Don’t take relationship detours in Insurance: Check out my top 5 foibles

My dad died while I was in college…and you’re thinking what does that have to do with insurance and foibles? Hang on, you’ll see where I’m going. Until then, my college was paid for and I had a lot of fun. After that, I got serious and took on the burden of paying for college. I put on my big girl pants, sucked it up and got a real job. One that paid 80% of my college tuition. In the next 8 years I started working full-time and going to college at night to finish up my degree. You see, I was now on the 9.5-year plan to finish my degree. I just had to finish in less than 10 years. I’d be the only one of my siblings to finish college. I was also the youngest and most spoiled of the three of us.


After graduation, my employer helped me get a job with an Insurance Company. I began as an Assistant Underwriter in Personal Lines. We included Farms there. We hand rated there. We used computer rating there. We didn’t trust the computer there. We spent like 6-months hand rating everything the computer rated. I’m serious. We didn’t think it could be right! For those not of my generation, we wasted a lot of time hand rating!


I cut my relationship chops at this company. I learned many of my best traits here and some of my worst traits. The rest, good and bad, I learned on the road as a Territory Manager many years later. I have way more than 5 FOIBLES! If I told you more you’d wonder how I survived the past 31 years in insurance!


Foible #1:  Talking down to agents that annoyed me.

  • Yeah, I did this a lot. I thought they were stupid. Now don’t get in a huff, I was young and dumb. I didn’t appreciate their experience in the industry. Their years of trial and error. When they didn’t know an underwriting rule, I labeled them dumb in my mind. It didn’t matter that they had 20+ other company underwriting rules to remember every day. What I didn’t understand was that their job was hard. Always hustling to get the next client. Just maintaining their client base. Fixing their client problems. I talked to “Butch” like he was in kindergarten. Yes, he complained about that. I feel bad about it now. I wish I would have taken more time to get to know Butch.


Foible #2:  Making assumptions about an agency – based on one incomplete submission with spelling errors or a heated conversation – know what that makes me?

  • Right now, you’re thinking how did she survive insurance? She did say she became a Territory Manager, right? Did I consider the assumptions those agents made about my reactions to them? Did it reflect on the company I worked for? Absolutely! I looked like a spoiled child! I learned to drop that personality trait. I learned no one is perfect. I learned everyone has bad days. Everyone is fighting a battle we don’t see. I learned agents are human. Even your best agent can make mistakes. What I cannot do is judge them on one action or lack of action. To not to judge them on a poor submit to bind ratio. We should help them remember what a “complete submission” looks like. Coach them into remembering this with kindness. That kindness goes a long way into making you both successful. Remember, it’s not all about you!


Foible #3:  Not knowing that 20% of your agents write 80% of your business.

  • I never realized this during my first underwriting job. Then I saw it in action in my first few years as a Territory Manager. Who do you spend your time with? Is it with the agents/clients that don’t really know your business? Do you try to make them fit into: your way of doing business; your suite of companies; or doing things your way and their needs be dammed? My guess is these time-sucking agents are the bottom third of your agency/client plant. Why are you spending so much time with them? Oh, I know! You think you can change them. Why? What about the 20 agents/clients that consistently send you a business? They renew with you at a high rate. They even know your business process and it fits with their way of doing business? How much time do you spend with them? Not a lot right? These agents/clients will keep coming back even if they don’t get a lot of attention, right? Not always people. Would you keep coming back if you were ignored? I’m a mom so I say nurture that top 20% to keep them coming back for more. Then take the next tier down of 20 agents/clients and start to nurture them. For the rest, try some training/nurturing and if they start growing move them up your list. If they don’t fire them. Yes, I said fire. You need to be ok letting go of agents/clients that don’t fit with how you do business. Let them find somewhere else that is a better fit for them. Where they can be successful. This is kind. This is setting boundaries. This works. Talk to successful agents and company sales folks. Heck, call me.


Foible #4:  Don’t let a boss intimidate you.

  • Or the boss’s boss. Or the president of a company or an agency. I did that early on in my career. Like they say, they put their pants on one leg at a time. If they don’t, they’re wearing a skirt! Life is too short, show respect but don’t be intimidated. Find your voice, speak up and ask questions. I hear its lonely at the top – but is it? I don’t believe that. What I think is that they aren’t challenged often. “This is the way we’ve done it”. Ask why and see what happens. Start talking, listening, and learning from them. They will love it. Seriously, they will. You will learn more about where you work. Why it’s organized in a certain fashion. Why they are going a certain direction. Sometimes you get a gem and find out what didn’t work in the past. Invaluable information to file in your brain!


Foible #5:  CYA

  • Did I say that? Yes, I did. I learned that I needed to keep records to cover my a## for various reasons:
    • agents that tried to say I agreed to something I didn’t;
    • answering insurance department complaints (so fun);
    • E&O issues;
    • my boss might ask me a question about a conversation from a week ago;
    • and my personal favorite, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and someone taking over my spot needs to know about my agents/clients.

Seriously, I know someone who knows someone that got hit by a bus and couldn’t go back to work for a while. That person was forever known as “hit by a bus (insert name)”.  My notes made everything better. They were cute, glittery band-aids keeping the life from being sucked out of my soul! Seriously, it was keeping me accountable. My notes helped me keep the commitments I made to my agents straight. Those yellow legal pads that recorded incoming/outgoing calls saved me more than once! As a rep, notes about my agency visits in the CRM were vital to my survival. Not just because my boss read them! I had hundreds of agents in two states.  Very large and sparsely populated states! That equals lots of windshield time. That equals me not remembering what the heck I talked about or what I found out. These notes were there if I got hit by a bus. I won’t even start to tell you about the crazy birds and that one turtle in Wisconsin…

About Tina Smith

Helping Independent Agents win in the E&S marketplace.

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