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 – http://www.iamagazine.com/strategies/read/2014/07/25/what-millennials-want-and-how-to-deliver

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: http://www.iamagazine.com/strategies/read/2014/07/25/what-millennials-want-and-how-to-deliver#sthash.3RdZMgWX.dpuf

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 IAmagazine.com and the upcoming edition of our monthly Fast Focus e-newsletter.

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor. – See more at: http://www.iamagazine.com/strategies/read/2014/07/18/the-key-to-recruiting-millennials-make-them-feel-special#sthash.p5mhaO13.dpuf

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.
– See more at: http://www.iamagazine.com/magazine/read/2014/07/01/the-handoff?ReturnUrl=%2fSitefinity%2fAuthenticate%2fAD%3fReturnUrl%3d%252fhome#sthash.32UiXPLL.dpuf

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, rlamoreaux@michagent.org, 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

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/east/2014/03/07/322759.htm

Travelers.jpg
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, http://www.investprogram.org/News/Pages/Travelers%20Job%20Shadow%202014.aspx

Article is from Gair Maxwells blog at http://fillingstationblog.com/branding-with-distinction/ 
 

Branding With Distinction

Some people use Dells, HP’s and Acers, but other people are Apple.

Have you ever wondered why that is?

And how a similar approach to branding can be applied to your own business category?

Think about it this way.

Dell, Acer, Samsung, HP, Toshiba and others represent no more than a “badge of ownership” in the product category known as personal computers. “Badges of ownership” are common, non-distinct, ‘same old-same old’ products or services. A “brand of distinction”, however, is that rare, precious jewel that stands apart.

Suppose you walk in on a person who is working with a Dell, and you offer to replace it with a Toshiba, Acer, HP or any other number of models. Assuming that their files are transferred and the technical specs of the machine are comparable; do you think the other person would throw a hissy fit? Not likely. However, the same cannot be said when you attempt this experiment on an Apple user. Try and swap a Dell or an Acer even-up for a Mac and prepare to be subjected to varying degrees of bodily harm!

A badge of ownership does nothing more than distinguish one company’s products or services from a competitor across the street or across the web, making potential assets such as company name, storefront signage, slogan or logo virtually irrelevant. While “badges of ownership” are easily interchangeable, Apple serves as a great example of a “brand of distinction” that commands a level of emotional attachment transcending price, products and the purchase itself. Over time (and we’re talking years/decades), that emotional connection grows deeper, generating respect, honor and (are you paying attention CEO’s?) category-killing financial results. On the other hand, “badges of ownership” might have a few early wins, but often find it difficult to draw on the hearts and purse strings of customer loyalty for any sustainable length of time.

Look around and you will notice the same emotionally-charged dynamic surfaces in a wide range of what we refer to as “brands of distinction”.

From upscale luxury brands such as Rolex, Louis Vuitton and Ferrari, to otherwise ordinary products and services such as Dove soap, Jack Daniels whiskey, Starbucks coffee, Tilley hats, Nike footwear and Dos Equis beer. A wide range of similarities surface when comparing extremely different ‘brands of distinction’ from a Harvard degree to yoga wear from LuLu Lemon; from a Harley-Davidson chopper to IKEA home furnishings; from American Girl to Zappos and 1-800-GOT-JUNK?.

What allows these “brands of distinction” to emerge as category leaders, enjoying unparalleled business success fuelled by legions of loyal customers? And how can this approach be applied to your business?

Like Apple and other “brands of distinctions”, the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers command an unusually high level of loyalty, respect and profitability, due in no small part to having an unusual grasp of understanding “who” they are and the market they serve. While rival teams throw big money at pricey, showboating free-agents, the Steelers build quietly through the draft, refusing to go “Hollywood”. People in Pittsburgh aren’t flashy, don’t want to be flashy and don’t particularly like players who are flashy. As a result, you don’t see many Steelers in the tabloids or dating starlets or supermodels. The Steelers don’t employ cheerleaders and unlike any other team in professional sports have only employed three head coaches since 1969. By rejecting the cult of personality (which may help sell more souvenirs), the Steelers create a culture of success, where they believe it really counts.

steelcurtainbanner1

Pittsburgh has won more Super Bowl titles than any other team.  By knowing “who they are” in terms of core identity, purpose and how they measure success, Apple and the Pittsburgh Steelers are great examples of how a “brand of distinction” can serve as a guide to decision-making. This becomes so ingrained in leading organizations that they consciously ask themselves, “How will this decision impact upon the brand?” or “Are we on-brand?”

According to Shelly Lazarus, chairman of Ogilvy & Mather:
“Once you understand what the brand is all about, it gives direction to the whole enterprise. You know what products you’re supposed to make and not make. You know how you’re supposed to answer your telephone. You know how you’re going to package things. It gives a set of principles to an entire enterprise.”

In other words, you can’t just “copy and paste” the Apple story and culture and pretend it’s your own brand. The brutal truth is that Apple, the Pittsburgh Steelers and other “brands of distinction” have something no other marketer will be able to emulate, because it comes from something deep inside.

You’ve either got it, or you’re committed to working on it.

A reason for existing.

Not just a reason for selling.

A “reason for existing” translates into a crusade or story where the brand either plays or supports the role of protagonist or hero. The best examples are rooted in fundamental human truths; Virgin believes ordinary people are often abused by big, faceless corporations and becomes a modern-day Robin Hood with irreverent pokes at the “establishment”. Apple believes the power of individuality should always triumph and people should be free to create what they want. Disney believes we should hold on to our childhood imagination and just be kids for a day. The Steelers believe you should take your hard hat to work and focus on fundamentals like running the football and playing great defence.

Forward-thinking CEO’s recognize their companies need to differentiate themselves in ways that can’t be copied. Whether it is a differentiated strategy, product, service, technology or process, a “brand of distinction” won’t bet the house on “the latest, greatest technology/widget” or rely on bromides like “we just do it better.” Instead, they have a clear grasp of who they are, what they stand against, and how to live out those values over time. Branding at this level is not a cosmetic applied to make an organization look pretty. Rather it’s your DNA; a true reflection of who you are, what you do and how you serve.

While “badges of ownership” coax, cajole and sometimes beg for business, a “brand of distinction” is confident in what it’s doing to attract the right kind of people in the first place. While transactional-based badges scream “Trust us!”, great brands quietly go about their business to keep relational promises.

When it comes to building “brands of distinction”, fancy logos, eye-catching design or cute, funny and clever ads, don’t do much of anything if your message lacks depth and authenticity. Pretty pictures or the latest buzz words won’t make you cooler. They don’t make your products better, your people more friendly and knowledgeable or inspire customers to line up and camp overnight for a new product release.

The best brands in the world transcend their actual product or service and create an emotional bond by knowing at the deepest level why they exist in the first place.

Starbucks sells the spirit of community through a “third place” between work and home; Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle is selling “goofiness on the job”, not fish. Las Vegas is selling “sin” not tourism; Mont Blanc sells “prestige” not pens; Harley-Davidson sells “rebellion” not motorcycles; Rolex sells “achievement” not watches; Dove sells “self-esteem” not soap; 1-800-GOT JUNK? sells “clean & hip, not trash removal . In other words, they know what the customer is really buying and how it connects to what they already believe.

A “brand of distinction” is not something you buy off the shelf. It’s what you know and feel deep in your bones in terms of who you already are, why your business exists (beyond the making of money) and who you are determined to become for the whole world to see. Anyone can serve a cup of coffee. Anyone can toss fish or haul junk. But, precious few can create a brand of distinction around those business models. The difference? Brands of distinction adopt guiding principles that speak to a bigger purpose, then stick to them.

A “brand of distinction” resonates with customers because its “story” comes from a very real place. Dig into your own history, rediscover why your company was created in the first place, find out its reason for being and determine the greater purpose it serves. With enough introspection, patience and hard work, you will find an Apple-worthy branding gem that’s just as relevant today as it ever was.

What is the one thing you want your company to be known for?

- See more at: http://fillingstationblog.com/branding-with-distinction/#sthash.NnNbX4su.dpuf

Posted by: yacmichigan | January 23, 2014

Third Oldest Agency in the Nation Thrives by Embracing Technology

Third Oldest Agency in the Nation Thrives by Embracing Technology
Not out with the OLD, but Definitely Embrace the NEW.
It was once said that “experience is the key to success.” As Alabama’s oldest insurance agency and the nation’s third oldest agency (est. 1858), we at Talladega Insurance Agency have never forgotten the old tools to success but have always embraced newer ideas to gain the extra advantage. But, once again, “times are different now,” and “change is upon us.” We work, live, and socialize in a society where we want things done quickly, and we thrive on having the devices that help us to do these tasks, especially when our friends and colleagues do not. Simply put, whether business or personal we thrive on “the new.” Today, many are proud of having the newest/first: Droid, iPhone, Tablets, software updates, and the list goes on. Years ago, they called this “beta testing,” and it was said that most sat back and waited till the kinks were worked out.
My father was one of the first agents to purchase the Red Shaw system in or around 1978 and then Applied Systems in 1984. Our agency went paperless around 1991. It was a time when the baby boomers were becoming the decision makers, and they wanted technology. Older agents asked my father, “What are you doing playing with that computer- that’s for the CSR’s?” His response, “I don’t want any person in this office to know how to do something I cannot do myself. And this computer is about to be our most valued employee.” How true then and how true now? Our websites, Facebook pages, Linked In, and Agency Managers are ALL working for us when we have left for the day. They are a 24-hour employee. Shouldn’t we, as agents/owners, know what our employee is capable of?
I find myself, as well as young agents as a whole, on that same “bubble” that those baby boomers, like my father, were on in the late 80’s. Technology has moved so fast over the past 10 years, and the insurance industry is finally catching up with it. We are now learning that a website can become a money-maker and service our clients. For years, most agencies just had a website but had no idea what to do with it. We now know that Facebook can be used as a tool to drive home personal lines better than any radio or TV ad ever could. And technology is in place for us to randomly stop in on a prospect, bring up an industry-specific questionnaire on a tablet, complete it, upload it to an Acord form, and submit it before ever leaving the prospects place of business.

Boyd McGehee is 2013-14 a Big “I” national Young Agents Committee member, and Vice President Producer of the family agency, Talladega Insurance, Alabama.

I am not saying that my agency is the best, but I do think that businesses that have been around for long periods of time all share one thing in common, they embrace the new. Young agents in this country are now becoming owners and principals, and, if they are not, at the very least, most have become the decision makers on all things related to technology. The torch is being past. Software and capability is now catching up to technology in insurance. Let’s embrace it. This is our chance as independent agents to gain the competitive advantage. It is our chance to meet with our carriers and tell them our needs and ideas. Don’t miss that boat!
Posted by: yacmichigan | December 13, 2013

Adam Rekerdres Continues Young Agent Discussion

Adam Rekerdres Continues Young Agent Discussion – nGI

Vice President, Rekerdres & Sons Insurance Agency Inc.

By

December 12, 2013 • Reprints

 

Years at company: 9 years College: University of Dallas, 2001 Organizations: Independent Insurance Agents, International Standards Organization

Read Adam’s previous nGI Q&A

How can employers recruit young talent?  We have experienced more success recruiting young people who are only a year or two out of college. Even better, we make space for summer interns. If they are a good fit, we offer them a full time position immediately after graduation.

How did you determine that insurance was a viable career choice?  Coming from a family agency, I always thought it was a possibility and something that I would enjoy.  I would say I truly determined it was a viable career choice once I figured out that I was good at it! And it took a long time to get there!

How does technology fit into your work strategy?  We use technology to improve our work flows. We have identified the most important work procedures in our office and we use a proprietary system to monitor the performance of those procedures. The performance of any third party provider (including carriers) is also monitored and measured.

What’s your mantra for success? I follow the wisdom of the Oracle at Delphi: “Know thyself.”

Who do you look toward as a mentor in this industry?  My father Ted Rekerdres is a mentor to me.

What legislative issues are you interested in? I am interested in the development of captive insurance law in Texas. 

What are your main priorities as a young agent? My main priority is work/life balance. In particula,r I struggle with limiting the amount of travel. Travel takes time from the family and it is also takes a toll on the body.

How do you balance work and personal life?  I set realistic goals and boundaries at the beginning of the year. It is really difficult to uphold the boundaries.

What is an important lesson you learned when joining a professional working environment? I learned early on the importance of being punctual and paying attention to details. Those were two qualities which do not come naturally to me and I have had to focus on.

What do you see Gen Y/Millennials struggle with in a professional environment? What advice do you have? I see young people unable to immediately see the benefit in staying with an employer long term verses chasing the next highest paycheck. I think young people today struggle with seeing the value in the work environment that may go beyond the paycheck.

Where do you hope to take your career? What direction would you like your career to go?  Very simple – reputation is gold for me. If I can be a good steward of my family business and maintain the rock-solid reputation, then I will consider that success.

Many young agents enter this industry because other family members work in insurance. What advice do you have when working with family? Communication and boundaries are key when working with family members. People think that working with family member is easy, but many times basic aspects of business, such as communication, are complicated and strained. Because there is a very personal relationship and history involved, you have to be really brave and set clear boundaries.

What skills do you think young agents will need next year?  Young agents need to learn how to present well, speak well and write well.  I look for young agents who can think outside of the box and get concepts across to clients.

What do you see young agents struggle with in their first years in this industry? What advice do you have?  Young agents may see insurance as a boring desk job in their first years. My advice would be to get out there and get some experience! If there is a big claim, then go see it first hand!

What are some of your career highlights? A recent highlight was arranging a shipping container to be delivered to the parking lot at an industry convention. I gave a presentation inside the container on container shipping best practices.  It was well attended!

Have you won any awards in your field? If so, how have you used that award to further yourself in this industry? My agency has won the Export “E” Star award.  We are also the first retail agency in the US to be ISO 9000 certified. The ISO certification is important to us. It means an independent person audits our procedures and customer service every year.

Adam Rekerdres was featured in the December 2013 Issue of AA&B. He is the vice president of Rekerdres & Sons Insurance Agency Inc.

Posted by: yacmichigan | November 19, 2013

Anthony Pomerson Continues Young Agent Discussion

Years at company: 4 years College: Olivet College, ’12

Read Anthony’s previous nGI Q&A

How can employers recruit young talent? Recruit young talent from colleges and universities. Talk to the advisors about what kind of person you are looking to hire. There are a lot of young people in their junior or senior year that are hungry to have a good job lined up before graduation.

How does technology fit into your work strategy? I try to incorporate technology whenever it makes processes more efficient, adds value to myself or the agency and when it is a possible selling point to a customer.

What’s your mantra for success? I’m constantly trying to improve myself and my community. It kind of stems from Olivet College’s vision “Education for Individual and Social Responsibility.”

What are your future goals in this industry? I want to become an insurance agency owner.

What legislative issues are you interested in? I’m interested in the Michigan No-Fault reform.

What are your main priorities as a young agent? I just got married on June 1, 2013, so I’m definitely committed to having a work/life balance.  It’s not easy being a new agent and trying to balance work, home life and the multiple charities I’m involved with, but I thank God every day for the great opportunities He has given me.

How do you balance work and personal life? Setting priorities is key. I put the tasks and people I value most at the top of my priority list.  Keeping that balance is a persistent struggle.

What is an important lesson you learned when joining a professional working environment? Keep your projects and calendar organized. Also, communication with co-workers, customers and prospects are vital for success.

Many young agents enter this industry because other family members work in insurance. What advice do you have when working with family? I don’t have any family in the insurance industry, but I do work for a family-run agency.  They do a very good job of keeping work life and family life separate.  It’s not easy to do, but can be vital to the success of your business.

What skills do you think young agents will need next year? Not just next year, but for the foreseeable future, young agents will need to be good at adapting to change.

What do you see young agents struggle with in their first years in this industry? What advice do you have? Gaining enough knowledge to compete with others that have been in the industry for 10+ years is important.  Working on and achieving designations will help you gain that knowledge and make you stand out from your peers in a positive way.

What sales strategies worked for you this past year? Not one strategy will be enough for obtaining prospects and making the sale.  I used multiple sales strategies and most of them produced results.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a young agent, and how did you handle it? Getting over the rejection of not landing a big account after spending a lot of time and effort on it.  It hurt, but keeping the big picture in mind, along with encouraging stories from experienced coworkers, helped me get over it and move on to the next exciting project.

What do you see as your biggest strength in this industry? My age.

What is your biggest weakness? How have you addressed that weakness? My age… and procrastination.  I can do nothing but wait for my age to increase, but the procrastination I can and have addressed. Keeping a calendar with scheduled reminders helps keep me focused on what needs to get done. Having deadlines really helps too.

Anthony Pomerson was featured in the October 2013 Issue of AA&B. He is a resident agent and producer at Laginess Insurance Agency Inc.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 321 other followers