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The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel

Learn what this next generation of agents has to say about where the industry is headed—and how they fit into it.
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the new next: 10 young agents under 35 building a future in the independent agency channel

“I like to say that I didn't choose the insurance industry—it pretty much chose me," says Craig Bender, broker at The Archdeacon Agency Inc. in Lake Grove, New York. His mom, Sheri Bender, had worked in insurance since he was born.

As a toddler, “I remember my mom bringing a bag of toys for me as we went to insurance appointments together," he says. “Just recently, I was doing an inspection for one of our clients, and he said, 'I think the last time I saw you, you were in diapers.' It made him smile, it made me smile, and it definitely made me proud of my mom."

Although Bender had always known he would end up in insurance, he hadn't anticipated his entry into The Archdeacon Agency. “In mid-2019, my mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma," he says. “She had to take leave, and at the time the agency just had two employees, so I wanted to help."

Bender was fresh out of high school, and while he had earned his first insurance license, he was working at a car dealership. “I went to Merchants Insurance Group's Producer Training School up in Buffalo, New York, and once I was awarded the master's MVP award, I called my mom on the way home and told her I had put my two weeks' notice in at the dealership so I could help with her agency full time."

“I jumped in knowing that I had some big shoes to fill—I don't think I've filled them yet, but we're working our way there," he says.

Bender went from opening mail to running the day-to-day operations of the agency, growing its staff from two employees in 2020 to 10 today. Most importantly, “now my mom is healthy," Bender says. “She's now taken a bit of a back seat, and after not working for two years she only has to come in three days a week because I can handle everything she had been handling."

“As the second generation, I have a whole lifetime of knowledge one office away from me," he says. “I've learned from the best, and we work every day to be the best agency we can possibly be."

Ultimately, mutual respect for each generation's talents has served Archdeacon Agency well. “What my mom has done in the past has obviously worked because she built this amazing agency, but I also have thoughts and ideas that are bringing us to the next level," Bender says. “She's really giving me wings to fly and I'm thankful for her being on board with my ideas and changes."

Every day, young agents like Bender are making their mark on the insurance industry. What brought them here? What makes them tick? And why are they sticking around? Learn what this next generation of agents has to say about where the industry is headed—and how they fit into it.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Craig Bender

Broker

The Archdeacon Agency Inc.

Lake Grove, New York

Age: 23

Currently streaming: I don't watch too much TV, but if I had to pick, it would be either “Shark Tank" or “Mad Men"

In your earbuds: Hip hop or classic rock

Preferred social media: Instagram

What advice would you give to other young professionals?

They need to step it up and not think that you can make money the fast way or without effort. And when you see successes on social media, it isn't a result just from today—it's years and years of challenging work and hustling.

What do you see happening in the future of the insurance industry?

It is important to stay with the times and change as the industry evolves. While I can't predict the future and I certainly don't control any of the changes, I can control my actions. It's all about keeping up with the technology and staying in the know. I think being a part of the Big “I" is a big help with that.

What are the pros and cons of multiple generations in the workplace?

My generation came up with social media, so I think the ability to use it is a big strength for millennials and Generation Z. I think older generations' strength is that they don't look for the easiest way out. For example, when I started, if I had a question or a problem I could give my mom a call even though she wasn't in the office. But she didn't have that lifeline—she had to do her own research. I think that's what makes the older generation really good at what they do.

Mireya Del Carmen JimenezThe New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel

Commercial Lines Client Account Manager

Catto & Catto, a division of HUB International Texas Inc.

San Antonio, Texas

Gamma Iota Sigma Alumna

Age: 27

Currently streaming: “All of Us Are Dead" and when that gets too dark, I switch to “Gilmore Girls"

In your earbuds: The song “Cactus" by Twice and the true crime comedy podcast “My Favorite Murder"

Preferred social media: Twitter

What's the biggest benefit you've experienced from participating in Gamma Iota Sigma?

Getting to connect with my classmates—not only in my school, but when I went to conferences around the country, I met people from other schools and from the industry. I stayed in contact with people who have helped me find jobs. As a first-generation college graduate, having those connections helped a lot.

What are some of the biggest challenges the industry is facing?

The hard market. I focus on account management for human services and nonprofit accounts, so the hard market is affecting my clients because they have tight budgets and are regulated by government entities. They don't have the resources to stay up to date with their buildings and technology. It requires creativity to get the pricing to where they can sustainably keep working.

Why is insurance a great industry for young professionals?

The majority of insurance professionals are starting to retire. The insurance industry is the perfect industry for kids who are interested in business, even if they don't really know where to go or aren't familiar with how insurance works. If you want to do something with people, there's the account management side. Or, if you want to do something math-related there's actuary. It's the perfect opportunity for the new generation to step up and move up the ladder a little faster than we might have anticipated.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Reuben Hall

Client Service Specialist

Hylant

Independence, Ohio

Age: 33

Currently streaming: “Severance"

In your earbuds: The music of Larry June

Preferred social media: Twitter

What are some of the biggest challenges the industry is facing?

Getting younger folks into the industry. We have to get youth interested and also young people of color. As a person of color, it's a career path I'd never heard of. Many times, you're hearing, “be a lawyer" or “be a doctor," but there are some great opportunities in insurance that are outside the whole sales stereotype.

How can the industry attract more young people?

At career fairs, it's important to get industry faces out there, and not just people who have had 30 years in the industry. When agencies have opportunities, we need to get both younger and more seasoned insurance professionals out there visiting schools. Younger people need to see people their age. As I was looking at the company where I started, I was thinking, “Is there anyone who can relate to the challenges that I'm going to face as a young insurance professional?" It's nice to have someone who can share those experiences with you.

How can young agents help colleagues embrace change?

Sometimes we miss the boat on helping that seasoned insurance professional with technology. Younger agents need to be more patient with the older generation. If we take the time to work with older colleagues, it can help that relationship and help them embrace change. If they see something new, they often go back to what they know how to do because they don't understand how the new technology works. If you're patient when you help them through a change, they'll see how quick and effective it is.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Marena Malcolm

Account Executive

Price & Company

Arkadelphia, Arkansas

Age: 30

Currently Streaming: “The Flight Attendant"

In your earbuds: My playlist varies from Justin Bieber to Randy Rogers to The Eagles

Preferred social media: Instagram

What do you love about insurance?

Building relationships with my clients. You can always dig a little deeper to connect with them. Even if it's just a phone conversation where they want to change a vehicle or have a question about a payment, you have to take the time to build those relationships. I think that's a key piece some people miss.

Advice for other young agents?

Being involved in volunteer opportunities has really helped my career. I sit on the Emerging Leaders Board for the Big I Arkansas eMerging Leaders Committee and we've partnered with Sunshine Therapeutic Riding Center in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Big I Arkansas has opened doors that otherwise wouldn't have been opened. The networking and knowledge that I've gained—you can't put a price on that.

What are the pros and cons of multiple generations in the workplace?

There are more pros than cons. Being able to bounce ideas off of each other would be the biggest pro. I had a mentor here with a wealth of knowledge, but he still used paper books and files, files, files and more files. I was like, “Oh my gosh, we have to scan all this in!" But I learned from him and he learned from me. I learned that sometimes it's good to keep things the way they've been done, and he learned that sometimes it's okay to bring new technology or different ideas. Everyone has to adapt. Nobody's going to be happy if you come in and just want to do things your way.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Jesus Lopez

Licensed Sales Agent

SafeGuard Insurance Agency

McAllen, Texas

Age: 28

Currently streaming: Marvel Studios' “Moon Knight"

In your earbuds: A Star Wars audiobook

Preferred social media: Instagram

How did you end up at an independent agency?

I went to school to study computer science, but with COVID-19 it was hard to find work. I started doing political campaigning for a local politician and through that, I met Abraham Padron, our agency principal. He told me a bit about the business, and I figured I'd give it a shot. I was able to get licensed within the first month or two and then it just went from there.

What do you enjoy about your role?

I like that it mixes several different skills that I have, like problem-solving. With a mathematical background, I like to apply that to matching policies to clients and then communicating that. I enjoy talking to people and explaining what it is that they're buying. That builds a level of comfort with clients so that they're able to come to me with their problems or refer more clients. You really use both sides of the brain.

Do you have a mentor?

The local politician I worked for: Mario Rena. We're doing a bond seminar later this month. He comes from an educational background, so he's very adamant about keeping up with that—both in terms of continuing education and in general. Abraham has been very encouraging, as well. Two months ago, he helped me get licensed as an adjuster, which has given me extra insight into claims. Now, whenever we deal with claims here in the office, I can walk a client through the whole process.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Leah Robinson

Commercial Lines Agent

My Member Insurance Agency

Saginaw, Michigan

Age: 27

Currently streaming: “How I Met Your Father"

In your earbuds: The “Dark History" podcast or The Pandora Now Channel

Preferred social media: Facebook

What are some of the biggest challenges the industry is facing?

Staffing and perpetuation. That's a huge challenge, especially with the new content creator and influencer generation. It's hard to attract talent away from those flashy career choices. Also, fighting back against generations-long stereotypes in our industry is a challenge—that it's boring, that we're too hard to understand, that insurance companies just grab money.

What's the solution?

I think we just need to get in front of younger people sooner. I'm on the Big I Michigan Young Agents Committee, and we're working on getting in front of high school and college students to open their eyes to at least a financial industry career with the hope of getting them to the independent insurance agent side of the business. We need to use social media platforms to debunk the myths about insurance and show how great the industry is. We really are a service industry at heart, and I think we need to show that more to people.

What are the pros and cons of multiple generations in the workplace?

People entering the industry today have the amazing benefit of learning from those who are at or above retirement age. A huge chunk of our industry is at that age, and they are a wealth of knowledge. Those older generations have been through cycles of hard and soft markets. They're a great sounding board for anyone who may be entering the first hard market in our career.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Vianey Butterfield

Owner

Butterfield Insurance Agency

Lakeland, Florida

Age: 31

Currently Streaming: “Sex and the City"

In Your Earbuds: “On Purpose with Jay Shetty"

Preferred social media: Instagram

Why did you start your own agency?

I've always had an ownership mentality. Even when I've worked for other agencies, I've always seen it as my business and my space, so I've always taken care of it, tried to make as much money as possible and make sure that people around me are happy. Everybody always asks you when you're interviewing for a job about your five-year goal. Eight years ago, mine was to have my own agency. At the end of 2019, I was set to open in March 2020—and then everything blew up, so I hit pause on it. I started the agency in September 2021.

What's your vision for your agency?

I want to write quality business, have quality clients and be the go-to agency here in town. I've been here my entire life, so it does help that I know everybody in the community, and I like to be part of it.

I also want Butterfield Insurance Agency to be a place that attracts other younger people to the insurance industry. Or just be a place where they are allowed to have dreams and grow. I know there's a lot of other places to work where they don't care about your dreams, they just want you to be a worker and do what you're told. I don't want to be that type of space. I want to be a space where people can learn, where women of color have a place and where dreamers have a safe space.

What is the best thing about being an independent agency owner?

The freedom to create a space that you've always wanted to create and attract the clients you want. It's awesome to talk to someone, and if they start treating you badly, you can say, “Okay, I don't want to write your business." You can say no! Also, I like the job security. We're going to need insurance forever.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Dalton Adams

Producer

John T. Cook and Associates, a member of Correll Insurance Group

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Gamma Iota Sigma Alumnus

Age: 24

Currently streaming: “Yellowstone"

In your earbuds: Country music

Preferred social media: Snapchat

Why did you choose an insurance career?

Going to Appalachian State's career fairs—where 70% of the companies are insurance companies—and just seeing the vastness of insurance and how much of the business world was made up of it. I didn't know the first thing about insurance until I started in Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS) and was exposed to it and found out the job placement rate postgraduation was great. I met Correll Insurance Group's chief growth officer at a career fair in my sophomore year, and I stayed in touch.

How else has GIS helped your career?

GIS was a big thing for me. I love the relationships that come along with it. I've met people through that organization that, whether they're on the property side or the transportation side, I'm calling them once a week asking if they've got any changes in the markets and what can we write together. They're some of my best friends. I feel like I have endless connections for somebody my age because of GIS.

Where are you taking your career?

I have my own book, and I'm trying to specialize and develop a niche. One area I'm looking at is the glamping industry. I'm an outdoorsy guy, so I feel like I connect with it. Another is marine, because I grew up around boats, dredging and people with marine construction businesses. I see a lot of opportunity in certain professional lines—but I'm sure that could change.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Courtney Squier

Agent and Secretary

Squier Insurance

Hardin, Illinois

Age: 27

Currently streaming: “1883"

In your earbuds: Morgan Wallen

Preferred social media: TikTok

What do you enjoy about your role?

The hustle and bustle of the industry. My dad always told me, “If you snooze you'll lose in the insurance world." It's a fast-paced environment, and I learn something new every single day. It's not the same, same, over and over again. Also, I work with my entire family, so it's always interesting. There's never a dull moment in the office.

Industry challenges?

Keeping up with technology is an ongoing battle. I've learned so much about technology these last three years—and it's growing every day. Technology use varies with the age of our customers. Some like neat online tools, but some of the old-fashioned customers want us to mail or fax them an ID card. Also, the companies that we work with are always upgrading their systems, too, so you've got to stay on your game with the new things coming your way.

How can insurance attract more young people?

I think work-life balance should be a part of everyone's role. I like the quote from Dolly Parton, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life." If you have a good balance, you'll live a more peaceful and happier life. Personally, I find myself more productive after a day off or after the weekend with my family and friends. At our agency, if you have places to go, we're not going to hold it over you. We help everyone out and make sure life comes first.

The New Next: 10 Young Agents Under 35 Building a Future in the Independent Agency Channel Ashley Arikawa

Senior Vice President of Sales

The J. Morey Company Inc.

Cypress, California

Age: 31

Currently streaming: “The Great British Bake Off"

In your earbuds: “Add to Cart" with Kulap Vilaysack & Suchin Pak

Preferred social media: Instagram

How can the industry attract more young people?

Giving younger folks the opportunity to share their experience will change the way people perceive the career path. I was initially drawn to my current employer because of the company culture and had no prior knowledge of the industry. Now, my perspective of the industry has drastically changed; one of the things I really like is that you work with so many types of people, whether it's individuals or businesses, so it makes things very interesting. Knowing that you're helping them and supporting the local community and businesses also adds personal meaning to the work.

How is your sales team navigating the hard market?

We're trying to find the opportunities and the silver linings. We've really amped up the service aspect. We're continuing to cultivate relationships with the right partners so that we're able to provide the appropriate products. While price plays an important role, we're shifting conversations to showcase other value we can bring.

Work-life balance?

When I was choosing a career, I didn't really think about it in terms of the flexibility. But I've really been able to embrace a work-life balance with my current role. I had a child a year and a half ago and it was such a big change in my life. I've been mostly working from home and being able to spend a lot of time with my child while he is at such a young age has been really significant to me.

Will Jones is IA editor-in-chief and AnneMarie McPherson Spears is IA news editor.

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Friday, July 1, 2022
Perpetuation & Valuation