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Master Agent: Is 'Subagent' a Dirty Word?

November 26, 2012

Words communicate more than their primary meaning. Embedded in words also are subtle meanings that often go unnoticed. Take “Webmaster,” for instance, with its subtle master-servant connotation. Or “subagent,” with its unmistakable hint of “less than.”

Master agent Chris Palermo recently got thinking about the term “subagent” and what it subtly communicates. The word “sub” brought to mind negative terms such as below, beneath, lower, subordinate. When he looked in his Webster’s Dictionary, it mostly confirmed his extemporaneous list: "one who stands in rank below another"; "to place in a lower order or class"; "to make or consider of less value or importance."

“I am a business owner that carrier agreements term as either an ‘agent’ or a ‘subagent,’ wrote Palermo in Channel Partners Online. “Neither term fits what we do for our customers, but to be called a ‘subagent’ is demeaning when, in fact, it's people like me who make up most — if not all — of a master agent's carrier commitment.”

For Palermo, about 30 percent of his business goes through a master agent.

“I have been an agent for more than 15 years. My company represents more than 100 carriers worldwide,” he wrote. Using master agents for some of his business makes sense, he said—it isn’t about being less than or inferior.

There are several reasons why an agent might choose to use a master agent, none of which imply inferiority or the other connotations that usually go with the prefix, “sub-”.

For Palermo, these include getting protection under an agreement, earning better commissions, trying the carrier before signing a direct agreement, and avoiding micromanagement by carriers for monthly business.

Partnering with master agents such as Telarus also can be a strategic move to leverage cutting-edge software that allows agents to find information more quickly than they otherwise could.

Telarus (News - Alert) has attracted some of the brightest, honest, and most integrity-filled agents in the industry,” noted the company website. “This ‘honor code’ allows agents to partner with one another to close deals and split the commission accordingly, it allows them to receive warm leads generated by VARs and referral partners, and it allows them to offer honest feedback to the IT staff at Telarus on the performance and utility of the software we create.”

So maybe “subagent” should be phased out as a term, suggested Palermo. There’s nothing inferior about a subagent.“Suitable substitutions could be ‘agents’ or ‘partners’ — nothing special, just nothing demeaning either,” he added.

After all, even big firms who lead their market sector have partners.

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Edited by Jamie Epstein
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