“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.”
This quote from Winston Churchill is hanging on the wall at the offices of Jacobson, Goldfarb & Scott Inc. (JGS Insurance). The Bell Works, N.J.-headquartered agency, which provides personal and business insurance, was originally established in 1919 as a privately-owned independent insurance agency and real estate firm by Isadore Jacobson and Morris Goldfarb.
Now in its 100th year of business, change is something the company is not only familiar with, but seeks to embrace.
“One of the things we tell every new prospective employee is, ‘If you don’t like change, then this isn’t the company for you,'” JGS Insurance President Vincent Hager and Chief Operating Officer Ken Hager told Insurance Journal. “We recognize that to remain relevant, you must constantly question the status quo and look for new ways to improve your efficiencies.”
After Danny Scott joined the agency in 1941 as principal owner and Jacobson, Goldfarb became Jacobson, Goldfarb & Scott, the Hager family became active in 1962 when Sam Hager joined the agency and became a principal owner along with Scott. Sam and Steve Kane ultimately took control of the agency in the 1980s, and Ken and Vincent respectively joined the agency in 1987 and 1989.
When Ken and Vincent’s family originally joined the agency in the 1960s, it was a small company of about eight employees primarily serving the local area. Today, JGS Insurance ranks among the largest independently owned agencies in New Jersey and is licensed in all 50 states.
“Technology has helped drive the agency growth, and our willingness to be on the cutting edge helped us get to where we are today,” Ken and Vincent said. “Not everything worked out as planned, but we weren’t afraid to make changes to our processes to try to be more successful.”
In fact, they recalled going to the principals of the agency in the late 1980s to explain that in order to stay on top of new technologies, the agency needed to purchase its first fax machine.
“They had no idea what [we were] talking about, and once explained said, ‘That’s great, but who the heck would we send a fax to? Nobody out there has one! We will stick with telexes,'” Ken and Vincent said. “It took a little time but eventually we had a fax machine, and before faxes became obsolete, we had 10 of them due to need.”
Although technology has evolved well beyond fax machines, JGS is still committed to remaining on top of the latest tech trends in order to move its business forward and build its company culture. Indeed, JGS has changed its office to be more modern with stand-up desks, flexible hours and employee wellness programs, as a few examples of some of its efforts to attract the next generation of insurance professionals, Ken and Vincent explained.
“We as an industry have done a poor job of educating young talent of the multitude of opportunities within the insurance industry,” they said. “Over the next several years, over 400,000 baby boomers will be retiring from the industry, leaving a talent shortage. Ninety percent of people working in the insurance industry never started out with the intention of working in insurance. Once they discover the opportunities, they remain.”
JGS has not only used technology to benefit its staff and operations, however. It has also worked to harness technology in order to make a difference beyond the agency. One example of this is from Superstorm Sandy, Ken and Vincent recalled. Although JGS had a backup generator on site within two days of the storm and was fully functional, most of the state of New Jersey was not, they explained.
“Most folks had limited access to the internet through their cell phones,” they said. “We were ready to start the claims process, but folks could not reach us on their end. This was when we first experienced the power of social media.”
JGS Insurance posted on social media that the office had power and facilities, and the agency opened up its space to local residents that needed to charge their phones and computers. Ken and Vincent recalled a number of people from the neighborhood who stopped by with medical equipment that needed to be charged as well as other electronics, and the agency had food brought in to try to help out members of the community.
“We were also able to communicate ways to get in touch with us through social media,” they said. “By adapting to the technologies available to us, we were able to connect with the community.”
Ken and Vincent said in a company press release that it is humbling to reflect on the agency’s 100-year history and how it has evolved over the last century. They pointed to one mentor throughout their careers as their own father, Sam Hager.
“He was recognized in the industry as an insurance ‘guru’ who understood the complexities of an insurance contract and how one or two words could be the difference that could change the entire outcome of a potential claim,” they told Insurance Journal. “He served as a president of the New Jersey Big I (Independent Insurance Agencies of America) and served on the governor’s panel when they looked into instituting no fault insurance in New Jersey, as well as many company’s advisory panels.”
Now, as the agency aims to build on its 100-year legacy and meet the needs of future generations, Ken and Vincent have some advice of their own for agencies just starting out in the business.
“Think outside the box,” they said. “Challenge the things that have been done in this industry and look for ways to become more efficient.”
And most importantly?
“Do not be afraid to make changes,” they added.
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