and insurance brokers, representing a network of more than 300,000 agents, brokers and their employees nationwide. Its members offer consumers a choice of policies from a variety of insurance companies. Independent insurance agents and insurance brokers offer all lines of insurance—property, casualty, life and health—as well as employee benefit plans and retirement products. Web address: www.independentagent.com.