The pandemic dialed up selling insurance over the phone, and you might be wondering what’s the best way to take part.
Independent vs. captive, MGA vs. GA, field vs. call center… there are different ways you can pursue being an insurance agent, and we can help you decide the best fit for you. We’re exploring how field and call center agents differ and why we think being a field agent is the better option for building a career selling health insurance.
Call Center & Field Agents Explained
First, let’s establish who qualifies as a field or call center agent.
What Is a Call Center Agent?
Call center agents are licensed insurance agents who work for call centers. An insurance call center fulfills many customer service functions on top of completing enrollments — responding to callers’ queries and assisting consumers shopping for insurance. They can make outbound calls and receive inbound calls, and they might have a support team directing inbound calls to appropriate channels.
Call center insurance agents only ever meet with clients over the phone. Often, but not always, they are captive agents, only selling products from the insurer who employs them. Agencies who represent many carriers can operate call centers, and thus, the agents working there would not be limited to one carrier. It depends on who owns the call center.
The details of the working relationship between the agent and call center, like pay and employee status, depend on the contract offered by the hiring company. Since call centers serve other functions, besides simply selling insurance policies, a call center agent may wear different hats (i.e., serving as a customer service representative).
What Is a Field Insurance Agent?
As the name suggests, field agents are “out in the field” meeting with clients. Typically, we think of these agents as completing in-person sales; however, they may also sell over the phone. Any agent not working for a call center falls under the umbrella of “field agent.” These agents may be independent, representing many carriers, or captive, representing only one. They may work alone or with an agency, such as a field marketing organization.
Telesales Refers to Which Type of Agent?
Terms like telesales and telephonic sales can cause confusion, since the descriptor can apply to either call center or field agents. However, it is important to note that regulations for how call center and field agents sell over the phone differ. If you just see the term telesales, you cannot assume the type of agent, nor which rules must be followed. Instead of using the word in isolation, we recommend using it in conjunction with the type of agent (e.g., a telephonic sales presentation given by a field agent or a telesale completed by a call center agent).
Some insurance agencies may have call centers powered by call center agents and have field agents, too!
Similarities Between Call Center & Field Agents
Call center and field agents share only a few general and technical similarities. Both kinds of agents must be licensed. Both types work to find a plan that works for the client and do fulfilling and rewarding work in the process.
During the enrollment process over the phone, both kinds of agents must collect Scopes of Appointment and comply with CMS regulations regarding call recording and TPMO disclaimers.
Differences Between Call Center & Field Agents
The distinctions between these two types of agents fall on the technical side, with differences in how agents can enroll people over the phone, to the general side, with differences in how agents approach client relationships. We’ll start with the technical and move to the broad.
Phone Enrollment Process
What is actually said and done over the phone during a sale differs between field and call center agents. In general, call center agents must follow more rigid CMS rules, while field agents have more flexibility in how they approach sales.
Call Center Agent
|Enrollments allowed on outbound calls if made compliantly with approved enrollment tool (with Permission to Contact)||Enrollments allowed on inbound calls only|
|Does not have to use a CMS-approved script (except necessary disclaimers as a TPMO)||Must use CMS-approved script for entire process|
|Does not have to read application verbatim; can have provided supplemental information to client via mail or email prior to call||Must read application verbatim|
|Must have an approved electronic signature if enrolled by online enrollment tool or may mail paper enrollment application||No electronic signature required; voice-recorded agreement permissible|
As you can see, the only way that call center agents wield more flexibility than the field agent is in the type of signature required. In the case of call center agents, usually only a voice-recorded agreement is all that’s necessary to complete an application. Field agents completing sales over the phone, however, must obtain an approved electronic signature on an digital document through a secure online platform (provided by the carrier or a third party like Ritter), the link to which can be sent either through email or text message.
In all other ways besides the signature, the call center agent must follow more stringent requirements for enrollment.
The question of how commissions differ for call center and field agents gets complicated. Generally, a call center agent falls into one of two categories:
- A licensed only agent (LOA) and a W2 employee
- An LOA and a 1099 contractor
An LOA is an agent who assigns their commissions up to another individual or company. That upline may keep a percentage of commission, and in exchange, gives the agent support, structure, and services. The amount of commission (including for renewals) the individual or company pays back to the agent is determined in a contract signed upon hiring. With call centers, the LOA and W2 combination is most common. Although the agent won’t see any commission directly from the carrier, they’ll be paid as employees (usually hourly) and offered a benefits package, predictable work schedule, employee development, assigned leads, and other services.
With field agents, the setup is more variable. A field agent could have a similar setup as a call center agent if working with an agency (LOA and employee/contractor). Or, they could and work with an agency and not be LOA and see some commission directly from the carrier. Or, they may not be associated with an agency and see all the commission come to them directly from the carrier.
Remember, if an agent of either type is an LOA, then they won’t see commission directly from the carrier. Instead, they’ll be paid in whatever terms are spelled out in the contract at time of hiring, which is completely up to the call center or agency.
Who Owns the Book of Business?
For a career insurance agent, building a book of business and renewals is a huge part of developing a long-term and sustainable source of income. So, it may be important to know, if an agent leaves the call center they’re working with, whether they’ll have the rights to continuing servicing the clients they’ve written business with before or receive renewals.
Do call center agents own their own book of business? Maybe, although not usually. It depends on the contract offered by the call center or agency. If an agent leaves the call center, they’ll likely need to generate entirely new contacts and shouldn’t expect to serve the same client list. Depending on the commission structure, they may also lose renewals on that business if they possessed it in the first place.
Do field agents own their own book of business? If they’re working solo, yes. Renewals and the ability to build long-term relationships are key features of being an independent field agent. If they’re working with an agency, then perhaps. It all depends on the how the agency structures the contract.
Generally, if an agent must pay for their own marketing and generate their own leads, they likely own their own book of business. If they don’t have to, then the call center or agency might own the book.
Overarching Roles & Flexibility
The roles of call center and field agents differ. The role of the call center agent is to make the sale; the sale is the beginning and the end of the relationship between the agent and client. However with a field agent, the sale is potentially the beginning of a long-term relationship, where the agent can offer more than one sale — service, education, other products, and more.
Field agents also have much more flexibility than call center agents — flexibility in how, where, and when they meet with clients, in earning potential, and in work schedule. On the flip side, call center agents may have a more predictable income, schedule, and benefits — something that might be more attractive over flexibility.
The Benefits of Being a Field Agent
As you can see, there are a lot of differences between call center and field agents, and we think being a field agent has more to offer, not only you, but also your clients.
Reasons becoming a field agent is the more viable option if you want to make insurance your career include:
- Fewer restrictions when selling over the phone or remotely
- Increased likelihood of owning your own block of business
- More earning potential
- Set your own schedule and appointments
- Meet with your clients in-person, virtually, or over the phone
- The ability to form meaningful, long-term relationships with clients
Forming long-term relationships with clients is good for business. You’ll also feel like you’re making a positive impact in your clients’ lives. In addition, forming strong relationships will open doors to cross-selling ancillary products and earning more referrals. As a call center agent, you don’t have the same opportunity to form such sustained relationships with clients.
How Ritter Helps Field Agents
Here at Ritter Insurance Marketing, we’re committed to helping field agents excel. Joining Ritter is quick and free, and once you have an account, you’ll be able to access and use all our resources, tools, and agent support.
Some of Ritter’s tools and resources you can expect to enjoy:
- The Ritter Platform for client management and commission tracking
- Medicare Quote Engine for easy, online quoting of Medicare Supplement, Medicare Advantage, prescription drug, and final expense plans
- Medicareful for streamlined online enrollments with prefilled applications and simple eScope and digital signature collection
- CallVault for compliant call recording
- Online contracting
- Compliance education and help
- Agency building training and assistance
- Education and training, resources, marketing materials, and so much more!
Utilizing all these tools and resources will make you a better equipped and more successful agent.
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With a better understanding of call center and field agents, we hope you feel more confident in taking the next step of your insurance journey, whether it’s to venture forth as a field or call center agent.
If you venture forth as a field agent, we’d love to accompany you “out into the field” and hope to see you soon!