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PIA Benchmark Survey: Agents still value how carriers handle claims

GLENMONT, N.Y.-Quality claims handling by insurers matters most to professional, independent insurance agents, according to a recent study conducted by the Professional Insurance Agents associations in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York. These results correspond with findings from a similar survey conducted by the associations in 2009. "Adjusts claims fairly" and "pays claims promptly" are the No. 1 and No. 2 performance items that agents said they value, respectively, in this years PIA Benchmark Survey.

"This years survey findings make sense: Agents usually help their insureds in their time of trouble," said Jim Pittz, CIC, CPIA, PIAs business issues director. "Agents look to develop relationships with insurance carriers that are most likely to help when insureds need it."

The PIA affiliates conduct the Benchmark Survey to identify performance items that are important to members and use them in the PIA Company Performance Survey, which is conducted every other year. The next Company Performance Survey will be conducted in 2016. In it, agents rank the carriers with which they do business on a 1-to-10 scale based on the performance items from the Benchmark Survey. Both of these surveys, which have been conducted since 2009 and 2002, respectively, provide PIA with insight into what agents consider their carriers to be doing right.

Three hundred PIA members in the four states rated and ranked 25 performance items for this years PIA Benchmark Survey. These items comprised eight categories (1. underwriting; 2. claims; 3. technology; 4. service; 5. treatment of agents; 6. product and pricing; 7. marketing; and 8. relationship criteria or other characteristics).

The top 10 responses for this years Benchmark Survey include: 1. Adjusts claims fairly; 2. Pays claims promptly; 3. Communicates clearly, honestly; 4. Resolves issues quickly; 5. Products and pricing; 6. Listens, responds to agents; 7. Claims handling; 8. Underwriter knowledge, experience; 9. Easy, intuitive functionality; and 10. Consistent underwriting.

The results of this years Benchmark Survey support what agents continue to say about how their clients are treated during the claims process. For the 2009 survey, "products and pricing" and "claims handling" are new categories to this years top-10 list, replacing "stable market" and "flexibility when warranted," which fell to No. 12 and No. 11, respectively. This suggests agents are more concerned with how their clients are treated during the claims process than the way they are treated by their carriers or their ability to place business, says Pittz.

"Agents have told PIA that one of the most crucial times in their relationships with a client is during a difficult claims process," said Pittz. "Look at the carriers that dropped out of the Write-Your-Own flood market after Superstorm Sandy: Even though WYO is a federal program, the carriers name is on the insureds insurance policy. When claims trouble occurred, the carriers received the brunt of the blame. Now, some carriers have stopped writing flood insurance through the federal program."

Compared to the findings of the 2009 PIA Benchmark Survey, the importance of most of the performance items has not changed this year. While there were small deviations-the rise of two new performance items-eight of the Top 10 performance items have remained the same. Regardless of the fluctuation of the marketplace-whether there is a hard or soft market-or how new technologies affect the industry the issues that mattered the most to professional, independent insurance agents six years ago still matter the most to them today.

PIA members in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York can find out more about the 2015 Benchmark Survey in the October issue of PIA magazine.

PIACT, PIANH, PIANJ and PIANY are trade associations representing professional, independent insurance agencies, brokerages and their employees throughout their respective states.