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Fresh Perspective: 10 Young Agents Talk Shop

10 independent agents in their 20s and 30s share insights on the insurance industry in 2020—and where they plan to take it.
Sponsored by

Cameron Annas chose Appalachian State University for its risk management program. But after graduating and joining Granite Insurance in Granite Falls, North Carolina, “it was more about figuring it out on your own,” he says, “which is why I’ve been so passionate about formal training programs and career tracks at our agency.”

Equipped with the task to grow and perpetuate the agency, Annas helped forge a relationship with Appalachian State’s risk management program and their career fair, which grew into a yearly recruiting event called the Keystone Challenge and fitted perfectly with the agency’s niche: challenge courses and zip lines.

“After the career fair, we invite about 30 of the top risk management students to a high ropes course. We divide them in teams and issue them a challenge,” Annas explains. “You can learn about a person by how they act in the team. Do they lead their team and go to the top? Do they work with their team and take the team as far as they can go as a group? Who sticks out in that group as the leader?”

“It’s like an interview at 40 feet in the air,” he continues. “It’s easy to lie to someone when you’re sat across the table from someone in a suit in a comfortable environment, but it’s very difficult to lie about yourself when you’re 40 feet in the air.”

Afterward, each candidate is interviewed in the traditional sense. The selected interns are offered a unique opportunity to learn about the industry from a variety of perspectives. During the eight-week program, interns learn about every facet of an agency and are exposed to various aspects of the industry, including an “intern swap” where interns are sent to another agency or brokerage to take in another perspective.

Every day, millennial insurance professionals are bringing fresh ideas and a new outlook and falling in love with the industry. What brought them here? What makes them tick? Why are they sticking around? Learn what 10 millennial agents have to say about where the industry is headed—and how they fit into it.

Cameron_AnnasCameron Annas

Vice President of Business Development
Granite Insurance
Granite Falls, North Carolina


Age: 29

Recently binged TV show: Ozark

In your earbuds: The Connected Insurance Podcast

Most used app: Everydollar Budgeting App

Industry challenges?

Talent recruitment, the age gap and perpetuation. However, that’s also the biggest opportunity, and we’re fully taking advantage of that through our internship program and hiring young talent. The day before I joined the agency the youngest employee was 45 years old. Today, over 50% of our staff is under 40 years old.

What’s to love?

It lets you add value to companies and individuals’ lives. I love it because I’m directly involved in my clients’ lives. I’m not the underwriter where I just see an application and a submission. We’re actually talking with them. The work-life balance is great, but it’s also difficult. It requires structure to not be working from home all the time. That’s one thing I’ve struggled with, finding the self-discipline to cut it off.

Your niche?

We just stumbled upon one opportunity in North Carolina. It was someone that built challenge courses and zip lines all around the United States. We realized it was an underserved market and decided to develop it and make a run at it. There was only one other person who wrote this type of insurance and now we control about 65% of the marketplace.

Characteristics to look for during the challenge?

Leadership is important but even bigger than that is being a team player. We don’t want someone that’s in a four-person group but just leaves the entire team. Also, we like to see encouragement. People who encourage people in their group but also encourage their competitors to be better and cheer them on. If they’re doing that in a competitive environment, then they’re more likely to do it in the workplace with their coworkers and help them be better—even if it doesn’t benefit them individually. Physical strength is helpful, but if you don’t have it, that’s fine. It’s more about how you interact with your group and how far you get based on your own comfort zone.

Dallas_RossDallas Ross

Account Manager, Personal Insurance
Paynewest Insurance
Beaverton, Oregon

Age: 27

Recently binged TV show: All American; Tiger King

In your earbuds: Amazon Music’s Work-From-Home Playlist

Most used app: Instagram

Why Insurance?

My dad has been in insurance for my whole life. I kind of grew up in the industry—going to conventions and work functions with him. I decided that was where I was going to start a career. I started right out of college in personal lines. I just really enjoy making relationships, solving our clients’ problems and helping them come up with solutions for their issues and concerns.

Role model?

I’ve watched the way my dad leads and being able to see that has been inspiring and fun to watch as his daughter. That kind of set the tone for how I work day-to-day. He gave me the confidence that I’m totally capable to do my job, do it well and be the best at what I’m doing.

Millennial stereotypes?

Millennials have a reputation of jumping around jobs and not really having a focus on what they want to do long term. I am very different from that. I knew in college that I wanted to go into insurance and I’ve been doing that for the last seven years, all at the same agency.

Industry challenges?

Insurance is not seen as a sexy option compared to other industries or, here in Oregon, working at a place like Nike. Insurance doesn’t really have that reputation. I think it’s really about trying to educate young people about the reality of an insurance career and how it looks long term. In a time like right now, it’s a very stable career, and it’s nice to not have to worry about that.

Tyler_SchapiroTyler Schapiro

Vice President
Fourth Insurance Office, Inc.
Palm Beach, Florida

Age: 28

Recently binged TV show: Ozark

In your earbuds: Business Wars Podcast

Most used app: Strava

Why insurance?

I had an untraditional path into insurance. My background is in finance and accounting. I’m a CPA and a CFA Charterholder. I started my career as a risk management consultant with Deloitte LLP in New York City where I primarily worked with private equity and venture capital fund clients. Following Deloitte, I worked in investment banking with BNP Paribas where I focused on structuring asset-backed debt securities.

While banking initially seems quite different from insurance, the essence of that job was thinking about risk and identifying the natural holder of that risk. At Fourth Insurance, we take a very similar approach to how we think about placing a unique insurance risk. In my current role, I primarily advise financial institutions, investors and boards on risk management and insurance matters.

Insurance challenges?

One challenge is the current rate environment following such a prolonged soft market. We have really seen a shift in this market, particularly financial lines. Rates are rising and, for some industries, quite dramatically. Capacity has also been constrained. We expect this trend to continue.

Coronavirus?

The current health crisis and resulting economic slowdown has created an unprecedented and challenging environment for many industries, so rising cost of insurance is going to be one of many challenges companies will be managing.

A lot of carriers are making meaningful accommodations. Whether it’s in extensions or cancellation suspensions, it’s the role of agents and brokers to communicate what type of accommodations are available.

I think there’s some risk, whether it be financial or reputational, relating to the treatment of virus-related business interruption coverage. While there certainly is some misunderstanding regarding policy language and the events necessary to trigger such coverage, it appears that it’s going to be the focus for many plaintiff attorneys who are bringing suits against carriers.

Bryan_GrahamBryan Graham

Forest Products Manager
Associated Insurance Services
Boise, Idaho

Age: 32

Recently binged TV show: Ozark; The Office

In your earbuds: Pardon My Take; The Daily; Throughline

Most used app: Email

Industry challenges?

There will be some threats to the role of an agent and broker in the future. You already see that with direct insurers like GEICO on the personal insurance side of things. That will undoubtedly start to find its way to commercial insurance as well. However, that’s more of a commodity game where who can find you the cheapest price is the only thing that matters. Since recently joining The Beyond Insurance Global Network, our agency has completely transitioned away from that transactional mindset of insurance and instead focuses on a process that identifies the needs of our customers and finds ways to help their businesses succeed outside of the normal insurance procurement process.

Work-life balance?

Work to live, not live to work. I love my job and what I do and I take it very seriously. But I’ve always felt that if you work hard then you should also be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Life goes by too quickly to spend some of your best years worrying about work the whole time. My priority will always be my beautiful wife Shannon, our families and our soon-to-be first child who is due in September.

Goals for the future?

At this point, my top priority is to make sure our company can provide excellent and fulfilling careers to all of our employees and complete our agency’s transition from “up-and-comer” to the benchmark of what every agency in Idaho strives to be.

The future of insurance?

There will always be a place in insurance for insurance agents and brokers but not necessarily in the same capacity that they’ve been used in the past. Agents are going to have to bring something new to the table. At Associated Insurance Services we are risk advisers, and our No. 1 goal is to prevent something bad from happening to our clients in the first place, not just making sure the claim is covered when it inevitably occurs.

Kenny_BakkoKenny Bakko

Account Executive
Morris Insurance Group
Rochester, Michigan

Age: 32

Recently binged TV show: Tiger King

In your earbuds: Eric Church; Sam Hunt; Lee Brice

Most used app: Slickdeals

How did you get started?

I started my career at a commercial real estate company and got into insurance through one of the tenants at the properties that we managed. A cousin of theirs owns an Allstate agency, so I started there. I ended up talking with Vince, an independent agent that insured all the properties for the real estate company. He convinced me to join the independent side. I was only selling personal lines insurance and I wanted to dive into commercial lines. The independent side gave me more opportunity.

Role model?

I say it all the time, but I don’t think I would be where I am today without Vince. I don’t know anyone else who would have given me the opportunity or pushed me to work. It was nice that I was able to be very close to him, because I could always walk over to his office and ask a question. He was very willing to help me. I’m thankful for him, because I hadn’t had anyone in my life in a long time who actually wanted to see me succeed. And he still helps me today.

Work-life balance?

Our agency owner doesn’t expect us to be in the office every day. He gives us a lot of flexibility and lets us work at our own pace. That’s what drives me to produce as much as I do. The low stress environment definitely motivates me to work harder and without that I would not be as successful as I am today. 

The agency owner also said, “In the future, if you have a family, if there’s a day you want to take off just to spend time with the kids, you can work from home or you can leave early.” That’s what drew me in, because it’s the balance that I want. Growing up, my dad worked two jobs to keep a roof over our heads. My siblings and I hardly saw him, and I want to spend time with my kids in the future.

Monica_AdwaniMonica Adwani

Division Manager
G&N Insurance—A Hilb Group Company
Southborough, Massachusetts

Age: 34

Recently binged TV show: Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D

In your earbuds: Gospel music

The app you use most: Amazon Shopping

What do you love about insurance?

I know I’m doing something to protect people, even when they don’t know it, such as when they view it as a commodity or an expense. I know it makes a difference in the world. For me, it is not just a team selling a policy—it is making sure families and financials are protected.

Why start an insurance career?

Insurance is a versatile universe. You don’t know where it can take you. Insurance is involved in politics, the environment and every industry. It’s embedded in everything you see and touch. It doesn’t matter what career path you want to take, anything you want to do, you can do it here. You get to be exposed to so much. I think the taboo and fear of change is holding the industry back. In doing that, the new generation has so much to offer. I believe that employers need to give millennials a chance to really apply their ideas, which are not crazy, but innovative, and we can all work toward improved productivity.

Goals for the future?

To build a new world for independent agents where they do not have to fall into what Mom-and-Pop did. I want to use technology and be successful. Our industry is so archaic that younger generations have no idea how they can make a difference. It’s time for them to see that they can. We can show them by talking more about it, because they have a lot to offer.

Work-life balance?

The coronavirus pandemic is an example of the flexibility in an insurance career. Most agencies out there are really struggling with people working from home. But we are a young agency—almost 80% of the people here are under 40 years old. We started working from home a year ago, so there have been very few changes to us, and it has benefited us parents to be able to comply with our responsibilities.

Katie_BrewerKatie Brewer

Risk Management Analyst
InterWest Insurance Services
Chico, California

Age: 24

Recently binged TV show: Sopranos

In your earbuds: The solo careers of former One Direction members

Most used app: Google

How did you get started?

I got a degree in business administration and finance. One of the elective classes I chose was risk and insurance because it sounded interesting. Every once in a while, my professor would have speakers from different agencies or companies come in and talk about what their company does and familiarize us with the insurance world. A couple of people from InterWest came and presented in my class one evening. They were talking about an internship program they were offering, so I ap-plied and I got the internship. That put my foot in the door at InterWest.

Why insurance?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I chose finance because numbers make sense to me. I really wanted to do something that made an impact on people’s lives, but I didn’t know what that would be. I hadn’t really considered insurance until I took that risk and insurance class, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the semester when it just kind of clicked for me.

I grew up in an insurance family—my mom works in employee benefits, my granddad was a Farmers agent, and then there’s insurance on my dad’s side too. I’d kind of put insurance out of my mind as an option, but something in that class just made sense to me and it was like everything aligned.

Industry challenges?

In terms of attracting new or young people, I think nobody really considers insurance. We need to communicate with younger people, and let them know that insurance is a really good career option. It’s so much more than what we see on TV, and there’s a spot for everybody—it’s so much broader than how it’s portrayed.

Kyle_BeggsKyle Beggs

President
RCI Insurance Group
Claremore, Oklahoma

Age: 34

Recently binged TV show: Tiger King

In your earbuds: Audible Books

Most used app: Email; Zillow; Facebook

Best thing about being independent?

It was tough at State Farm when there was a big rate increase and a customer would call you and say, “I’ve been with you for 15-20 years, I’ve never had a claim, and the price has gone up like crazy three years in a row.” I’d have to sit there and say, “Yep, I’m sorry. I can give you great service, but there’s nothing else I can do.”

Now, I’m not married to any one company, and I can give them the best coverage for the best price. That’s a huge trust factor with your clients, because they know you can go to bat for them.

Multiple generations in the workplace?

You can never replace experience. The gentleman I bought out at our agency is one example: all the guys refer to him as the godfather of insurance—it’s respect. You need a mix of young, up-and-coming people that are learning the industry alongside people who have 30-40 years of experience. When we all work together it makes a heck of a synergy. And don’t get me wrong, we disagree all the time. But if you can work on it and compromise, you’ll come to a much better result than you ever would by yourself.

Future of the industry?

Everyone is nervous about being replaced by technology, but relationships will always be the trump card. People don’t necessarily trust insurance companies, but they trust their agents. There will always be a need for an agent.

The worst thing that we can do as an industry is fail to embrace technology. We can either adapt and try to be successful, or be like Blockbuster and try to do it like we always have. If we embrace the changes, I think it can be another huge asset to being independent.

Heather_BeckeHeather Becke

Personal Lines Account Manager
Joseph W. McCartin Insurance, Inc. 
Beltsville, Maryland

Age: 33

Recently binged TV show: Lost

In your earbuds: Tom Petty; Rolling Stones; Elton John

Most used app: Workout Woman

Why insurance?

I always wanted to be in something where I helped people. I used to work at an attorney’s office, which is on the same floor as Joseph W. McCartin Insurance, Inc. I started talking with them, and they asked me to come on board, take the training classes and get licensed. My dad’s uncle actually had his own book of business and sold it to the company I now work for. And I had no clue until I started working there—I felt like it was meant to be.

What’s to love?

Being able to help my clients. They call in, I listen to what they need, and we see what we can offer. I like to help them and let them know that we’re going to protect them, we’re going to give them what they need and more. Depending on their situation we’re like personal assistants to some of these clients. They have huge policies with us.

Challenges?

Rates are the biggest challenge for us. But even when rates go up, a lot of clients we work with like us, they want to stay with us, and they’re not going to move to save $100. We try to sell our service, but sometimes we do lose out. A big challenge for me is having to explain why rates went up. I’ve been with the agency for 12 years, and from when I started until now, I have seen an increase across the board.

Work-life balance?

When I’m done for the day, I cut all ties and just have family time. When I started in the business, I brought this stuff home because I was learning, making mistakes and growing. But as the years have gone on, I told myself to leave it at the door.

Vivian_TranVivian Tran

Associate Financial Analyst
Parker, Smith & Feek
Bellevue, Washington

Age: 25

Recently binged TV show: Tiger King

In your earbuds: Crime Junkie Podcast

Most used app: Facebook

Why insurance?

When I was finishing up my degree in finance, I was working at a retail store and a customer said, “Oh wow, I love your customer service. I work at Symetra. If you would like a job after college, let me know and I would be happy to help you.” So I sold her a pair of shoes and that’s how my insurance career started.

What’s to love?

I had a moment of realization helping a group with their benefits and their renewals. We got so many messages from their employees thanking us, because we got them really great rates, and they were happy because, prior to that, they weren’t able to put their spouse on their plan or even afford the medical benefits. That was a big change for them; to have access to health insurance that’s affordable and covers their spouse or their kids. Being able to do that is really nice because you’re impacting someone’s health.

Technology?

Our company just came out with an app. All employees have it downloaded on their phone, and it will let you know where you’re at with your deductible and can help you find your closest in-network providers. A lot of places are now adapting, creating their own apps and understand that a lot of users are more receptive to technology; they want that easy access.

Future of insurance?

The coronavirus pandemic will impact the future. I think it definitely exposed some of the weaknesses we have, not only in the healthcare industry, but in insurance as well. I hope that after all this is over, we’ll be able to reassess health care, and if something like this happens again, we won’t have to be as reactive next time.

Will Jones is IA managing editor.

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Monday, July 27, 2020
Perpetuation & Valuation