Over the last year, Sawyer—who cites “hitting that regulation ceiling constantly with things that didn’t make sense as an agent” as her primary drive for running for the North Carolina Senate in 2018—has proven herself to be the latter.
WHY PUBLIC SERVICE?
Until this past year, we only had one person in the General Assembly who was an insurance agent. When you have 170 people who are making decisions about insurance laws every day, that’s a huge information gap. Some of that comes through in policy, and when you see that as an agent, it can be frustrating—especially when you’re trying to do the right thing for your customer.
The two roles mirror each other beautifully. As an agent, I’m the person who has to translate policy language into policyholder language on one hand, and help the company understand how we can best work to insure this person on the other. In my legislative job, I am right there in the middle again between general statute and constituents, trying to figure out how to find solutions that are mutually beneficial.
TOP SMALL BUSINESS POLICY ISSUES?
As far as insurance, the laws dictate absolutely everything we are. North Carolina has a rate bureau—we’re one of the only states that still have that model, and we are looking at rate modernization for that model. For me as a free market person, I feel like hey, let everybody come in and compete, and let the market be where it lays. But because in North Carolina it’s been done through the rate bureau for so long, there’s a lot of resistance on the other side to that. Locally, we’re having that back and forth, that ideological free market vs. controlled market debate.
And then regarding everyday policy language, there’s little things that make no sense. We can take those low-hanging fruit items and make a world of difference for an agent.
YOUR PRIORITIES AS SENATOR?
One of my very top priorities and state pet projects is to look at how we as a state insure our buildings that we own. As a coastal community, we are hit with hurricanes on a regular basis, and we are fortunate to have a rainy-day fund that’s healthy, but maybe one day that won’t be there. We just wrote an $800-million check last year for hurricane relief—some of that was crop, but a lot of that was property.
My first goal is to look at how we are insuring our state- and community-owned assets and seeing where those coverage gaps are, because waiting for the General Assembly to act is really archaic when we have private market solutions out there that are ready for this type of action, and then to price it accordingly.
If you can make the time for events like the Big “I” Legislative Conference, that is a wonderful way to get with like-minded individuals and push your industry forward. I encourage any insurance agent who has a heart for service to jump into the arena and do good things for their community. On the back end, I see the power of collective bargaining and groups in the General Assembly. It really does make a huge difference to be an active part of your association membership for your business.
I fell in love with insurance through a guy who sold insurance. I met my husband right after graduating college, and his father was a State Farm agent. He hired me as one of his CSRs. Both of us worked there, but when his father decided to retire, we were suddenly without jobs, had just bought a house and were six months pregnant. We started our agency from scratch as an independent agent from that point forward.
The choice was really made for us, and I was very grateful for that. Although State Farm is a wonderful company, the contracts and culture had changed over time. The offer to be a State Farm agent was available for my husband, but they asked us to move to upper Marlboro County, Maryland. At six months pregnant and just wanting to stay near family, we knew that wasn’t going to be an option for us.
We have two locations and eight employees, and we’re about 75-80% personal lines. We really do a holistic approach based on the person. We know the customer who just has to have auto insurance right now isn’t really a good fit for our agency, but if you’re someone who wants to protect your whole life—your home, your auto, your financial future—you can come in and sit with one of our agents, and we will walk you through and make sure you’re adequately protected.
I’m grateful because as agency owners, we have the flexibility where my husband can drop everything and go pick up the kids if need be. But that’s a good question. I’m not there yet. I’d be lying if I told you I had it all figured out.