There is a big difference between the word “most” and “many”, and when taken from a greater context, it can completely alter the intent of a message. Such is the conundrum I faced when an email that referenced me was quoted in another bloggers forum. It was an email that completely misrepresented not just a statement made by me, but the underlying intent of the message.
I intend today to set the record straight.
There has been some rumbling in online forums regarding the lack of an agent or brokers voice both as part of the “National Conversation”, and as presenters in conferences around the nation. David DePaolo, in a recent blog stirred the pot a bit more by taking brokers to task for their involvement in certain insurance transactions. In a follow up article to that original post, DePaolo published an email he received regarding his position. The email contained a direct mention of me and other bloggers, and completely misrepresented me on an important point. Before we get to the details, here is the relative part of the email DePaolo published:
On the issue of agents, your blog may have been the tipping point. Agents have been getting dismissed or criticized from the work comp blogosphere and elsewhere. In just the past few weeks, Bob Wilson posted that, “most agents are more interested in getting the best doughnuts at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast.” His perception of agents is probably why not a single current or former agent was invited to join the “National Conversation” on work comp. In my opinion, excluding agents was not only ill informed, but creates barriers to achieving the group’s objectives.
Then, I noticed that the WCI 360 “Agent Track” in Orlando next month does not have a single current or former agent presenting. They put NCCI in charge of managing the “Agent Track.” That decision exemplifies the lack of understanding of agents and the work they do.
And, Mark Walls is going to give the “State of the WC Market” to an agent audience at the conference. What does he know about the role and responsibilities of agents? Agents will care about how the State of the Market affects their client and their agencies. Not as he mentioned in a May, 2016 Insurance Journal article on the State of the WC Market, “employers with good loss control and return-to-work programs will find more insurance companies wanting their business.” Agents know that already, and don’t want to pay money to hear that dribble.
So, “doughnut eating, commission” hounds in combination tweaked me, and precipitated an “enough is enough” position. Yes, I stipulate that there are some bad agents, just as in any profession. However, too many Bloggers, some of which have never actually done anything in the work comp field but browse the internet, copy material and paste it elsewhere, and attend conferences, are trashing or dismissing agents, which I find offensive and just plain wrong.
Agents have two national associations along with 50 state chapters. It is long past time for the associations to redeploy some of their resources and push back against the bloggers that don’t understand agents and trash them. In addition, almost every employer has an agent, but not very many have a Blogger, “Thought Leader” or social media maven to assist them. Agents need to get engaged and point out that many of those who are criticizing them are just empty suits and talking heads that have never sat across from an employer with serious and complex problems. Or, managed those complexities and assisted business owners to avoid financial devastation.
Taking agents out of the loop takes away a resource that can’t easily be replaced. Perhaps, the Blogger community can hit the streets and get engaged with employers where the hard work gets done. However, I suspect it is far easier to talk about what needs to be done than to actually do it.
Plus, I hear Bloggers get to work in their underwear and eat Cheetos all day. Hey, wait a minute … that sounds good.
There are some areas of this email I agree with, but more with which I disagree. First, the quote attributed to me was taken from a LinkedIn Workers' Compensation Roundtable discussion about agents' involvement in leading their own sector of the industry. Following was my input to that discussion (several individual posts have been combined into one, here):
Without a doubt, you both are hitting a very important area; reaching the small employer, who collectively with their brethren employ most of the workers’ in this country. That was a topic of extended discussion at the Summit in Dallas, but is by far one of the most difficult to resolve. Small employers simply don’t pay attention until it is too late. I am by no means an expert when it comes to agents, but it seems to me that in the face of increasing challenges brought by e-commerce, specializing in unique value added services will ultimately make the difference between thriving and perishing for them – and those front line services in turn could help correct some of the larger issues we see in the industry.
I do have to disagree with [redacted] regarding what he calls “empty suits” (of which I am likely one) – I find the people doing much of the speaking around the country to be extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields, and passionate about their message. I think that much of what is being discussed is relevant and helpful, and while some of us may now be “known for being known”, that does not justify in most cases denigrating the quality of the message. The problem, in my opinion, with agents not being heard is that they are not bothering to speak up. My limited exposure to agents tells me that some of them are as oblivious to the bigger picture as their customers when it comes to workers' comp. They are busy attending local chamber events and participating in business networks, but when it comes to digging into the issues and details of the comp industry, many of them are simply AWOL.
One of my company's products is designed to replace the traditional mailing of forms, posters, etc. to newly insured and renewal policies. Where this service is offered directly to the customer, the response has been quite positive, as they have 24/7 access to forms when they need them. For those few carriers that are requiring their agents to access and distribute these documents, it is a completely different story. While our experience certainly doesn't represent all agents, I can tell you some agents out there are not interested in service beyond the sale when it comes to WC.
I am sure the limited income provided from small employer policies has a lot to do with that.
I heard a “futurist” speak at a conference two years ago. I was struck by one assertion he made; he said that, no matter what your industry, if you have the word “broker” or “agent” in your job title, you are doomed if you do not learn how to differentiate yourself from others in your field, and start offering value added services that just cannot be sold through an e-commerce portal. The day is coming when the main income stream will be coming in supplemental services offered by these specialized agencies.
We are seeing this in other industries already. The auto industry is already adapting to the advanced pricing data and competition from the internet. We just purchased a new car this weekend for my wife. With narrowing margins on the vehicle itself, the pitches for all the available warranties, products and services while you are in the finance office of the dealership are amazing. Today's auto dealers make more profit in the finance office than they do on the cars they sell. They have adapted, while many insurance agents are still worried about getting their favorite doughnuts at the Chamber breakfast.
This is what is truly sad, on a number of levels. As we've previously mentioned, those agents are the key to reaching the vast majority of employers in this country. Whether we like it or not, those employers aren't at conferences listening to the not so empty suits. Yet, they represent the biggest overall risk, and are likely to make the biggest mistakes early in the life of a claim to drive it off the rails. We need agents to be engaged, and we have to figure out how to keep them relevant and financially compensated for their efforts.
But don't blame the industry for blocking them out. They are responsible for including themselves in the process – and the discussion.
As you can see, I never said “most agents are more interested in getting the best doughnuts at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast.” I did indicate that, to survive, agents need to recognize that there are broader forces of change confronting them that they need to understand.
Also, as a man who does not eat Cheetos and does not work in his underwear, I take offense to the notion that, simply because our backgrounds are different, that many of us known for blogging are somehow unqualified to opine on various issues of the day.
Excuse me while I take a moment to talk about myself.
I am not some Cheetos swilling moron with a laptop living in my mommy's basement. I run a company – a company that for 17 years has been the single largest source of information for workers' compensation in the nation. Over 6 million people access our public site every year. Every day thousands of claims and employers are touched by our compliance data and forms management programs. Am I an expert? No. Have I learned a few things about the industry over the years?
You bet your ass I have.
And what of Mark Walls, the other “empty suit” mentioned in the missive? Mark has had 26 years in workers' comp, with 22 of them in claims. He has over 4 years' experience in government relations, strategic analysis and consulting, and was employed for almost two years by Marsh, the largest agency in the world. He has engaged regularly with the broker community most of the last 15 years. Add to that his building of the Work Comp Analysis Group, with over 28,000 members. Trust me, that doesn't happen by itself. It takes a lot of work and dedicated effort to build a following like that.
The same holds true for other bloggers in the industry. They write because they are involved, and are knowledgeable in their fields. They do not deserve the “empty suit” designation.
The email to DePaolo also mentioned that “Agents have two national associations along with 50 state chapters.” Where are they? Where are their bloggers and (Lord, I hate this term) thought leaders? The writer seems to acknowledge they do not yet exist. We agree on that point.
In organizing the “National Conversation”, we were roundly criticized for not including agents or brokers; yet while we heard from a multitude of vendors and other interested parties wanting a seat at the table, not a single agent, broker or representative organization reached out to inquire about it. Where were they?
Don't be mad at those of us who write and contribute to the industry. For the answer to this particular problem the agent world needs to look inward, and find the voices that can speak to their cause. If you don't like the way someone represents your vocation, find a voice to counter it. More than ever, agents will be critically important in reaching small to mid-size employers about changing processes in workers' compensation. It is not our fault that they have not sought a seat at the table, or even more so, that they have not stepped up to lead.
Don't be mad at the rest of the industry. When it comes to the future of the workers' comp complex, agents can either stand and lead or sit and endure the ride. The choice is entirely yours. It is not hard. Go to https://wordpress.com/ and start your free blog today. Even a Cheetos eating underwear monkey living in his mommy's basement can do it.