Ask the Experts: Top Financial Questions and Best Accounting Software for Insurance Agents

Ask the Experts: Top Financial Questions and Best Accounting Software for Insurance Agents

When it comes to accounting, many agency owners want to throw up their hands. From accounting software to best practices for managing your book of business, it seems the world of insurance accounting is simultaneously critical and complex.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We sat down with two authorities in the insurance accounting field, asking everything from “What’s the best accounting software for insurance agents?” to “How can owners avoid accounting issues?”

Our experts today are SIS Director of Product Management Bryce Lee and CPA and Partner at Donovan, Sullivan, and Ryan, Chris Ryan. With over 25 years combined experience, Bryce and Chris have a lot to share about how to manage finances in the industry.

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When it comes to accounting, what are some common questions you hear from clients?

Chris: At Donovan, Sullivan, and Ryan, we discovered the independent agency market needs someone who understands their nuances and speaks their language. Over the past 25 years, we’ve focused on specializing in serving independent agencies and found there are four main problem areas for most agencies. What we hear about most are issues with management and accounting system efficiency, how to streamline administrative tasks, help with staffing, and questions around agency perpetuation. We’re usually dealing directly with the owner in these areas who, especially in smaller agencies, is acting as the accountant as well.

Bryce: We’ve worked with agencies ranging in size, specialization, and experience from all across the country. The most common questions I hear are around the Client Ledger. Often, clients are looking for advanced reporting or help with reconciling accounts. For commercial agencies, we get questions around Direct Bill Commission download and how it synchs with the Partner Platform system.

What issues do your clients face and how do they manage them?

Bryce: Usually, calls we get are about fixing a mistake and how to correct it in the Partner Platform system. We also hear from agencies who need to find a transaction to correct a book imbalance. The third most common is ensuring they have their systems set to correctly pay commissions automatically. It’s minor things as they get used to the system, and then they’re off and running.

Chris: We also get calls about how to fix an issue or how to use a system. We tackle this by providing training to clients on their specific systems and offer monthly reconciliations to avoid errors that could cause long-term issues.

We also work with agencies to handle administrative tasks in a low-cost manner. Most of the issues are around bill processing. Agencies use direct bill whenever they can, but it’s not always an option. We provide three different levels of monthly accounting support to free up time for owners, allowing them to focus on growing their business without having to hire an internal accountant.

Let’s talk accounting software for insurance agents. What do you see clients using, and why do they select those tools?

Bryce:  There’s not a lot of accounting tools out there. They either use QuickBooks or Peachtree, or an integrated accounting system. Some may go for a third-party payroll company as well. Most of our clients go for names they know, or a tool they know is made for accounting or payroll specifically. What they may not know is that an integrated system can do all those things without needing to buy something new.

Chris: In many cases, we see an agency using a management software with an accounting element, but they’re not using that accounting element. When asked why we hear, “it just didn’t make sense,” “it’s confusing,” “it’s not user-friendly” and so on. It seems owners learn the management system side and by the time they get to the accounting, they’re burnt out on learning. So, they turn to QuickBooks as something more intuitive with a faster learning curve. It’s a shame because the integrated accounting systems can save them a lot of time, money, and energy.

What are the pros of integrated accounting versus an external system like QuickBooks?

Chris: Though the ease of QuickBooks is appealing, we always advise clients to use the integrated accounting systems. With integrated accounting, agencies can take advantage of the synergies of the software. If they go over to QuickBooks, there’s duplication of efforts and extra work. They’re underutilizing the agency software (that they’re paying for). We cringe when see agencies investing time and money into these robust systems and then putting everything into QuickBooks. It’s more effort, and it doesn’t need to be like that.

Bryce: Though we don’t recommend an agency use a general accounting system, we see clients who use them to manage their business. Reporting is a huge deal. The amount of data that flows from a management system to QuickBooks simply isn’t sufficient for an in-depth analysis of the agency’s financials.

Agencies tend to have more than one bank account, and often several different accounts need to be managed. It’s messy to manage multiple accounts in QuickBooks and usually requires multiple subscriptions. Partner Platform’s accounting system is designed to handle multiple accounts, and everything is contained in one system. General accounting transactions are managed much better when in a single system. Anytime a user must jump from one system to another, it creates more steps and a separate user experience.

How has integrated accounting in the Partner Platform benefitted your clients?

Bryce: Accuracy and efficiency are the two significant benefits we hear from our clients. Commissions management is one piece we hear about most often. Our direct bill commission allows agencies to set it up once and never have to worry if commissions are running again. And, our system allows for import of direct bill commissions, even if the carriers don’t offer direct bill commission download. That alone can save an agency dozens of hours a month.

Chris: We found Partner Platform’s accounting is easier to understand for most of our clients. It’s user-friendly and integrates really well. In many cases, clients who convert to Partner Platform abandon QuickBooks for the Partner Platform accounting system because it makes more sense to them. That’s a huge help because it streamlines processes, reduces errors, and makes the potential headache of accounting that much easier for our clients. That translates into smoother conversations down the line, especially when it comes time to evaluate next steps in selling or passing on an agency.

What’s one final piece of advice you’d give to agency owners?

 Chris: Investment in an management system with integrated accounting is an essential part of a well-managed agency, and a well-managed agency acts as an annuity for its owners. Agency owners need to exploit the technology available to them, utilizing it to automate as many agency operations as possible so they can focus on growing their business.

An owner should focus on making management decisions to get the highest possible sale price rather than getting dragged down in daily administrative details. Leveraging technology to its fullest capabilities is critical. All agencies should take advantage of software that integrates, streamlines, and has cross-referencing capabilities as much as possible.

Bryce: Always stay involved in your bookkeeping process and understand your numbers. Financial management is key to your business’ success. Too often, we hear horror stories of a bookkeeper mishandling accounts, leaving the agency and owner to clean up a mess they don’t understand. It’s too dangerous not to know what’s going on in your agency, and an integrated system ensures you have a handle on all the data.

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Want to know more? Hear directly from Partner Platform clients on their experiences with integrated accounting on our Client Stories page and get in touch with us to find out how to sync your systems today.

5 Insurance Agency Accounting Blogs to Add to Your Summer Reading List

5 Insurance Agency Accounting Blogs to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Summer is the perfect time for taking a break from the daily grind. Things slow down a bit and you’re able to get a little more space, breathe in some fresh air and start doing big thinking on how you can help your agency grow.

One of the best things to do over these long days is to read up on industry trends around how to record, analyze, and improve your business’s finances. Insurance agency accounting is something you have to do but may not be something you understand as well as you’d like. Take these relaxed days as an opportunity to begin learning.

Check out these other insurance agency blogs to add to your list

So, for your hammock time this summer here are five insurance agency accounting blogs to add to your reading list.

5 Insurance Agency Accounting Blogs to Read this Summer

  1. Accounting Coach

This blog is an encyclopedia of information for owners without a background or experience in accounting. Accounting Coach teaches the basics through an interactive, easy to follow course. There are short explanations, videos, and quizzes and games to test your knowledge as you learn. Or, if you’re just looking to get the quick facts on a topic, you can jump to a section to learn more.

  1. The CPA Desk

The CPA Desk offers insightful, easy to read posts on what you need to know about running your business. It also includes short videos to help explain or elaborate on topics. It’s a great go-to to keep you informed and updated on industry happenings.

Boost your insurance accounting knowledge with these advanced agency accounting tips

  1. Between Wall and Main

The title of this blog refers to hitting the spot between Wall Street and Main Street, taking the “lessons learned from Wall Street” to small business owners. Author Seth David provides innovative solutions for small businesses and has a great handle on trends in accounting practices and tech.

  1. 5 Minute Bookkeeping

5 Minuet Bookkeeping is made up of quick posts and short video tutorials on the ins and outs of managing your books. Veronica Wasek makes complex concepts seem simple, writing in a straightforward, easy to understand manner. This blog is a great place to go when you need to brush up on different accounting tasks or encounter an issue.

  1. GrowthForce

GrowthForce talks accounting to non-accountants. The blog offers tips and news on how to use accounting to help your small business succeed, in a way you can understand. An informative, easy read.

Find out how integrated accounting can help you do more, better

Add the SIS Blog to Your List

We’d be remiss to not mention the SIS blog, which covers dozens of topics including agency accounting. We post weekly on what’s important to independent insurance agencies, ranging from marketing to perpetuation to technology trends and more.

See a topic we’re missing? Contact us to let us know! We’re always looking for new ways to serve the independent insurance community. Happy reading!

Advanced Insurance Agency Reporting Part II

Advanced Insurance Agency Reporting Part II

Earlier in the year, I wrote a post on some of the top insurance agency reporting methods underutilized by agencies. With so many to share, we’re on to part two. In this post, I’ll outline three reporting tools that will bring you to data wizard status. Start putting these into practice, and you’ll find you can process information faster, easier, and more accurately to help your agency grow.

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Are You Making the Most of Your Agency Accounting Data?

Are You Making the Most of Your Agency Accounting Data?

Are You Making the Most of Your Agency Accounting Data?

Insurance agency accounting can be fraught with small mistakes that lead to huge headaches. With so many moving pieces in an agency, it can be difficult to keep track of the multiple pieces that make up accounting in an organization. Often, we hear from agencies struggling with:

  • Maintaining accounting accuracy, especially among those with multiple branches

“With multiple locations, the accounting plug-in is a must…The financial reports I can produce (with the accounting plug-in) are second to none. It’s a piece of cake to do seemingly complex reports.” – Berndt and Murfin Insurance Agency

  • Avoiding errors and omissions particularly in light of unavoidable human error
  • Investing too much time entering and tracking financial information
  • Creating and understanding relevant reports around cross-selling opportunities, producer performance, and for tax preparation among other areas

“With Partner XE, I can get our entire agency billing and accounting done in three or four hours a month. That’s a tenth of the time it used to take.” – Huesman Insurance Group

Creating a Better Accounting Experience

These accounting woes tend to stem from a lack in an agency’s management system capabilities. Agency management systems have come a long way in addressing financial processing. Some critical pieces for accounting success include:

  • An integrated accounting system to automate and eliminate error from time-consuming tasks like commission matching and invoicing
  • Customized reports that can be set up once and run regularly integrating financial information and customer data as needed
  • Direct bill commissions download to connect commissions with customers and policies automatically
  • Reliable and timely training and service around accounting areas

“The individual customer service (with Partner XE) is outstanding. When we have a problem and we send an email, we get an answer within the hour…Knowing you’ll get a resolution in a timely manner is essential.” – THW Insurance Services

A Better Experience with SIS

We know these accounting struggles well: we’ve heard them from our partner agencies. It’s feedback from these partners that prompted us to add integrated accounting, direct bill commissions download and other features to help ease the stress of financial tracking and processing in our Partner XE management system. And, should our users need a quick refresher or hit a snag, we’re just a phone call or email away from solving the issue with our expert support team.

Hear more on what our clients have to say about Partner XE by reading our client stories. Or get in touch directly at sales@sisware.com or 800.747.7005, Option 6.

Stumped: How to Jump-Start Your Insurance Marketing

Stumped: How to Jump-Start Your Insurance Marketing

It’s a new year and you’re ready for a fresh start. You’ve made your resolutions and one is clear: get more business!

What are you waiting for? Ready, set, GO!

“Go where?” you may wonder. You’re not alone. A recent Outbound Engine report showed 24% of respondents didn’t know where to focus their insurance marketing efforts.

How can you make moves in marketing when you don’t know where to go? The first step is finding out what works from those who’ve tried it. Check out these top insurance marketing blogs to help you and your agency follow through on your resolution this year.

Read more on how to set and achieve your agency goals in the New Year

Insurance Marketing Resources

  • Media Blog: Chock full of tips and tricks to manage social media marketing, from set up to strategy and beyond. A great starter for those just dipping their toes into the social media waters.
  • Agency Updates: The brainchild of Robyn and John Sharp, this blog covers everything from social media marketing strategy to day to day agency management. They share monthly marketing plans to help you prepare for every season, complete with downloadable calendars to keep you on pace.
  • Digital Marketing Experts Blog: The name says it all. This blog covers all aspects of digital marketing: content creation, strategy, lead generation, referrals, and everything in-between. Plus, there’s weekly news articles sharing what’s happening in digital marketing today.
  • leadPops Blog: leadPops specializes in providing marketing and lead generation solutions for insurance agencies. They provide tips for online, offline and referral marketing through a variety of content types. And, their info is easy to digest and focused on giving you the most bang for your buck.

Check out six other industry blogs to add to your daily routine

  • Inbound Insurance Marketing Blog: Inbound Insurance Marketing President Heather Sloan grew up in the insurance industry. Her expertise and experience shine through as she focuses on how to help agencies target their specific customer demographics. The blog covers big topics like how to map buyer decisions to a marketing strategy and offers small tips like how to come up with creative content. It’s practical, readable, and relatable.
  • Paradiso Presents: Chris Paradiso founded Paradiso Insurance in 1998 and has been showing agencies how to leverage digital and social media ever since. Paradiso uses real-life examples from their own social and digital marketing, covering brand building, blogging, and overall social strategy among other topics.

Putting it into Practice

Now that you’ve got your ideas, it’s time to put them into action. This can be particularly challenging if it’s your first foray into digital marketing and your budget is tight.

That’s why we created one of our most popular eGuides: “Digital Marketing on a Budget.” You can access the full guide on our resources page. And, get even more marketing resources on our blog at sispartnerplatform.com/blog.

See something missing? Let us know! We’re always looking for more ways to help independent insurance agencies grow their business. Contact us at sales@sisware.com or visit our contact page to fill out a form and we’ll be in touch.

Atrocities in Insurance Agency Accounting

Atrocities in Insurance Agency Accounting

In your busy agency, mistakes are inevitable. Your goal is to minimize errors, especially oversights in insurance agency accounting. Accounting errors are (literally!) costly and can cause a domino effect of issues throughout your agency.

Read how to avoid other common agency E&O mistakes

How can you avoid these issues? By utilizing the one tool that touches each part of your agency: your agency management system. Your management system has the means to prevent errors from happening and, if needed, clean up your accounting messes when the inevitable happens.

Preventing Accounting Mistakes

Make preventative practices the norm. Leverage your agency management system to do the following:

  • Utilize direct bill commission download
  • Put producer commissions on policies
  • Establish agency-wide processes for entering financial info
  • Audit yourself regularly
  • Get integrated accounting to stop double-data entry

Find out more on integrated accounting and how it can benefit your agency

Fixing Financial Errors

No matter how closely you watch or carefully you step, you and your agency staff are only human. Mistakes happen. When they do, know what tools you have in your management system to fix them. Use your system to:

  • Unapply incorrect client payments
  • Void improper checks
  • Unpost checks attributed to the wrong account
  • Unreconcile bank statements
  • Close/reopen months when posting items in the wrong period

Are you maximizing your management system? Find out how to utilize it to its fullest

Reaching Out for Help

How do we know these preventative and restorative practices? We got them right from our SIS team, who work with our clients daily to help them stay out of trouble…and get them out when the inevitable happens. We want our clients to feel secure in reaching out for help, allowing us to fix their issues so they can worry about bigger things.

You can find out more about SIS, our commitment to service and support, and how Partner XE can help grow your business at sispartnerplatform.com. Or, get in touch with a real person today by dialing 800.747.7005, Option 6.