Episode 053 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Account Manager Burnout: Is Your Insurance Agency Afflicted, And What To Do About It


In this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds and Melissa Wilder confront the day-to-day challenges affecting so many account managers, how they often lead to burnout, and what to do about it. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • Why the account manager’s job has become more challenging in recent decades, even as technology has made everybody else’s job easier
  • Why account managers tend to inherit everybody else’s tasks and mistakes, and how to correct this injustice
  • How to separate account manager responsibilities from everyone else’s at the agency by applying the principles of operational excellence, relieving account manager burnout and restoring passion and purpose to the job

This is going to come as a shock to a lot of people, but being an account manager used to be fun. You were on the road more, playing a bigger part in the negotiation process: meeting with clients and carriers, getting to know the insured, honing and using finesse and other stimulating skills.

What a far cry from the account manager lifestyle today. From the moment they enter their office, which they’ll never leave before the day is up, account managers are inundated by a stream of tedious, disparate tasks and overwhelmed by the pressure to get them all done today. The work is frequently mundane and unexciting, but there’s no sitting back and slouching: a single error could hurt the agency’s bottom line or, worse, trigger a lawsuit. You would think there’d be some glory at the end of this struggle, but there isn’t. Producers get all the credit for bringing home the bacon; nobody congratulates the account manager for cooking it. If something goes wrong, it is seldom the producers who get called to the carpet. Guess who does?

The anxiety. The drudgery. The thanklessness of it all. Wouldn’t this burn out just about anybody? Account managers have to deal with it every day, with only a feeling of failure to look forward to when they realize they didn’t get everything done.

What accounted for this devolution? Ironically, it was technology. (5:58) It has sped everything up a great deal, but this acceleration has come with a feeling of having to get everything done right now, and account managers have been hit the hardest by this pressure due to their proximity to technical tasks. It is time to reverse the trend, to give account managers a break and start to take them more seriously—not only because it is the right thing to do, but because even the most selfless and loyal of them will eventually succumb to burnout and begin to wonder whether things are better at another agency. Yes, it’s easier to replace account managers than it is to replace, say, star producers, but it’s becoming harder to find and keep any employees in the insurance industry. If you don’t treat your account managers well, somebody else will.

At the same time, we’re not oblivious to the agency’s point of view. The truth is, work moves faster than operations sometimes, and somebody’s gonna bear the brunt of that—it just so happens to be the account managers. Sure, who wouldn’t want to hire more of them in order to lighten the load on each, but how many people can you hire before it affects profitability?

In this episode, we study the causes of account manager burnout and the remedies to it, so you can get the most out of the account managers you have, without hiring and rehiring. Begin by having the right attitude, showing you care about account managers and their concerns. This, alone, is enough to set you apart: Ryan and Melissa fondly remember Cooper Jones, their boss at The Crichton Group, who really did try to understand account managers and demonstrated it by importing resources to make their jobs easier. The account managers we know don’t really mind being workhorses, and they’re good at it, too; they just don’t like being ignored and undervalued.

Anyone who’s passionate about a job wants to take the time to do it the right way, but account managers are frequently denied this basic privilege. (9:53) Consumed by the terror of making a mistake, and aware that they will be without an advocate if that happens, many of the account managers we know give in to paranoia and do their jobs with extreme caution. This seems almost like a good thing, but at some point, it becomes redundant and slows operations down. Let your account managers know that you will give them a fair hearing if something unexpected happens. They’ll be relieved and it will show in the pace and quality of their work.

Speaking of mistakes, it would be nice if account managers didn’t inherit everyone else’s. For example, many of the problems that account managers have to deal with are due to inadequate producer training. (14:49) In their commendable zeal to make clients happy, producers are known to make grandiose promises that are simply irreconcilable with the reality of proper coverage. When account managers point this out, they are accused of being bad team players and impeding the sales process. Enough. Your account managers see things other people don’t. While everybody’s toasting the producer who brought in a big account, the account manager is quietly computing everything that could go wrong with processing it: insufficient staff, policy complexity, outstanding issues with the client’s previous agency. Listen to your account managers. It might just save your business.

Not that it is always the producers’ fault. Much of the time, inappropriate delineation of duties across the agency results in account managers getting stuck doing the jobs nobody wants to do, has the time to do or knows how to do. (17:49) Take the time to figure out whose job is whose, and how they all figure into your operational flowchart. Refine your operational structure so that the things that fall through the cracks don’t keep landing on the account manager’s desk. Strive for operational excellence. This podcast is a great place to start.

Finally, start treating your account managers like people, not sheep. Years of routine have entrenched the belief that account managers somehow enjoy toiling endlessly over stressful and tedious work with no reward or recognition in sight. Absurd. Like everybody else, account managers require incentives, growth opportunities, and career advancement. (18:43) There is more to the job than just checking off boxes—open your eyes to it. Figure out what your account managers’ secret strengths are, and model a path to development based on them.

In the meantime, a little more fun on the job could go a long way. Put your account managers back on the road a little more. Get them to meet their insured. It might be the spark that relights the fire put out at the office.

Let us know how it goes. We’re in the Digital Broker LinkedIn group discussing what you hear on each episode. Are you an account manager who has struggled, or is struggling, with burnout? Are you a principal who has witnessed this and dealt with it accordingly? Are you a producer who doesn’t think account managers have it nearly as bad as we say they do, and you’ve been shaking your head this whole episode? Tell us all about it here.

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