Texas Professional Insurance Agents hosted a day-long virtual conference on Oct. 15 as it joined numerous other associations shifting from in-person annual conventions to online sessions in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. David Gorman, president of Texas PIA and national director, and owner of Red Gorman Insurance Agency, emceed the webcast that went from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., with an hour off for lunch.
In addition to representatives of PIA National providing the keynote address and information on products and services available through the national association, the day offered four hours of continuing education credit and two panels that examined adapting to the new normal and looking ahead to 2021.
Jon Gentile, vice president of government relations for PIA National, gave the keynote address. He said the association played an important role in crafting the Paycheck Protection Program, which Gentile termed the first bucket of immediate assistance for small businesses affected by COVID-19. A second relief package, the Small Business Comeback Act, remains pending in congress. Introduced by two Texas congressmen, Filem•n Vela, D-Rio Grande Valley, and Lance Gooden, R-Dallas, the proposal would provide funds to help businesses reopen and stay open, he said.
Gentile said that PIA National supports the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act, modeled after TRIA, It would serve as a public-private partnership backstop to maintain marketplace stability in future pandemics. Under this proposal, insurers would be required to provide business interruption and event cancellation coverage for pandemic risks. PIA National favors this proposal and is actively seeking changes to make pandemic coverage affordable for small business, said Gentile.
Also on PIA National’s lobbying congress to-do list is repealing the Federal Insurance Office. Created in 2010 as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, this new federal role in insurance was opposed by PIA from inception. “The very existence of the FIO threatens the primacy of state regulation,” said Gentile, who said it was an overcorrection when it was created.
“Once created, agencies are hard to get rid of,” Gentile added. Agencies don’t give up power, he said. The fact that the FIO exists is a threat, he said, as congress could give it more duties in the future. Gentile said PIA continues to work with other insurance industry groups on this issue, but he expects it will take several years to generate sufficient bipartisan support for the repeal of the agency.
Continuing education credit opportunities during the day included a two-hour morning session by Tim McClendon, CIC, CWCA, managing partner with Hertel McClendon, Workers’ Compensation and COVID-19, and a two-hour closing session by Samuel Bennett, CIC, AFIS, CRIS, Continued Importance of Ethical Behavior in these Crazy Times. Meg McKeen, founder of Adjunct Advisors, gave tips on how to conduct interactive sessions with technology, including how to make a best virtual impression on current and future clients.
The morning panel was moderated by Carol Hargis, former publisher and editor of The Insurance Record. Panelists included John Grube, senior manager of operations, Texas Mutual; Dale Moon, president, Moon Insurance Managers and president-elect of Texas PIA, and Tracy Thompson, AU, vice president and director of underwriting operations, Utica National Errors and Omissions. They discussed the strategies they use to keep their agencies functioning, their staff employed and their customers served during the pandemic.
Moon said he involved his employees in developing the health safety plans implemented since March. Employees came to work, but doors remained locked and opened only as needed. He discontinued classes after hours. While the agency went through a slump, he said, he is renewing policies, staying relevant and focused. “We never could have predicted anything like this.”
Thompson, who was working from home, noted that agencies need to follow their standard practices, despite any change in location, to avoid errors and omissions. Utica employees continue to work from home, but are in regular contact through online team meetings. He has seen changes in carriers’ terms and said that Utica has prepared some resources to help agents communicate the changes to their customers at renewal.
Grube noted that the shift made necessary by stay-at-home orders will encourage agents to become all digital in the future. Automation planned at Texas Mutual will be moved ahead, he said. Less reliance on paper became essential since March.
The afternoon panel, moderated by Rosalie Donlon, J.D., editor in chief of Property Casualty360/NU Property and Casualty, looked to her panelists for what to expect in 2021. Panelists included Jessica Jeffress, associate vice president, Pell and Holland; Christopher Cline, national agency distribution leader, Westfield Insurance, and Kitty Ambers, chief growth officer, AVYST, an e-forms platform.
Ambers said her crystal ball was broken, but she was super impressed by the industry’s agility and focus on customer care. She said the new environment during COVID has accelerated the pace of adoption of e-commerce solutions that were once on the back burner. She recommended that agents review the PIA course Cyber Insurance 101 to make certain that any new remote working environments maintain security, that tools are properly connected and that people are trained.
Jeffress said that agency systems had some catching up to do. Digital document delivery became the rule, not the exception. Snail mail is now the exception, she said. Client expectations have changed as well, she said.
Cline said the industry experienced a multi-year evolvement in just seven months. He was impressed by how readily industry competitors share knowledge on how all can succeed. “When things get bad, we become one,” he said.
Gorman will remain president through 2021 to complete a second two-year term, when Moon will rise to the top office. Mellisa Ray, Mellisa Ray Insurance Group, remains secretary. Tim Thompson, Allison and Thompson, was elected treasurer to fill a board vacancy.
Board members include new members to serve three year terms, Debbie Moses-Dziga, Dziga Insurance, and Mohamed Momin, Starr Insurance Agency. They join Deedre Payne, Payne Insurance Group; Sheree Speck, Speck Insurance, and Frank Medina, Frank Medina Insurance, on the Texas PIA board. Victoria Reece remains executive director.
Gorman encouraged members to join committees and announced that the state association added 30 new members this year, mostly because of a transition of members from the National Insurance Independent Contractors Association, into PIA ranks, an arrangement completed by PIA National and NIICA.