Commercial Risk Manager
Brock Norton Insurance Agency
Guilty pleasure TV show: Worst Cooks in America
Uber or Lyft: Lyft
In your earbuds: “Lemonade,” Beyoncé
After I graduated from college, I spent about a year in London. When I moved back, I moved in with my parents and found myself in the hospitality industry, where I worked for a good five or six years. At that time, we had a lot of loss in my family. My mom passed away in June 2010, and 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.
That’s where my passion for insurance started, because if my mom hadn’t taken that step, what would that have looked like? 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 life insurance conversation, if you’ve had it, can help start your kids off with a leg up.
My dad and I talked about that, and that’s how I transitioned into insurance: screaming from the rooftops, “Do this for your family!” It’s income protection, and it’s a no-brainer. Even if you do term life insurance for, say, $20-30 a month—putting that into perspective for people, you give up one week of your daily Starbucks and you can insure yourself against all these unforeseen situations. You can give your partner and your family peace of mind.
Somebody reached out to me and said, “Have you ever thought about being a commercial insurance producer?” I got beat out in the interview because I didn’t have any middle-market or large business experience. But I liked the idea of insurance—I wanted to go into it, so I decided to pay for my own licenses. I scheduled my test for four days after I ordered my materials—p-c on a Thursday and l-h the following Thursday. I just did five chapters a day, and I got licensed.
I found a personal lines captive with an open position and did that for about a year, but I essentially got bored. There was not a lot of commercial exposure that captive could handle, so I kept getting these great incredible leads—a catering company, an IT software company—and I couldn’t do anything with them. I had to keep passing them to independents.
I ended up moving over to an independent [AHT Insurance, headquartered in Leesburg, Virginia], and doing some business development for a while. Then, I created my own position as a small business producer, which straddled the line between small business and middle market. I did that for a couple years before moving over to this agency.
I went from a large agency to a small agency, which I think is an interesting trajectory—most people do the opposite. When you’re at a large agency, it’s sink or swim. Because I started there, I got the resources and the knowledge base. Once I learned the markets and understood their appetites—what I wanted to go after and what I didn’t, what my vertical was—it was easier to go back to a smaller agency, because now I had some clout, some autonomy. I already had the discipline.
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.
I take that lesson to heart. If there’s ever anybody out there who’s new in their career, who needs help, who needs a little guidance, I keep that in mind—to take a breath and never be too busy to help that next generation.
Industry’s greatest challenge?
Recruitment. Who is our next generation of insurance brokers? Insurance is a great industry—it’s pretty much recession-proof, because everybody needs insurance. For those kids who grow up in insurance, whose parents have been in it for generations, they see the value in it because they’ve lived it. It’s much harder for people on the outside. How can we change the narrative so that it appeals to the new generation coming in, so that they see it as great career opportunity rather than a fallback?
We need to stay ahead and continue to build new products for emerging exposures like drones. If we do that, it’ll continue to be interesting, it’ll continue to grow, it’ll continue to be a new thing every day. That’s what people are looking for in a career. They don’t want to be stagnant. They don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over again. That’s a misnomer about insurance.
Thoughts on Gen Z?
It’s not necessarily that they have communication issues—that’s a stereotype. They just use the tools of communication differently, because this is how they’re used to talking to people. Rather than completely writing off disruptors like Lemonade by thinking, “Oh, that’ll never fly—my customers don’t want to do business like that,” we have to figure out ways to bridge the gap between the older generation and the younger one.
That’s where millennials come into play, because we’ve already figured out how to do it. As we step into these leadership roles, we can use those skills to react to how technology continues to influence our economy, and to shape how we communicate with each other between generations.
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. For every voice that’s stifled, there’s 12 people out there waiting to hear it.
So don’t try to fit the mold. Don’t dim your light to try to fit in. Use your uniqueness as your strength. Use your personality, use your humor and bring education to the table, because the more your insured knows about the coverages and what you’re doing for them, the stickier they’ll be. If you don’t take the time to explain why they need a coverage or how it’s going to help their business with a real-life tangible claim example, it doesn’t mean anything to them.
In insurance, it can be very hard to see the big picture, because people in insurance hear the word “no” a lot more than the average person. Maintaining a positive outlook and trying to do better than even just the day before—really using yourself as the litmus test—will ensure not only that you protect your mental health in a world of “no,” but also that you can look inside and do some soul searching and find that motivation you need.
This interview is the third in a series that profiles 10 millennials in the independent insurance industry, based on IA’s July cover story.
Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.