When Agency Checklists first contacted insurance agent Michael Butts, owner of Yankee Insurance Agency, it was to discuss the details surrounding Yankee Insurance’s experience in acquiring its first agency. After chatting with Mr. Butts for a bit, however, we discovered an agent who is openly embracing technology in order to make his business as efficient and competitive as possible. We immediately knew that other agents would be interested in (and perhaps even inspired by) hearing how this agency believes technology can revolutionize the small independent insurance agency by cutting costs and leveling the playing field.
The History of Yankee Insurance
It was Michael Butts’ father who started Yankee Insurance in 1978. The agency began as an exclusive representative producer based in Dorchester. In 2000, Michael decided to join the family business and began working full-time at the agency. Along with his sister Dina, who also works at the agency, the two began to take over the day-to-day operations of the business. Two years ago, Michael, now in charge, made the decision to move Yankee’s headquarters to his hometown of Plymouth. Last July, the agency made its first acquisition and has been dealing with aspects of this transition and with the growth in its business.
How big is your agency?
We do about $1.5 million in premium from Plymouth, but we have about a $2 million book in Dorchester so I would say about $3.5 million in premium total.
When and how did you decide to modernize your agency technology-wise?
I started working for my dad in 2000. At that the office was equipped with two typewriters. After growing up with computers, I figured it was time to give the office a makeover.
What were the main steps you had to take to modernize your office?
I attended the Big Event and talked to multiple vendors. After weighing our options, we decided to make an investment and go with DocStar, which was an extremely expensive move at that time.
And then you decided to become paperless. Why?
I am a techie. I use multiple monitors and try to be available to my clients 24/7. Overall, the biggest change I have implemented in my agency is on the technology side. We now work in a paperless office environment. We
replaced all of our old computers. Each of CSR now uses two monitors. We got rid of the old file cabinets, Safety was able to do a download of about 15 hours, to transfer all the files to our system. We got rid of the old Special Agent System and went to Agency AMS360. We have no copy machine. Overall, the changes we have implemented here have made us three to four times more efficient.
How do your employees and original clients respond to the changes you made?
Initially it was a nightmare. The staff was older and essentially computer illiterate; transitioning from typewriters to pc’s and then teaching them how to scan was difficult.
What kind of learning curve was there. Overall, how long did it take for all to be comfortable with the new technology protocols?
To date, my father isn’t comfortable with it. He’s old school, so we’ve had to make some exceptions. We had to replace some of the staff due to the technology demands. This was a difficult decision, but management knew it was necessary for the long term success of the agency. Overall, I’d say it took about 6-12 months for everyone to get used to using Docstar.
How has the transition been for the new clients of the former agency?
You have to educate your clients, to get them to become good clients. You have to let them know how to benefit from technology. Obviously that doesn’t for everyone. For example, mailing things in. Often a customer will say “I didn’t know I could pay online” or “that form is available online.” Our job is to constantly reassure them, so as to get people out of our office. If we can get them out of here (the office) and save them a couple of bucks in doing so, all the better. I rarely meet face-to-face with clients. I don’t have the time and don’t know who has the time for that. I try to make it as easy as possible for the customer.
What sort of agency management system do you use? Did that change with the switch to a paperless office?
We’ve been using AMS360 online six years now. The agency we purchased used special Agent. We started with Special Agent, so accessing the files was easy for us. We migrated the new clients into AMS360 and currently still use it.
Do you use web-based lead sources?
We use the Astonish Results, actually we use their sister system squid. We signed on in January of 2011. It’s been two years and in the end I think it was the right decision for use. It costs $750 a month, with part of that sustaining the website and the email program. It was a situation in which I said to myself, hey, I’ll pay a couple of extra dollars a month and let them take care of it.
Has it been successful for your agency
We get calls from all over the state about Liquor Liability, and that I get from using Squid. But, it is not worth it for use from the on-line and personal side of it because I realized that I don’t want to spend a ton of money looking for auto clients. In the end, for our agency, it all begins with the home. Our real estate and mortgage contacts are our biggest referral game. So I have decided that I am not going to renew with Astonish, I am getting smarter with my advertising dollars.
Any traditional advertising or community outreach?
With traditional advertising we don’t do everything, but we do a little in town. Being from Plymouth, I also advertise with a lot of local community events.
What about Social Media?
As for social media, I used to do more of it. I wrote out a whole plan but realized that I couldn’t follow it. Insurance isn’t exactly a fun topic for the general public. “Who really wants to talk about exclusions and deductions?” With that being said it’s a necessity, so keep your clients engaged with fun stuff. Local events, Trivia, or local community involvement.
Where do you see the technology opportunities for local agencies like yourself to gain a competitive advantage over direct writers and legacy agency operations?
Being Local and accessible 24/7 drives a lot of value for an agency. Most people I deal with, don’t seem to have any time to come down to my office. Through the use of technology I’m able to save them time, which in turn makes them happy.
What advice do you have for other agents who might be entertaining the idea of going paperless?
The funny thing for me is that on the personal lines side this business is now all about technology. It’s about getting things in and out as fast as you can. When I hire people now, I looked for people who know technology. The people who have 20 or 30 years’ experience, they’re outdated, I prefer a person who can process 15 policies in an hour.
I understand it’s probably not an option for many agencies due to cost and computer literacy. It took us a couple years to either get everything going. If the staff and ownership aren’t equipped to embrace technology, then I’d say find new staff or continue to run the business as is.
Can other agents call you about going paperless and on acquiring agencies?
I have no problem with letting agents contact me. I would prefer it. They can contact me at 508.746.3334.