Tomorrow Land: Meet the Millennials

When Anais Babajanian graduated from the University of Houston with a master’s degree in accounting, she was determined to pave a career of her own, separate from the family insurance business.

But she quickly realized “the grass wasn’t greener on the other side,” she says.

Working 100-hour weeks as an auditor at a large firm where she felt like she was “just a number,” Babajanian decided around the two-year mark that public accounting was not a sustainable lifestyle.

“I hated it,” she says. “Nobody likes auditors. Every single day, you walk into work and your client does not want you there. You’re not adding any value—you’re just coming in, pointing out problems and leaving. That’s just not who I am. I like people. I want to help them.”

Around the same time, Babajanian’s mom, Aida, was trying to expand the insurance agency she started in 2003. “She said, ‘I want your help. Come run the agency, I’ll replace your salary, and this will be yours whenever I’m ready to retire,’” says Babajanian, 27. “It’s not very often that someone just comes and hands you a full-functioning business. Perspective is everything—you don’t appreciate what you have until you go and do something you really don’t like.”

Every day, millennial insurance agents like Babajanian are finding plenty to love about the insurance industry. What brought them here? What makes them tick? And why are they sticking around? Learn what 10 millennials have to say about where the industry is headed—and how they fit into it.

AnaisBabajanianAnais Babajanian

Principal
ATAB Insurance Services
Houston

Age: 27

Guilty pleasure TV shows: America’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars

Uber or Lyft: Uber

In your earbuds: “Popular Latin crossover and some newer country music.”

Career contrast?

Moving to the agency was a complete 180. Now, I’m adding value, I’m educating people about how to protect their business and their investment, and I’m in control of how successful I am. I don’t have to depend on three or four people above me to determine my growth at the company.

Biggest role model?

Definitely my mom. Don’t get me wrong—we’ve had our differences. We’re both hustlers, we want to bring in business, we want to help people. But my mom is a salesperson and nothing else—she doesn’t believe in plans. I’m a lot more operations-minded. It’s not an overnight process. Being patient has been a challenge, but I’m so grateful that she’s open-minded enough to allow me to make the changes I have made. We’ve learned from each other a lot.

Spearheading change?

My mom is a very rolls-with-the-punches type of person, and that works when you’re a small agent first starting out, because you only have a handful of customers. But she had built her book up quite a bit, and at some point, you need a way of organizing that business. When I came in, there was no way of tracking anything.

My first major task was just converting to paperless—that took about six months. And then what I implemented is a pipeline system of new business quotes, renewals and rerates, which has been super helpful. The last two years have been about getting the agency to a point where it’s running itself—where I can depend on the processes we’ve implemented.

Industry’s greatest challenge?

Some of the older agents still think cold calling is the primary way to bring in business, and it isn’t. You have to have an online presence, you have to have multiple touchpoints with your customers, you have to have social media, you have to have online campaigns, you have to be involved in your community—your clients need to see you everywhere so they know you’re an actual person.

The younger generations are attracted to stories. It’s about humanizing agents. At the end of the day, your prospects can buy a Travelers policy from anybody. They want to come to you because of your story.

NicoleCarriganNicole Carrigan

Agent
McGregor Insurance, Inc.
Ocean Shores, Washington

Age: 29

Guilty pleasure TV show: Keeping Up With the Kardashians

Uber or Lyft: Lyft

In your earbuds: Fleetwood Mac

Why insurance?

I kind of stumbled onto it. I went to school for fisheries, biology and anthropology, and I moved home after college to work for the local tribal fisheries. When that job ended, I just needed a job, and I needed one immediately. I applied with McGregor Insurance because I knew their son from high school, so I knew they were good people. What I thought would just be a space filler turned into a full-time, full-fledged career.

What’s to love?

Our town has about 4,500 year-round residents and everyone knows each other, so I’m constantly helping those I know and care about. I was raised by parents who owned their own local business, and I loved the fact that my childhood was spent running around my dad’s auto body shop, meeting all his clients. Working for a family-owned business now, it’s that same small-town vibe. It’s comforting.

Thoughts on Gen Z?

My little sister is right there on the cusp, and she was telling me about an online quote comparer, where you enter your information in one spot and it branches out and hits different carriers for quotes. She was just so wide-eyed, like, “Isn’t this the coolest thing you’ve ever heard of?” I was like, “I swear, if I lose your business because you went online and plugged in your date of birth, we’ll have issues at Christmas.”

Future goals?

I’m looking into getting my personal risk management designation. We’ve got a beach community north of us where the least expensive 500-square-foot cabin goes for about $350,000. People buy them as secondary homes and then they put them in a vacation rental pool, and that’s just a huge exposure. It terrifies me that the majority of them don’t know what an umbrella policy is or why they would need one. I think this designation would improve my interactions with these clients.


VeneeGallowayVeneé Galloway

Commercial Risk Manager
Brock Norton Insurance Agency
Chantilly, Virginia

Age: 33

Guilty pleasure TV show: Worst Cooks in America

Uber or Lyft: Lyft

In your earbuds: “Lemonade,” Beyoncé

Why insurance?

I had been working in hospitality for five or six years when my mom passed away in June 2010. The following January, my older sister also passed. We were able to afford my older sister’s funeral and everything from my mom’s life insurance policy.

If my mom hadn’t taken that step, how would our lives be different? It’s such an expensive thing—you don’t think about the medical bills, the burial, all these decisions you have to make on top of worrying about where the money’s going to come from.

That’s how I transitioned into insurance: screaming from the rooftop, “Do this for your family!” It’s income protection, and it’s a no-brainer.

Biggest role model?

Peter Dean, a principal at my last agency. He was a top p-c agent the entire time I was there, working with these huge commercial real estate developers. But no matter how much business he brought in, he was never too busy to help. That’s what stood out to me. There aren’t very many female commercial producers out there, and there definitely aren’t very many female minority commercial producers out there. So for this older, very established, successful agent to reach out and take me under his wing—that was very special to me.

Advice for a fellow young agent?

There’s this stereotype of the insurance agent as this older white guy in a suit and tie, who’s all buttoned up with the cleanest shoes ever, who’s going to talk down to you for half an hour and make you buy things you know nothing about. I’ve tried to really counter that. There’s so much room for everyone in insurance. That means you have the opportunity to shine your individual light, and it will appeal to someone. Don’t try to fit the mold. Don’t dim your light to try to fit in. Use your uniqueness as your strength.

BrettGarryBrett Garry

Risk Adviser
Garry Insurancenter
St. Paul, Minnesota

Age: 31

Guilty pleasure TV show: Deadliest Catch

Uber or Lyft: “Uber, but if the wait is too long or the rates are crazy, I’ll use Lyft.”

In your earbuds: Classic country

Why insurance?

My grandfather started the agency in 1970, and my father currently runs the business. When I went to college, I dabbled in some other things—I took some criminal justice classes for a few years and didn’t really know what I wanted to do.

I ended up getting a degree in finance, and when I was looking for a job, I was drawn to the insurance world. But my father said, “If you want to come join the insurance business, that’s fine, but I’m not really keen on hiring you right out of college.” I wound up working down in Des Moines, Iowa for about four years in the personal and commercial underwriting departments for Nationwide Insurance.

At the time, I was less than excited about moving down to Des Moines, but it turns out it’s actually a great town. I enjoyed my time there, and I’m so glad I went that route—to be able to come back to the agency, speak the language and know how things work a little bit versus just being a dumb college kid.

Thoughts on Gen Z?

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to provide value to your customers. It’s just that over time, the ways in which you do that will evolve. Some customers may find that value in being able to text their agent for their auto ID card. It’s up to agents to make sure they’re staying on top of those things.

Advice for a fellow young agent?

Don’t get discouraged. You hear the word “no” a lot—it’s just part of the business. All the no’s make the yes’s a little bit more rewarding when you close a nice deal. You have to be persistent. Stick with it, keep working, and good things will come.

AdamHeuerAdam Heuer

President
Heuer Insurance Agency
Sparks, Nevada

Age: 33

Guilty pleasure TV show: Deadliest Catch

Uber or Lyft: Uber

In your earbuds currently: Eric Church radio

Why insurance?

I’m a fourth-generation owner—we’ve got a long lineage. My great-grandfather started the agency back in 1929.

Motivation?

There’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve seen this industry really provide for my family—I have a 16-month-old son at home, and insurance allows flexibility while allowing you to make a really good income.

Biggest role model?

My dad. I got to work with him for 13 years and he was in this business for 43 years, so he was just a wealth of knowledge.

Looking back, his perpetuation plan was spot-on. Once I hit that eight-year mark, I was involved in everything—every conversation, every email, every issue with clients, employees, carriers. He did a phenomenal job.

Industry’s greatest challenge?

I think the biggest touch we’re losing these days is the legislative side. I’ve been on the board of directors at the state level for about 10 years now, and my role this year is legislative chair. I don’t think there are enough young agents getting involved with shaping the laws and the legislature that impact our industry.

That’s just our culture today—everybody’s so quick to get online and disparage or discriminate. People love to fuel everything, but the second they’re asked to help fix it, they’re like, “Well, just saying.” I would really suggest that folks get out and advocate for what they believe in, whether that’s personal or professional. We need more of a voice.

Future goals?

Given that we’re a multigenerational family-run agency, I hope to carry that legacy on. I can’t see anything better than to hope maybe my son takes it into the fifth generation. At the end of the day, if I could run this place for another 30 years, groom him and then the doors stay open, that would be success in my eyes.

BenJonesBen Jones, Jr.

Partner
Jones Insurance Services
Thibodaux, Louisiana

Age: 29

Guilty pleasure TV show: How to Get Away with Murder

Uber or Lyft: Uber

In your earbuds currently: Pandora’s 90s Hits station

What’s to love about insurance?

I recently bought into the agency with three other partners, and I’ve basically taken on all the social media, business development and technology side of things. My favorite thing is the challenge of modernizing the agency and trying to stay ahead of the technology curve. What I’m seeing is that consumers want ease of use and 24/7 access to their agent and information. The majority of my time is spent on business development and trying to perfect the client experience. I’m trying to bring new technology, new ideas and more creativity into the agency.

Motivation?

The constant change in the industry motivates me to bring forth new ideas and platforms for both the client experience as well as the team member experience—making our team’s jobs easier and more efficient through technology. A lot of the times they fight me on change, but once the change has taken place, they realize it was the best decision we’ve ever made.

Millennial stereotype that fits you?

First, that millennials are overly sensitive. I do take criticism to heart, but that only makes me work harder to replace that criticism with praise. And the thought that I am special—as a millennial, I feel like I have to leave my mark on the world. That feeling is what motivates me to be a better person and maintain a strong business to support my community.

Future goals?

I’m hoping I’m able to bring the agency to new heights and incorporate some new innovations, while keeping everything fun in the office. For everyone who’s been here for so long, they are a second family. I want to make sure they’re all happy with the decision they made to spend the majority of their lives here.

PhaleshaKyesPhalesha Kyes

Agent/Director of Marketing and Communications
Alliance Financial & Insurance
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Age: 27

Guilty pleasure TV show: New Girl

Uber or Lyft: Uber

In your earbuds: “The Five-Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage” by Mel Robbins on Audible

What’s to love about insurance?

Insurance businesses do so much for their communities, and I love that. We started a Quotes For A Cause campaign where for anyone who goes to our website and gets a quote, we donate $10 to one of two local charities—Kids’ Food Basket or Mel Trotter Ministries, you choose. Kids’ Food Basket provides meals to children in need, and Mel Trotter runs a shelter and programs for people who are homeless or addicted to drugs to help them get back on their feet. We went to one of our carriers with this idea, and they were like, “We’ll donate half—you donate $5, we’ll donate $5.”

Our agency has a dual approach where we do agency bonding plus community giveback. We’ll team up two agents who get together and go down to Kids’ Food Basket and volunteer for an hour. I personally work down at Mel Trotter at the soup kitchen, and I teach a class once a month to help people in the program write their resumes and learn how to use a computer.

We’re very involved—it’s so much more than just throwing some money at them. We believe in getting down there and getting our hands dirty. There’s just no limit to what we can do to help people in this industry. Insurance has such a negative rap, but I want to prove everyone wrong.

Millennial stereotype that drives you crazy?

That we don’t work for anything, that we’re flaky. I hate that—it makes me so mad, because I’m very independent and self-motivated. I’ve been in the business for almost 10 years, I bought my first house when I was 20, I sold it, I bought a second house, so this idea that our minds change every time the wind blows and we’re never going to be committed into a career—that is not right!

CarrieShawCarrie Shaw

Business Insurance Services Manager
OneGroup
Syracuse, New York

Age: 31

Guilty pleasure TV show: Walking Dead

Uber or Lyft?: Uber

In your earbuds: “I have a young stepdaughter, so it’s a lot of Frozen and Disney Channel.”

Why insurance?

I went to college for sport management and worked in college athletics for several years in my 20s. I transitioned into wealth management and worked for a hedge fund in Manhattan for a while, and then went to a wealth management firm on Long Island. I started working with professional athletes and really high-end clients, and I just loved it. I was studying for my CFP when I left that job and moved back upstate—I’m from Syracuse originally. Because of my financial planning background, I thought insurance was the next logical step.

Last February, OneGroup brought me in to run their small business department. These can be smaller-revenue accounts but very needy, so the question was, how do you remain efficient and profitable with those lines of business? We’ve really done well over the last year.

Last year, we really nailed our revenue goal, which we thought was far-fetched, and we’re on track to do it again this year. I’ve also been able to leverage carrier relationships to get the kind of ancillary training and knowledge we need to grow and be experts in our field.

Industry’s greatest challenge?

Technology and efficiency. How do you measure how much work someone can handle? Everyone’s using agency management systems and software programs, but how can they make you more efficient and productive so you have time to service and be an adviser, rather than being an order-taker?

I’m all about using data to make decisions, so we’ve started really leveraging big data from our carriers. If the numbers are there and we spend all this time putting information into our agency management system, we should be able to get it out in a meaningful way that can impact our work lives. I’m trying to use that to devise a workload, structure and strategy to gauge productivity and make sure we’re on par with where we need to be to grow.

MitchSouthwellMitch Southwell

Vice President
Southwell Insurance Agency
Omaha, Nebraska

Age: 31

Guilty pleasure TV show: Westworld

Uber or Lyft: Lyft

In your earbuds: “A playlist that ranges from Lil Wayne to Norah Jones.”

Captive vs. independent?

My dad was with American Family for 30 years before he went independent. I worked for him for maybe two years when he was captive, and I just felt stagnant. As an independent, you can always move someone to a different company. When the rate goes up with a captive, all you can do is raise the deductible or make another change that costs them more on the back end, just to pay them on the front end. As far as what consumers want, it’s nice to be able to have the option to keep them in-house and serve them laterally.

Millennial stereotype that drives you crazy?

The most annoying one is that we don’t respect our elders. Maybe it’s a Midwest thing, but ever since I was little, I’ve always been a “Yes sir,” “Yes ma’am” type of person. I try to absorb as much as I can from my elders. I think we have a lot to learn from them.

Thoughts on Gen Z?

They’re do-it-yourselfers. They think they can write their own policy and do it all on their own. I think the biggest challenge will be educating them on what they’re actually paying for in coverage, because all they’re seeing is the number. A lot of people don’t realize that they may be saving five bucks a month, but if they get in a serious accident, it could cost them tens of thousands of dollars.

Advice for a fellow young agent?

It’s not your standard 9-5. We make ourselves available on the weekends and at night. You have to have that mentality that accidents happen and questions come up outside normal business hours. The best way to connect with people and make them feel you’re on their side is to give them full access to you whenever they need you.

KalimWellsKalim Wells

Vice President
Tri-State Insurance, Inc.
Belmont, Mississippi

Age: 32

Guilty pleasure TV shows: Chicago P.D., Chicago Fire and Blind Spot

Uber or Lyft: “Never used either—my town has a population of about 2,600.”

In your earbuds: “I don’t even own a pair of earbuds—I’m more of a people watcher.”

What’s to love about insurance?

You see people at their worst, and you get to try to be there for them and help them through that process. I like showing people that yes, we do sell stuff—that’s how we get paid. But we’re selling you a product we hope you never need,
and if you do, we want you to know we’re here for you.

Thoughts on Gen Z?

As millennials, before we contact a business, we’ll check them out online to see if we can find anything good, bad or ugly. But when it’s time to purchase, we typically want to buy from a person or at least speak to a person. With the generation under us, it’s going to be interesting to see if they continue the same thing or if they’re just going to want everything to be all online, period.

Managing change?

The industry is changing so fast—almost daily. My dad’s been through it from paper applications to getting a computer in the office to having internet and email. When I first started working, he didn’t even have a management system. When we put the management system in place and I told him we were going to start scanning and shredding everything, he said, “You’re gonna do what?” I explained that the management system hosts it on the cloud so they’re responsible for it, but he was like, “I don’t know about all that.” That’s been a learning curve.

Advice for a fellow young agent?

Hang in there. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about before you can sell somebody something, and you can’t just vaguely know. Don’t have high expectations quick, and don’t ever think you know it all, because just about the time you think you know it all, it’s going to change.

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.