Posted by: yacmichigan | December 4, 2014

What the IA Channel Can Learn from Girl Scout Cookies

What the IA Channel Can Learn from Girl Scout Cookies

Reprinted from Independent Agent Magazine, December 2, 2014

While the news may not rival Neil Armstrong’s “This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” a sea level change has occurred that should give all independent insurance agents pause to contemplate the ramifications.

This week, the Girl Scouts of America announced a new digital platform—Digital Cookie—that will allow Girl Scouts to sell cookies over the Internet. The platform is not a direct distribution initiative—sales must originate from a Girl Scout, and not all Girl Scouts will have access to it. The structure of the Girl Scouts involves councils at the local level that make decisions for the troop, and whether or not to implement the digital sales service will be a council-by-council decision. Girl Scouts enrolled in the program will also have the new option of taking in-person orders using an app and credit card reader with a tablet.

The Girl Scouts have an enormous distribution base, counting almost two million customers, with more than 80% of the girls selling cookies every year to bring in some $800 million annually. Aside from the ability to increase their reach by going digital, an important fulfillment aspect applies to the digital effort—it enables delivery of the cookies directly to the consumer, rather than waiting for the Girl Scout to deliver the cookies when she finally receives her order.

Aside from boosting sales, Girl Scout leadership points out the significant benefit in getting girls interested in digital initiatives at a young age. The Girl Scouts have always touted the cookie program as a way to lay the groundwork for good business and negotiation skills, and the digital program is modernizing those skills by using apps and teaching participants about online marketing. Scouts can customize their pages, using their first names only, and email prospective customers with links to click on for orders. They can even include videos explaining who they are and what they plan to do with their proceeds. The websites will not be accessible without an email invitation, requiring the girls to build client lists. And personal information is as safe as any out there for both the scouts and customers, using encryption in many cases.

During a week when Cyber Monday continues to draw a large number of holiday shoppers, the Girl Scouts’ foray into the digital world should serve as a motivating force for independent agents to harness the Internet as an important component of their distribution strategy. Of course, providing sophisticated insurance policies is not as simple as selling cookies. But using the Trusted Choice brand and to attract consumers is a great place to start.

Dave Evans is a certified financial planner and an IA contributor. – See more at:

Posted by: yacmichigan | November 3, 2014

How to Embrace a Multigenerational Workforce

How to Embrace a Multigenerational Workforce

by Morgan Smith – Reprinted by Independent Agent Magazine, October 31, 2014

Which mindset best describes your employees: Work comes first? Live to work? Work to live? My life comes first?

Chances are, it depends on their generation.

For the first time, four generations exist in today’s workplace—prompting discussions about how agencies can attract young talent while also maintaining seasoned professionals.

At September’s Big “I” annual Fall Leadership Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, author, speaker and coach Sherri Elliott-Yeary discussed “how to attract young agents, but also how to build so you’re ready for the future so for the next 20 years.”

As part of the “Engaging a New Workforce—Multicultural, Multigenerational, Multifaceted, Multitalented” session featuring two speakers and a panel discussion, Eliott-Yeary dissected each generation to provide agents with insights and strategies about both short-term, day-to-day work flow and long-term perpetuation planning.

Traditionalist: This generation believes in dedication, sacrifice and approval. Growing up in the depression, traditionalists have an “I don’t have” mentality and shape the attitude behind maintaining the same job until you get the boot. This generation believes you save now in case of the future.

Baby boomer: As the leaders of divorce rates in the U.S., baby boomers harbor a hint of personal satisfaction. A lot of boomers are busy building and moving up the corporate ladder. What motivates boomers? Higher titles, the corner office, nice business cards and a big bonus.

Gen Xer: They’re sandwiched in the middle and have started bridging the gap between boomers and millennials. Gen Xers are more accepting of diversity and were to the first generation to embrace technology. Because the majority of their parents were divorced, they ended with an “I can learn this on my own” mentality.

Millennial: This generation is incredibly optimistic and enjoys working in teams. Millennials believe in growing across the industry and gaining as much experience in every area possible, because they get bored so easily. You can thank technology for that.

But when your workforce is made up with people who all have a different set of needs and motivations how do you engage them, attract them and keep them going?

“Have some understanding and be willing to coach, because sometimes that’s all it takes,” Eliott-Yeary said. “It doesn’t matter what age group it is or where you’re from—you have to be able to motivate and engage in a way that’s authentic and with integrity, because that’s how you’re going to have the winning formula to get the best of the best.”

Elliott-Yearly called it “generational DNA”—year of birth and generational personalities enable self-identification with a generation category that best fits our individuality. That means you could be a baby boomer by age, but a Gen-Xer by personality.

Elliott-Yearly suggested using this insight to ask your staff what generation they feel most connected with—then leveraging that knowledge from generation to generation. What a millennial knows about technology, a baby boomer knows in building relationships. That knowledge transfer can make or break an agency in today’s increasingly multi-generational environment.

Consider the two competing workforces in the economy currently: boomers and millennials. Where boomers are climbing a career ladder, millennials are building a lattice framework. Boomers believe “If I win, I win”; millennials believe “If the team wins, I win.” “There’s an opportunity to have crashing instead of collaboration, but you have to find a way to help them all think they win,” Elliott-Yeary explained.

And what about getting those younger employees on board in the first place? According to Elliott-Yeary, the average number of jobs a millennial has before the age of 35 is 10.2. That means your agency has approximately eight months to woo, engage and motivate employees of this young generation. Help them grow and keep them engaged, developing a working plan for when their to-do list is completed or cross training to keep them enthusiastic about their work.

“In the new workplace, we need to foster diversity and increase engagement if we’re going to reduce the time the millennials leave while our boomers are staying in the workforce longer,” Elliott-Yeary said.

See more at:

Posted by: yacmichigan | September 19, 2014

What Goes Into a Successful Mentor Relationship?

What Goes Into a Successful Mentor Relationship?

Reprinted from Associations Now Online Magazine,

What’s This? Associations Now Brand Connection provides opportunities for advertisers to connect with the Associations Now audience. All content is paid for by the advertiser. The Associations Now editorial staff is not involved in creating this content.
By / Sep 18, 2014(iStock/Thinkstock)

One mentor/mentee pair share their perspective about the tactics to forge a rewarding mentor relationship.

The mentoring relationship can be somewhat of a mixed bag—sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

When it works, though, mentoring has the power to change lives, at least according to one recent study. So, what does it take to create a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

Part of the formula may rest in happenstance and luck—personalities and schedules don’t always click—but there are several steps mentors and mentees can take to ensure a win-win relationship.

One tactic that worked for Juan Amador, CAE, director of diversity policy and programs at the Association of American Medical Colleges, was to seek out a mentor who he thought could help advance his particular career needs, which happened to be improving his communication and presentation skills.

“I needed some help with visibility, with communication, with being more confident about talking about myself and expressing myself and my points of views,” he said. “It’s not that I couldn’t do that, but once you get to a certain level, there’s an art to it.”

So, when it came time for the mentor selection process that’s part of ASAE’s Diversity Executive Leadership Program, of which Amador is a participant, he requested Susan Neely, ASAE board chair and president and CEO of the American Beverage Association. Instead of waiting to be paired with someone, Amador took the initiative and asked for someone he knew had the communications expertise he could learn from.

“I took a risk,” Amador said. “I put myself out there because I knew she would either say yes or no. Luckily, she said yes.”

Amador’s proactive approach didn’t stop there. Once matched with Neely, he initiated meetings, introduced himself to and got to know her support staff, provided her with email updates, and made sure he could provide value to Neely as well.

“I asked her what she wanted to learn from me,” said Amador, who was happy to provide Neely with an insider’s view of DELP and the ASAE member experience.

It’s important for mentees to think strategically about their mentor relationships, Neely said. “Know the background of the mentor. Ask questions that relate to the mentor’s experiences. Even if those experiences are not completely related to your ambitions, there may be insights you can glean. Have a mental agenda of questions you want to ask or things you want to tell the mentor when you meet. Keep the mentor posted on your successes and progress.”

All this isn’t to say that the responsibility for the relationship lies in the hands of the mentee. Amador credits Neely’s generosity and receptiveness for a large part of their relationship’s success.

“She invited me to ASAE functions and to networking and social events and to her home,” he said. “I got to experience things with her, and then we’d talk about them. Just being at these events with someone who is very senior and very visible in the association community, certainly among her membership, I could observe the way she talked with members, the way she presented herself.”

From her perspective, Neely also advised that mentors get to know the hopes and dreams of their mentees.  “Not just the professional ones but personal as well,” she said. “It’s not possible to separate one from the other. I look at my own life in its entirety because what I do career-wise affects my family life and vice versa. With my mentees, we talk about it all.”

Neely said she also makes a point to explain to mentees that all she can share is her perspective. “Only they can make the decisions that are right for them.”

Do you have advice on what it takes to create a successful mentor relationship? Let us know in the comments.

InVEST Insurance Education Program Adopted by Chicago High Schools, reprinted from Insurance Journal online magazine, August 19, 2014

InVEST, the insurance industry’s classroom to career education program, announced that all Chicago Public School Career and Technical Education (CTE) finance programs will now offer its curriculum to seniors.

The program is a key incentive in attracting new talent to the insurance industry.

“The InVEST program offers a unique chance for our CTE Business and Finance students to apply their business skills to solve real-world problems,” says Kye-Anne Wilborn, Chicago Public Schools Career & Technical Education (CTE) senior program coordinator. “They learn about career opportunities in the insurance industry and experience the responsibilities and contributions of different jobs in the field. The program provides everything needed to reproduce the workplace in our classrooms and the students love it! This program is a great opportunity for all students and especially students in business curriculum programs across the country.”

The following Chicago schools now offer the InVEST program: Ace Technical Charter High School, Austin Business & Entrepreneurship Academy, Harlan Business Academy, Kelly High School, Richards Career Academy, Schurz Business & Finance Academy, Simeon Business & Finance Academy and South Shore International College Prep.

Robert G. Slocum, InVEST board chair and president of The Slocum Agency Inc., an independent agency in Warwick, R.I., said the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA), the Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois, the Big ‘I’ Young Agents Committee of Illinois and the InVEST company supporters helped make the partnership possible.

InVEST develops future industry professionals by educating high school and college students about insurance, risk management and financial services. More than 19,600 students in 545 InVEST programs across the country participate each year and graduate equipped with knowledge to help them pursue careers in an agency, company or other insurance industry organization. InVEST contributes to the education and development of future insurance professionals through academic programs and scholarships.

In high schools, the program offers students a business curriculum which teaches them about the dynamics of insurance agencies and companies. At the college level, the program develops students’ risk management and financial analysis skills.

As a 501(c)(3) educational trust, InVEST benefits from the support of numerous insurance organizations, hundreds of agencies, brokers and volunteers. The program provides the insurance industry with motivated, talented and intelligent professionals through a support structure of state associations, board members, national staff, teachers and the many industry professionals who work in the field as classroom liaisons.

Founded in 1970 and based in Alexandria, Va., InVEST promotes insurance education in order to attract individuals to pursue a career in the insurance industry.

Young Agents Rate Flexibility, Career Growth Over Technology: Vertafore Survey

Reprinted from Insurance Journal Online Magazine

By Amy O’Connor | August 14, 2014

Technology is not an incentive when it comes to attracting and retaining millennials to the insurance industry but it can provide overall job satisfaction in terms of flexibility and career growth opportunities, according to a new survey released by insurance technology provider, Vertafore.

The survey looked at responses from 414 executives throughout the insurance industry – with 166 (40 percent) of respondents under the age of 40 – to determine how technology is shaping the younger generation’s decision to enter and stay in the insurance industry.

Guy Weismantel, vice presdient of marketing at Vertafore, says his firm’s goal was to “get in the mind” of young agents and find out what motivates them in their careers. Vertafore considers the number of young agent respondents to be a representative sample of the number of this age group currently in the industry.

“As a technology company, it helps us to understand how our customers work,” says Weismantel. “It is incumbent on us if we want to be known as an innovator that we understand the motivations of potential users of our products and how they use them in their lives as agents.”

Weismantel says the results were surprising, with only 51 percent of millennial respondents rating technology as “very important” to keeping them in the industry. More important than having access to the latest technology in an organization was work/life balance, with 78 percent of young agent respondents saying that was what would keep them in the industry, followed by enjoyment of work at 66 percent.

“Technology is important, but in an age group of people that grew up with it, it is expected… and less of a differentiator than we thought it would be,” says Weismantel.

The first-ever survey of this kind by Verafore was sent by email at the end of July and early August to multiple nationwide databases, including NetVU’s Young Professionals Chapter. The survey was administered and analyzed by Vertafore.

Ashley Brower-Whitney, vice president at Harbor Brenn Insurance in Petoskey, Mich., and a member of the NetVU Young Professionals Chapter that worked with Vertafore on the survey, says the results are in line with what she has experienced at her own agency.

“If you think about technology, it is embedded in [young agents’] lives. It won’t make them stay longer at a company but we do need to continue to innovate,” she says.

The survey results also indicated that job satisfaction among young agents was also very high, as 84 percent responded that they plan on staying in the industry for “as long as possible.” Insurance Journal’s Young Agent Survey released this past spring found similar results, with 86.3 percent of young agents considering insurance as a permanent career choice.

Weismantel says technology does help contribute to young agents’ feelings of job satisfaction, as they are often looked at to help push new technology and ideas forward in an agency and that plays a role in their overall happiness and feelings of worth in their career. 47 percent responded that they had the greatest chance of influencing “streamlining processes” and 37 percent said “adopting technology.”

“When you add in a younger person they apply a new way of thinking to how to grow a book of business or help it become more vibrant… the older generation is increasingly looking to the younger generation to help them do this,” he says.

Young agents indicated that being given the opportunity to impact an agency’s performance, having their ideas heard and a say in the approach to how the business is run were also big factors in the decision to stay on the insurance career path.

Young agents also appreciate the way technology has enabled them to have job flexibility in the insurance industry by allowing them to work from home or keep abnormal office hours, thus being able to manage that work/life balance they cited as being so important.

Brower-Whitney says in the 16 years she has worked for her family-run agency, she has found that the new generation doesn’t want their lives to just be about work, something that the survey results also reemphasized.

“The concept of the 9-5 business day is really gone and with technology in place you can have flexible work schedules and develop work from home opportunities without it costing a lot of money for the agency. It is a lifestyle benefit that employees are really enjoying,” she says.

Agencies should utilize technology in a way that will provide these opportunities, especially those that are looking to attract young talent, says Brower-Whitney. Insurance Journal’s “Young Agent Survey” results also cited having a flexible schedule as one of the things young agents “like most” about their career as an independent agent.

“If you put the right procedures in place and have the right people it can really be beneficial for the agency,” she says. “With the work/life balance being so important to young generations, there are opportunities here for agencies to really rethink how they do things.”

The survey results also found that young agents find Facebook to be the most valuable social media tool because of the enhanced customer relationship it can offer. 42 percent of respondents said they use the social media site more than once daily, compared to 69 percent who had never used Twitter, 64 percent who had never used Instagram, and 29 percent who had never used LinkedIn.

Weismantel said responses from young agents said helping people and being a part of their customers’ lives were part of what they enjoyed most about being in the insurance industry.

“Young agents see what they do as helping someone on the front lines or being there in those times when they really need someone to help, such as in the event of a flood, fire or death and there are few professions that have that ability,” he says. “I think that appeals to this segment of the population who want to make a difference.”

The survey didn’t specifically look at young agents compensation requirements or desires, but did ask them how compensation ranked in terms of the importance of staying in the insurance industry. Interestingly, it ranked below work/life balance and enjoyment of work at 54 percent.

Browers-Whitney says while compensation is important to any employee, there are many other factors that go into job satisfaction.

“I think there are a lot of people who look at the entire range of what they are getting out of this career and compensation is not the end all be all and it is not the most important thing for these young generations,” says Brower-Whitney.

Weismantel says the results of the survey should be encouraging to those in the industry who want to bring in more young people because the turnover rate once they are hired and trained is very low. For Vertafore, he says the results will help the company in its own product development and how it targets the next generation of agents.

“The number of agencies we work with is growing…there is a lot of opportunity and the barrier to entry is quite low – and technology has helped that,” he says. “Once the younger generation gets [in the industry] they want to be here. That’s awesome to see, I think.”

Posted by: yacmichigan | August 1, 2014

What Millennials Want—And How To Deliver

What Millennials Want—And How To Deliver

by Jacquelyn Connelly – Reprinted from IA Magazine Online –

High salary. Impressive title. Respectable status. Sounds like a dream job, right?

Not if you’re a millennial.

A recent Applied Systems study found that “the things that interest millennials, that motivate them and cause them to stay with an employer, are very different than other generations,” says Michael Howe, senior vice president of product management at Applied. “The usual motivators for previous generations—money, status, title—go right out the window.”

So what matters to millennials, and how can your agency leverage what’s important to them in a way that solidifies your perpetuation plan? During a recent Applied webinar, panelists shared their insights on what Gen Y candidates want out of a job—and how agencies like yours are capitalizing on those desires to transform their businesses into the kind of workplace young talent wants to call home.

Community ties. “Millennials are very social by nature—and I don’t mean social in the social media sense,” Howe says. “They’re very, very comfortable working with others. They want to be part of a bigger group and feel connected to their colleagues. That’s relevant for the insurance industry because many agency roles are more of an individual pursuit.”

Harry Levine Insurance in Orlando and Winter Park, Fla. tackles that problem head-on by regularly participating in community events like Make-A-Wish Walks for Wishes. “I personally enjoy going out and getting to meet people in our community instead of just sitting behind my desk,” said Julie Levine, agency administrator, during the webinar.

For millennials like Levine, it’s not just about personal satisfaction—it’s about “understanding what’s going on around us in a very vibrant business environment and engaging with it in a hands-on way,” explained Jason Levine, vice president, operations, who served as chair of the Florida Association of Independent Agents young agent committee and was named YAC Agent of the Year in 2013-2014.

Do-good initiatives. “Millennials want to make a difference,” Howe explains. “They want to see some connection between what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and how that serves the greater common good. Feeling like what you do actually matters is the motivator that comes through the strongest in our survey results.”

During the webinar, Karyn Seibert Roeling, president and owner at Seibert Insurance Agency in Tampa, Fla., explained that her agency’s vast age range requires creative solutions for ensuring employee satisfaction. Initiatives have included everything from hosting barbecues at her house and running together in a 5K to collecting supplies for local schools and incentivizing the often awkward process of asking clients for referrals.

After asking the staff what would help motivate them to ask their clients for referrals, management agreed to donate a pound of dog food to a staff-selected local rescue for every referral the agency receives. “It lets the community know we’re here to support them,” Seibert Roeling said.

Tech-savvy investments. Millennials are undeniable “digital natives,” Howe says—and that has serious implications if your agency’s website consists of little more than your contact information and a photo of your staff smiling in front of your building.

Proving to potential millennial employees that your agency is committed to evolving and utilizing their unique skill set requires walking the talk. Seibert Insurance Agency, for example, has invested in sophisticated technology ranging from an automated marketing system that Seibert Roeling said delivers “constant contact” with the consumer to an interactive, responsive website—meaning it adjusts its look and feel depending on whether you’re viewing it on your smartphone, tablet or desktop.

“These days, people are looking for services on their mobile devices,” Seibert Roeling said. “It your website isn’t responsive, when they go to your website on their device, it just shrinks your website down really small. But if you go to mine on your cell phone, it looks cleaner—it has big font and all the things consumers want to see in a dropdown menu. It’s much easier to navigate.”

Hands-on learning. “Millennials are very much interested in getting new kinds of roles, seeing new experiences and rotating around into different jobs,” Howe says. “Their loyalty to the company and their willingness to stay at a company ultimately depends on if they feel like they’re growing and advancing their skills and getting new experiences.”

Fisher Brown Bottrell Insurance, Inc., a large agency with locations throughout Mississippi and Florida, recruits young talent fresh out of college through its insurance development associates program. New hires rotate through each department of the agency: commercial lines, employee benefits, accounting, service and sales to learn how every aspect of the agency works.

That way, “you decide what you think you’d be best at,” said Annie Laurie Roberts, a customer service representative, during the webinar. “You get a mentor that trains you in what you think you’d be best at, and from there you go to your full-time position. It really helps students coming out of college when they don’t know exactly what they want to do yet.”

That’s because contrary to popular belief, “millennials are very ambitious and willing to learn,” Roberts said. “They’re easy to train, but they want instant gratification. I think if you have a career path set before them and give them goals to achieve, that helps them stay satisfied in their role.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor. – See more at:

Posted by: yacmichigan | July 24, 2014

The Key to Recruiting Millennials? Make Them Feel Special

The Key to Recruiting Millennials? Make Them Feel Special by Jacquelyn Connelly

Reprinted From IA Magazine July 18, 2014

During a recent webinar, Applied Systems asked an audience of insurance agents whether they have a plan in place to attract and hire young talent. An overwhelming majority—83%—said no.

It’s a disappointing statistic given that in 15 years, as much as 50% of the current insurance workforce will retire.

“If you’re not paying attention to millennials, you should be,” said Christen Kelly, product marketing manager for Applied Systems, who moderated the webinar. “Each industry has to pass the baton from one generation to the next—ours is no different.”

Independent agents have been hearing for a long time that their industry has a great story to tell—they just need to tell it better. But industry leaders say laying out the status quo for Generation Y is not enough to even get their attention, let alone convince them to join the insurance industry.

“The perception among young professionals is that insurance is suited for the older workforce,” Kelly said.

“Historically speaking, when you mention the word ‘insurance,’ it turns people off,” agreed panelist Brooks Zeigler, a producer at Morris and Templeton Insurance Agency in Savannah, Ga. “Millennials have been conditioned by their parents and grandparents to roll their eyes.”

So what does a winning perpetuation strategy involve? According to Michael Howe, senior vice president of product management at Applied Systems, insurance agencies shouldn’t try to prove they’re a great place to work. Instead, they should focus on what needs to improve—and tell millennials their unique skill set will be crucial to future success.

“The agencies that adjust and alter the way they do business, the technology they bring, how they do marketing, how they do selling—they’re actually adjusting the way the agency works to fit the millennial, not vice-versa,” Howe explains.

For example, a millennial producer might rely heavily on social media and mobile technology to generate leads. “Those are the tools that come naturally to them to find customers,” Howe says. “Back 10-15 years ago, there was no agency in the world that was finding new customers via social media. Today, you see it all the time—agencies bring in millennials and engage them with what they’re good at, and they leverage that as a strength.”

And that’s the key to attracting young talent: telling them they have something to offer that nobody else can bring to the table. Millennials don’t want to hear about what your business can do for them—they want to hear about what they can do for your business.

“You have to better communicate why the industry needs the unique skills and DNA of this generation,” Howe says. “If you’re trying to pitch someone coming out of college to go work at the agency stuck in 1983, good luck with that. But if you can communicate to the person coming out of college, ‘Look, you’re the future and we’re changing our business to better suit your unique skills’—you’ve got their attention now.”

That’s because knowing they’ll be on the vanguard of where an industry needs to go—and that they’ll play a big role in making a difference for the business—is much more appealing than simply joining one they perceive as stodgy or boring.

“Put yourself in the shoes of someone coming right out of college,” Howe says. “You’re considering two pitches: ‘Come work in an industry where we’ve been doing it the same way for 25 years,’ or ‘We know we need to change, the business is really evolving and we need people like you to help us evolve into that new world.’ Which company would you join?”

Want to know exactly what millennials are looking for in a career and how insurance agencies like yours are adapting to deliver what Gen Y employees value? Keep an eye on and the upcoming edition of our monthly Fast Focus e-newsletter.

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor. – See more at:

Posted by: yacmichigan | July 3, 2014

The Handoff

The Handoff

by Amy Skidmore republished from IA (Independent Agent) Magazine. July 2014

Ross Richey has more than tripled his agency’s revenue, acquired three other firms and added a new location complete with a $1.5 million renovation—all before his 30th birthday.

As the largest generation in history—more than 80 million strong—millennials aren’t an emerging trend or buzzword. They’re already here. And some, like Richey, are business owners making an impact where they live and work.

Richey was only 25 years old when he purchased Lawton Insurance in Central City, Ky. A family business since 1899, Lawton Insurance has been a model of perpetuation, with strong growth since Richey took over in September 2009. The principal with enough foresight—and some would say guts—to entrust his family’s agency to a rookie? Bill Greenwood.

Along with his father-in-law Bob Lawton, Greenwood took a measured chance, delivering a family business that had been in existence for more than a century to a new generation—one that was not only much younger, but also outside the family line. The result? Tremendous growth and rewards shared across the generations.

“The best thing I ever did, at age 65, was to sell out to Ross,” Greenwood says. “I got to keep an office and my finger in the business, but I stopped being trapped in the management of the agency. And my wife and I have been able to enjoy our golden years.”

Even Lawton, at age 93, still ventures into the office, but on his own terms.

Last to Leave

The word “flexibility” is often associated with millennials. This is a group that understands how to work hard—they know there’s a definite payoff for those willing to invest the effort—but also values options and work-life balance. “I do some of my best work later in the day,” explains Richey. “So I may not always be the first one at my desk each day, but it’s not uncommon for me to be one of the last to leave.”

In fact, millennials are not much different from previous generations—they’re just better equipped to manage flexibility through technology. And that’s an advantage not initially available when older workers were just starting out. According to a global generational study completed by the University of Southern California, London Business School and PwC, it turns out that non-millennial employees value workplace flexibility in equal measure and are even willing to forego pay and delay promotions to get it.

“I think understanding the individual dynamics of how each person prefers to work—and that those work habits don’t always match the ‘traditional’ office—is a real strength of leaders my age,” Richey says. “It’s about getting results, not doing things a certain way because that’s how they’ve always been done.”

Community Sense

Millennials also are known for their emphasis on teamwork and sense of community. Richey reflects this inclusive approach and understands an agency’s potential positive impact—not only on the lives of its employees, but also on its neighbors.

“As a result of the opportunity given to me, Lawton’s 115-year history continues under independent ownership,” Richey says. “The people who have spent their entire life working in a small community have a place to build a rewarding career. The family wasn’t forced to sell out to some out-of-town big city broker, one that would abandon the local Main Street presence, eventually transferring all our customers to a service center a thousand miles from Kentucky and firing all the employees who had helped us grow and prosper.”

The groundwork for the change began years earlier when Greenwood first met an 18-year-old Richey. Greenwood saw potential and began grooming the new leader, and after Richey joined the agency, outside help contributed to designing more formal perpetuation plans.

“We were very deliberate,” Richey says. “It was very much a group effort to not only plan for but execute a smooth leadership transition. Even though some roles have changed since I purchased Lawton, having the family remain engaged has been invaluable.”

Growth Formula

What has fueled Lawton’s growth? From Richey’s perspective, three key factors determine the future of any independent agency:
•Computers, both online and in the cloud. “That’s simply a requirement in today’s business world,” Richey says.
•Recruiting and training tech-savvy young employees. “They’re certainly not intimidated by technology—they’ve grown up with it,” Richey explains. “But don’t assume that makes them automatic experts. Exposing them to industry leaders and keeping them engaged through industry organizations that have other people their own age is important to their long-term satisfaction.”
•Access to an array of insurance carriers. “You have to have the business partners in place to remain competitive,” Richey says.

Richey has worked hard to make sure Lawton has all three components in place and believes when any firm does, it’s easier for older agency owners to retire on their own terms.

“The fact that I could mold an insurance career into my own, that there was no ceiling on possibilities—that’s what attracted me to the industry initially,” he says. “I think that’s appealing to so many talented people who we should be recruiting. At any small agency, it’s important to network and to get younger employees, who might be somewhat isolated in an office, exposed to all the opportunities available in insurance. This is a great industry and generations on both ends of the spectrum can work together to make it even better.”

Amy Skidmore is an IA contributor.

SIDEBAR: What’s Your Exit Plan?

An agency succession plan offers you options, according to Bob Pettinicchi, executive vice president and chief lending officer at InsurBanc. How can you implement a plan that will meet your needs?

Create a structured perpetuation. “Instead of hanging on only to sell out, a structured perpetuation plan lets owners control their own destiny,” Pettinicchi says. “It’s about having choices and getting to run your business with the goal of enhancing value over time. That value can come through careful grooming of producers, new markets, added specialization and a deliberate sales culture.”

Share your plan. “If the owner knows his or her intentions but the employees don’t, that’s a problem,” Pettinicchi says. “I’ve seen instances when the ‘potential buyer’ didn’t even know they were considered next in line, and owners seemed shocked when they left the firm.”

Don’t procrastinate. Pettinicchi emphasizes that a good perpetuation plan takes several years to execute. “It’s usually tough for just one younger leader to buy out an older owner with a career’s worth of equity,” he says. “It’s a good idea to have multiple owner candidates in place.”

Allowing sufficient time also ensures buyers are ready to make a down payment when the opportunity arises. “The existing owner needs to make sure their buyers are financially enabled,” Pettinicchi explains. “There are as many financing scenarios as there are agencies, and I’ve seen a lot of creative solutions—deferred compensation, phantom stock. It’s obviously not a detail you can overlook until the end. While in the past, sellers needed to finance much of the transition, the availability of specialty lenders allows the seller to receive significant cash up front, which reduces their risk of selling to an inside party.”

Plan for the leadership transfer. Both buyer and seller need to consider transition time. For a successful transfer of leadership, the former owner should remain engaged, not only leading up to the sale, but also after—just like the scenario that played out at Lawton Insurance.

“You may hear a lot of talk on the golf course from agency owners who sold out to a big public broker, saying that they sold out for X or got Y,” Pettinicchi says. “But what you don’t hear are the details of the transaction. Sometimes it’s not as big of a payday as it sounds. The best part of a successful perpetuation plan is that you’re not only rewarded financially—it actually feels better. You know the firm you built over a career continues. Your employees remain in place, and you’ve handpicked a buyer with a vision you can embrace. That’s a pretty great way to hand over the reins.” —A.S.
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Posted by: yacmichigan | May 29, 2014

Getting Involved in YAC is Worth It!

Getting Involved in YAC is Worth It!

By Anthony DiPilla, YAC Chair


It was almost four years ago to this day that I wrote my first insurance policy. Before that day, I was really lost when considering what I wanted to do in life (at college I changed my major three or four times).

Luckily, a close family friend of mine, Mr. James LaCommare (a retired agent), suggested I seriously consider getting into the insurance business. I went on a few client appointments with his son, Vince LaCommare (now my co-worker)and soon realized that insurance was something I could definitely see myself doing. Everyone needs insurance, and it would give me the ability to make a difference in a client’s life. Also, I love interacting with people and there’s no better industry for that than insurance.

About six months into my new job, I had the pleasure of meeting and golfing with our former MAIA YAC Staff Liaison, Maunda Land. She contacted me a few days later, and encouraged me to get involved in the Young Agents Council. To be 100% honest, I was extremely hesitant. I wasn’t sure how I could balance my job responsibilities with participation in YAC. Thankfully, my boss, Bruce Morris, was extremely supportive and said the Council would help me develop many good industry relationships, just like he had done when he first started.

This is my fourth year with YAC and I have had absolutely no regrets. As you know, insurance is about building relationships, not only with clients, but also carrier representatives, the restoration companies we refer our clients to, and especially with other agents.

When you hear about interacting with other agents, you might think, “Why would you develop a relationship with your competition?” A great question! There have been occasions where my “competition” has helped me write an account rather than take one away. On any given day, I can send out an email to my Council friends about a certain risk I may have limited knowledge of and they will then help guide me in the right direction, which leads me to writing an account with confidence.

This is just one of many examples of why I believe it’s really worth getting involved with YAC and attending their events. Developing relationships with carriers and collaborating with other young agents is just as important as building trust with clients. Getting involved with YAC allows agents to do this for a small investment of your free time. Where else can you get that opportunity? It is a no-brainer, get involved!

About YAC’s Biggest Annual Event

When I arrived at my first YAC Conference on Mackinac Island, I was a little intimidated. There were so many people with name badges hanging from their necks that I had never seen before. I didn’t know if I should just approach people and initiate a conversation or if I should wait until someone introduced themselves to me. Thankfully, my fellow young agents came to my rescue. It is nice having that other young agent who can extend a welcoming hand and introduce you to other industry people. I am willing to offer that hand to any young agents who want to get involved.

If you have never been to our Annual Conference, I encourage you to come to see what it’s all about. It may or may not be for you but, how will you know until you’ve attended? It is also my hope that people who have attended in the past will return. Like any other relationship, if you neglect it, it will begin to fade.

The Young Agents Council is about helping young agents develop in this industry, but we hope this year’s Conference – Once A YAC, Always A YAC – underscores our commitment to continue the wonderful relationships we’ve made with all agents and company representatives throughout the years regardless of age and experience. Simply put, “I am not a young agent anymore” or “Isn’t it limited to young agents?” are no longer valid reasons for skipping the Conference.

We’ll be back on Mackinaw Island June 11-12, providing attendees with an opportunity to earn CE credit, and participate in activities that will both strengthen insurance knowledge and help build, continue or renew relationships in this business. For more information regarding our events and the conference, please feel free to contact me or Rita LaMoreaux,, 517-327-8034 at MAIA. ■

Anthony DiPilla is an agent at Morris Insurance Group in Rochester, Michigan. 

Posted by: yacmichigan | March 28, 2014

Travelers, InVEST Team Up to Develop Young Professionals

Travelers, InVEST Team Up to Develop Young Professionals

Written by Young Ha, Published by Insurance Journal March 7, 2014

The Travelers Cos., in partnership with InVEST, a nationwide school-to-career nonprofit program, is helping to improve insurance and financial literacy in students and attract young talent for the insurance industry.

Founded in 1970, InVEST works with more than 500 high schools and colleges to introduce useful insurance curriculum to students. With the help of insurance professionals who serve as InVEST liaisons, students also get opportunities for job shadow events, internships or even careers. For many, InVEST programs serve as their first chance to learn about the insurance industry and discover the breadth of opportunities and careers available.

At Travelers, the partnership with InVEST is overseen by Neal Montgomery, director of field management at Travelers and an InVEST board member. “I am fortunate that Travelers has asked me to be their representative to the InVEST national board,” Montgomery said. “I have been involved with InVEST program locally, working with our local schools for about 13 years now. I have been on InVEST board for seven.”

And every year, Travelers hosts an InVEST job shadow day in Hartford, Conn., called “Travelers Employees for a Day,” which this year was held on Jan. 31. Travelers also provides InVEST internships to high school students in Connecticut.

“I’ve had a chance to have a dozen different interns work with me. We have had interns in numerous other departments. We probably had 30 interns total in the last dozen years,” Montgomery said.

Among the students who took part in InVEST programs, seven have since become full-time Travelers employees. Some joined Travelers after college while some have pursued their college degree while working at Travelers. “It’s been tremendously successful for us,” he said.

Taking Advantage of the Opportunity

One of the Travelers employees who helped in this year’s job shadow day is Brandon Dombroski, an agency portfolio consultant. An InVEST alumnus who participated in the job shadow and the InVEST internship at Travelers, Dombroski understands firsthand how helpful the program can be.

“I try to really take the students through with what they want to do for a career,” he said. “A lot of students, when they think of insurance, they think of underwriters or salespersons. They don’t really see the behind-the-scenes functions.”

Travelers 2.jpg

A Travelers employee in the market research department shows students around the building during the job shadow event.

“They can relate to the fact that I went to the same school and am from the same area. I went through the program,” Dombroski said, adding that the InVEST program helped him get into college and start his career at Travelers. “I think it really shows what exactly they can do if they take advantage of the opportunity.”

“I would definitely recommend the program to students,” said Dombroski. “It really opens their eyes. It helps them get a better understanding of the functions that they don’t necessarily see. There are a lot of newer functions within insurance that they would find interesting. It also shows them the opportunities that are there.”

While working full-time at Travelers, Dombroski has also been attending University of Hartford full-time. He will be graduating this May. “My plans for after graduation are just to continue working. Eventually I want to go back for my MBA but I am going to take some time off from doing both full time and really focus on work,” he said.

Alissa Parlante, a high school senior and an InVEST intern at Travelers, is another InVEST alumnus who helped with this year’s job shadow event. She had job-shadowed a Travelers employee a year ago and is now working as an intern, working from 2:30 until 5:30 weekdays after school.

“The internship started in July and it’s going for about a year, throughout my senior year, which is great,” Parlante said. “My next step is going to college next year. Hopefully as I start my college career, another opportunity will arise with Travelers.”

For this year’s job shadow program, Travelers had personnel from 27 different departments hosting 62 students and 12 educators from four local schools. Students spent the day shadowing professionals from a variety of Travelers business units, including personal lines, risk control and field management.

“We provided the students with a sense of what those departments do. The students make first and second choice selections of who they would like to shadow, and we do absolutely everything we can to give the students their first or second choice, or something close to what their choice was,” Travelers’ Montgomery said.

“For just about anything you want to do, we have a career for it,” Montgomery said in describing the broad career opportunities available in the insurance industry and at Travelers. “But,” he added, “high school students don’t have that concept.”

“They don’t understand that we’ve got a forensics laboratory to investigate the claims; that we’ve got a claims training center where they can climb on construction equipment and watch us flood buildings to see what happens from flood damage; those that are literary-minded come into our creative services and our marketing department.”

Montgomery said there were also a number of students in this year’s event who were interested in actuarial careers, and they were able to job-shadow Travelers’ actuaries. There were also students interested in sailing and they got to learn from an InVEST alumnus who now works as a yacht underwriter at Travelers.

“We also had students who were interested in the agricultural business,” Montgomery said. “Well, we’ve got an entire department devoted to insuring farms, agribusinesses and livestock. They were amazed that a company 15 miles away from their hometown specializes in this.”

“One of the teachers came up to me,” Montgomery recalled, “and said this is absolutely the highlight of their class year.”

Reposted from IIABA InVEST Program,

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