Like many of my peers, I grew up in family-owned independent insurance agency and sort of inherited the insurance bug. Unlike most of my peers, our family’s agency is minority-owned and I’m younger than 40.
The majority of independent insurance agencies in the United States are owned and operated by a white male over the age of 54. This brings up two issues: As our predominantly older employees retire, who will fill their shoes?
Also, how do we ensure that the next generation of industry leaders includes more women and reflects our country’s diverse racial and ethnic population? Why aren’t there more people of color in our industry and why aren’t we, as a whole, marketing more to diverse audiences?
As chairman of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA or the Big “I”) National Young Agents Committee (YAC), I’m tasked with working with our industry’s most powerful advocates and my fellow young agents from across the country to find ways to attract and retain younger people to this profession. InVEST, a classroom-to-career education program supported by the Big “I” – which is currently in more than 500 high schools and colleges across the country – is helping to get more bright scholars through the front door. Many of us have hired interns and then staff who first considered this line of work in an InVEST classroom, but are they staying?
Attracting talent and then retaining and promoting that talent is our next challenge. Agencies also need to take the time and resources to invest in professional development for younger employees and those who are new to the industry.
A 2014 Insurance Journal survey found that 83 percent of young independent insurance agents felt optimistic about the future of our industry. This optimism is a valuable asset we must capitalize on to build up our troops. By making this career path attractive and providing a road toward advancement, we can keep our younger employees happy, growing and building our book of business.
Don’t cast your net in just one pond. Not all talent will come straight from a traditional classroom pipeline. What about fishing in other ponds such as those filled with older workers looking for a career change? What about former military personnel or students looking for a two-year or vocational education?
Independent agents are in every community across the country and our industry should reflect those communities. The 2010 Big “I” Agency Universe Study found that the number of agencies with principals who are women, Hispanic and/or African-American had increased since 2008. New agencies were the main driver of this change and our industry must stay committed to making even bigger strides in the years to come.
Younger professionals also need to do their part to stay active and look for opportunities. Young agent groups are a great way to network and exchange ideas. YAC encourages young agents – those under 40 years of age or with less than five years of experience in the industry – to get involved.
It’s my hope that this pipeline will continue and that soon it will reflect the diversity of the next generation of agents.