Episode 080 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Virtual Assistance: Reinforcements of Operational Excellence


On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds interviews Andy Priesman, founder of Cover Desk, about virtual assistants. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • How an assortment of back-office work and soul-sucking tasks eats into your employees’ time, decreasing your agency’s output
  • How virtual assistants, and Cover Desk specifically, are capable of relieving your agency of these tasks, enabling your employees to concentrate on their work
  • Which of your agency’s tasks you could consider outsourcing to virtual assistants, and approximately how much it costs

Here at The Digital Broker, we’re on the hunt for soul-sucking tasks—those unpleasant processes and procedures that wear on an employee’s psyche. When we find those tasks, we want to kill them, or at least reduce the harm they perpetrate on an agency’s operations. But let’s be real: some of these tasks are ineradicable. If you talk to account managers, they will tell you that there’s plenty about the quoting process they don’t like—but they can’t do anything about it, because some tasks are simply far too embedded into the routine. Somebody has to do them. But it doesn’t have to be your agents and brokers.

This is where virtual assistants come in. Fresh off their meeting at InsureTech Connect, Ryan Deeds and Andy Priesman discuss the origin of Cover Desk, a company Andy started to equip insurance agencies with trained and qualified virtual assistants. It is often said, in entrepreneurial circles, that you should research your market before you develop a product, but Andy is the latest in a string of guests who have turned that advice upside down. Like Justin Goodman, who founded Total CSR, Andy did not deliberately set out to start a company that would transform the operations of insurance agencies. He was looking for a way to help his agents and brokers do more of the work they needed to do and less of the back office work that was eating into their time. He had heard a little bit about virtual assistants, so he tried one out—just one, based in the Philippines. It made a difference. The virtual assistant kept plenty busy, freeing up the rest of Andy’s employees to concentrate on their primary responsibilities.

Andy is not the only broker to have discovered virtual assistants—our friend David Clausen has championed them in the past. But the insurance agency space has a way of being behind on technological solutions, and when other principals got wind of the success Andy was having with his virtual assistant, they wanted in. Andy was happy to advise them pro bono, setting them up with some of the other virtual assistants he knew in the Philippines. But the requests kept rolling in. An explosion of agencies relied on Andy to find and train virtual assistants for them. Andy knew a good business opportunity when he saw one, so he founded Cover Desk to train virtual assistants and refer them to the insurance agencies who needed them. One day, a client called and asked for twenty virtual assistants, a bigger number than Andy had ever recruited at once. Up until that point, all of Andy’s assistants had been working out of their homes—but now, they needed an office to meet the demand. Soon, Andy had to buy a second office. At the time of this recording, Cover Desk is up to its third office. The company isn’t even two years old.

It’s a story of staggering growth, but that’s because insurance agencies had long been hungering for the services Cover Desk is providing. “We discovered this gigantic void,” Andy says, “of agencies who needed help handling the back office work, the $10 to $15 an hour work that’s being done by licensed account managers and agents who shouldn’t be doing those things.” Large insurance agencies can afford to hire full-time back-office staff, but independent insurance agencies frequently cannot. With the advent of virtual assistants, those agencies now have the option to outsource back-office work to qualified staff at reasonable prices.

But Cover Desk is not the only company that provides virtual assistants to insurance agencies. Where there’s demand, there’s competition—so what does Andy think sets Cover Desk apart from its competitors? Integration has a lot to do with it. “We really offer a user-facing solution. Our virtual assistants can talk to anybody: clients, carriers, banks, mortgage companies. They can talk to your office staff. They become a part of your workflow, a part of your team. I’m not saying that our competitors can’t do that, but at the end of the day, I know that we provide user-facing virtual assistants who speak great English and work well on teams.”

Any talk of outsourcing labor overseas is likely to arouse suspicions: are American jobs being eliminated? Andy says no—not if he can help it. “Our philosophy has never been to replace jobs inside an agency but to increase capacity for existing employees. The idea behind hiring a virtual assistant is to relieve employees of the work they’d rather not do, so they can concentrate on work that drives retention, optimizes operations, and makes the agency more money. Hopefully, this allows the agency to hire more licensed people, whether that’s account managers or producers.”

Operational excellence is assisted by clearly defined responsibilities, and it is achieved when everybody fulfills their responsibilities at optimal speed. This is unlikely to happen if employees are divided between the work they should be doing and the work they shouldn’t be doing but have to. By outsourcing the latter work, your staff is able to do more work better. Virtual assistants thus reinforce operational excellence. They might not be for everybody, but if you are serious about operational excellence, you should know who they are and what they can do for you.

Do you want to learn more about virtual assistants? Do you have any questions for Andy or Ryan? You can meet them both inside the Digital Broker LinkedIn group, where we post updates about upcoming episodes and discuss issues of interest to the insurance community. Join us.

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