The number of young agents that are active in their state associations is growing. Although they have learned a lot from more experienced agents and brokers, young agents are essentially unique when it comes to their approach to the industry. With an affinity for change and devotion to the industry, young agents across the West are doing all they can to make an impact in the insurance world.
Embracing change and technology
Young agents approach the industry differently than their older counterparts; they are often more aggressive and more likely to embrace change and technology, according to young agents.
“I think our approach is different because we look to new ways of addressing industry concerns and problems and do not just assume that the way it has always been done is the way it needs to continue being done,” said Pauline Black, personal lines producer at Mount Vernon, Washington-based Wycoff Insurance. “Times have changed and we as an industry must change our thinking to go along with it or be left behind.”
Kristi Houston, program underwriter for Association Services and Insurance Brokers, a division of San Diego-based Barney & Barney, said that young agents must be aggressive to successfully build up their book of business. “You have to be a lot more aggressive when you’re younger,” she said.
Christine Graves, an agent/producer with Western Valley Insurance in Crescent City, California, agreed that the selling techniques that young agents use are different from those used by older agents. “The younger agents are more hungry because we’re so young and we’re willing to go out there and get what we want,” Graves said. “The older guys will go play golf or go and schmooze clients a little more, but younger agents are just more direct than the older agents. We’re not pushy but I think we’re a little more aggressive.”
“Young agents are more willing to use new technology to help with sales and communication,” said Jay Martin, an agent with Idaho-based Martin Insurance.
Young agents are more open to change and technologies, according to Houston and Graves. Clint Paskewitz, a commercial account executive with Boise, Idaho-based Post Insurance, agreed. “I definitely see technology as the biggest difference,” he said. “We have the ability with computers in general. The older agents are more accustomed to paper files and paper ways of doing things. With the invention of the internet, e-mail and online rating, everything’s going to more of a technology base and I think we have a little bit of an edge there.”
Learning from the masters
Despite the differences, young agents agreed that older agents have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer them. “The biggest thing we can do is learn from their vast experiences and then take that information forward into today’s marketplace,” Black said.
“If they’re an older agent, they’ve obviously done something right,” Paskewitz said. “To make it in this industry they have to know what they’re doing. Obviously they’ve been through the trenches and learned how to play the game. I take any older agent as a resource from coverage issues to selling. [You need] the ability to be a sponge and soak up their knowledge and their experiences so you’re not re-creating the wheel.”
Martin said that older agents have taught him a lot. “I use experienced agents as mentors for things like help with where to place a client that does not fit with the standard markets,” he said. “[I've learned] the importance of knowing the coverage you are selling and how it applies to clients’ ideas, and how to explain it to customers so they understand. I have learned how to effectively communicate with underwriters, and the various items involved in running an agency.”
Graves said that older agents have taught her how to pick clients. “There’s tons of business out there, you just have to remember that you can’t write everything,” she said. “For young agents the hardest thing to know is when it’s the right piece of business and when it’s not. That is one thing that I learned the most from [older agents]. If something walks through your door it might not fit for your agency, so don’t try to put the wrong peg in the wrong hole. Quality business will be there for a long time as long as you give quality service.”
Helping their clients
Young agents said that giving quality service is very important, and Paskewitz said that they often do more than other agents would do to help their clients.
“A young agent is going to be much more aggressive and will go above and beyond the call of duty with regards to servicing of clients,” Paskewitz said. “If you’re an older agent, you’re going to have an established book. Clients will find more service coming from a young agent than they would an older agent on all accounts because we’re growing our book and we’re wanting to create a reputation of the type of agent that we are and build that base. Service is probably going to be more of an advantage for a young agent.”
“Getting your foot in the door with larger, more established businesses is hard when you are younger and competing with more experienced agents,” Martin explained. “An advantage of being a young agent is our willingness to put in more time on the harder to place risks that more established agents would pass up.”
Jake Kuespert, an agent at Idaho-based Meridian Insurance, said that being a young agent has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to clients. He said that older agents exude responsibility and experience because of their age, and young agents do not. “While there is a slight apprehension, because of the age, it can generally be won over with the right actions,” he said. “If [young agents] target the right markets, you can find many good clients with vast growing potential in the younger crowd.”
Graves said that although younger clients tend to gravitate to young agents and older clients often feel more comfortable placing business with experienced agents, sometimes age just does not really matter much to clients. “I think it just depends,” she said. “If you’re a strong person and they see that you’re strong and that you’re there for them, I don’t think it’s going to matter if you’re young or if you’re old.”
Issues they care about
Although there are advantages to being a young agent, there are also some issues and concerns that they have that are unique to their age bracket. Agents in Idaho are concerned about increasing their business and a dearth of ownership opportunities in the state.
“If you wanted to break out into your own in today’s world and start your own agency, it’s a real challenge,” Paskewitz said. “It’s not like it was in the past where you could start an agency out of your house or get the markets. There’s such demand for high premium volume with carriers today that it’s real difficult for a young agent to start his or her own agency.”
Martin said that there are fewer preferred markets for smaller agencies and hard to place risks, and there are not many comprehensive new agent training schools around any more.
In Washington state, young agents are concerned about tort reform, industry perpetuation, market availability and technology. Young agents in California are concerned about the same issues that all agents are, especially legislation that will affect the way that they do business.
“Our industry is constantly under attack,” Houston said. As a new agent or a new broker coming into the industry at this time, it’s very precarious. Your well-being and your welfare, as far as working as a producer and creating an income and creating a service, are constantly under attack from Sacramento. The attacks on commissions, the attacks on how things are going to be handled, the regulations that say that this is the end-all, die-all way to fix the system are not in the best interests of the agents and brokers that do all of the work.”
“Legislation is the biggest part for young agents right now,” Graves said. “It’s our future.”