Multi-Generation Agencies… Adapting To Change In Product, Service And Tech

Q. What tips and experience can you share about the process of grooming agency successors into leadership roles?

Felton
As soon as you have determined that the person you are grooming has want and desire to grow your business beyond what you are doing, you should begin to get them more involved in the overall operations. Have them begin to attend industry meetings so that they can learn more about how others run their companies and hopefully generate new ideas that they can bring to your company and implement.

LaMarche
They need to learn from the bottom up and work in every department to get a true sense of the business and how it operates.

Gilbert
My personal opinion is grooming isn’t the hard part, it is finding the right person who, first, wants to dedicate themselves to this noble yet fragile profession and, second, has the temperament to be a leader. Just because someone is a great salesperson doesn’t make them a great manager of others. Just because you have a superstar operations person at your firm doesn’t mean they will connect with the sales staff if you hand over the reigns to them. Find the right person, with the right personality, and you can teach them the business.

Mooers
In my own personal experience, I found it really, really helpful that the name on my driver’s license matched the name on the door of the building. What a happy coincidence, right? Because I think I can tell you that I probably wouldn’t have qualified for a job here otherwise. The biggest lesson I learned was when I stopped trying to be Father2.0—or Uncle2.0—that’s when I had a chance at success. My leadership style is different, and it had to be mine or it wouldn’t work. That’s the message I try to pass on to others in leadership roles. Learn from your leaders, implement what works, but don’t try to be them. Be you.

Gallegos
We are a first-generation agency with a relatively young ownership team. However, we have taken key people in sales and administration and given them leadership roles, and as they have gained experience we have expanded their decision-making opportunities. The idea being that they gain a firm understanding of how we would like the company to run and give them the experience they need to be able to one day run the agency.

Thomas
You have to set expectations, you have to give them responsibility, and you have to mentor them through their decision making.

Q. What steps does your agency take to maintain, respect and accommodate “old school” long-standing producer relationships?

Felton
I think the most important thing is to make the producers know that they are important to your company and to spend a little extra time on their cases and service. The long time relationships need to feel that they are special and that their business matters. If these advisors have a drop in business, you need to make sure that you stay in touch and see if there are ways that you can help them grow their business.

LaMarche
Most of our producers are old school. We try to treat them with a sense of urgency and meaning still to this day as we did from the beginning.

Gilbert
We have tried to adopt the motto that, “We will work with you the way you want to work with us.” If that means the person wants to fax in paper applications then so be it. If we recruit a producer who never wants to hear a human voice and wishes to use technology to submit, manage and issue his business, we can do that too. Learning how your producer is most comfortable doing business is a great first step in a long-term relationship.

Mooers
We try to respond with a “one better” approach when we can. If someone takes action on LinkedIn, we’ll reach out to them with an email. If they email, we’ll call. And if they call, hopefully I can make it out to visit them and shake their hand. We haven’t been very successful with mass marketing campaigns. We tend to pick up customers one at a time, often through referrals. It may not be as efficient, but the relationships have a solid foundation.

Gallegos
We do have a fair number of agents who do not embrace the newer technologies that have become prominent in the industry such as e-policy delivery and drop ticket application submission. In these cases, we do not push those agents to change. Additionally, we strive to maintain communication with them in the ways they are accustomed to. In many cases that is making sure status is called in to them (or their office administrative staff) or speaking to their offices prior to policy issue—situations where newer agents and agencies are accustomed to working via email or direct website access.

Thomas
We feel that even though we are finding technology helping us with becoming more efficient we still rely on tactics like hand written thank you notes and phone calls instead of email to stay relevant to “old school” advisors.

Q. What are some key ways the thinking of the younger generation has been instrumental in the growth of your agency?

Felton
They see things differently than you do. Each generation has different views on what is important and this is helpful in developing marketing and sales presentations. The “old” way of doing things may have become old, and having a younger set of eyes on what is important is a good thing. Also let them make mistakes. The best way to learn is to make mistakes and it is important that you let them try things you may not agree with because they might also be right!

LaMarche
The younger generation is more focused on transactional business so technology and simplified process is key to them. It has made our agency more efficient.

Gilbert
I think the “Pandora’s Box” of technology infiltrating and slowly transforming how a carrier, BGA and ultimately the producer does business has already begun. I am always humbled by how the younger generation embraces these changes as just the newest and best way to do business and immediately implements and starts improving on the new technology and processes. Firms that have embraced the next generation and new technology have an advantage over those that do not. It is just that simple.

Mooers
I’m sure others can speak to that better than I can. Generally, though, I love the fearless nature of some of the younger generation. There’s an attitude of courage, and proactive mentality, in many. Definitely not in all—you have to find the right ones.

Gallegos
This is a great question–the younger generation’s move to newer, faster technologies has been great to push us to improve our operational efficiencies. As I noted before, e-policy delivery and drop ticket are just a few. The ability to quote cases on smart phones, having 24/7 access to a case’s status, and the use of website tools for things like carrier training and product information are also great time savers. This push by the next generation has in turn made carriers move to become more efficient as well. The industry is becoming more streamlined, from the carrier level, to BGAs, to the traditional and non-traditional agent. As the industry evolves and improves, so does the consumer experience. These improvements benefit us all, allowing carriers, BGA’s and agents to expand distribution and to provide faster and easier access for consumers.

Thomas
The younger generation grew up using technology, so when we went to start incorporating new technology into the agency they were a big part of those conversations in understanding how those changes can positively change the company.

Q. What “old” is still essential, what “new” is inevitable and how does your agency build for the future?

Felton
Relationships are still the things that are most important regardless of how old they are. People do business with people they like…that will never change. You need to explore new markets to continue to grow your business. New markets will require new relationships and being willing and able to do that is very important.

LaMarche
Broker urgency is essential for the old. Point of Sale help is critical for the new.

Gilbert
We are a boutique agency by most measures. What has allowed us to remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace is our desire to develop technology that will assist in making our producers’ lives easier. Contrary to what you hear, there are a lot of producers out there writing the products that we sell. The reason they don’t write them with us or with you is that they haven’t heard our or your value proposition. Be ready to accept a faxed app and then turn around and suggest trying e-policy delivery. You my just find a rep that has been labeled “old school” just because he didn’t know he could get policies electronically or submit that app through a drop ticket platform. Teach while you sell and in my opinion the reps will stay with you longer.

Mooers
It’s the whole “art vs. science” debate if you ask me. The process of securing a life policy can be so different today—drop ticket, e-app, no exam, accelerated underwriting, e-policy delivery… It’s pretty easy to buy and sell a life policy without talking to anybody, really. And I think, with the efficiency and cost savings of these processes, that they’re inevitable. But I still love to talk to agents about cases, and I love to fight with underwriters. All day long.

Gallegos
The old that is still as relevant as ever is the need to generate and maintain authentic relationships. This is true from carrier to BGA, from BGA to agent, and from agent to consumer. The trusted advisor is a foundation of the industry, and that only exists if the relationships forged are genuinely based on what is good for everyone with a goal of delivering quality product and advice to those who need it.

The new that is inevitable is simple. The industry has undergone a dramatic change over the last decade due to the pervasiveness of new technologies. From the BGA/agent side, delivering fast, accurate, efficient services is key. From the carrier side, streamlined underwriting, the efforts to move to predictive analytics, and embracing new ideas and technologies is helping to deliver the experience consumers are demanding.

Thomas
We believe the old is that insurance products still have to sold. Someone has to make the first outreach for planning to begin. The new is how the product will be delivered to the client. With more and more accelerated underwriting options available and faster turnaround times it will improve how we deliver policies to middle America but it will still need to be sold with the guidance of an advisor.

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