What’s So Great About a Career in an Insurance Agency?

By | April 15, 2024

What’s so great about a career in an insurance agency?

Lots, actually. Like opportunity, flexibility, training, challenges, good pay, helping others, and job security.

What’s more, it’s an opportunity available to those who have a college degree or who never went to college or dropped out. For working parents seeking flexibility or anyone seeking a career change. For those who want a little or a lot of action and responsibility.

Also, the people who work in insurance agencies, think it’s great. Insurance Journal asked them in its annual survey of young agents. Most young agents (80.8%) told Insurance Journal they would recommend being an insurance agent to another young person.

Young agents are typically an optimistic crowd and even after the past few years of what many say is the longest hard market in insurance history that optimism is still quite high.

When it comes to their career choice, 45.3% of young agents responding to this year’s survey reported they feel “very optimistic” on the outlook of their career (down slightly from 53.9% of in the 2023 survey).

Young agents also feel pretty good about the condition of today’s U.S. economy. In fact, their outlook on economic conditions in 2024 is much more positive than it was in 2023, the survey found.

Half (50.0%) of young agents felt “very optimistic” about the outlook of the U.S. economy in 2024 while another 18% reported feeling “optimistic.” That’s considerably higher than the 4.1% young agents responding to the 2023 survey who said their view on the U.S. economy was “very optimistic” with only another 11.9% reporting “optimistic” feelings about the economy last year. Slightly more than a quarter of young agents (26.5%) do not feel optimistic about 2024’s economy at all.

Young agents felt less positive about the future of the agency system this year. According to the survey, only 28.7% of young agents felt “very optimistic” about the future of the agency system compared to 38.7% in the 2023 survey.

Despite their concerns, more than half (55.2%) of young agents reported feeling “very optimistic” that their income will be greater in 2024 than in 2023 with another quarter-plus (28.4%) feeling “optimistic” that their income will rise this year over last year’s.

The annual Insurance Journal survey polls the opinions and views of independent agents 40 years old and younger. More than 200 young agents responded to this year’s online survey during March.

What do young agents say about their careers in insurance?

Here, Insurance Journal shines the spotlight on a few including a college dropout who overcame the insurance stigma and is glad he did, a “crazy” stay-at-home “gamer” who is thrilled to go to his office every day, a working mom who switched from banking and can’t imagine a better deal for women, an owner of a family agency who has become an advocate for the industry, and a disillusioned accountant and commercial real estate developer who became “captivated” by captive insurance.

‘Be Patient’

Brock Elliott, chair of the Big I’s national young agents committee, is no stranger to the world of insurance. Elliott, branch manager/agency relations, at Kansas based Elliott Group, is a third-generation insurance agency owner.

Established in 1974 by Brock’s grandfather, Gene Elliott, the agency now operates in six locations in the state with some 50 employees.

Brock wasn’t sure about joining the family business, but he wasn’t sure about continuing college, either. After a couple of years, he returned home and reconsidered trying out the family business in 2012.

“I knew that I didn’t want to go to school anymore, and I didn’t want to spend any more money on school, so I figured that I would move back home and try out the insurance business for a while,” Brock said. He admits he had no real intentions of sticking to insurance long term but quickly realized that insurance is a “pretty fantastic industry to be in.”

Brock says the insurance industry is a great place for young people, even those who may not pursue a college degree. What’s most important, in his view, is experience.

College is not necessary to succeed as an agent, but experience is, he said. “In the insurance industry, particularly if you’re in sales, your sales base is plus or minus seven years of your age and when you start young, the pool of people that you can sell to are your friends,” he said. “Unfortunately, when you’re 21, your friends are not necessarily the best clients.”

Brock also admits there continues to be some stigma with youth when in sales. “There’s some truth to that. It’s hard for a 21-year-old, 22-year-old, to have a very serious conversation with a seasoned business owner who’s in their fifties or sixties,” he added. “So, while the learning piece of it is not necessarily important, the diploma, I think life experience is a huge part.”

The industry could attract younger talent if the industry did a better job explaining what agents actually do, day in and day out, Brock says.

“We’ve talked about making insurance sexy but that’s not necessary,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be … there are people that grow up wanting to be financial advisors, CPAs,” he said. Why not insurance?

Independent agencies are not just the mom-and-pop shops on Main Street, or the images consumers often see on Geico or Progressive commercials, he added. They can be employers of all sizes with lots of opportunities for growth. “I just don’t think that we’re looked at on that same professional level.”

For young agents beginning their career in the industry, Brock advises them to be patient.

“Being patient is key,” he said. “It takes a year before you have a real rudimentary understanding of what you’re selling, the actual product that you’re selling,” he said. “Then it takes even longer to understand that you’re not just selling a product, but you’re selling risk management, and peace of mind,” he said. “It takes the time to learn the business and it takes time to get good at it,” he said. “But if you keep doing the right things, people will come.”

‘Don’t Stay Stagnant’

For 26-year-old Myils Rodrigue, personal lines account manager at Kaplansky Insurance Agencies in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, going to college didn’t seem like the right path. He began doing inventory work with his father, working as an inventory specialist for supermarkets. In addition, he worked for himself fixing computers and as a social media manager.

Then he decided to try an internship at Kaplansky in September 2020, a Top 100 agency where his mother works as a corporate manager.

After a short trial period, Rodrigue was offered a full-time position as a personal lines account manager. Since then, he’s grown to love his newfound career. “Honestly, I really like the company I work for, who I work with, and the office setting. This is my first office type of job.”

In the past few years, he’s learned the ins-and-outs of personal lines and is on his way to learning commercial lines. “I’ve been doing really good since starting out, and I’m actually starting commercial lines in just the next few months,” he said. “I’ll be taking classes starting in April and am really excited to get that started.”

Even though he didn’t pursue a college degree, Rodrigue hopes to earn as many professional designations and certifications in the industry as he can. “I want to do as much as I possibly can,” he said. “First, they want to get me to get into commercial lines, and then after that I’m going to be really focused on earning designations,” he said.

What he’s enjoyed most about working in the industry is helping the agency’s clients. “It’s a very fulfilling job, honestly,” he said. The relationships he’s built with clients and co-workers keep him excited to go to work, in-office, too. “I don’t wake up dreading it. I wake up ready to come in to work. I really love what I do.”

Rodrigue says even though he considers himself a “crazy PC gamer,” working remotely isn’t for him.

“When you work remotely, you’re just walking out of work, and into your home,” he said. “I need that car ride back home to decompress, and I really like the social aspect of working in the office.” Plus, the office is where he learns, he says. “Honestly, everyone in my office is a lot older than me; I’m definitely the youngest,” he said. “So everyone is a mentor to me here. Everyone’s really a big help.”

His advice to other young professionals in the insurance industry: Don’t stay stagnant, pursue education, especially if you didn’t go the college route, he says. “Go for any class you can, especially if the agency is willing to pay for all those classes – go for it. Those designations look really good and it’s good to just know more, especially in this industry, where it’s always changing.”

‘A Better Gig’

Growing up in insurance doesn’t always lead to a career in insurance at first.

For Kelsey Swingle Robertson, shareholder and commercial risk advisor at Swingle Collins & Associates based in Texas, the fast-paced world of finance and banking seemed a good fit for her talents. After graduating with a degree in finance, she accepted a position at JP Morgan.

“But the further I got into my career, the more I looked forward and thought, OK, what do I want to do?” For Swingle Robertson, who spent her entire life watching her father build a successful independent agency, the answer was clear. “I was fortunate enough to see what the insurance industry looked like through my dad,” she said. “As I talked to him more, I began to say, ‘I think I want to do that. It sounds like a better gig.”

She feels fortunate for the experience at JP Morgan prior to joining the agency. That experience helped her target middle market financial services firms that the insurance industry doesn’t necessarily target, she said. But working in banking first helped her realize the “quality of life” that a career in insurance could offer.

Leaving a career in banking meant new challenges. “I took a huge pay cut,” she said. “But I think for me, I was at a point in life where I thought that kids were on the horizon and I wanted to be in a certain financial position before I had kids.”

She knew building a book of business would take work in the beginning. “I made a hundred cold calls a day,” she said. She couldn’t rely on current relationships to build clients, she said. “Most of our family and friends were already insured by my family.” That meant she had to find new relationships to turn into clients.

Swingle Robertson believes there’s no better industry for females, especially working mothers.

“I love talking to people when they’re younger and even before they have kids and say, ‘Hey, if you’re thinking about having a family and being a working mother, there’s no better job than this,'” she said. “Being on commission sounds scary when you’re just out of school, but it’s really liberating, too, because the buck stops with you,” she said. “If I think it’s important to chair my children’s auction, which is going to bring me out of work for X hours a week for a few months, then that’s on me and I’m able to make that decision.”

She saw firsthand a top female producer and shareholder in her agency setting that example. “She set pretty good boundaries on her work-life balance, but she was one of the top producers year after year,” she said.

Swingle Robertson said she would love to see more females and people of different backgrounds in production roles in the future. “There’s so much untapped potential.”

Her advice to young professionals joining the insurance industry – don’t be afraid to make those cold calls, she says. “Cold calling gave me the opportunity to practice and hone my skills before I tapped into a network,” she said. “Learn on those cold calls; you have nothing to lose,” she added.

‘You Can Do It’

Avery Moore, president and CEO of ECI Insurance based in Piedmont, Oklahoma, purchased her family’s agency in 2021 and became the third generation to carry on the family legacy. Today, the agency employs a staff of 15 – 14 of whom are female.

Moore has taken to being an active advocate not only for her clients but also for the industry. She sits on the Big I’s National Young Agents Committee, was named Oklahoma Young Agent of the year for 2018, Young Gun of the Year for 2017, named one of Oklahoma’s 30 under 30, and Oklahoma Agent of the Year 2021.

She says insurance as a career choice has a negative connotation. “Let’s just call a spade a spade,” she said. “Most people do not wake up dreaming to buy insurance or work in insurance.

“While I think insurance has a great mission, we just haven’t created a sexy picture, and at the same time, it’s the best kept secret,” she said. So she spends a considerable amount of time “preaching” about the opportunities the industry holds for young people, especially women.

The industry’s talent gap is here, she says. “It’s about to get really bad for principals and people who are hiring because we’re not going to have enough people; it’s pretty miserable to hire right now.”

It can be even harder to compete for talent for smaller agencies, she said. She’s about to hire her first fully remote position, something she wouldn’t have considered as an option just a few years ago. “Our next thing we’re implementing is unlimited PTO, which if you would’ve asked me two years ago, I would have said that’s crazy,” she said. But in today’s competitive hiring world, she’s doing whatever she can to create benefits that attract people. “We’re not in the big city and we’re not a mega agency that can match up on benefits and pay all the time.”

She continues to “preach” to high schools and colleges about the opportunities the industry has to offer. “The generation above us did us a disservice by not preaching how good it was,” she said. “Maybe it was fear of competition, they wanted to keep their business, or they were just so busy working their business, they didn’t preach,” she said.

“I always tell women when I get to talk to colleges or at high schools or whatever that this is literally the best gig. I can make as much money as I want. There is no cap,” she said. “If I wanted to work one month a year, you can figure out a path in the sales world. Or if you wanted a steady career where you aren’t living off commission, there’s a path for that too in service roles.”

But she also encourages current account managers and CSRs to consider taking a leap into sales. “The first thing I would say to female account managers and CSRs that are sitting there watching male producers and thinking in the back of their head, ‘I could do it,’ but never actually go for it – yes, you can do it,” she says. “You can be so incredibly successful,” she added. “There is a massive amount of business that’s about to be out there” as more agents get ready to retire, she added. “There is tons and tons of business out there that can make you very profitable. And at the end of the day, you are doing a really good thing in this world, especially if you can believe in the products that you’re selling.”

Be Curious

For Dane Beasley, senior vice president at FBBInsurance, a career in insurance came after a few other professional experiences. While earning a degree in accounting from the University of Mississippi, an internship led Beasley to the realization that a career in public accounting wasn’t for him.

After graduation, he turned down job offers from a few CPA firms and bought a one-way ticket to Washington, D.C., without a job. “I was like, ‘I’m going to make it work and figure it out’ so I got a job on the Hill,” he said. He knew he didn’t want to pursue a long-term career in politics, but needed to pay the bills. After a couple of years, he jumped into commercial real estate development, but soon after getting married, he moved back home to Jackson, Mississippi. Real estate development didn’t translate well from DC to Jackson so he began to look at a career in insurance developing captive programs.

“I was intrigued by captive programs,” he said. “It was a different way of looking at insurance and the more I learned about it, the more I believed in the product, and I thought, ‘Well, if I were a business owner and I was taking safety seriously, investing in my operation, I think I would want to be in a captive.'”

That was five years ago and today Beasley’s primary focus is group captives for construction and transportation. He helped launch the first final mile group captive for Amazon Delivery Service Partners in 2020.

He said he’s glad to have experienced other careers outside insurance. “I’ve picked up commercial estate accounts because of having a background in that world,” he said.

His best advice for young professionals joining the world of insurance is to be curious and ask questions. The first year is all learning, he said. But the learning never stops, he added.

“I’m learning something new every day,” he said. Even his mentor/partner who’s been in the business for 50 years is still learning, he said.

“I feel like the best way to learn our business is to get out there and talk to people,” he said. “Where I learned the most was just getting out, going on the road with other producers, and seeing how the conversations unfolded.”

Then, get in the car after the meeting and ask questions. “Ask as many questions as you can,” he said. “Meet with as many folks as possible. … People are always willing to help and from my experience, that goes a long way.”

And pay it forward, he suggests. “As I mature in the insurance industry, I would like to pay it forward and mentor young producers because I found so much value in that and owe so much of my success to the older producers in our agency that took the time to answer my questions.”

Topics Talent Oklahoma

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