As Young Insurance Agents Look to Future, Many Eye Ownership

April 7, 2008

America’s young independent insurance agents are nearly equally excited about the future of the agency system of which they are a part as they are about their own jobs.

A new Insurance Journal survey found that 79 percent of agents 40 years and younger feel optimistic or very optimistic about the future of the independent agency system.

The same survey found that a substantial 83 percent of young agents are optimistic or very optimistic about their own careers as agents.

Insurance Journal magazine reports on the results in its March 24 issue, along with viewpoints from three young agents.

“I think that there’s more opportunity for independent insurance agents now than I have seen certainly ever before in my career and perhaps more than there’s ever been,” agent Patrick Watkins of Austin, Texas told Insurance Journal.

“The future of young agents? “Wow, where should I stop?” gushed Meghan McGarry, who works for Marshall & Sterling, Inc. in Leeds, New York. “There are a lot of opportunities in this industry; so many I can’t list them all.”

Wisconsin agent Bart Straka also has a positive outlook but is cautious because he feels that the retirement of many Baby Boomers could deplete the professional ranks not only of agencies but also of carriers. “It doesn’t worry me but it’s a concern.”

It’s also a concern to other young agents. Only six percent in the Insurance Journal survey said they were very optimistic about the industry’s ability to attract new talent.

Most young agents (79 percent) are not presently agency owners but more than half of these non-owners (54 percent) have aspirations to be owners someday, according to the report.

For Watkins, that dream has been realized thanks to a father who planned ahead and believed in youth. Watkins is the majority shareholder of the agency now.

Ownership is on McGarry’s radar: “Yeah, I’d love to be an agency owner someday.”

For Straka, it’s not a burning desire. “There was a time when I actually pursued that a little bit. But I realized that as a young commercial producer, if you’re at the right agency, you can get a great education… and if you go out and you do the job and write accounts, your money is completely based on your ability and how hard you work. So with very little capital investment, you’re almost like your own business owner. As a commercial lines producer I was my own business owner.”

Watkins calls his entry into the agency business the “classic” method of entry. “My father was in the business and I followed in his footsteps. I started as the janitor and the inspection person and worked my way up from there.”

Family-owned agencies like Watkins’ are common. In fact, 55 percent of the young agents in the survey said they work for an agency that is family-owned.

McGarry has a sense of their popularity. “The only really young people I have met in the industry are people who have been born into it,” says McGarry, who did not follow in her father’s footsteps but came from another job to get to her current position at Marshall & Sterling.

The Insurance Journal online survey was completed by 356 independent agents between the ages of 20 and 40 during the first 12 days of March.

The full report on the survey of young agents appears in the March 24 issue of Insurance Journal magazine. It includes 101 Things Agents Like Most About Being Independent Agents— and 50 Things They Like Least.

Click herehere to get the issue.

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