In a world that is becoming increasingly global, local connections are more coveted than ever before. Consumers want to shop local. They want to eat local. They want to invest in products and services that are part of their local community.
If you’re shopping for produce, that’s not all that hard to do. But if you’re shopping for insurance, especially if you start that shopping process online, it can be very difficult. The competition for online real estate is fierce, with most of the top search results going to large financial firms that have the money and resources to invest heavily in SEO. If you run a small, independent advisory firm, you’re facing a number of obstacles simply to give consumers what they want — a trusted, local agent.
Enter Agent Review. Based in Bellevue, Wash., the company was founded to give clients a better buying experience and to give agents the increased visibility and credibility they need to compete in today’s marketplace. The Agent Review platform — a Yelp-style directory that allows consumers to search for agents in their zip code, and view biographical information and client testimonials — is a virtual matchmaker, designed to let consumers find an agent that meets their own unique criteria.
After a soft launch last summer, Agent Review currently claims 276,000 enrolled agents and is actively growing their database. We spoke with co-founder and CEO Jonas Roeser to get his thoughts on the state of the industry, the opportunity ahead and the one thing consumers really want.
LifeHealthPro: Tell me about the vision behind Agent Review.
Jonas Roeser: Yelp is a great comparison for Agent Review. What we’ve created is a dedicated platform that’s forward-facing to consumers. As the Internet has obviously grown — you have Care.com, you have Houzz, you have 1-800-DENTIST — many industries outside of the restaurant industry have resources that allow consumers to find trusted professionals. We wanted to bring that same type of platform to the insurance consumer.
We know that consumers have buying challenges right now, and so we wanted to be an educational resource first, as well as a credibility-building service for agents. We have a whole education section for the consumer; we do this to a) give them an education and b) create a non-carrier focused place where consumers can find agents they want to buy from.
On the agent side, there are a few different membership options. The free membership level is very basic. An agent enters his or her name, state, phone number, one state where he is licensed, and one insurance type listing. The next level up, the basic level, is a fairly substantial profile that looks very much like a LinkedIn profile. The basic profile allows agents to include three listings. So, if they’re licensed to sell life insurance, health insurance and LTCI, all of this will show up on their profile. With the basic membership level, you also have the ability to include client testimonials, a photo and video gallery and social media links.
The next level up is a verified subscription. The big difference between basic and verified is that verified agents are independently vetted by a third party. There’s a level of authority with a verified subscription; it shows, for example, that the agent is licensed in the states they say they are. It also gives a good deal of information about the person’s backgrounds and interests. We have come to find that people want to work with those they have things in common with. We all want to have that extra layer of credibility.
Another thing our platform offers is that it can be translated into 72 different languages, a great resource for consumers.
We truly believe that insurance isn’t simple and that agents do matter. Agents are our customers. We’re looking to showcase everything that makes up their professional credibility. It’s hard for an independent agent to compete with the SEO power of a traditional finance firm. Our goal is to get our platform large enough that our site will be pulling up at the top of a search results page, even before an agent’s LinkedIn profile. There’s real prospecting power in that.
LHP: How do you collect client testimonials?
JR: Our new app is really a tool that we created for the agent, in order to collect the type of testimonials that are so important for building consumer trust in today’s marketplace. I’ve worked with agents for 13 years now, and the biggest challenge I’ve seen them face is technology. They’re too busy keeping up with product releases and other information that is critical to their business. With Agent Review, we decided to design an app that would empower agents.
Say you’re in a client meeting where you have a chance to sell a product. With our app, at the end of the meeting, you can simply say, “Would you mind speaking into a camera for 15 seconds, sharing about your experience today?” With a smartphone, you open the camera in our app and take the recording right there. Once the video is shot, the client signs a digital permission form, you hit submit, and the whole thing automatically uploads to your profile. If your client doesn’t feel comfortable speaking on camera, we also have a number of non-product specific, non-gender specific written proposals. The client can select the one that best fits their experience and, with client permission, that will also populate your profile page as a written testimonial.
LHP: How does Agent Review make the buying process easier for consumers?
JR: What it does is make choosing the right agent easier. It helps consumers quickly find an agent that they at least connect with digitally; then hopefully when you meet them face-to-face it continues down that path. Our app provides insight into insurance agents that is otherwise hard to come by. It’s nice to see where someone went to school, if they have a family, what sports they like, before you ever meet with them. You are predisposed to feel more comfortable working with that person if you have something in common.
LHP: Last year, Andreessen Horowitz named insurance one of the biggest tech trends to watch for, and Lemonade recently made waves with its $13M fundraise. Do you think institutional investors are more interested in investing in early stage insurance companies than they have been in the past? If so, why?
JR: I think it’s a pretty solid market; the product’s been around forever and a day. There are different segments, of course: You have products, you have support services such as ours, etc. We have a number of firms that have contacted us that don’t necessarily want to come in and invest in a new insurance product. Instead, they’re looking for ways to bring existing products to the consumer more efficiently, but not necessarily via direct-to-consumer distribution. Direct-to-consumer might work for auto insurance or for a small term plan, but anything more complex really requires agent involvement. As a consumer, you just don’t get the information you need from a computer if you’re looking for anything more complex than a very simple term plan.
LHP: What do you think is the No. 1 thing consumers want from an insurance purchase experience?
JR: Transparency, I think. That’s what I’d want. Obviously, consumers want great products and great rates, but I think equally they want transparency from their agent and transparency from the company that’s underwriting their product.
LHP: How do you think the insurance landscape will be different five or 10 years from now?
JR: I think it’s just going to be more digital, more virtual. My experience in insurance has been primarily with long-term care insurance (LTCI). I was a young guy selling a product to an older market. Now, even with a product like LTCI, you have 40 percent of sales done over the phone via webinar to a senior client base.
Adaptability will also be increasingly important. The agents that connect with people at the time they want to connect, via a process they feel comfortable with, are the agents that will succeed. We’re all 24-hour people these days. To stay competitive, I think flexibility is a huge thing that we need to bring to consumers.