The Big I held its annual Young Agents conference at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans last week. In the midst of the event, Louisiana Comp Blog sat down with Big I officers to ask about what they think the future will look like for today’s young agents.
Johnny Beckmann, Senior VP of Commercial Lines Sales at Assured Partners in New Orleans, and IIABL President, encouraged young agents to concentrate on building relationships in a shifting technological landscape.
Comp Blog: How did you get started in the insurance industry?
Beckmann: I got started in 1989, after I graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans. My father was in the industry growing up and I always wanted to be an insurance agent. After graduating, I thought I was going into the agency side, but my father thought it would be better for me to get some product knowledge. So I went and worked for the Gray Insurance Company. There, I spent a year in underwriting, six months in loss control and reinsurance, and then management. In 1994, my father told me, “if you want to make the jump make the jump.” So in 1994 I started on the production side and that’s where I’ve been since then.
Comp Blog: What perspective can you offer regarding family owned and operated independent agencies? Is it an advantage to work with family?
Beckmann: It is an advantage in one sense because you’re a little more comfortable with the product knowledge because you’ve been around it your life. The learning curve is a little steeper if you come in green. There are also pitfalls when working in a generational agency – the standards are high and your Dad is your boss!
Comp Blog: The insurance industry as a whole suffers from a talent crisis – not enough millennials are entering the business. What would you say to a young person who thinks a career as an independent agent is boring or irrelevant to the modern world?
Beckmann: I would tell them that selling insurance is very relevant to today’s world, particularly business insurance. In order to make that sale, you have to make it relevant to that business owner. Anyone that has had a bad claims experience understands how a good agent helps everyday people.
Comp Blog: How much of a threat do you feel online direct writing and insurtech pose to young producers, and to established people in the business such as yourself?
Beckmann: I think purchasing insurance online has long been coming and it’s needed. Our industry has done a terrible job of embracing that technology. The time it takes for an independent to place a piece of business – we’re still doing handwritten applications and emailing back and forth with the carriers. We have to speed that up. Insurtechs are pushing us, and it’s a positive pressure on us to improve consumer satisfaction.
The national Big I has been looking at this issue for eight years. As a response, we’ve developed a program called Trusted Choice. It brings the independent agents together to bring consumers to our individual websites using keywords in a centralized search.
Comp Blog: What advice do you have for young agents just starting out?
Beckmann: Spend time learning the product and learning your competitor’s products. It takes years for a producer [to learn the products]. Then you have to learn how to explain these details to a layperson. I would also advise – if you sell on price you’re going to lose on price. You can get a few accounts that way but you won’t keep them.
The other piece of advice I’d offer is to put your phone down. You can do business on your phone, that’s fine, but when you’re in a social setting or approaching a customer, put it away. Young agents are most likely selling to people 55+ years of age. Knowledge and how you present yourself are very important in that scenario, and pecking away at your phone while you’re trying to make a sale is unprofessional.