Tell me a little bit about how you found your way into insurance?
I came into it by accident like many people in this business. I was between jobs as a teacher and coach and was looking for a new career.
I ended up going to work for the Independent Insurance Agents Association in North Carolina in an administrative position. I quickly learned that I enjoyed adult education.
While at Wake Forest University what did you get your degree in?
I was actually an English major and went on to get my Masters in English literature.
In 1982 you moved to Texas to join IIAT – what encouraged you to move to Texas?
The size of IIAT’s organization and the resources available meant that I could implement programs in Texas that would not be possible in the size organization we had in North Carolina.
You spent a large portion of your career as Director of Education – from your perspective how has agent education changed and what skill sets or knowledge do you think are essential to success as an independent agent today?
Technology has had a big impact – a lot more training and professional education is available online. The quality of this education has improved significantly over the last five years.
One of the major changes I have seen has been the transition to on-demand training. When I started in the business agents had to learn the business and keep going back to classes to study the contract and service elements associated with the sale of insurance. You used to have to carry that around in your head.
Today everything is on-demand which why IIAT built a state-of-the-art website, InfoCentral, which agents can access 24/7 as a resource for technical insurance information.
Learning to use technology to separate themselves from the rest of the market is critical for independent agents. They have always built a book of business off of personal relationships. They are very good at creating these relationships and maintaining them over time as they act as a business advisor to many commercial businesses as well as individuals. Being able to translate that into the world of the internet and the technology that’s available today is a critical step for the independent agent.
Using technology to communicate their strengths as an advisor to their customers will be important moving forward for independent agents.
Looking back over your career, what accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
I am most proud of every person I have helped train and build a career. If I made someone’s career advancement possible through training I did or offered through IIAT, I am proud of that.
As Executive Director for the last twelve years, I have increased the emphasis on how to manage a business effectively significantly. No matter how much you know about insurance or how good of a salesperson you are, you have to know how to manage your business in order to be successful. I feel like this has been something that has benefitted our members.
In addition, building InfoCentral was a key thing we did as well as expanding into life and health insurance as a lot of our members are writing benefits which they were not doing ten years ago.
What were some of the major initiatives you promoted and with the benefit of hindsight how have those affected the independent agents?
Ensuring that our agents see us (IIAT) as resource that’s a valuable and integral part of their business because we offer reliable, current information has been central to what we’ve done. Having people that that agent can reach out to with either technical or regulatory questions is important and adds value to our relationship with the agents we serve.
When you select a new Executive Director, if you had to narrow down your advice to the three most important things to succeed in the role, what would they be?
Patience, persistence and personal relationships.
Patience because working with volunteers who cover this organization takes patience to bring everyone along at the same speed.
Persistence is very important in developing services for our members.
Personal relationships, because agents are very personable people and part of the fun part of this job is making so many friends across the state. It is not just a professional relationship. I have been able to develop many deep personal relationships through the course of my career.
I think these things would stand any person in good stead in this job.
Looking to the future, what the most significant challenges and opportunities for independent agents?
Making the transition from on-on-one personal relationships with customers where people drop by the office to using technology to communicate that relationship is going to be a critical challenge for the independent agent.
In addition to technology, agents are going to have to manage their businesses more efficiently as carriers continue to squeeze commissions. This means there will be less money to do the things agents have always done to be successful. Many agents will find new revenue sources as well as ensuring they are running the most efficient operation possible.
A big opportunity I see is the consolidation of different types of businesses serving small businesses. You are going to see insurance agents, attorneys and accountants operating as a team of advisors to small businesses at less cost than they currently do today individually. That kind of collaboration is something you are already seeing develop.
Post IIAT what are some of the activities and things you are looking forward to doing and being involved in?
For six months it is going to involve a pick-up truck and a couple of dogs. I am a big hiker and camper and enjoy spending time in the wild. After that I might do some teaching if the opportunity presents itself. I am also passionate about children’s issues and might spend some time working on projects that assist underprivileged children. These are the two things that are on my mind now.