First, when I speak of structure, I am referring to the manner in which the agency and the staff within the agency are departmentalized. In other words, is the agency structured based on specializations or does the same person handle personal, commercial and claims for their segment of the alphabet?
In reality, there is no one structure that is right in every agency. The structure that exists today could very well be the same structure that the agency had 10 years ago. As staff leave / retire, they are replaced with staff that have the same responsibilities as the person they replaced.
When I started in the agency business in 1976, I was a CSR handling personal, commercial and claims for the S-Z alphabet split. I had actually just received my insurance license so essentially my level of knowledge was what the New York State license materials provided. I liked dealing with personal lines, absolutely loved the commercial lines segment of the industry but absolutely hated my claims responsibilities. Primarily my hatred for the claims side was that I never really received any training on how to handle a claim. In many respects, I was probably an E&O nightmare waiting to happen. Within 2 years, the agency totally changed their structure going with a personal lines team, a commercial lines team and a dedicated claims person. I was moved to the commercial side of the house. Boy was I relieved!
One of the keys to the “right” structure deals with the degree to which the staff is knowledgeable and proficient in their duties and responsibilities. Without the proper knowledge, this is when mistakes can occur with greater frequency. Another key issue is the workload and what priority the various tasks are performed. When someone is handling personal, commercial and claims, is there an area that will probably not get the level of attention it deserves? For me, it was definitely claims!
In many of the industry publications, the issue of specialization is getting a significant amount of attention. There are many advantages to this including more in depth knowledge of the issues of the various specialties. This will probably translate into customers feeling more comfortable with the agency because of their perception that they are dealing with staff that knows their issues.
However, in many agencies, specialization is not possible. The agency wants to be a generalist and to be “all things to all people”. Many agencies are commonly referred to as “main street agencies” and are looking to write all of the different types of personal and commercial accounts their community represents. This is certainly fine and if the agency volume does not allow it, having separate personal and commercial lines staff may not be possible.
Probably the key for whatever your structure looks like is the degree that the staff is knowledgeable and proficient in their respective areas of responsibility. If the staff possess the necessary level of knowledge and have the ability to manage a diverse workload, whatever structure you choose will probably work for you. However this may be easier said than done!