Association focuses on supporting agents' expanding roles

By Phil Zinkewicz

Leonard C. (Len) Brevik is the newly appointed Executive Vice President of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA National), and CEO of PIA Services, the association for-profit subsidiary.

These days, Leonard C. (Len) Brevik, newly appointed executive vice president of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA National), is a "travelin' man." He has spent the early days of his tenure with PIA traversing the country to visit with state and local PIA associations, and to speak with and--most important--listen to the rank and file membership to learn how their needs have changed in a rapidly changing property/casualty insurance environment. He has two overall goals in mind. One is membership growth and the other is non-dues revenue growth, but within these overall goals Brevik is intent on focusing upon nuts and bolts issues such as the retention of functional state regulation and bringing new technologies to independent agents.

After an extensive national search process, PIA brought Brevik on board in April of this year from the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers (NAIFA), where he was chief marketing officer and vice president of business development. Prior to that, Brevik had held executive positions with the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA) and its subsidiary organizations. He was executive director of two IIABA subsidiaries--the Agents Council for Technology and Future One. Brevik also served as IIABA director of government affairs, vice president of state government affairs, chief information officer and senior vice president of association affairs.

"We already have 10,000 agency members and, when you count the professionals within those agencies that are members of PIA, that brings the total membership to about 80,000," says Brevik. He points out that, in the past year, 14 of PIA's state affiliates experienced membership growth, and one state in particular, Florida, recorded 33 months of consecutive membership growth. "But we're ambitious. We want more. We want more because we believe we are the association that is in the best leadership position to assist independent insurance agents. Whatever happened in the past is just that. I like to learn from the past but not dwell on it. I am focused on the 'right now,' and on the future of PIA, and that future looks very bright."

PIA National Senior Vice President Pat Borowski, CPIW, CAE, (left) and Len Brevik (right), spend a few minutes with Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), one of the authors of the recently passed bipartisan Bunning-Bereuter-Blumenaur Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004 (S. 2238), which reforms and reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Brevik says that PIA has some very good existing programs, and he intends to lead PIA in expanding upon them. "My role is really to help grow the pie, to look at programs and services that agents need and bring them to fruition. One of our senior vice presidents, Pat Borowski, talks about how the 21st century is the time when agents are going to flower. There are so many great things happening. PIA is here to lead."

Two coalitions being headed by PIA will require special immediate attention, according to Brevik. One is the Insurance Technology Coalition, a federal group that has been relatively dormant in recent years. Brevik says that PIA National has been given the authority to take over the coalition.

"What we intend to do is find out, and keep our membership abreast of, what's going on in Congress regarding technology legislation," says Brevik. "For example, we want to find out what's going on in terms of privacy legislation, particularly the 'do not call,' 'do not fax' proposals. We want to educate Congress as to what those proposals would mean to the small business entrepreneur such as the independent agent. We'll be leading the effort, but we are inviting other insurance groups to join us--insurance companies, vendors and public organizations such as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL), if they want to be a part of it all."

The second coalition has to do with retaining functional state regulation at a time when many, even some insurance interests, are calling for optional federal charter legislation, according to Brevik. "PIA stands firmly against the concept of optional federal charters or a federal insurance 'czar' to oversee the insurance industry. We believe that state regulatory reform should proceed from the states right on up to Congress, rather than the other way around. We realize that each state cannot be a fiefdom unto itself, because our agents write business in multiple states. But there needs to be coordination among the states. If states fail to enact a sufficient level of modernization quickly enough, Congress may try to move towards federal regulation," he said.

Len Brevik (right) discusses pending legislation with Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Pat Borowski speaks with equal vehemence against the optional federal charter approach. "We have three kinds of laws," she says. "There are federal laws, state laws and common law. We will not see our members caught in the vortex of all those laws. Our members do business with all kinds of carriers, some national and some regional, some former captives. If we have some carriers regulated by the states and others regulated by the federal government, our members will be caught in the middle of a regulatory conflict. I can understand why some of the carriers prefer federal regulation," Borowski says. "It seems easier to them to have one set of rules. But, we are determined to make sure that state laws dominate regarding the regulation of insurance. We talk about functional regulation because, today, we don't live in a state-by-state world. There has been a good deal of breaking down of state regulatory barriers. What we need is more collaboration between the states, more coordination. We want the states to assist Congress in handing down laws, telling Congress what is needed, not vice versa. The states have the insurance regulatory experience. Congress does not."

Brevik sums up that position: "There must be regulatory modernization and the establishment of commonality of purpose between the states, but state regulation must be preserved."

Brevik believes that PIA is well positioned to fight that fight and is intent upon drawing other insurance interests into the fray. "PIA owns the building it occupies in Alexandria. But we are in close proximity to Capitol Hill, only a short cab ride away from Congress. We are currently remodeling the building and we're hoping to attract other insurance groups to take up offices here. We hope that this will become an insurance center and we want to be at the center of insurance policy debate in Congress."

Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, PIA is on a mission to represent all its agents in whatever ways they choose to operate, according to Brevik and Borowski. "We have often said that our members are 'Main Street' not 'Wall Street,'" says Borowski. "Before, we had agents who wrote personal lines insurance, but now many of them have moved into life and health. We had agents who were writing small commercial lines and have moved into mid-market commercial lines, and now they are called retail producers. The entire agency complex is changing. Agents are addressing different things in different ways. Some agencies have one location with four people and perhaps a couple of service center agreements with carriers. Others may be opening more locations in different parts of the country. Some agencies may be developing into full-service organizations, offering risk management services to clients. So to understand how to serve all our members and all their core needs with intelligence is a challenge. How we run a national association for the betterment of independent agents must be flexible. This is not a new realization on our part. We have been making changes in this regard for the past five years, so everybody else has some catching up to do."

Brevik and Borowski say that PIA has become an "at-the-desk" organization, meaning that the association is getting closer to the day-to-day problems and needs of its members. "Our job is to keep our members in business," Borowski says. "We have to help them organize their operations. We do this through closer coordination with state and local PIA associations. People have referred to us as the 'educational organization' and we are certainly that. Len and I are in total agreement that our job is to metaphorically sit right at the agent's desk and learn the details of his or her problems so that we can offer the products and services that will help the agency grow and prosper. This is a long-term process. Nothing happens overnight. But, we are committed to the long term."

In terms of attracting additional non-dues revenues, Brevik says that PIA has opened up a new Web site offering new insurance programs, educational materials in financial services and technology and affinity programs. "We're partnering with other organizations to bring these products and services to our members. Our aim is to provide above market benefits at below market costs. Sometimes an agent has an opportunity to take on an excellent risk, but doesn't know the markets that are available or how to write the risk. That's what our programs are there for--to start the agent in the right direction and help the agency grow. That's what we mean by our new 'at-the-desk' focus."

PIA1190HRcmyk Left to right, Pat Borowski, Timothy L. Tucker, NCOIL Director of State-Federal Affairs, and Len Brevik dicusss efforts to advance a state-based insurance reform agenda.

Continues Brevik: "PIA is a bottom-up organization, a grassroots-driven organization. We believe that decisions are best made at the local level, where people live, work and conduct their business. Our members truly determine our association's policy and direction. That will lead to growth--growth in membership, growth in products and services."

And, Brevik believes that the entire independent agency system, is on the verge of great expansion. "Over the years, in fact over decades, there have been the doomsayers,who have predicted the demise of,the agency system. Those dire predictions came in the 1930s, the 1940s and right on up to today. They said that the Internet would wipe out the agency system. That hasn't happened and won't happen. Consumers want choices, and independent agentsoffer choice. Independent agents are able to tailor their products and services to the individual and that'sa fundamental difference fromother financial services providersin the marketplace." *

For more information:
National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA National)
Web site: www.pianet.com