For many in the Massachusetts insurance industry, Steve Aronson, of Aronson Insurance needs no introduction. Whether it has been giving presentations at MAIA on Project CAP to lecturing the New England 1752 Club about effective digital marketing from an agency’s perspective, Steve Aronson has been a tireless supporter, educator and promoter of the benefits that the independent insurance agency system can reap from embracing technology. In honor of his efforts, we thought it only fitting to publish our latest Agency Interview with him today, on the second annual National Real Time Day, something of which he has been a long-time promoter and pioneer of.
Tell us about the history of Aronson Insurance.
Ours is a third generation agency, founded in 1919 by Samuel J Aronson. His son, Norman C Aronson, took over 1952. I joined the family business in 1975 and became president 1985. My sister, Bunny, who is now the Vice President of the Agency joined us in 1985.
As a third generation independent agency, how has your company dealt with the perpetuation of the agency?
My father, Norman, made sure to transition control of the agency early. He sold stock to Bunny and me in 1995. With no fourth generation family member in the wings, however, plans are being formulated now for the continuation of the agency.
Did you always plan on being an agent? How long have you been one?
Yes, ever since I was a little boy. My father came home and, rather than complaining about work, always had good things to say about the business and the great people he got to work with. I also saw he made lots of time for the family, unlike many other (moms and) dads.
So in 1975, right after graduating from UMass, Amherst and armed with my Financial Management degree, I jumped right in.
How big is Aronson Insurance today and how many companies do you represent?
We currently do $20+ million in Property & Casualty premium and work out of two locations in Newton and Needham. It’s a 50/50 split in terms of the business we do in both personal and commercial lines. We currently employ a staff of 23 and represent twelve different insurers.
How is your agency doing now in Massachusetts?
We have grown every year since competitive rating began in MA, growing by 10% in 2011, and 12% in 2012.
Aside from being a local independent insurance agent, you are also an educator to the industry particularly in trying to help other agents see the benefits of Real Time.Why?
As insurance agents, we are always educating our clients. Teaching insurance and insurance technology seems like a natural extension for me. I helped transition SEMCI into Real Time as an AUGIE Leader (the ACORD Users Group Information Exchange). In my own agency, I changed management systems to get Real Time. Our agency now uses TransactNow whenever possible to save keystrokes and time.
How long has your agency been using Real Time?
We adopted it in 2007.
Could you briefly explain why you decided to use Real Time.
Rather than entering information several times, RT allows us to enter it once – it goes into either our management system or comparative rater (WinRater). We then receive a Real Time, 100% accurate quote which can allow us to sell the policy and have it downloaded into our management system without re-keying the policy data. The end result is that we can provide superior customer service by knowing that we always have accurate, up-to-date policy information in our agency management system.
What else is attractive about Real Time is and what it does for an agency?
The beauty of Real Time is that it can save agents and their employees hundreds of keystrokes and time spent on those administrative actions each day. It can allow Account Managers to provide better, faster customer service as well as providing them more time to sell insurance (that’s why we’re in business – right?).
What difference has Real Time made in your agency?
It has improved our customer service, increased our agency’s productivity, and has allowed us to grow our agency organically, through policy sales, without having to increase our staff.
How does the cost/benefit of Real Time work out with regard to the processes it replaced?
Saving time with no cost for Real Time (it is include in WinRater and AMS360) is a “home run” for us, and all agents who take the initial time to make it part of their standard workflow.
What would the profiles be of the agencies where Real Time will enhance the operation and, correspondingly, where Real Time would not enhance the operation of an agency
In my opinion, any agency with multiple companies will benefit from using RT. Only an agency representing one carrier, who will always be inputting prospect/client data directly into the single carrier system would not benefit.
What other technology systems do you use besides Real Time?
We use the following: AMS360, as our agency management system; WinRater, as our PL comp. rater; I-T-File, is the imaging system we use; and AppRiver for our TLS (secure email solution) and external email filter.
Aronson Insurance also offers its customers a 24/7 Customer service number, is this a CSC or something you do on your own?
We use the services of CSR24. And, we have now added the convenience of Certs Online, allowing clients to order Certificates of Insurance, online, 24x7x365 – they love it!
Social media and Local Search like Real Time have the ability to level the playing field for a lot of local independent insurance agents. How does your agency leverage these and why do think more agents are doing so?
In our office, we use Agency Revolution – it helps us with our online presence. In addition, we have a young producer who came out of PR and is extremely web and e-marketing savvy. In today’s market, you’re web marketing is part of your social media; you’re not doing one without the other.
What are the market trends that you most see affecting Massachusetts agencies over the next 5 to 10 years?
The early effects of downward pressure on PL rates are over and all carriers are taking rate. Carriers (and agents) should see some improvement in profitability. Web and direct marketers are taking market share from all of us – at 1% per year – we must put a stop to this. Agents must become more “sales” agencies than the “service” agencies we were for generations – or we will not survive. The IIABA (and MAIA) CAP – Consumer Agency Portal, being introduced this year, may help.
You helped introduce Project CAP and the Consumer Agency Portal to Mass. Agents? How is the project progressing? Have many agents joined on? What are your thoughts about the Consumer Agency Portal debuting this year?
It’s still in the early phase and moving more slowly than we would like to see, but I do hear there are some positive steps that are being taken. Conceptually, if the independent system is going to compete with the direct marketers we are going to have to have some tools to do it on a national scale. The Big I can do that on a national scale and they are working hard to put in place a comparative agency which ultimately will be a substantial help to agents.
You really give back to the Massachusetts insurance industry by giving presentations and lectures about different insurance topics? Why?
Insurance agents are on some level teachers, community leader; We tend to make more of a difference than just what we do at our desk. I’m an industry volunteer, because I want to help our industry. Same holds true in my local community.
Are you looking to expand? How do you plan on growing your agency?
We are growing our sales, service and management teams – with a plan – every year. You’ve got to have a plan or you can’t manage growth. Acquisitions are always a possibility.
Do you use any aggregators in obtaining markets or favorable contracts for your agency?
Not at the moment, but we are always looking at new ways to improve our agency – change is not only inevitable – it is good, if done well.
What advice would you give other agents who are looking at Real Time as an agency solution?
Just Do It! Try it again if you were disappointed 5 years ago the last time you tried it. It will save you time!