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Fast Forward: 5 Young Agents on How Far They've Come

Check in on the progress these young agents have made since they were interviewed five years ago.
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They grow up so fast. Independent Agent interviewed these five young agents in 2016—and since then they've come a long way. 

Here's a glimpse into what's changed in their lives and careers as they step further into leadership and prepare the way for the next generation:

Fast Forward: 5 Young Agents on How Far They've ComeKevin Fukuyama

CEO

J. Morey Company Inc.

Anaheim, California

Age: 33

Currently streaming: Formula 1: Drive to Survive

In your earbuds: The Armchair Expert

Preferred social media: LinkedIn

What's changed over the last five years?

I became an owner, was elected CEO, and brought on some great new partners. This year alone we acquired a really outstanding agency and are finalizing a merger which will mean we just about tripled in size. So, busy—but all good.

I've also become a father of two little girls. With COVID-19 keeping me at home I got to see them grow up and hit all the little milestones, which was fantastic.

Five years ago, you had mentioned your biggest motivation was protecting the things that people worked hard to build. How has that focus impacted your decisions?

That is still my biggest motivation behind the decisions that are made and why I am determined to make our agency the best it can be. I think that if the personal aspect was not part of what we do, I probably would have left the industry a long time ago.

Protecting our clients appropriately starts with education. Even if you have the best intentions, you don't know what you don't know. There could be a gap you are unaware of that is putting your client's business or home at risk. That is why we like to focus on education so much. It has really bolstered what I have been able to do at the agency from both a client service and round-out perspective.

Advice for Gen Z?

Just like any other industry, there is huge variability between how different organizations are run—company culture, career development, work-life balance. The best way to find answers to questions is to be very vocal. Ask the questions that are important to you, and if an employer or prospective employer cannot answer them, then that is a pretty clear sign it is not really a priority for them.

Fast Forward: 5 Young Agents on How Far They've ComeKim Mathews

Owner

Associated Insurance Services

Fishers, Indiana

Age: 33

Currently streaming: The Sinner

In your earbuds: Dolly Parton's America

Preferred social media: Instagram

What's changed over the last five years?

Last time we talked, I was heavily involved in a lot of different networking and community organizations. I think I had shiny object syndrome in the beginning, which is easy to do when you're young and new and trying to build a business, but it's been really good for me to come back to center and focus on my agency processes and being available for my clients.

I've also been traveling a lot more. I'm not married and don't have kids, so being able to get away and explore new places is an important part of my life balance. One thing on my horizon is that I will be moving to Colorado later this year. My agency will be based in Indiana, but I will be managing it virtually and starting a new market.

I think COVID-19 was a really reflective time for a lot of people, and it brought up for me that I'm ready for a change.

Last time you said the industry's biggest challenge was the cheap, one-size-fits-all mentality—is that still a challenge?

I see a lot of consumers that have that thought process, but I also think we've done a good job selling our value to clients and prospects. I've had clients say, “We're going to GEICO because it's cheaper." And then something goes wrong with a claim and they end up coming back to us because they realize that the relationship is important.

However, I do think the biggest challenge in the industry now is making space for young and diverse insurance professionals and ensuring they feel comfortable entering and thriving in a traditionally white male dominated environment. It's our responsibility as the next generation of insurance professionals to make sure we are welcoming people of color, members of the LGBT+ community, young people and women. With diversity comes new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Advice for Gen Z?

Don't be afraid to speak up. When I was first getting started, I was concerned with blending in and not feeling like an outsider. It took a couple years to realize that I know what I'm talking about—I can challenge this, or I can throw out this idea. People are going to respect you more for just getting in there and trying to make things better.

Fast Forward: 5 Young Agents on How Far They've GoneBruce Messier

Sales Executive

Butler & Messier Inc.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Age: 32

Currently streaming: Bobby Flay's cooking shows

In your earbuds: The Insurance Guys, but at two times the speed to get it in on a short commute

Preferred social media: None

What's changed over the last five years?

I purchased a personal lines agency. I was also appointed to the Rhode Island Governor's Insurance Council. I've been working with our state association along with the council to help check out new laws being proposed and trying to make sure the insurance market stays competitive.

In August 2019, I got married, so that was a big change! My wife is originally from Austria, and she came here for her master's degree and to play hockey. She still plays professionally for the National Women's Hockey League. I get to watch her play a bunch and it's good to grow the game of women's hockey.

Five years ago, you saw perpetuation as one of the industry's biggest challenges. Do you still believe that's an obstacle?

Unfortunately, I still do. Attracting young talent is very difficult, especially in our state since it's so small. I think we can do a better job of getting an insurance program into the educational system. On the flip side of not having young talent, all the people aging out means that the whole merger & acquisition game is strong right now. A lot of people don't have a perpetuation plan and are looking to sell out. If you can buy an agency at the right price, it's a great way to grow your business.

Advice for Gen Z?

Read. Not just insurance publications, but also the policies that you're selling. It's what we sell—you should know it like the back of your hand. If you understand the policy, it's so much easier to sell and fill gaps and poke holes and offer more coverage.

Fast Forward: 5 Young Agents on How Far They've GoneKari Sandifer

Account Executive, Property-Casualty

Gregory & Appel

Indianapolis, Indiana

Age: 36

Currently streaming: Yellowstone

In your earbuds: True crime podcasts

Preferred social media: LinkedIn and Facebook

What's changed over the last five years?

The emergence of the captive industry being a viable option for a larger percentage of my client base has definitely created learning opportunities and interesting challenges for me. And adjusting to working from home and a now-hybrid schedule has been a journey. I feel as though I strike a better work-life balance while working from home, but I very much miss the personal interactions with colleagues and clients that you get from being in the office.

Since I last talked with the magazine, I'm proud to say I've earned my Master of Science in risk and insurance from Butler University. I was also able to complete my CRM designation. There were a lot of busy weekends during that process, but it's great to have accomplished all that.

Last time, you said one of the most annoying millennial stereotypes was that they're all lazy. Have you seen that perception change?

Yes, I do feel that's changed. One significant difference I've noticed is that millennials are proactive when it comes to learning on their own. They're willing to adapt, seek instruction and really train themselves versus the old model of output meetings and training sessions. They seem to be adept at pulling the needed information from a source rather than waiting for it to be taught to them. I think that as technology takes a front seat in our industry, millennials will continue to emerge as industry leaders.

You mentioned a millennial stereotype that fits you is how comfortable you are with technology. How has that played out in your career?

It continues to be in everything. No matter what you're faced with in day-to-day operations, there's always some form of technology. As an agency, we pride ourselves on having different avenues for clients, and some of those are technology-based platforms. We try to make the ease of business better for our clients to set our agency apart.

Advice for Gen Z?

Be patient—your opportunity will arise and you are crucial for the future of our industry. I believe Gen Z will be far more efficient and further the perception of the industry as a whole—they're the tech-savvy professionals who can deliver solutions quickly and will definitely make their mark on the industry.

Fast Forward: 5 Young Agents on How Far They've GoneMatthew Washburn

Vice President

Washburn & Wilson Agency Inc.  

Bethel, Vermont

Age: 35

Currently streaming: Schitt's Creek

In your earbuds: The background music at the office, which is '80s rock and roll

Preferred social media: Facebook

What's changed over the last five years?

We joined an aggregate premium organization, North American Insurance Alliance (NAIA), and they've been able to help us leverage their relationship with companies. We don't have to worry so much about dealing with the company side of things. As a very small independent agency, one guy doesn't have much say with a company, so that's a gamechanger.

I got a rescue dog last fall, Charlie, and he hangs out in the office all day so clients get to meet him. The hardest part is that because everyone has their masks on he can get a little scared sometimes.

Last time you said the competitive aspect of managing a well-run business is a big motivator. Has that changed over the years?

That hasn't changed—meeting goals and keeping a business running well and making clients happy. The thing that has changed is what I have to focus on now. My partner is my dad, so as he gets closer to retirement I have to start thinking about hiring more people and transitioning more and more into a formal management role.

Currently, it's just three of us here. We did hire one employee recently—NAIA helped me navigate that, and I also used a Big “I" partner IdealTraits. Hiring people with the same values as far as customer service makes me a little nervous to think about, but I'm sure we'll get it done.

Advice for Gen Z?

Stick it out. There's a lot of different aspects to the industry and one area might fit you better. If you're just getting into it and you're not happy where you are, a lot of other agencies are in need of licensed staff right now and you can find employment somewhere else with a better culture fit for you.

AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.

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Friday, October 29, 2021
Perpetuation & Valuation