A few months ago, I found myself in the position of having become so visible in the insurance industry that I was getting a few requests for career advice each week. I was spending too much time emailing back and forth setting up phone conversations, figuring out time zones and available times. I decided to automate the process by creating ChatWithTony.com and giving it access to my calendar so people could automatically get on my calendar without the back and forth emails. I announced it on LinkedIn and went on my merry way. I was blown away by the response. So many people have signed up to chat that I ended up having to restrict it to only 2 evenings a week because my girlfriend was complaining I never had time to hang out! Overall, it has been an amazingly rewarding experience, and I have started to see some patterns in the people who sign up to chat. This article is my observation on the types of people who work in insurance today and the types of problem they’re dealing with, the archetypes of insurance professionals in 2017, so to speak. I hope that this will help management all over the industry better understand the plight of our people and how to better lead them.
The Lost Call Center Rep:
Call center reps who have fallen into the industry by accident, who never thought they’d work in insurance, and much less that their college degree would land them in a call center were a big part of why we started InsNerds to begin with. We were the first insurance publication to write about their plight, and we’re very proud that it led to Best’s Review talking about the topic. They tend to have one to three years in the industry and start the conversation telling me how they were ready to give up and leave the industry when a desperate Google search ended up leading them to InsNerds or to Profiles in Risk. They loved our passion for the industry and figured they’d chat with me as a last ditch effort figure out whether there really is a career in insurance past the call center. Their number one complaint is lack of feedback and having truly no clue how to grow in the industry. They also had very little idea on the types of roles available after the call center until they started reading InsNerds and most now have an idea of where they want to go and want some customized advice on how to get there.
This conversation always leaves me energized because all they really need is some assurance and direction, and they’re in such a low point in their careers that I can give them tons of examples of how others have done it. They want to better understand the long-term pay potential of different career paths and whether they’ll really be able to pay their student loans and maybe someday buy a house by working in insurance. Yes, my friend, you can totally do it! I always tell them about CPCU and how it can REALLY be a career maker early in your career and almost 100% of them promise they will start it ASAP. I also encourage them to get involved with the CPCU Society ASAP and to network both in their company and in the industry in general.
The Entry Level Claims Rep:
Claims is a fantastic entry point into the industry, and one of the easiest insurance jobs to get without prior experience, it is great experience for other insurance roles, and you’re doing important work. It’s also not for everyone, especially entry-level in-office claims. Most entry-level claims people I chat with are either burnt out completely and looking for a way out of claims, while some have figured out that they do like claims and want to move up into more interesting claims but have no idea how to get there. For the ones that like claims, I always recommend they get their AIC and maybe their SCLA and/or CPCU while also networking internally to better figure out what their company really values in a claims professional. Those that are unhappy with claims I help them feel better “It’s not you. It’s us. Claims isn’t for everyone, and we have a tendency to bring people into claims and assume they’ll grow there without giving them paths to grow into the rest of the industry.” I tell them about how other areas of claims might be a better fit, especially field claims and tell them about the possibility of becoming an independent adjuster. Most were not aware that IAs existed at all! Some are simply not interested in claims; in which case, we discuss the other areas of insurance and how to get those interviews and how to use their claims background to thrive in those interviews.
The RMI Student:
RMI students are an interesting crowd, and I love chatting with them because they’re in such a great place to jump right into some of the best entry and mid-level roles in the industry. I start by congratulating them on the great choice of studying RMI and ask them how it came to happen. Their stories tend to cluster in two main groups: Those who were business majors and took a mandatory Risk Management class which convinced them to major in RMI and those who attended an event on campus (usually for the free pizza), and were sold on insurance being an awesome career with incredible opportunities for growth. (Very few studied RMI for other reasons, so it’s very important for us to not only encourage schools to add RMI Programs but also to help them recruit students for the program. It’s also crucial to convince schools to field an engaging professor for the first RMI class and to make it mandatory for all business majors).
Most RMI majors I talk to are juniors and seniors. Many have already had an internship or two, and even those that had a bad internship experience are committed to working in insurance, but those that had a good experience are excited about it, the others are a bit concerned. Usually, they’re not very convinced on whether to aim for a carrier or a brokerage and that’s what they want to discuss. I explain to them that as an RMI major they’re in a privileged position and will basically start their careers a few years ahead of the 85-90% of us who didn’t have an RMI major. I encourage them to pursue one of the big underwriting trainee programs, or if their main interest is the brokerage side, I encourage them to make sure they’re very careful when choosing who to work for, to ask lots of question about the training program, who will be their mentor and what is the program’s success rate.
The RMI Grad who feels stuck:
This is one group I was VERY surprised exists. I had assumed that RMI majors were thrilled about starting their careers well ahead of the rest of us, but it turns out Maslow’s hierarchy holds true, even those who have great entry level roles can become unhappy. Usually they’re calling me 18 months to 3 years after they graduated and went through a major training program. They finished the program and became full underwriters, and they’re enjoying the role, but they are starting to feel frustrated that they haven’t yet been promoted to Senior Underwriter or they’re unhappy with their geography and looking to move to an area they’d be more excited to live in. Generally, I talk them off the ledge, remind them how lucky they are and how given the coming demographic crisis they’re pretty much guaranteed a great career. I also encourage them to pursue CPCU in order to keep growing and remind them that even with all the education in the world, getting experience takes time. Those that already finished their CPCUs seem to have the same complaint: they like their current company, but they’re getting recruited hard on LinkedIn for jobs paying 20-30% more than their current role. They like their current company, but they feel that unless they can figure out a way to get a big promotion soon they’ll have to leave because of the huge pay differential. In that case, I remind them that being happy with your job is worth a lot of money and to be careful about jumping only for money. Some finish the conversation with “I never thought about how lucky I have been and what a great position I am in”. They just needed to be reminded of that. (Editor’s note: Managers: Take note of this! Millennials may seem entitled. . . But Real, Candid Feedback goes a long way! Especially if they believe that you care the way Tony does.)
The Drowning Agent:
I’ve always been very carrier focused, so I never expected agents to call in. There are two types of agents that call in: the young agent who isn’t making any money and the middle-aged successful agent who is worried about the future. The young one is a pretty easy conversation. They’re generally personal lines-focused agents working at small agencies (most of them at captive agencies). They’re struggling with extreme competition in the marketplace and finding it nearly impossible to build a book today. Their bosses who built a book decades prior have no idea on how to build a book today, so they’re getting very little guidance, are spinning their wheels, and overall, are making very little money for a lot of work. I listen to them and ask them if they actually like selling insurance. Most of them do not. I explain my thoughts on the agency system and how it made sense 30 years ago, but in many ways, doesn’t make economical sense today (in personal lines), and tell them how it’s much better on the carrier side and give them some ideas on how to make the transition. For those that do like selling insurance, I strongly recommend moving to a larger brokerage and focusing on commercial lines. I explain that it takes 5-10 years to build a solid book but that they can make amazing money if they make it. These conversations have made it crystal clear to me that something has to give, sooner rather than later, on the personal lines agency side of the business. Young agents are having a MUCH harder time building a book compared to what it was like before Geico/Progressive/etc commoditized the market and made it a mostly priced based game. I almost never get calls from Commercial Lines Brokers which confirms my thoughts that in commercial lines, things are going well, those who make it are very happy and too busy writing business to call me for career advice. Good for them!
The Part of the Furniture seeking a new stomping ground:
I’m always a bit worried when I get a call from somebody who has a lot more experience in the industry than I do, I just want to make sure I give them some nugget of wisdom that I’ve gained from my broad (not deep) experience and from running InsNerds and attending tons of insurance conferences… There is a particular type of mid-career professional that calls often, they have been at the same company for 10+ years and while they had a promising first few years they feel that they have lost steam and are just not progressing as fast as they used to. They are usually upset that other less experienced colleagues have come in from other companies and either have better jobs or get paid better than they do. They’re generally not unhappy with their job itself, it’s more about the overall context of the company and how they feel they have not been rewarded appropriately for their dedication and loyalty.
I help them figure out whether there’s a particular company or department that they’re interested in, or whether it’s just a matter of not feeling properly rewarded. I also remind them that there’s a lot of value in being happy with your job and your boss and that they’re taking a risk by making a move, while at the same time confirming that the research says they’re probably making a lot less money than they could if they moved around a little more. I’m always surprised by how few LinkedIn connections they tend to have outside of their own companies and remind them that networking can really pay off in the long term. I usually recommend CPCU, Toastmasters and the book “Never Eat Alone”. If they’re introverts I also recommend “Quiet” by Susan Cain. (Editor’s Note: Great advice here, but we should also think about how we can better reward these individuals. Institutional knowledge in a knowledge-based ecosystem is worth something, and it’s disappointing to see that we don’t value it.)
The Wanna Be Adventurer Desk Jockey:
Many of us just hate being in the office! Generally the Wanna Be Adventurer is not unhappy with the actual job but is bored with being inside all day. These tend to be overwhelmingly male and young. I usually tell them about field claims, national catastrophe, independent adjusting, risk control, and sales manager/territory manager type roles, and give them some ideas on how to make the move to one of those.
The Well-Off But Bored:
This group is very interesting, they have a great job they love, are making great money, have been promoted somewhat recently and overall have done very well for themselves. They tend to be older Millennials like myself (both men and women). They’re doing interesting work and getting rewarded appropriately. They see a future in the industry and are aware of how the demographic crisis is putting them in a great position for the rest of their career, but yet somehow they’re not happy. Their most common complaints are “I’m not learning anymore” and “I’d like to work with people my own age.”
I remind them of how well they’re doing and how lucky they are, then I remind them that with the demographic crisis they’re in an amazing place, that they just need to be a little patient. I recommend they jump into extra insurance education to jumpstart their learning (CPCU, CIC or whichever designation related to their area they haven’t done yet) and encourage them to become active with the CPCU Society (or whichever other industry organization is active in their area), become a mentor, help us recruit new talent, and to write some guest articles for InsNerds. Generally, by the time we hang up, they tell me all they needed was a reminder of how they’re in a great place for the future and talking to somebody who is passionate about the industry.
The Geographic Refugee:
They’ve been working happily at a regional office for years, and now their office is closing, and they don’t want to (or can’t) relocate to another area, so they’re looking for their new opportunity. They’re very interested in remote work opportunities, so this doesn’t happen to them again in the future but are also open to a normal in-the-office job locally. These conversations are hard because there’s no good answers, especially if they work in an area that doesn’t have a lot of insurance opportunities. I mostly offer them a friendly ear and search my LinkedIn for connections near their area to see if I can open any doors for them. I really hope as an industry we figure out remote work soon, so people don’t needlessly find themselves in this situation in the future.
The Former Lifer:
“I thought I was going to retire from here, but the company has changed.” That’s the start of most conversations with the former lifers. They generally started at their company right after college and have grown up the ranks sometimes as high as manager level. But the company has changed, usually the complaint is that it’s getting “callcenterized”, numbers are all that matters now, and it doesn’t feel that people are important anymore (employees or customers). Interestingly, most of them already have their CPCU, but they have very small LinkedIn networks because they never thought they’d need them. They are looking for another company that provides the same feeling of being a big family that they used to get, the same feeling of being part of something bigger. Generally, we discuss what I’ve heard about other companies in their area, and I offer to open some doors for them.
The Young Account Manager:
I’ve never worked in an agency myself, but I’ve worked with them as underwriter, sales manager and now through InsNerds. The most common concern I hear from agencies is how hard it is to replace a retiring CSR or Account Manager. They swear there’s just no young people who want to do the job long-term. Then I get calls from young CSR/Account Managers and they’re frustrated. They feel that they’re the lifeblood of the agency (in my experience this is generally true) but that the producers get all the rewards, especially the pay. They respect their older counterparts who have been at the same agencies for decades and are getting close to retirement, but they’re more ambitious and are unwilling to stay at the agency without a clear path for long-term career growth other than becoming a producer. I talk to them about how incredibly well paid the producers are if they’re successful, but generally they’re just not interested in a sales type of position. They’re detail oriented professionals who like to focus on retention of existing accounts. I tell them that I hear in my conversations that many large agencies are starting to reconsider their compensation and career planning essentially moving profits away from retired-on-the-job producers who are making a killing on renewals but not bringing in any new business, and moving it towards better paying the rest of the team and creating more interesting career paths for them. They love that this is coming but are worried it won’t get there fast enough. If they’re at a larger brokerage I recommend they look for alternative roles that aren’t producing or account managers, things like project management or special projects, and if they can’t find those then it might be time to consider a switch to the carrier side. Most of them would probably make excellent underwriters.