Mastering the ins-and-outs of a business remotely was a hurdle for many insurance agencies and brokerages at the beginning of the pandemic, but not all. One California firm, VANTREO Insurance Brokerage, had already put in place a solid remote work model.
“Even before COVID, about 75% of our organization worked remotely all over the world,” said Lynne L. Wallace, president and CEO of VANTREO Insurance Brokerage, an Acrisure agency partner, with physical locations in Santa Rosa, San Rafael and Larkspur, Calif. “Now we’re about 95% remote.”
VANTREO, which opened in 2007 with about 18 employees, has grown to about 150 employees, Wallace says. In January 2018, the brokerage partnered with Acrisure and has continued to grow under the same model.
“We established VANTREO to be an organization on a platform that we could replicate and scale quickly.” That included building out workflows, technology and leadership that would allow for the firm to find the best talent anywhere, she added. “To try to get that in just any one particular locality is impossible.”
When COVID shut down businesses in March 2020, moving fully remote was simple, Wallace said. “We had everything already established. The way we work with employees, the way we train employees, the way that we coach and manage employees along the way … all of that was done remotely already.”
The pandemic wasn’t the first disaster where having remote employees located in various regions across the country proved helpful to VANTREO. When wildfires decimated communities in Northern California in recent years, employees outside of the region jumped in to help coworkers. “Many people lost their homes. I lost my home. A lot of our family lost their homes,” Wallace said. “But with a remote platform, people were able to jump in for other people and work on their accounts,” she said. “We didn’t have a complete disruption because we were virtual.”
‘The way we work with employees, the way we train employees, the way that we coach and manage employees along the way … all of that was done remotely already.’
VANTREO’s experience with remote workflows allowed the agency to help their commercial clientele with the transition, too. “I think that was a unique advantage for us because we’ve operated in this way for so long,” Wallace said. “We were able to be a very good advocate and a good resource for our clients to talk about working remotely.” Most of VANTREO’s clients know the firm is primarily remote, she said.
One question she has been asked: How to manage workers effectively when no one is there to see them working? “If you are truly a remote working organization, then you have to have an agency management system or a business management system that makes it very easy for everybody to know what’s getting done and what’s not,” she said. “We’re able to manage remote workers because we’re able to see what’s being accomplished on the system. We can run reports, we can jump in and help. If somebody is getting behind, we can see it and we can have other people jump in to help.”
She noted the process of managing employees becomes more transparent than managing in a physical office.
It’s taken VANTREO time to build a system that works for the agency. The process of perfecting the workflows in Applied EPIC’s agency management system has taken about seven years to “perfect,” she said. But now those workflows have been replicated throughout the company, leading to better efficiency, speed and clarity for staff and clients.
“Now, if one area of the country, or one area of California is under siege with wildfires, we’ve got 10 people in other places that jump in and just keep the work moving forward,” she said.
Wallace uses the example of a hamburger — an In-N-Out burger to be specific. “I love the In-N-Out burger, and why do I love it? I know that no matter where I go, I’m going to get the same high quality tasty In-N-Out Burger. And it’s all done by workflows,” she said. “Everybody’s operating to get the same outcome.”
That systematic way of doing business isn’t always used in the insurance world, according to Wallace. “You get an account manager who’s fabulous, but they do things the ‘way’ they do them.” But their ‘way’ of handling an account makes it incredibly difficult for others to back them up,” Wallace said.
Customers want their agents and brokers to help them make good insurance decisions, but once that insurance purchase is complete, they also want good customer service. Having consistent workflows followed by employees in multiple locations is what has helped remote working work best, she added.
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