Business News for the Mississippi Delta

Delta Area Insurance

Agents work through regulations and technology to keep clients protected and happy

By Mark H. Stowers


The need for insurance for business and home is crucial. While no one or nothing is ever going to be perfect, the dents, dings and disasters in life just keep coming. Delta area insurance agencies work to be prepared for the dents, dings and disasters and are working to be several steps ahead with coverage and plans for times when “life happens.” The industry itself has many obstacles and problems to work through and overcome constantly but there is always technology to lend a helping hand to both clients and those who work in the insurance industry.

Shaw Johnson III of South Group Insurance in Clarksdale, Margaret Touchstone of Mississippi Life and Health Insurance, Kevin Cunningham of Nationwide Insurance in Greenville along with Brian Street of Farm Bureau in Ruleville are but a few of the highly qualified agents across the Delta helping businesses and families with their dents, dings and disasters.

Johnson notes that there are many obstacles facing the insurance industry. One of those that helps can be deadly when used at the wrong time—your smartphone.

“We face a multitude of challenges, but not unlike many financial services businesses. I’ll give you a couple of examples,” Johnson says. “One of the main issues in the insurance business today, from a risk perspective, is the rise in accidents caused by distracted drivers.”

Johnson quoted a recent survey that gave a shocking truth.

“Almost 80 percent of drivers admitted to using their smart phone, at one time or another, while driving to do anything from reading texts to watching Netflix,” he says. “A distracted driver takes his eyes off the road for an average of 28 seconds. A lot of ground can be covered in that short period of time at highway speed. Higher accident rates cause higher insurance premiums.”

A challenge for agents themselves is staying on top of the useful ways to work with clients.

“One of the challenges for us, as independent agents, is keeping up with the technology necessary to deliver information to our customers in the way they want to receive it,” Johnson says. “Millennials may want to handle most of their business online while Gen X&Y like to do research online but transact business personally. Baby Boomers still want to handle their business by telephone and in person. We have to move from the web to the telephone book to make sure we give our clients the service they want, the way they want it.”

In order to meet the needs of his diverse client group, agents work to match the technology available to each client.

“There are several things we have adopted in the technology world to support our customers. For example, e-signature has allowed our customers the flexibility of not coming into our offices to sign applications, etc. Another is Client Portals we are installing for our business insurance customers to receive anything from risk management information from us to policy forms,” he says. “Internally, we are totally a technology driven organization. Our entire agency operates in our own cloud which allows us the flexibility to do anything from anywhere 24/7 to serve our customers.”

Johnson’s South Group office is a full service agency and offers a full range of insurance products and risk management services.

“We are primarily a property and casualty insurance agency offering property, liability, auto, worker’s compensation, cyber and surety products as well as personal auto, homeowners and most other lines of insurance. We also have facilities for life and health insurance,” Johnson says.

But the one thing that has been put in place to supposedly help the industry has become and has been a burden to the industry—government regulation. Johnson agrees that regulation is needed.

“The insurance industry is highly regulated,” Johnson says. “We are, primarily, state regulated by the Mississippi Department of Insurance and Commissioner Mike Chaney.  We are also subject to various federal regulations.  We believe that state regulation of insurance is best for our customers, rather than federal regulation, because it allows Mississippians to take any problems to Jackson rather than Washington. In Jackson, they get attention.  I’m not sure that would be the case with a federal regulatory agency.

Touchstone works with employee benefits and has had to bring in help just to stay on top of all of the regulations.

“Time is money and it takes a ton of time. I hired a human resource company to help me with that because it’s just too much for one person to handle,” Touchstone says. “We hired them to help our employers that we do business with to help them stay regulated. I don’t charge them for that. I just pay for it because I feel it’s a necessary thing. I just want them to be in compliance and not have to pay any fines.”

She oversees five agents, four customers service reps and enrollers and she’s gearing up for the New Year. The Greenville-based business reach stretches to the coast and north to Booneville and over to Greenwood and up to Starkville. She covers businesses from “nursing homes, farmers, hospitals—you name it.”

Cunningham has been in the business since 1978 and has had plenty of obstacles including personnel to regulation to the economy.

“All the hoops you have to go through with compliance are a little cumbersome,” Cunningham says. “You do the best you can and stay prepared.”

The Nationwide representative works with technology to “hook directly to them and interface with all of our companies online. We’re heavily dependent on our automation and our connection to our companies as well as our customers.”

Smartphone apps as well as overall online access “makes it easier for us,” he says. “We’re a full-service, neighborhood, small town property and casualty agency offering automobile, life, home and business insurance.”

Brian Street writes policies for auto, home, life, health, long-term care and disability. His emphasis is on life insurance and helping “protect families” but he stays current with regulations across his offerings.

“We offer term and whole life as well as policies for children,” he says. “There’s not a lot of new regulation for life insurance like there is for health insurance. You need to make sure you’re dealing with someone who knows the product. You need to make sure families are covered for the right amount. We deal with people from 21 all the way to 80. We have a product for everyone.”

The Affordable Care Act may have brought insurance to more people but the regulation has not been affordable with time needed to grasp it all.

“It’s been a lot easier to get health insurance but it’s a lot more complicated on what’s covered and where you can go to get services,” Street says. “So find a professional that knows how to help you.”

So no matter the dent, ding or disaster in your home or business, Delta area insurance agents are wading through the swamp of regulations and technology in an ever-changing world to help keep you protected.