Despite ongoing concerns over the pandemic, young agents say they felt supported by their agencies over the past year.
A majority of young agents felt satisfied with how their agency responded to COVID-19 and rated their agency’s pandemic response plan at 4.25 on a scale of one to five, with one being “least satisfied” and five being “most satisfied.”
Young agents also felt a renewed optimism when it came to their outlook on the U.S. economy with 18.3% reporting that their view on 2021’s economy is “very optimistic” and 26.6% feeling “optimistic.” That’s up from a year ago, when just 8.0% of young agents surveyed reported their outlook on the U.S. economy in 2020 as “very optimistic,” while 19.3% viewed it as “optimistic.”
In addition, nearly two-thirds (61.3%) are “very optimistic” or 22.6% are “optimistic” that their 2021 income will be greater than their 2020 income. This is up from 2020, when 48.3% reported they were “very optimistic” and 28.1% were “optimistic” about their projected income.
The annual Insurance Journal survey polls the opinions and views of independent agents 40 years old and younger. About 300 young agents responded to this year’s online survey. Below are what a few of those young agents had to say about their careers in insurance.
‘Rookie of the Year’: Tyson Rochelle
That is not to say the past year has been difficult, especially for new sales.
“I’m going to be honest, it definitely sucked,” said 27-year-old Tyson Rochelle, who opened Brightway Insurance’s Tyson Rochelle Agency in Fort Worth in late 2019. That didn’t stop Rochelle from being named Brightway’s “2020 Rookie of the Year” for being the highest-producing agency owner based on new property/casualty policies written during the prior year — his first year as an agency owner.
Making sales during a pandemic was difficult, but people still needed insurance, Rochelle said.
“The pandemic made it a little harder to go out and shake a hand, but you can always make more calls on the phone than you can ever meet people in person in one day,” he said. Rochelle admits that building relationships over the phone can be challenging. “Some people gave me the time of day. Some didn’t, but enough gave time, and it worked out. I was able to do pretty good my first full year in.”
Rochelle’s first entry into the insurance world began with a “young” college recruiter from Goosehead Insurance. “I received a degree in business marketing with a concentration in sales, so I knew I wanted to do some type of sales,” he said.
When he met recruiters from Goosehead at a career fair, Rochelle was impressed. “They were young. We hit it off,” he said.
They offered Rochelle a job, and he jumped into insurance. “I liked it. I liked the culture. I liked selling insurance.”
A couple of years later he realized he wanted to own his own agency.
“What I really like about insurance is that it’s super flexible,” he said. “The products don’t really change. Obviously, you have got to know your carriers, but that’s something that you can learn. And since we just focus on home and auto, you can really become an expert.”
Running his own agency brings new challenges to overcome every day. “I really like that no two days are the same,” he added.
Rochelle tells other young people to consider insurance as a career but to think long-term.
“The big thing with insurance sales are the residuals — you’re in the driver’s seat on what you’re going to make,” he said. “Insurance is about building a book of business … you put in the work while you’re young, and you can really reap the benefits when you’re older,” he said.
He also advises younger people to listen and learn as much as possible. “There is so much stuff as far as insurance training on YouTube and podcasts. Really deep dive and become an expert,” he said. “I’m 27 now. I can grind it out, really perfect my craft and make a good living.”
Captive to Independent: Carolyn McGhee
Another new Brightway agency owner, Carolyn McGhee, 31, began her insurance journey with State Farm.
“I had just finished undergrad school, and I was looking for a paycheck to pay the bills,” she said. McGhee studied political science in college, but at the time, not many government agencies were hiring.
“When I got into State Farm, I began to explore different development programs within the company to see exactly where this particular career could take me,” she said. McGhee spent five years working in various capacities with claims at State Farm before thinking about sales.
“When I took an interest in the sales part of insurance, I found out that I was able to meet new people, and I love that part of it — building that personal relationship,” she said. She spent two years in sales for State Farm before leaving to pursue a graduate degree. She returned to State Farm until she met with Brightway Insurance and decided to go out on her own. In February 2021, she opened The Carolyn McGhee Brightway Insurance office in Atlanta.
Life isn’t easy sometimes, but that doesn’t deter McGhee. She is the first and only sibling in her immediate family to graduate from high school, earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and open and run a business.
“I’m very mind-strong and headstrong,” she said. “I focus on one goal and then on getting to the finish line.”
McGhee was born and raised in the inner city of Atlanta to a single mother who raised four kids. “I lost my oldest brother at the tender age of 15 due to gun violence,” she said. “My neighborhood was surrounded by drugs, poverty and street violence. I was determined to have a better future, and I knew that this could only be done through consistent hard work and higher education.”
Her passion for helping others fits right into helping her insurance clients. “I always had a passion for helping people so becoming an insurance agency owner allows me to do just that, while still building a legacy for my family and being in control of my destiny and having a positive impact on my community,” Mc Ghee said.
McGhee wants to be a leader in her community and believes that serving as an agent can help do that. Her youthfulness doesn’t stand in her way. “When I do networking events, sometimes I’m probably the youngest person in there. But I realize that I have to walk into boldness in this new career,” she said. “I don’t have to prove myself because I feel that my work ethic, my character, will speak for itself.” Success is about work ethic, grind and hustle, she added.
“Being a Brightway agent is all about being a pillar in the community,” McGhee said. “It will allow me to use my platform to help change the lives of individuals through community involvement and I can spread educational wealth through workshops about insurance.” As an entrepreneur, she can also be a role model to individuals who grew up in the same type of inner-city neighborhood that she grew up in.
“I am striving to become the first self-made millionaire, as well, in my family. God, dedication, hard work and consistency — I have no doubt I will accomplish that,” she said.
Be Curious: Matt Fuqua
At 35, Matt Fuqua, sales team leader at AssuredPartners, manages a team of 40 producers for the company’s Louisville, Ky., and Southern Indiana offices, which accounts for about $30 million in property/casualty and benefits revenue. He also continues to build his personal book of business, which currently stands at about $2 million in revenue.
Fuqua enjoys playing golf, and a conversation with a fellow golfer led him to an internship at Neace Lukens. After graduating college in 2008, he was offered a full-time position. A few years later, the firm was bought by AssuredPartners. “Shortly thereafter, I got to buy into the company and that ended up being an incredible opportunity, and really, luck had played into it,” he said.
For Fuqua and especially his team of producers, the pandemic has been tough. But there are two sides to that story, he added.
“Younger people with books of business, I would say, flourished. But as far as writing new business, from my standpoint or from what I saw with my producers, it was tough,” he said. Businesses didn’t want to see outside salespeople. “Whether you were selling insurance or selling whatever, it didn’t matter. Nobody wanted outside salespeople in their office.”
Virtual selling can be “very tough,” he said. “It’s hard to sell somebody virtually unless they’re really, really unhappy with their current situation. So, if somebody is just on the fence, and their current broker does an okay job, selling them virtually is pretty hard to do.”
One of the challenges for younger producers is credibility, and building that virtually is even more challenging. But youthful looks or lack of credibility won’t matter if the producer is knowledgeable about the coverages they are selling, Fuqua said.
“What I tell my younger producers is to be very curious. Ask lots of questions to everybody in the office, whether it’s the service team or other producers,” he said.
Summer Job: Mariah Arriola
When Mariah Arriola took a summer job at Geico, she never thought insurance would be her career choice. But then she met with Arizona-based RightSure Insurance’s Executive Vice President Felicia Duarte, a family friend, during her sophomore year in college.
“She told me, ‘We’re hiring. We’re looking for college students. It’s very flexible. You can do your homework there. It’s great,'” Arriola told Insurance Journal.
She interviewed and was offered the job. That was six years ago.
“It was awesome,” said the now 24-year-old Arriola. “I learned so much, so quickly. I first started by sending out applications for DriveTime customers who were just needing to get [new cars] off the lot. You start as a shipper, and then I moved to sales.”
When she graduated college in 2018, RightSure offered her the opportunity to earn the Certified Personal Risk Manager designation and Certified Insurance Counselor designations through the National Alliance. She earned those designations in one year.
While Arriola still works with DriveTime customers, she now has added personal lines sales including homeowners, auto and recreational lines, as well as some more affluent clients. “I’m kind of like a hybrid agent,” she said.
Her favorite thing about being an independent agent: the relationships and getting to know her clients. “Along the way, you’ll make your mark, and customers actually want to know a little bit more about what you’re selling them, versus like, ‘Hey, I just need a homeowners policy. Just give me the lowest priced one,'” she said. “There’s a lot of potential for growth if you want it. It’s not going to come to you.”
Her advice for others just starting out in the insurance world: always be open to learning more.
“There’s always something new with carriers or underwriting. It’s always changing,” she said. “It takes a lot to stay in the loop of what’s going on to be a good agent.”
Family Business: Matt Frank
Matt Frank, 32, grew up in the insurance business.
His father, Walt Frank, vice president and shareholder at Robertson Ryan & Associates, has spent more than 40 years in the insurance industry.
He never planned on joining his father’s industry, but that changed when the 2008 recession hit. It made finding good internships difficult during Frank’s college years. In 2011, he took a chance, applied at Liberty Mutual and spent the next five years working as a commercial underwriter.
“I wasn’t thinking about insurance in college, but I didn’t shut the door on it either,” Frank said.
After gaining valuable technical insurance knowledge at Liberty Mutual, he jumped into the independent agency channel four years ago, joining the same agency as his father, Robertson Ryan & Associates, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The agency side of the business is where he feels best. “I wanted to control my own destiny, and at Robertson Ryan, I get to control everything I do,” said Frank, who is now a vice president at the firm. “We all own our own books of business. I’m an independent contractor, and that was very attractive to me.”
There are a few disadvantages to being fully independent, but the pros outweigh those cons, he said.
“I love the ability to make my own schedule, to be extremely flexible,” he said. “But you have to be driven and have a lot of self-control.”
Frank’s underwriting experience has helped him build his book at Robertson Ryan. “It’s definitely been very helpful to help launch my career,” he said. “I’m growing my business, and I’m selling with confidence, too.”
He says the pandemic made selling more difficult in a virtual world, but in his view, there are positives to that as well. “While I’m already meeting with clients in person now that I’m vaccinated, it’s a lot easier to do a Zoom call or a phone call and now clients are way more okay with doing that,” he said. “In the past, you’d have to drive out to have an appointment, meet with them in person, and that really wasn’t always efficient, especially on smaller accounts.”
The comfort level of customers with Zoom is leading to greater efficiencies in sales. “Now, it’s just nice just to be able to have a 20-minute Zoom call with a client to go through their renewal, without having to even leave my house,” he said.
Surety Business: Trevor Hash
Twenty-six-year-old Trevor Hash has spent his entire life around the insurance world. His father has been a surety bonding specialist for many years. “I always told myself I’d never get into the business, and then after college, it seemed like a pretty good career,” Hash said.
‘People my age and younger are looking for quality of life now, [jobs] where the money is great, but with work-life balance.’
Hash began as a surety underwriter working alongside his father for two years and decided to make the switch to the agency side. In February 2020, he was hired as the director of surety for Haylor, Freyer & Coon based in Syracuse, N.Y., collaborating with a team of nearly 40 surety producers. Then, the pandemic hit.
“With COVID, it’s really tough right now to go knocking on doors, and there’s no events to go meet people,” Hash said. “In some ways, it’s moving us back to the old ways of cold calling and solicitation that way.”
But Hash added that COVID has opened new doors for other unique ways to solicit on digital platforms.
“I think COVID has pushed things forward maybe five years, where now [senior leadership is] forced to buy into digital platforms,” he said. “They’re starting to see the value.”
The push to go digital and work from home options that came with the pandemic are huge benefits to younger agents, Hash said.
“People my age and younger are looking for quality of life now, [jobs] where the money is great, but with work-life balance,” he said.
Hiring new talent is competitive, and to get good people, agencies need to differentiate, Hash added.
“I think working from home now with the capabilities of Zoom is definitely a big advantage for a lot of people,” he said.
While Haylor employees are back in the office, the firm maintains work from home options, two or three days a week. That has been a perk when attracting new talent to the agency. “Some of our competitors in the area brought everyone back into the office, and we’ve been lucky enough to pick up a couple of people because we’re able to offer those kinds of benefits,” he said.
He offered a word of advice for senior leaders: listen.
“Younger people can bring different insight, different ideas, and innovation to stale topics or initiatives.” For an industry that has remained largely unchanged, that’s important, he said.
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