A recent survey of younger agents highlighted a generally optimistic view of the future. In addition to reflecting positive sentiments about economic prospects, they also appear to feel good about the security of their positions, given the significant number of current producers that are expected to retire from the labor force. The average age of an agent in the United States is greater than 59 and there are forecasts of up to 25% of the current population of agents planning to retire by the end of 2018.
While there may well be room for optimism for those who properly frame a career in insurance distribution, the likely reality is that carriers will need far fewer agent relationships in the future. Increasing focus on self service capabilities, desires from consumers to be able to have direct interaction with the companies they do business with and greater commoditization will all put pressure on the industry to do things in a more efficient, less labor intensive, fashion. Distribution will hardly be the only function to experience this pressure. More automated underwriting and automated claims adjudication are two other examples.
This also ties to research Novarica recently competed on Millennial consumers. As a generation, Millennials will represent half of the US labor force by 2020. As a group, they have a strong preference for DIY capabilities.
This doesn’t mean that the agent role will become extinct but rather that it will morph and evolve. There are likely to be far fewer, but on average more highly skilled, producers in the future. They will be experts on dealing with complex and difficult situations which don’t lend themselves to a do it yourself model. That could be a very good place for producers to be, albeit with a substantially different business model, than is currently the norm. Carriers will want to be preparing for these changes sooner rather than later, given the speed with which consumer preferences can be influenced by the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple.