Allstate seeks more agents, but not as ‘human modems’

Allstate Corp (ALL.N) wants to buy more independent insurance agencies this year to build the business it acquired with its purchase of National General, Allstate Chief Executive Tom Wilson said.

But the agents will be there to talk to customers in depth, not punch data into a computer to get a quote, Wilson said.

“There’s no future in that – no need for a human modem anymore,” Wilson said. Allstate’s strategy is to supply agents with customer data via computer to enable “a real conversation,” he said. “‘What about your 16-year-old? Is your son or daughter at college actually driving the car?’ You can have a different kind of conversation. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Allstate’s strategy stands out after a year in which many insurance companies sped up their “digital transformation” in response to the world working from home during the pandemic, and are relying more heavily on website and mobile apps to interact with customers.

Earlier this year, Allstate sold its life and annuity businesses and bought National General Holdings Corp , greatly expanding its network of agents who sell products from a variety of companies, even as Allstate’s Web and telephone sales are showing substantial growth.

On the issue of climate change, Wilson said the U.S. government should, over a period of years, get out of the money-losing flood insurance program and shift coverage to the private sector. This would help risk to be better-priced and avoid rate decisions being “embedded in some political process where some local congressperson fights against getting their rates raised because they want another 150 votes,” Wilson said.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which is $20.5 billion in debt, is being partly overhauled this year.

However, Wilson said government can play a role in insuring big climate risks – those in which it is going to pay anyway.

If a Force 5 hurricane hits Dade County, Florida, for example, the state and insurers will need help. “The federal government is going to have to come and figure out how to build the infrastructure, help people rebuild their houses,” Wilson said.

“The federal government should think about that in advance, as opposed to waiting for it to happen.”