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Changing Channel: Meet Your New Big 'I' Chairman

Incoming chair Mike McBride is guided by the Big “I" mission statement: “To provide members with a sustainable, competative advantage." And in today's market, this mission is as important to Big “I" member agencies as ever.
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changing channel: meet your new big 'i' chairman

Mike McBride, president of Mason-McBride in Troy, Michigan, is guided by the Big “I" mission statement: “To provide members with a sustainable, competative advantage." And in today's market, this mission is as important to Big “I" member agencies as ever.

The hard market is straining client and company relationships, other economic pressures—inflation, supply-chain pressure and more—are adding to the complexities of doing business in 2023, and the independent agency system is undergoing a technological renaissance where it is finally beginning to realize the effect of a decade of investment and innovation.

With the challenges that lay ahead, McBride recognizes that communication and technology—two priorities that the Big “I" has invested in—will provide an axis for the success of future generations of members.

Prior to his installation as Big “I" chairman at the Big “I" Fall Leadership Conference, Sept. 6-10 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Independent Agent magazine talked with McBride about his professional journey, the challenges faced by the industry, and his vision for the future of the Big “I" and the independent agency channel.

How did you get started in insurance?

My father was an agent and my grandfather was an agent, so I joke that it was genetic. But I actually intended to get into the business. My undergrad degree at Ferris State University was in insurance management. Before coming into the agency side of the business, I worked for Michigan Mutual for a couple of years. I worked in the agency for about three years and then decided to go to law school, which has been a great tool because the legal business and the insurance business are like first cousins.

What is your approach to running your agency?

We have about 30 employees, and we're 70% commercial, which includes benefits, and the rest is personal lines, of which a significant portion is a result of our commercial clients. We tend to define ourselves by the things we don't pursue versus the things we do pursue. We try to stay away from the transactional aspect of client engagement and focus more on the advice and consultation aspect of business. We don't view the client in terms of their operation, we view them in terms of the relationship.

What's the secret to your success?

Everybody's looking for a silver bullet, but there isn't one. It's blocking and tackling every day. It's just sticking to the basics and executing it. There are very few situations where it's the grand slam that will put you over the top. It's really a series of singles.

What is the best part about being an independent agent?

The thing I enjoy the most about the independent agency system is the entrepreneurial culture. Also, everybody does everything a little bit differently according to what they want to do with it. I think that's one of the greatest things, and it serves the robustness and the resiliency of the system. Conversely, it's a double-edged sword. For a lot of the industry, each business's uniqueness is a frustration because it's difficult to move our group in one direction.

What are your priorities for your chairmanship?

We want everything we to do to be under the auspice of our mission to provide our members a sustainable competitive advantage. That means different things at different points in time through different business cycles. Today, there's an emphasis on two things. One is technology. The other is communication.

How will technology influence your chairmanship?

It's a challenge and an opportunity. For years, we've seen technology evolve around us. It's coming at us through a fire hose, and we always wonder, “Why can't we take advantage of that?" And now, over the next 10 years, the speed and the complexity of technology that's going to come at our members is going to overwhelm them if they don't have some guidance. The Big “I" can help do that. Technology can either be your best friend or worst nightmare. And what we want to do is make technology every member's best friend and help them adapt to a changing environment.

Can you tell readers about the technology and communication project?

The intermediate-to-long-term vision of the Big “I" national communication initiative is to move into the 21st century of how we communicate with our members. We need the ability to partner with our state associations and together, communicate with every member the way they want to be communicated with. Because of a lack of tools and data, our communication has been more of a blunt instrument, but we need more of a precise, surgical approach.

The technology and communication initiative is designed to give us those tools and help us partner with our state associations on the data aspect so that we can collectively communicate with our members. It's not only to solidify and build our value proposition, it's also to make sure they've got access to the resources that they need.

What are you looking forward to most about being chairman?

Over the next 12 months, I want to help the team advance our mission and to lay a foundation for the people to come after us so that they can advance the mission even further. I'm fully cognizant of the fact that when you get into a leadership position, you're benefiting from the efforts of the people that came before you. Our responsibility is to do the things today that will benefit the people that come after us so they can take it to the next level.

How will you manage being chairman and an agency president?

To make it work, you must have support. Both from a personal situation and in your office, because it will draw you away from both. Be realistic about how much you can do. I knew that once I got involved on the executive committee level, I needed to give some other things up, which I did.

How did you get involved with the Big “I"?

It was at the state level, serving on a committee. And then the next thing you know, you're chairing a committee and then you're running for the state board or state officer positions. Then it just takes on a life of its own. It's one of those things where, if you enjoy it, feel like you're contributing and the people around you are supportive, you'll keep moving and contributing in different ways.

Most people in the independent agency system have a servant's heart. It's embedded within the culture. They just want to contribute and help the greater cause. That's where I found my way into it, wanting to contribute and help make the system better for everybody.

What are the keys to continued growth in the independent agency system?

We need to adapt to a changing work environment and a changing marketplace. To do that, we need to step up our engagement with our company partners to be more creative and better partners, which will help us solve problems for our clients. Companies are going to become much more sophisticated and much more discerning about the business they want to write, how they want to write it, and who they want to write it with. That's going to put a burden on us that we've not had before, but we need to be aware of it and adapt.

What are the biggest challenges in the independent agency channel?

We have this convergence of improving technology and how capital is being deployed. Both are becoming much more sophisticated. When you merge this with the hard market, you're going to get a materially different marketplace than what we've had in the last 20 years. It's not a bad thing. It's a challenge that is not necessarily transitory. It's a secular shift that's happening inside the business. It's going to reset how our system operates going forward, and it would be a mistake for us to stand back and say, “We'll get through this cycle and things will go back to the way they were." They're not going back to the way they were. And that's okay. But we need to acknowledge that, embrace it, and figure out how to internalize it going forward.

Addressing the hard market from a regulatory perspective?

If we want capital to be present, we're going to have to create environments where capital is treated well too. And that requires partnership with our regulatory partners and legislators as well.

What's the biggest opportunity in the independent agency channel?

The migration of carriers away from a captive or direct model into embracing the independent agency system is a validation of what independent agents bring to the table, not only to the carrier but throughout the distribution channel and right through to the end customer. We should take that positively, but I don't think we should declare victory and go home. We are a valuable resource, but we are going to have to constantly step up our value proposition to maintain that.

How should agencies attract and retain younger talent?

We have a challenge in how we break through the paradigm of how they see our business. They have a narrow vision of what the insurance business is about. And it might be something that is impressed upon them from either a narrow experience, what they see in media or advertising. It's not only agencies but the whole industry. If we broaden our talent recruitment to the industry in general, we're going to create more opportunities for agents as well.

What advice would you give a young agent entering the business?

Two words that will transcend pretty much everything and be a foundation for them to be successful: Get involved. Whether it's your community or your state association, it will open up doors that you have no idea are there. And that will lead you to new opportunities. The connections will serve you for a lifetime. The things you will be exposed to will accelerate your learning. And the opportunities that will come from being involved will far surpass what you can do if you aren't involved. 

Will Jones is IA editor-in-chief. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023
Agency Operations & Best Practices
Digital Edition