ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

YES, THERE IS A PLACE IN THE AGENCY FOR PERSONAL LINES PRODUCERS

The prevailing thought is that most personal lines producers are little more than quoters and order-takers. However, I have personally employed Personal Lines Producers who were Relationship Managers, who made friends with the people that requested insurance assistance, who, by using the core concept of our Asset Protection Model, protected ALL of the clients’ assets and who were not at all shy of asking for referrals and generating a geometrically growing client base for them and for our agency.

If the “producer” is, in fact, an order-taker who answers the phone or personal visit, quotes the insurance policy and has no further relationship involvement with the client, they should be paid a modest salary and a commission on each new sale. They will, for their entire careers, run the hamster wheel because they do nothing to increase the value of the client to the agency beyond the quoting process. Neither do they have any function that causes the client to stay with the agency. We all know that a one-year client (or less) is EXTREMELY expensive for any agency. The quote and issue process, itself is expensive and time consuming and you need to keep a policy two or three years to gain a profit advantage on that piece of business.

However, a Relationship Manager who happens to deal in Personal Lines as his/her primary line of business is as valuable as any CL RM IF their efforts a) envelope all of the client’s insurance needs in favor of our agency, b) build a friendship and trust relationship that causes the client to want to stay with the agency, and c) evolves additional clients from each customer that (s) he builds for the agency.

In the Asset Protection Model, the RM (Relationship Manager) usually has single product strength. However, (s) he knows that the key to any long term relationship is in protecting ALL of the clients asset protection needs. To that end the RM uses every human asset possessed by the agency to serve the client. The RM is the coordinator for the agency with the client. (S)he identifies every asset that needs protection, either analyzes that asset personally (if that product is one of their strengths) or finds the most qualified agency employee to participate in the client asset analysis toward assuring the client that he is properly protected in that area.

So if the “producer” is really a Relationship Manager, we must pay them like any other relationship manager, BASED ON THE BOOK OF BUSINESS THAT THEY HELP BUILD AND CONTROL FOR THE AGENCY AND THE CONTINUING GROWTH OF THAT BOOK OF BUSINESS.

We devise many producer compensation programs for Commercial Lines and Financial Services – many less in Personal Lines because the “producers,” whether successful or not, appear to be more order-takers (friendly and professional, perhaps, but order-takers, nonetheless) than relationship builders and managers. The difference between an order-taker and a true Relationship Manager in Personal Lines is their ability to do two things, cross-sell all lines for the clients into the agency and achieve a continuous flow of referrals to multiply the business generated from each client. The strength that permits a producer (or Relationship Manager) to accomplish these tasks is the ability to go beyond price quoting to become friends with and build a relationship with the agency’s customers.

A personal lines employee who simply takes orders, provides quotes and issues coverage for new clients occupies an administrative function, not a sales function and should be salaried similar to a customer service representative. There is certainly a role for a dedicated new business representative (NBR) within any active agency since the functions involved may be construed as interfering with the normal process-heavy details of a service role. The NBR is dedicated to responding to sales inquiries from existing clients, new prospects to the agency and any affinity group members seeking quotes. The greatest differentiator between the New Business Representative and the Producer is the amount of compensation (NBR’s, like CSR’s, will earn 10% - 15% of the books of business that they service while Producers earn more) and the guarantees of compensation (NBR’s are under guaranteed salaries that respond to Incentive Compensation or other form of productivity-based performance raise features (see our articles on Incentive Compensation) while Producer’s get up-side potential for growth and should take down-side risks in trailing years’ compensation if the book of business declines).

If the agency retains the services of Personal Lines producers, the measure of those producers’ success is in their account-rounding and referral generation capabilities and the value of those producers at the agency should be calculated in accordance with the volume of commissions that (s)he causes to be generated for the agency. The value of a personal lines producer will be derived from a) the issuance of sufficient new business to grow the agency annually and b) from the derivation of growth (and retention) of an existing book of business through the producer’s cross-selling and referral generation efforts.

Regardless of whether a producer is paid a salary and growth bonus (our preference), a draw, or a straight commission, his/her value to the agency is defined by the total retained book of business that has been generated through his/her efforts over the lifetime of that producer within the agency. While the compensation for commercial producers have averaged 30%-33% for arising producers, 38% for second level producers and up to 42%-45% for high impact producers (high volume, high profitability – discussed further, below), the compensation for personal lines producers must, by virtue of the lower average income per policy and client and the extraordinary support work effort (and agency costs) in those lines of business, be less.

Personal Lines producers can be defined into two categories, Arising Producers and Full Producers. The difference is that Arising Producers involve an investment by the agency until the producer generates sufficient income for the agency to offset the investment. Full producers are paying for themselves, including for the service, administration and profits required from their contributions to the agency’s book of business.

‘Arising Producers’ should be paid a salary with target production that would generate enough total revenue within four years to justify their salaries at a rate that would pay for the agency’s overhead, investment and devote a profit margin to their efforts. While that figure changes agency-by-agency and can range from 15% to 25%, a rate of 20% of revenue for the agency is the average that we have found through our studies. (Please note, we use averages for familiarization reasons, but just as no agency ‘strives to be average’, we caution against using dead averages instead of analyzing the required percentage of revenue in your own agency.) This means that an Arising Agent is covering his total cost to the agency if his compensation is between 15% and 25% of the total retained revenues that (s)he has generated to date. That normally takes three to four years and includes the pay-back of the investment in the Arising Producer’s compensation until he achieves parity.

The amount of a new Arising Producer’s salary should be determined by his/her “need” (the amount the producer needs to pay his/her bills), not by the producer’s historical earnings. The reason the producer should be as interested as the agency in minimizing salary to the producer’s expense load is because the salary determines the required production during his first four years. Minimizing base cost to the agency also minimizes MSL (Minimum Success Levels) required of the producer to retain the position and achieve full Producer status (with greater up-side compensation potential). And the base compensation does not limit the producer’s earnings capacity in any way since growth beyond goal is paid at the prevailing base commission level for producers in the agency. It is a ‘no lose’ scenario since the producer has no limit to his/her earnings, it is easier to qualify more quickly as a Full Producer, and the agency is not paying the Arising Producer in excess of his/her needs (using agency funds before they are earned by the producer) until the producer earns that level of compensation.

A producer who desires a high income to start because “that’s what he made at his last place of employment” or who knows that the attainment of sufficient revenue to justify that amount is beyond his reach, is wasting his time and your money. Eventually, both of you will realize that he is failing and will have to take unfriendly remedial actions.

As an example, a PL Arising Producer earning $35,000/yr. salary would become fully productive when his/her efforts generated $170,000 of annualized agency commission from a combination of new sales and retained renewals in the book of business generated through that producer’s efforts if 20% is the correct factor for profitability of the producer’s book within your agency.

As soon as the target book of business is reached that balances the agency investment with the total book of business created by the producer in support of the producer’s compensation, that producer is converted to the Base/Growth Model that gives the producer a) much greater upside potential, b) compensation-sensitive Add-On and Referral goals (goals and results for Add-Ons and Referrals are created and tracked in the Arising stage, but do not affect compensation), and c) a downside potential if the book of business diminishes.

These are new features for many agents who have wondered how to fairly pay producers of Personal Lines. But a producer must acknowledge that he is with the agency to help GROW the book of business, not as a service representative or maintenance agent. That means if the producer wishes the up-side potential of compensation growth commensurate with the book growth, he needs to accept the potential of the reverse if the book declines. Cross-Selling (add-on lines for existing clients) and seeking referrals is the only way we separate ourselves from our competitor friends at the direct writers and traditional insurance agencies. Without the relationship-building and management efforts that result in Add-On sales and referrals to friends of our clients, we are just ‘price-quoters’.

A potential benefit to an agency is that if any producers leave the agency, the portion of the commission left behind (that would have been accrued to them for production) becomes the ‘seed money’ to support new producers as they build their production toward the level required to move them into the pure Base/Growth Model. Those producers are granted the books of business for which the departed producers were responsible for cross selling opportunities and for the attainment of referrals (that would less likely occur with a New Business Representative instead of a producer) through relationship building efforts. The Arising Producers do NOT get credit for the departed producers’ books of business for compensation purposes. However, any Add-On business or referral business accrues to the Arising Producer’s book of business.

A producer may not remain in the ‘arising producer’ category for more than four years. If (s) he has not achieved enough production to warrant his compensation at base compensation percentage of the book (and the producer is to be retained), the salary must be reduced to the base compensation for the book in the fifth year and the producer moves to the Base/Growth model or must alter his/her position from producer to NBR or CSR to remain within the agency.

Once the producer has ‘qualified’ his/her salary, the producer is moved into the Base/Growth model for compensation. In that model, the total book of business (new and retained renewals) in the previous year becomes the basis of salary in the next (at the agency’s base compensation percentage). Since the employee is a producer, not a service representative, they control their own destiny and take a downside, as well as upside risk each year, basing their next year’s salary on the fixed percentage of the book of business (for which they have been responsible) that permits the agency to earn a profit on the personal lines book of business.

The Base Compensation is determined by the expense factors and competitive requirements for employees in the area in which the agency is located. Sometimes (in some metropolitan areas) the model must be adjusted to a higher level due to economic and competitive pressures on strong performing employees. The Base Compensation works well to the point at which the book of business created by the producer is economically more profitable than the books of business of arising producers and additional compensation is justified in terms of larger bonus commission for growth. There are usually two or more break-points in every active agency at which books of business gain substantial growth in profitability. At each break-point producers who have generated and retained that level of agency commission will generate an agency profit large enough to bonus a higher amount for annual growth.

Once the agency profitability on growth has achieved the tipping point a compensation increase of 5% ON ANNUAL GROWTH as a bonus will add an incentive to the producer’s efforts. The reason the agency is justified paying the higher percentage on growth is because the entire book of business becomes substantially more profitable to the agency for larger volume producers (fixed costs remain stable and more revenues are attained).

Some agencies have chosen to further break the Compensation Tiers into smaller increments (compensation steps) to speed the incentives the producers to both continue to grow new business and to take a genuine interest in the retention of business (without which the agency’s profitability decreases substantially). We do NOT recommend steps smaller than $100,000 increments of growth.

Another feature of our PL Producer Compensation Program is that the base compensation percentage for the Producer declines by one percent in any year that the total book of business for which the producer is responsible DECLINES from the prior year. Agencies have suffered declines both in revenue and in profits due to continued enhancement of compensation for producers without regard to book status. Agencies pay producers to GROW the agency’s book of business annually. Providing enhanced income through growth bonuses on the upside requires a declining compensation (to offset some of the agency’s losses) when the book of business, for which the producer is responsible, declines.

If the book of business declines in several consecutive years, the base compensation declines by 1%/year. The agency can institute a maximum reduction (i.e. 5% from 20% to 15%) by adjusting the Minimum Base Compensation in the Compensation Schedule or it can institute the program without a maximum reduction as a method of reducing a producer’s compensation continuously if the producer is not performing his/her primary responsibility of growing the agency’s book of business. The baseline compensation automatically increases to the normal level once the book of business exceeds the previously highest level.

Since the Producer’s role is defined by relationship management and referrals more than by simple order-taking, the growth bonus is only paid in years that the producer achieves the minimum required number of add-on sales (additional lines for the existing client – multiple lines written during the initial new business fulfills the add-on sale requirement for an account – all forms of insurance, personal, commercial, L&H counts toward the add-on sale requirement).

Your Add-On and Referral goals should be modest and grow as the producers become accustomed to asking for each from every client. The Add-On and Referral achievement will make a) the retention of accounts higher, b) generate more revenue for both the agency and more income for the producer, and c) allow the growth bonus to be paid in that year.

Agency Consulting Group, Inc. has designed its Personal Lines Producer Compensation Model to act alongside of the Commercial Lines Producer Compensation Model. It can invigorate and automate your personal lines production if you have decided to use personal lines producers or Relationship Managers. It contains measurement devices for the monthly reporting of gross commissions, new business commissions, cross-selling add-ons and referrals, the key components of agency goals for personal lines growth. These measurement devices (entered by the producers, themselves, whenever possible) collate to annual results compared to goals and historical performance and further collates to career development results (up to 15 years) for each producer.

Call Al or David Diamond to discuss Agency Consulting Group, Inc. conducting an analysis of your agency and staff to determine if the PL Producer Compensation Program is right for you and, if it is, to construct the program for you and to train your agency into its use (800-779-2430 or al@agencyconsulting.com)

An example of the PL Compensation Program is attached and the spreadsheet has the flexibility of change for any bordered cell. Upon approval of the program, simply blank all bordered cells to permit the program to be used for a producer. Save each producer’s spreadsheet and create a new spreadsheet for each additional producer. As can be noted from the example, with the exception of a few years in which the Sample producer did not achieve his growth bonus due to a shortfall in Add-On or Referral sales, this program permits the successful personal lines producer to achieve a successful career while earning a substantial profit on his/her efforts on behalf of the agency.

A second tab on the Template has been created for existing producers to enter into the Base/Growth model for personal lines without the base salary period.

So the model for the agency is to compensate arising producers by salary, at a level required to fulfill their household expense needs until the total commission from the books of business that they generate on behalf of the agency reaches the factor of their compensation divided by 20%. At that point, they will begin earning a salary of 20% of the total book of business that they generated on behalf of the agency through new business, retained renewals and additional sales to existing clients in the following year plus one of three percentages of growth based on their total accumulated volume once the annual revenue accrued to that book of business exceeds the prior year total.

CONCLUSION: While the growth of importance, profitability and compensation for Relationship Managers in Commercial Lines responds to the total size of their book of business (new and renewal) tiers for higher total compensation based on total book, the compensation for successful PL RMs are defined by higher commissions for the GROWTH ONLY (once the total size of the book of business (retained) for which the producer is responsible reaches the size by which the profit to the agency has grown sufficiently. Call us (800-779-2430) if you are interested in a PL Producer Compensation Program or have further questions.