Ephlin Insurance Group
- Based in Bartlett, TN, serving Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas
- Founded in 2010
- 75% Personal, 25% Commercial
- 25 Employees
“I cannot stress enough…how great the personalized experience is with Partner Platform. It’s a relationship, it’s a team, and the product is built on relationships. The technology is terrific, but the relationships are that ‘special sauce’… I’m very appreciative of it, and I know my staff loves it. It’s not just an owner that loves it; the team loves it. “
Britt Linder has been in the insurance industry for decades and has seen the industry go through multiple iterations. After taking over at Peterson Insurance Services, he discovered Partner Platform and the SIS team during his search for an updated management system. In Partner Platform and SIS, he found innovative, reliable people who prioritize relationships and service. That’s why when Britt got the opportunity to merge with another agency, he knew he wanted to keep Partner Platform and the SIS team around. We talked to Britt about the merger and how the SIS team supported him and the Ephlin Insurance Group team in the transition.
Tell us about Ephlin Insurance Group – how was the group formed, and what is your primary business?
Ephlin Group formed from a merger between my friend Matt Ephlin’s agency and the agency I was with, Peterson Insurance Services. Matt was a Nationwide agent, so when Nationwide went independent, they needed someone with an independent agency background to help run things. At the time, Hugh Peterson was getting ready to retire, and I’d been running things for a while, so I saw an excellent opportunity for us to work together. Matt needed somebody to run the agency, and I wanted to recharge my batteries and work with a larger group. When you’re double the size, you have double the resources. Matt’s agency and mine were about the same size, so I could sell the agency, let Hugh retire, and put a little money in our pockets as I came over to Ephlin.
Right now, we’re at about 75-25 for personal and commercial. Peterson was almost 50-50, but we pulled in a large number of personal lines from Ephlin and became personal lines heavy. Our focus now is to get back more to that 50-50 split because I think, at some point, we’re going to commoditize personal lines. Though there will always be a need for independent agencies on personal lines, I think we’ll be a better asset to our customers on a small to medium commercial basis.
Ephlin had just acquired another agency when you came on board. How did you think about merging data and management systems from three agencies?
Matt’s agency had no management system when we joined, but the agency they acquired was on one I knew. It wasn’t the right management system for us. I looked at it for about 15 minutes, and I could tell it wasn’t going to work.
I came from one of the big management system providers before we made the switch to Partner Platform, and honestly, the ease of use of Partner Platform is a huge seller for me. It’s one of the most straightforward systems to operate. But the thing I like the best is that anything we’ve needed – a new feature, or some report we didn’t know how to pull or whatever – there is always someone there who calls us right back. They walk us through any issue, and if there’s a report or feature we need that isn’t there, they create it. That’s not something you get with other agency management system providers.
Why did you ultimately decide to move all your data to Partner Platform over another management system?
When I suggested we move to Partner Platform, I had no pushback whatsoever. I’m a huge proponent of Partner Platform. I believe in the product, and more so, I believe in the people. If you believe in the people, the product will take care of itself. Partner Platform has advanced with every update, and the fact that you can pick up the phone and call somebody you know is invaluable. If another system had something “better,” I wouldn’t change. The people at SIS and the service level that backs up Partner Platform – you can’t buy that.
Did you have any concerns during the merger? How did SIS and the Partner Platform team provide support?
We had all the faith in the world that the SIS team could convert the data well, and they did. But, this one was different from my first conversion. Since it was during COVID, we did everything remotely. The SIS team went in and did an initial data pull, we looked at it and identified any clean-up – because we’re pulling off of a system that, in my opinion, wasn’t very good. From there, the SIS team would clean stuff up, send it back to us, we’d have some more clean-up to do, and we just went back and forth till it was ready.
At the same time, we were trying to figure out how to adjust our customer service due to the pandemic restrictions. The SIS team helped us find a good break point for what each client should handle. SIS has been a great partner with us the entire way – from managing the agency to hosting our customer data.
You had a large number of staff that were new to Partner Platform after the merger. How did you handle training?
It’s relatively easy – I set them up with a profile, they go into PartnetNet and start the training videos to learn the system. Then, we meet with them on a practical basis to go over how to do the things they’ll be working on daily. They go on a test agency for about 30 days, and then when they come over, they know what it’s supposed to look like, giving them a great start. We also have plans for the SIS team to do some remote training with them one-on-one.
What features do you rely on most in your day to day?
We use the reports functions a lot. I use the notes, policy, and clients fields daily to look up people. I can manage people by going to the notes and looking at who’d got open notes where and for what, making sure no one is falling behind. I can go to reports and find out how we’re doing on our cancels versus new business, endorsement premiums, and the like. At the end of the month, I can get a snapshot of everything that went into our bank account, which is how we pay our people at the end of the day.
I use reports daily. They’re very tailored and common sense on how to run them. What I tell everyone when I’m looking at any system – and I told the SIS team when looking at the Partner Platform system – it’s going to take a good 12 to 18 months before your reports are truly what you want them to be. You need to get through a cycle of downloads with everybody to use the accounting functions correctly. For the reports to be 100% correct, you need to make it through at least one year cycle to show precisely what you want them to display. So patience is a virtue. And fast internet.
How are you using some of the newer additions to the system?
I think the Client Portal is something that’s going to help our agency grow. It’s underutilized at this point in our office, but it’s something we’re rolling out to our customers regularly. We’re mainly going to use it for our small to mid-sized commercial clients, allowing them to do their certificates – so we’re not getting that call Friday at 3 pm that they can’t get their check unless they get a certificate. The Client Portal is going to solve some of that for us. Giving customers the ability to access their auto ID card, make a payment, and do their certificates will be huge for us on the small commercial business.
That’s really where the insurance industry is going, too, where your small clients will be able to handle their own. That allows my people to be there when our clients have a complex issue or need real service work. The Client Portal frees up time so we can focus on those complex needs. It’s going to be a huge asset for us.
What other trends do you see emerging in the industry over the next 5 to 10 years?
I think we’ll commoditize personal lines even further. The insurance industry will shrink with carriers merging, and there will be a lot more business aggregation. The small agencies are going to have a tough time making it without some resources. We’re hoping to be that acquisition agency for those smaller agencies looking for some help – that just can’t wear every hat all the time.
Partner Platform plays a big part in that for us because as we acquire these agencies, they can go in and do the data pull, get it in our system, and assign it to the correct people. And it’s such an easy system to learn. Even for someone that’s been in the business for a while, it’s easy to teach them how to use it. For the younger people who are already used to everything being on the internet and in this Windows-type format, the Partner Platform system is simple for them to pick up.
I also think there will be a more significant gap between who has ease of business, especially with data management. I feel like Partner Platform is going to help us stay relevant and stay in the game. We often use Partner Platform’s Excel feature to export data sets – and I didn’t know what Excel was when I started in the business! Now, the Partner Platform management system allows us to export data quickly and do whatever we need with it. That ease of doing business is something agencies are going to need to survive. If you can do it easier, faster, more efficient, and better, you’re going to be the one that stays. If you can’t keep up with technology, if you try to keep doing business the old way on a sheet of paper and a pen, you’re going to be in trouble.
What does the future look like for you in terms of coming acquisitions?
The future is bright for us. We’re very much in acquisition mode, hiring young producers and young salespeople. We’re trying to get people involved in the industry that aren’t 65 and over. I think it keeps us “old hats” feeling young running around with these younger team members. We plan to make two to three acquisitions a year. That’s the game plan.
You’ve been with Partner Platform for multiple years now – how has the partnership grown?
I’m a relationship person. I believe in being partners with people who want you to succeed, and I like the stability of Partner Platform. I get the same people when I call, and that consistency in voice and message is important. And as the software has upgraded, the people have remained consistent and professional – you can’t beat that.
I’ve talked to (SIS Director of Client Services) Jake Thaxton on many occasions because I think he does a great job with the people he manages. Even though he’s younger than me, I take a lot of queues from him on his hiring practices and the kind of people he’s bringing on board. We’re trying to reflect that in our agency.
I cannot stress enough to other agencies – especially independent agents – how great the personalized experience is with Partner Platform. It’s a relationship, it’s a team, and the product is built on relationships. The technology is terrific, but the relationships are that “special sauce.” Anyone can have a pretty picture, but not everybody can have the people to back it up and make it work right. I’m very appreciative of it, and I know my staff loves it. It’s not just an owner that loves it; the team loves it.
It just makes such a difference when you feel like you’re on the same team. I don’t feel like we’re pulling in different directions. In fact, I told my son when he graduated college that he needs to apply to SIS – it’s a great company. I think the world of every person I talk to over there.