Distribution and Millennials

This article originally published in Carly’s monthly column in Best’s Review.

As the next generation grows into more financial stability, and baby boomers begin to think about retiring and possibly downsizing homes, our industry must consider what the distribution models of the future will look like. For many years, people have predicted that sales of personal lines policies will move to an online space. We still find, however, that consumers, even Millennials, research online and then pick up a phone to consult with a licensed agent. It is likely that this trend will continue for some time. Insurance is a complex product, and it is still a relatively opaque market. Because of this, we must design consumer communications that take into account the following trends:


1. Diversity

As the U.S. becomes less homogeneous, our workforce must reflect this, and our policies must account for different family structures. Many companies have adapted policy language and made more clear who is covered and when. It is vitally important that our agency force and our carrier employees and executives reflect the many perspectives of our citizens. As a young woman in the industry, I have been fortunate to meet many people who advocate for and believe in the necessity of diversity and inclusion. I’ve known strong leaders of every gender, race, and sexual orientation. However, when you look at our numbers, our leaders are still heavily white and male. We have lots of room to grow, and I look forward to seeing us improve.


2. Desire for Paperless Communication

Many companies have paperless options. You can receive your bill by email and login to view your policy document. However, it is time we start creating documents that are digitally native. We still write our policies in a two column format. This is challenging to read on a screen. Taking advantage of the digital space could even mean that we hyperlink to the definitions in a policy every time we put quotation marks around a defined term. Imagine that!


3. Consumer Trends

We are all talking about the impact that autonomous vehicles are going to have on auto insurance premiums. We’ve adapted to third party transportation networks like Uber and Lyft. We also need to be talking about smart home technology, workers compensation premiums in the light of automation, and improving construction codes. We ought to consider not simply reacting to trends in other markets but attempting to shape them in ways that are pro-social and sustainable in the long term.


4. Succession Planning for Agencies

As all of these factors affect our futures, they have an even stronger impact on the local retail agencies that serve as many of our primary distributors. It is imperative that agents intentionally design a plan that will ensure success. I have seen carriers attempting to help, and I’ve heard of some very interesting ideas that attempt to turn agencies over to people who care and want to protect their clients. One example involves turning over ownership of the agency to the employees and setting up a system where any new employee had to earn the trust of fellow employees before being voted in to have ownership. Agents should be encouraged to think creatively and strategically to come up with a plan that best reflects the community they are trying to serve.


The past few years have been a time of incredible change both in our industry and throughout the U.S., 2018 promises to be no different. Those who work in our distribution channels are on the front lines and are the best positioned to read those changes first. We must keep open lines of communication, and at the very least, we ought to react quickly if we cannot always be proactive.

About Carly Burnham

Carly Burnham began her insurance career in 2004 as an office assistant at an agency in her hometown of Duluth, MN. She got licensed as a producer while working at that agency and progressed to serve as an office manager. Working in the agency is how she fell in love with the industry. She saw firsthand the good that insurance consumers experienced by having the proper protection. When Carly moved to Des Moines in 2010, she decided to commit to the industry, and she completed her CPCU in one year finishing it in 2012 and attending commencement in New Orleans. She completed her MBA at Iowa State University in 2014. During this time, she and Tony founded a Gen Y Associate Resource Group at Nationwide in Des Moines. After they had both left Nationwide, Tony recruited Carly to co-author and manage InsNerds.com. She has the difficult task of keeping his constant flow of crazy ideas focused and helping to flesh them out into useful articles. Carly enjoys sharing knowledge and ideas about the future of the industry and finds the website a good outlet for this passion. Carly is involved in the the CPCU Society Underwriting Interest Group. She also writes "Next Wave" a monthly column in the "Perspectives" section of Best's Review.

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