Taking Over: Meet Millennial Agent Colten Zamrzla

ColtenZamrzla

Colten Zamrzla

Account Executive
Copple Insurance Agency
Lincoln, Nebraska

Age: 25

Guilty pleasure TV show: “House Hunters”

In your earbuds: Foster the People, Breakbot, Private Island, OneRepublic

The app you can’t live without: Reddit

Spotify or Apple Music: Neither (I download all my music—maybe I’m older than I thought)

Netflix or Hulu: Both, but I use Netflix more. No cable, though!

Why insurance?

It was actually back in high school that I got started. I’ve always been a strong swimmer, so I thought I’d get lifeguard-certified and work at the public pool for a summer job after my junior year. But a family friend had an agency in town, and he invited me to come intern over the summer. I weighed the options between having air conditioning versus glorified babysitting, and I decided to give the insurance thing a shot. I ended up loving it and came back my senior year as well. I got licensed to sell right at 18.

I had a pretty steady girlfriend back in high school, and her family had essentially adopted this older gentleman, Norrie, who didn’t have any family in town anymore—he was like a great-grandfather figure to her and her family. So, after school and on weekends, we’d go hang out with him, keep him company, help him with day-to-day living tasks. Eventually he needed to move into a nursing home—his daughter and son-in-law brought him to Lincoln during my senior year. I was on the swim team and we made it to the state competition in Lincoln that year, so we lined it up to go see Norrie.

On the car ride over, I was chatting with Norrie’s son-in-law, and he was asking me what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “I’m going to go to the university in Lincoln to get some sort of degree in business—I’ve been working with an insurance agency in Kearney, and we do a lot of personal lines and ag, but what I really want to do is commercial lines.” And he said, “Well, it just so happens that I own an agency here in Lincoln that focuses on commercial insurance. Why don’t you come interview with me?” So I did. I interned part-time with them throughout college while I got a degree in finance, and then I came on full-time in 2016 when I graduated.

What’s to love?

It's the people. Insurance is all about helping out your friends, helping out your community. That’s what keeps me going. I take a lot of pride in a job well done. I do a little bit of everything, still being technically pretty new, but I probably would not have made it this long if I was doing personal lines, because it tends to be very transactional. You can still build those relationships, but for better or worse, a lot of the policies have become cookie-cutter. In commercial lines, you can really dig into something, take a good hard look at it, and create a program that’s going to bring real value.

Role model?

It’s been my boss—the agency principal, Arnie Johansen. He is a wealth of knowledge, a walking encyclopedia of insurance. I can walk into his office any time of day and he’ll make time for me.

Work/life balance?

I think work/life balance is unique to our industry, and it’s allowed me to get pretty involved in the community. If I was stuck at a desk 9-5, I wouldn’t have the chance to get involved with various nonprofits and professional associations like the Independent Insurance Agents of Nebraska. I also work with the Lincoln Independent Business Association, which advocates for small businesses, allows for networking and does some lobbying efforts on the local level. And I sit on the board of directors for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). We help kids in severe situations of neglect and abuse get through the legal system quickly and find a stable, permanent foster parent so that the children can recover and thrive.

Millennial stereotypes?

One of the things they peg us with is being too needy—needing constant validation. It’s somewhat true—I like to get feedback on the status of my work. “Hey, did I do this right? Is there something I can improve on?” Just communicate with me a little bit, and with a little extra direction, I’ll do a better job next time. I think that’s a generational difference. With the older generations, it seems to be “no news is good news.”

Perpetuation gap?

I am the perpetuation plan at my agency, so I’m currently being worked into the agency’s key accounts. I’ll join Arnie on any sort of reviews we do and the annual meetings. The process started this year, but it’s been building up, and the timeline is roughly eight years out. It goes back to those relationships, because if the main agent just leaves and hands it off to someone else, the client doesn’t know that new person very well or at all. You can’t reasonably expect them to stick around with some brand-new person, especially since, if it’s a good account, they’ve probably had three to five other “suitors” who have been trying to get in.

You can always sell to an outside firm, but if you want to know the people you’re employing will continue on, and you want to know that your clients are going to be served just as well as you served them, you need to bring somebody in who’s going to share the same vision—share the same values. Working that person into those accounts takes five to ten years. So, start early.

Your future goals?

I’m trying to build some strategic partnerships around the Lincoln community with good business lawyers, attorneys, business bankers—big centers of influence. I’m trying to lay that groundwork now for those relationships to grow, so that a decade or so from now, we’ll be able to make some big things happen.

I see the future of the agency as certainly moving more digital, but also focusing almost entirely on commercial. We’re already about 80-90% commercial by volume—we used to have a pretty substantial personal lines book of business, but that’s kind of dwindling out now. Our new personal lines clients tend to come from business owners that insist that we do everything, but honestly, we’ve found that it’s almost worse for retention because personal lines is becoming so heavily commoditized. Of course, the products aren’t actually identical, but the average homeowner, renter, auto owner just doesn’t care. It’s a price thing.

Biggest career mistake?

I was once working on an account, and it was going to be a pretty good one. But I did a poor job of following up with the carrier that was providing the proposal. It got down to do-or-die time, so by the time I got ahold of them, they pushed something out, but it wasn’t competitive—it wasn’t what I had promised the prospect. A few days later, the carrier sent the finalized proposal that I had originally requested, and it was much better—it would have won. But it was too late. I haven’t been able to get in and see that business since. That looms in my memory as a reminder to always stay on top of your underwriters, to have firm expectations, to have them in writing, and to hold people accountable.

More generally, I think during that first year or two, you’re out there trying to produce business, and you’ll take pretty much anything that comes through. I wasted so much time “practice-quoting” for accounts that I was never going to get, and it’s because I didn’t know the right questions to ask. Over this past year, I’ve developed a system where I don’t really talk insurance during a first interaction with a prospect. I talk about all the tangentials—where you’re at, where you’re going, what you need, why you’re even talking to me.

It’s been tremendous. It’s freed up a lot of time, and when I do have somebody that passes that test, I have a pretty high success ratio with writing their business. If only I would have had the courage to walk away in those early days, but you live and you learn.

Advice for fellow young agents?

Put people first. When you are in a sales profession, and especially the insurance sales profession, everything comes down to your reputation and your integrity. Word’s going to get around if you’re not doing your job right—if you’re not acting ethically. There’s nothing more important than protecting your reputation and sticking to your convictions, even if it means losing a sale.

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.

This interview is the last in a series that profiles 10 millennials in the independent insurance industry, based on IA’s July cover story.