Kudos to Georgia YAC

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a webinar involving Georgia’s Young Agent’s Committee.  The Immediate Past Chair, Ash Smith, the Chair, Brooks Zeigler, and the Vice Chair, Kelli Dean, along with Stacie King of the Big I’s office, participated in the webinar, which was broadcast nationwide by the IIABA.  They described all the activities of Georgia’s YAC during 2012 that lead to it being named the Outstanding Young Agent’s Committee of the year at the IIABA Fall Conference that was held in Atlanta last September. (Click here for my blog post about the award.) 

The list of activities that Georgia’s YAC engaged in was a long and varied one, with a special emphasis on educating and training their membership to be better insurance agents and leaders.  Perhaps most impressive was the fact that their annual golf tournament raised over $40,000 for charity.  Their use of social media to communicate with their members and encourage participation in their events seemed to be of particular interest to those young agents from other states who participated in the webinar. (Click here for a link to the webinar.  It’s at the bottom of the page.)

As I said in my post back in September, the future of the Big I is in good hands with these outstanding young agents and its strong Young Agents Committee in general.

How Do You Plan to Grow Your Agency’s Business This Year?

Now that the New Year is under way, it’s time to focus on how your agency is going to grow its book of business in 2013.  I came across an interesting article on this subject on the Agents Council for Technology (“ACT”) website. In it, the author, Chuck Blondino of Safeco Insurance, discusses 12 metrics that are used by successful agencies to guide their marketing efforts.  They focus on determining where an agency’s new business comes from, how much revenue is generated by that new business, and how long it is retained.  By keeping track of this information, an agency or even an individual producer can determine where their marketing efforts should be focused to deliver the “biggest bang for the buck”, so to speak.

The author not only explains what an agency should be tracking, but how to do it. Click here for the complete article.  If you are not familiar with the ACT website, you should become familiar with it as it has a lot of information that can be useful in running an insurance agency.

On a related note, I recently came across a website maintained by a Georgia insurance agent, Mark Rosenthal, that contains his suggestions for how to generate new business prospects.  They range from the obvious, but still important, (e.g., cross sell to your existing customers) to more outside the box ideas, (e.g., reviewing the local newspaper for marriage and other announcements that indicate a need for insurance).  Although Mr. Rosenthal is primarily a life insurance agent, many of his ideas can be adapted to the sale of property and casualty insurance.  Click here to see his suggestions.

Flood Insurance, Fiscal Cliff, and IRS News for Employers

First the good news, since my post on January 2, 2013 in which I noted that the House of Representatives had not acted on a Senate bill intended to keep the national flood insurance program solvent, the new Congress has added almost $10 billion to that  program, so it appears to be safe for now. 

Since that post, I have come across a more detailed explanation of the effects of the action taken by Congress on January 1 of this year to avert the “fiscal cliff” that I thought would be of benefit to my readers.  It covers the effects of that action on both personal and business taxes.  The effects for individuals earning below $400,000 and married couples earning below $450,000 are mostly good with many of the tax credits and other benefits that have been in effect for the past few years being extended or even made “permanent” (i.e., there is no automatic sunset date, but Congress can always chose to change the law).  The major exception to the good news is that the payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare will go back to its previous level of 6.2% for employees.  Businesses can now deduct up to $500,000 of equipment purchases in the year they are made. (Click here to read the complete article.) 

In addition to a change in the payroll tax rate for employees, employers should be aware that the IRS has increased its 2013 auditing budget by more than 7 percent in anticipation of devoting more resources to the enforcement of new and previously existing employer compliance laws.  One new such law requires employers to report the cost of employer provided group health insurance coverage on their employees’ W-2s for 2013.  (Click here for IRS guidance on this new requirement).  One previously existing such law concerns the treatment of workers as employees or independent contractors.  This tax compliance area has become an important one for the IRS as it holds the promise of significant increases in revenue for the federal government if a worker was improperly classified as an independent contractor. (Click here for an article I have written on this subject that explains the risk to employers and how the IRS makes this determination).  For employers who are concerned about whether they have improperly classified their workers as independent contractors, the IRS has created a Voluntary Classification Settlement Program under which an employer can reclassify its workers as employees and avoid most of the adverse consequences that would occur if the IRS did it for them. (Click here for an explanation of this program).

What are Your BYOD Policies?

I had an interesting telephone call today on the Free Legal Service Program that I run for the IIAG.  The caller’s questions were good ones for which I could not provide definitive answers.  They concerned what rights a former employer had to the information stored on a former employee’s smart phone. 

Under Georgia law, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, an employer owns all the information obtained by its employees about its customers or other business activities during the course of performing services on its behalf.  I am not aware of any case law that applies this general rule to smart phones, PDAs, or other hand-held electronic devices, but it would appear that the general rule would permit an employer to require an employee to delete all such information from all such devices possessed by the employee. 

But my caller then asked what about customers who have become personal friends of the former employee or who were friends or other social acquaintances before they became customers of the former employer.  Does all the information about such persons stored on the former employee’s smart phone also belong to the employer because they are customers of the employer?  Good question and one that could take a lot of time and expense to resolve in court.    

Fortunately for me, the answers in this instance to the above questions became easier once I was informed that the former employer had purchased the smart phone for the former employee.  In the absence of any agreement to the contrary, since the former employer owned the smart phone, it had the right to demand that the former employee return the smart phone to it after his employment was terminated. 

Given the pervasive use of smart phones and other hand-held electronic devices in the workplace, serious consideration should be given by employers to drafting a policy or policies that address the above questions up front so there will be no need to resort to the courts to answer them later.  At the same time, employers should consider drafting policies that govern their right to monitor and inspect all such devices used by their employees regardless of who may own them.  Click here for an article that explores the latter subject in more depth. 

If you’ve read this far to find out what BYOD means, it stands for Bring Your Own Device.  Please share with me and my other readers any experiences you may have had with the above issues, especially how your agency may have addressed them.

Fiscal Cliff Update

I don’t know how many of my readers were paying attention to the goings on in Washington, D.C. over the past couple of days given all the football games to be watched, especially the Sun and Capital One Bowls for Tech and Georgia fans, but our elected representatives did manage to stop us from going over the “fiscal cliff”, at least for now.  The good news for most people was that the income tax rates for anyone earning less than $400,000 per year ($450.000 for married couples) will not go up from their 2012 levels and the tax rate on capital gains and dividends for those taxpayers will stay at 15%.  In addition, the estate tax exemption will stay at its current level of $5,120,000 per person. The bad news for most everyone was that the legislation passed yesterday will actually result in an increase in the federal deficit over the next 10 years if nothing further is done.

For those insurance agents who sell flood insurance, there was more bad news.  Despite warnings from FEMA that, due to the extraordinary losses incurred as a result of Hurricane Sandy, it will run out of money to pay flood insurance claims within the next two weeks, the House of Representatives did not act on a bill passed by the Senate that would have increased the borrowing authority for that program by an additional $10 billion.   It will be up to the new Congress to solve that problem. (Click here for a good explanation of what the legislation that has been passed will and will not do.)  Stay tuned for further developments on that and other issues of interest to insurance agents that will be addressed in Washington in the next few weeks.