Being an independent insurance agent has a ton of advantages, like owning your own business, setting your own schedule, and having control over your own income. However, one of the biggest downsides is having no idea how you stack up.
Have you ever wondered...
Our team at New Horizons Insurance Marketing put together a survey to help answer these important questions. We are so excited to share the report with you. We expected some of the insights (like the majority of independent agents are middle-aged men), but others really caught off us guard (no spoilers!).
Thank you to everyone who completed the survey – you are the start of something great! Without further ado, here is our 2021 State of the Senior Market Independent Agent Report.
Because agents are independent, it can be difficult to grasp what an "average" agent looks like. A quick look at business basics, which includes demographics, experience level, and product lines sold can give you an idea of how you stack up.
According to our survey, an average senior market agent is a male in his 50s who works between 40-49 hours per week. This male-dominated industry is getting older, bringing up questions about what the future will hold if younger agents don't get into the business.
About 1 in 3 of surveyed agents works 40-49 hours per week, while a shocking 26% only work 10-29 hours per week. Agents who work more hours tend to have the highest incomes.
Agents who make more than $100,000 annually are most likely to work 50-59 hours per week. The only surveyed agents who reported working 70 hours per week or more make over $100,000 per year.
We see the opposite trend for the lowest earners, as you'd expect. Agents who make between $0-$24,999 per year are most likely to work less than 29 hours per week.
Just over 65% of surveyed agents have been in this business for 10 years or more.
Agents with over 30 years of experience are most likely to have the highest number of clients, followed by agents with 10-19 years of experience.
Of responding agents, 21% hit 201-500 clients at 10+ years, 9% hit 501-750 clients at 10+ years, and 17% hit 751+ clients at 10+ years.
Regardless of how long an agent has been in the business, only about 30% of agents get over the 500 client hump.
The more years of experience you have, the more clients you have and the higher your income. Many say this is a "get rich slow" business, and our survey results paint this picture. Agents who make less than $24,999 are most likely to be in their first two years of business, while incomes steadily increase the more years of experience you have.
Only 16% of agents surveyed have downline agents.
Fifty-four percent of surveyed agents with a downline make over $100,000 per year.
As you can imagine, your challenges shift as your business grows. While agents with no downline report finding leads as their biggest challenge, agency owners report hiring as their primary challenge.
Agents with a downline are also more likely to have 750 clients or more compared to agents who work solo.
The most popular product offered among survey respondents was Medicare Supplements (74%) followed by life insurance (73.3%), Medicare Advantage (60.1%), and PDP (53%).
Being an independent agent can be liberating, because this is a commission-based business. The more effort you put in, the more money you can make.
The good news is there is great potential in this business. Roughly 2 in 5 surveyed agents make over $100,000 per year.
Renewal streams also make this industry unique – the longer you're in it, the more you stand to bring home.
Agents with the highest incomes have a few things in common. They have more years of experience, more clients, and their #1 lead source is referrals.
As you can probably guess, the more clients you have, the higher your income. Of agents who make less than $24,999 per year, all of them had fewer than 200 clients. Agents who make more than $100,000 annually are most likely to have over 500 clients.
Of agents who make $200,000 or more per year, 80.95% said their #1 lead source is referrals or word-of-mouth.
In addition, high-income producers are more likely to have employees helping them. Over half of survey respondents making over $200,000 per year have between 1 and 5 employees.
Agents with high incomes are also more likely to offer annuities.
Agents who make more than $200,000 per year are most likely to communicate with clients annually (39.5%) followed by quarterly (25.5%) and biannually (20.9%).
If you want to have a high income in senior market sales, what products should you sell? According to our survey, agents who make more than $200,000 annually offer six or more products. Cross-selling is one of the best ways to dramatically impact your bottom line.
The most common products sold among high-earners include Medicare Supplements, Medicare Advantage, Life Insurance, Annuities, Final Expense, and Part D drug plans.
The top three products consistent among high-income agents are Life Insurance (79%), Medicare Supplements (77%), and Annuities (72%).
Agents who make between $100,000-$199,999 per year offer a similar product mix, including Life Insurance, Medicare Supplements, Medicare Advantage, Part D drug plans, Dental Vision Hearing, and Annuities.
One of the perks of being an independent insurance agent is access to bonuses and incentives. Many of our top insurance carriers reward agents for their production in the form of amazing incentive trips to places like Spain, Hawaii, and Key Largo, FL.
Because of COVID-19, incentive trips have been put on hold, and many carriers are opting to give cash bonuses instead. However, many agents are eager for these incredible incentive trips to come back.
So, while taking incentive trips is a nice occasional reward, your average independent agent isn't exactly flying to the tropics every month.
When it comes to cash bonuses, about half (50.3%) of surveyed agents report receiving $0 in bonus income. About a third of agents say 1-5% of their income is from cash bonuses.
When we look at the highest-income producers, 48% of them generate 1-5% of their income from bonuses. Only about 5% of all surveyed agents say bonus income counts for more than 11% of their total income.
The most common challenge among all agents surveyed is finding new customers (60.5%). That's where marketing can come in. However, when it comes to advertising and marketing as an independent agent, our findings were overwhelming: most agents – regardless of income level – attribute their No. 1 lead source to referrals (73%).
Purchased leads followed at a mere 16.7%; however, of the agents with the highest incomes, less than 0.05% considered purchased lead their primary lead source.
In fact, 80.95% of surveyed agents whose income exceeds $200,000 say referrals and word-of-mouth is their No. 1 lead source.
Integrity Partner Bobby Richardson of McNerney Management Group explains,
"When you get 400 clients, you should never ever have to worry about spending another dime on leads. You should be able to use that number of clients to keep getting referrals and building your business from there."
Other forms of marketing, including print media and digital marketing accounted for a mere 0.05% of surveyed agent's primary lead source.
The bottom line: referrals are a critical part of any independent agent's marketing plan.
The majority of agents surveyed spend very little on advertising; 37.5% spend less than $500 annually and 31.1% spend between $501-$2,500 annually.
Considering that referrals and word-of-mouth marketing are virtually free, an agent can sustain his or her business with very little money spent on advertising.
Interestingly enough, of the 14% of agents who spent over $5,000 on advertising last year, nearly half (46.3%) had 750 clients or more. The more clients you have, the higher your income, which means you can support a more hefty advertising budget.
Of the agents surveyed, more than half (52.4%) said they were very comfortable doing eApplications. This was a critical skill for agents when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation.
Our survey revealed that agents whose incomes were positively impacted during the pandemic were more likely to be comfortable with eApps. Over half of agents whose incomes went down during the pandemic were not fully confident with eApps.
According to our survey results, about half of agents use a CRM. However, agents with higher incomes are more likely to use one. While only 36% of agents who make less than $25,000 use a CRM, nearly 70% of agents who make more than $200,000 annually use one.
The most popular CRM among surveyed agents is AgencyBloc followed by MedicareCENTER and Salesforce.
Training is an interesting subject, because as an independent agent, you're basically on your own. Only captive agents have the benefit of getting training and hands-on support and mentorship, and it comes at a cost (lower commissions).
Our survey revealed that around a third of agents say they don't get adequate product training. When we look at this group more closely, they are significantly less likely to communicate with their FMO on a regular basis.
Agents who say they do get adequate product training are more likely to communicate with their FMO.
If you need product training, utilize your FMO as a resource! Here at New Horizons, we have training guides and staff dedicated to helping agents get up and running.
For example, if you want to get into Medicare Advantage sales, we have a department for that. Just set up a consultation!
Succession planning is a particularly important topic when you have hundreds of clients of depending on you for their Medicare and retirement planning needs.
Unfortunately, 56% of survey respondents have no thought-out succession plan. What's even more shocking is of the agents who are over age 50, an astounding 44% have no plan.
Of those who do have a plan, 43% plan to pass their business on to a family member or friend, 29% plan to sell their business, and 28% plan to let their policy renewals ride out until they're gone – which is essentially no plan at all.
Jeff Sams, Principal at New Horizons Insurance Marketing, says letting your policy renewals ride out is the absolute worst plan you can have.
"You just spent the last 30 years building this business from scratch, and your policyholders are your friends. You're not going to let that business just run off. It's the wrong thing to do for a guarantee, for the policyholders, and for your legacy!"
Over 1 in 4 agents (29%) over age 60 aren't sure when they plan to retire. One-third of agents over age 60 plan to retire in the next 4-10 years.
And the one survey respondent over age 90 plans to retire in the next 2-3 years. He or she is a go-getter!
COVID-19 forced agents across the country to adapt to remote work, and our survey revealed this was a major challenge for agents across the board.
The single largest challenge agents faced during the pandemic was not seeing clients face-to-face. One survey respondent explained, "I don't think the initial bond formed with new clients is as strong via phone and email as it is face-to-face."
"My clients don't want to see me because of the pandemic. Most do not feel comfortable doing business over the internet or phone."
The top five challenges reported by agents during the coronavirus pandemic include:
Other challenges reported by agents include wearing a mask, feeling isolated, staying motivated, and frustration with incentive trips being cancelled.
While 15% of agents surveyed weren't affected financially by COVID, 45.7% were negatively impacted. The majority of agents who struggled financially because of COVID-19 are over 50 years old, do not use a CRM, and do not offer annuities.
35% of agents who struggled financially during COVID-19 have been in the business less than 5 years. We know the first few years of business as an independent agent are critical – you're building up renewals and a base of customers who will ultimately fuel your business with referrals.
Because of COVID-19, many new independent agents had to find ways to keep going in an industry that has largely been face-to-face.
When we take a deeper look at the 39.2% of agents whose finances were positively impacted by COVID-19, what did they have in common?
Being comfortable with eApps and using a CRM are both indicators that an agent is comfortable with technology and can write business remotely. COVID-19 forced all agents to figure out remote sales whether they were prepared for it or not.
In addition, there was a huge difference in years of experience among both groups. Agents who thrived during COVID-19 have been in the business longer.
Finally, agents who sell annuities seemed to weather COVID-19 better than agents who don't.
Michael Sams, the No. 1 annuity producer for New Horizons, explains:
"When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I got really worried that everything would slow down and I wouldn’t be writing any business. At the same time, many of my clients were getting nervous about their money in the stock market.
I decided to send a letter to my entire client base. I didn’t purchase any lists or anything – I just sent this letter to my existing clients. Within two weeks of that letter being delivered, I had written $2.3 million in new annuity business."
When we set out to accomplish this survey and subsequent report, we had some ideas about what insights might surface.
For example, we knew most agents would be men and that the majority of agents would be in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. We also knew agents just starting out would have lower incomes, while established agents would be more likely to make six figures. We also figured a lot of agents wouldn’t have any kind of succession plan.
I think what stood out to us so much was just how polarizing some of these percentages are. For only 23% of agents surveyed to be women – there’s such an opportunity for women to get into this industry. The same goes for ages – only 19.7% of agents surveyed were under age 50!
And when we look at how independent agents are planning for the future, I think we were all shocked to see that 56% of all agents surveyed have absolutely no perpetuation plan. And of the ones who say they do have a plan, a quarter of them plan to just ride it out, which really isn’t a plan if we’re being honest.
While there were a lot of interesting nuggets in this report, such as how reliant we all are on referrals and how technology helped producers stay afloat during COVID-19, I think we’re all looking at this report and thinking of the future.
Where will we be in five years? A decade? Only time will tell.
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The State of the Senior Market Independent Agent Report reveals new insights and trends about insurance agents in the senior market. This survey was completed by 299 independent insurance agents.
New Horizons Insurance Marketing is a respected National Marketing Organization (NMO, also known as FMO or IMO). We believe in the power and strength of the independent insurance agent specializing in the senior market. We help support your entrepreneurial spirit and drive to succeed with a suite of smart, effective tools, proven programs and marketing innovations.