Time Is Money: Agents Try Tech To Limit Training Costs
The biggest training expense for independent agents is not necessarily the money spent on courses or travel. Rather, the time lost while attending educational programs could prove to be much more costly in the long run, agent group representatives say.
Whether it is a training course to improve sales or office functions, or classes to fulfill state continuing education requirements, there is little an agent can do to replace the time lost from a day that could have been spent servicing accounts or expanding a book of business.
However, thanks to technology and some innovative programming by agent associations, producers are in a position to minimize their loss of time and still get the necessary training and CE programs for themselves and staff.
Besides fitting more easily into an individuals schedule, these programs have the added benefit of saving money by reducing or eliminating travel-related costs.
Traditionally, the biggest obstacle has been fitting in classroom time. An agent or customer service representative has to figure out where to fit the designated date and time into his or her schedule. If they are lucky, the class is just a short drive away. Otherwise, there will be some travel time and maybe even an overnight stay or two.
“Anytime you can use alternate means of education and not lose time in the office, [principals] are better off,” explains Diane Kattrein, assistant executive director for the alliance of Professional Insurance Agents in Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York, based in Glenmont, N.Y. “People work all day and want to do these education courses at their convenience,” she says.
“Travel time out of the office is difficult for agents to find,” notes David VanDelinder, executive director of the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas in Austin. “The cost [of the courses] is not as much an issue as time out of the market.”
Similarly, Madelyn Flannagan, vice president of research and education for the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America in Alexandria, Va., observes that “price is not an issue. Its always the question of convenience–to be there, where and when you want it.”
Thanks to the Internet, the quickly developing area for CE is online classes. These have an established record in many fields and institutions, including colleges, and they are a way for experienced agents to get the credits they need at their convenience.
Associations have taken several different approaches in developing these classes, from partnering with others, as the four-state PIA alliance has done, to developing unique programs, such as the route taken by the Big I of Texas.
Whichever way an organization goes, says Flannagan, the development will remain primarily in the hands of state associations. Incorporating each states regulatory demands into one national CE program, then seeking the approval of individual insurance regulators makes a comprehensive plan impractical, she points out.
But some states are stepping up to the plate with their own online programs.
“We are now beginning to see [regulators] accept online courses, and these are getting the continuing education approval,” Flannagan says.
One of the biggest impediments to approval is the proctoring process, she notes. Regulators want verification of who is taking the test.
For CE courses offered by IIABA, there are pop-up questionnaires during the online courses aimed at verifying the test takers identity, Flannagan says.