How Insurance is like the Karate Kid – Harold’s Story

This article originally appeared on InsNerds.com

“Harold, if you stay in insurance long enough it will get into your blood and it will be hard to get out”. – The owner at my first insurance job in 2004.

Boy was she right! My name is Harold Tracy and here I am thirteen years later and I couldn’t imagine doing much else. I’ll give my three reasons then expound on them; 1. Insurance appeals to my meticulous nature. 2. Insurance is a cool way to meet interesting people and the industries they work in and 3. Insurance has some of the smartest and most caring people in the world working within it!

I spent eleven years working for a few retail P&C agencies in the Northern Virginia area in account management and producer roles. I have now spent the better part of two years on the carrier side in a territory management/sales position.

Insurance is a contract between insured and insurance company that says in exchange for money and compliance with policy and claims conditions we will replace an item or building and/or indemnify you. So, either something is covered or not, that thing is either covered adequately or not. There is little ambiguity. I like this! As a kid I would be the only one to read fine print. I would obsessively find the exception, the one in a hundred/thousand/million thing that would lead to another outcome. It got to the point where my parents would ask ME to read the fine print on certain things to make sure they weren’t missing anything. You can imagine how this skill is useful in the insurance field. I like the crafting process of writing new business. I like comparing forms, endorsements, exclusions and co-insurance clauses.

That said, ours is a PEOPLE business! Yes, you can be versed in the latest edition of the CG 20 37 endorsement, you can know what is new in the latest HO-3 form as well. But, it is the relationships that are built with carrier people, fellow agents, your insured’s and ultimately with your fellow co-workers that separates us from other related fields. I’ll tell you that insurance is the most non-cliquish industry that I have been a part of. The CEO of my current employer is a regular, down to Earth guy who is passionate about doing the right thing for our customers. I have yet to meet someone who is snobbish and thinks that they know it all. Even at various conventions where let’s face it, we are in the room with our competition, the camaraderie is real. When I was on the agency side of the business many people went out of their way to help me, to encourage me and to guide me to a path of success. Being on the older side of young (soon to be 40) I seek to give back and help the newest wave of entrants. (Future post will posit on why we need MANY MORE young people coming to our industry).

I have told several young people in my travels that Property & Casualty Insurance is a cool way to meet interesting insured’s and how they operate their sometimes complicated businesses. One day you might see a few restaurant accounts, the next some garages, on Thursday you may drive out to a farm and on Friday you might inspect some shipping containers. Along the way you’ll learn to read balance sheets and income statements, you’ll learn how to describe a risk to an underwriter to get them comfortable with how to price it. You’ll be in the field (if you choose) and get to learn about how business owner’s successfully manage their employees and risk. Lastly you’ll learn the art of the deal, you’ll learn negotiation skills and learn to rely upon those relationships I mentioned earlier to leverage success. Honestly you’ll learn how to spot sloppy work and mistakes of your competitors all the while having fun and making some real money! All of this in an industry where you don’t need a law degree, a CPA examination or medical school.

In late 2003 I was doing some marketing for a financial planner and part of his suite of services was P&C Insurance. One day he asks me if I have any interest in P&C. Liking my employer at the time and wanting to be as valuable as possible to him I said yes and I’m glad that I did. I passed the exam in early 2004 and split time with him and a small P&C firm a few miles away. Eventually I proved myself to the firm and was brought on full time in mid 2004. I will always be grateful to Alicia for hiring me full time and taking time to really train me in the very basic, nuts and bolts essentials of how an agency runs.

The first 18 months or so we’re frankly a little rough. The work seemed tedious and I felt like I was not making much progress. In retrospect I know realize that I had to earn her full trust. If it meant I had to edit an ACORD form four times before sending it to a carrier, so be it. If it meant I had to endure spot checks on COI’s then so be it. Over time, when I was trained in her image and work ethic she really began to lean on me, she became seriously ill (deceased in 2012, R.I.P.) and I was able to take up a lot of the slack because I had been brought along very slowly. Think of how Daniel LaRusso in Karate Kid hated all the painting and other chores that Mr. Miyagi had him doing. Those repetitive chores allowed him to be champion, the same was true for me.

The proof, as they say, was in the pudding. When the carrier folks would come to visit our agency, they loved to be there, because she was profitable and careful about risk selection. Alicia had known some of them 10, 15, 20 even 30 years and the warm, friendly feelings that were expressed were genuine.

In a future post I will address the serious dearth of training on the agency side that I see now in my role on the carrier side and what I have tried to do about this.

I hope you’ve found this post interesting. I’m looking forward to contributing more in the future.

About Harold Tracy

Senior Marketing Representative at Utica National Insurance Group. I spent 11 years on the agency side of the property & casualty insurance industry and now have worked on the carrier side for 1.5 years in a sales role. I manage the Northern Virginia territory for Utica National Insurance with about 65 agencies.

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