Kate Ferri Dawson, president of Ferri Dawson Insurance Group, spoke with Independent Agent about her personal lines expertise and her experiences as an independent agent.
Kate Ferri Dawson
Kate Ferri Dawson opened her agency in November 2019, “and let's just say I didn't factor global pandemic into my business plan," she says. However, thanks to experience in relocation housing—as well as with both a captive and independent agency—she has found a niche in personal lines, where her experience and expertise “really lends itself to homeowners and first-time home buyers," she says.
Ferri Dawson was close to her grandfather, a veteran independent agent with a wealth of achievement from working for Prudential and Nationwide. “The quarter-of-a-million-dollar achievements in 1954 says he was doing something right," she says. Unfortunately, “even though we were very close, he passed away before I found my way to insurance."
But, unbeknownst to her, a career for Ferri Dawson with an independent agency was written in the stars. “After he passed, I found a letter from when we had corresponded while I was at college. He wrote to me saying that if he still had his agency, he would hire me for fear of losing me to someone else," she says. “He saw a future for me in the insurance world even though I didn't."
How did you get into insurance?
Out of college, I found a job in relocation housing where I worked with customers and adjusters from all different insurance companies on the claim side. I was working with their loss of use, finding them housing and furniture, and guiding them through the entire temporary housing process until their home was habitable again. I grew increasingly concerned with how many clients I was seeing that were significantly underinsured. Without enough loss of use coverage on their homeowners policy, they were unable to live comfortably during that devastating time. That was when I realized that I would rather be the one preparing them with an appropriate amount of insurance coverage than be the one picking up the pieces afterward.
I spent a couple of years on the captive side and then through mentors and conversations, I knew I had to be an independent agent. I transitioned to the independent side, which I saw was much more beneficial for the client.
What do you love about your job?
I wake up every morning knowing that I'm going to help people. I'm really actively working to educate, protect and prepare the public by providing peace of mind. First-time home buyers generally need more guidance and education and that's where I feel that I've always been strongest. I love building relationships as I explain coverage line by line.
I don't want to push a policy across the desk and ask my clients to sign it, I want them to understand insurance because the peace of mind comes from understanding the coverage. I truly feel that what I do is meaningful. I'm making sure that families are protected. Isn't that what we're in the business for—elevating the lives of the people we serve?
Advice for women in insurance?
Break that glass ceiling. I worry that potential future agents won't join the industry if they continue to see it as what it used to be and what it could be. I represent this industry the way I want to see it in the future.
I also work to change people's perception of the industry and insurance agents. I want to transition our appearance from a salesperson into a trusted advisor. I'd encourage other women to step out from the crowd, show your value and be a champion for other females in this industry.
Why are women primed to succeed in insurance?
Because we're empathetic. I think that's a critical trait. As women, we understand the value of family and protecting your home or your business. From my experience, the relationship is really what the client values. It's what sets us apart from buying insurance online, particularly with first-time homebuyers who are seeking that guidance and that education.
What would you like to see change in the industry?
I think there is a lack of equal opportunity for diverse talent in senior roles. Women outnumber men in this industry and we make up nearly 60% of agency employees. We are making progress from where we were, but women only make up 31% of principles and owners—that is what I want to see change.
How can the industry do more to perpetuate?
I spoke last year at my alma mater for a career speaker series. I said that, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, over the next 15 years, 50% of the current insurance workforce will retire. That's set to open 400,000 positions in an industry where less than 25% of the workforce is under the age of 35. To me, this represents an industry with a tremendous amount of opportunity. The average age of an insurance agent in the U.S. is 59, which means that there is an immediate issue of an aging workforce. The future of our industry is the younger generation, but I also strongly feel that it's female.
But to make this industry more attractive for generations to come, I think it's imperative that we work to make it more diverse, which starts with hiring and promoting women in this industry.
How can women play a role in perpetuating the industry?
We need to work to support other women in the industry. We absolutely need to highlight more women in the industry, which will open the door for more women to join. We need to work to take female agency owners under our wing and show them how to get more involved in the industry.
Tell me about your experience with the Big “I" mentorship program?
It was so helpful because it came at a time when there was so much isolation because of the pandemic. For me, one of my biggest challenges is that I work alone, so I don't have that sense of collaboration or the opportunity for a mentor. Through the Big “I," I was connected with both an agency owner and a carrier representative. They really guided me—but what was most important was that we went off-book. As an agency owner with no employees, not all of the mentorship program applied to me. But they were gracious enough to adjust the material so that it would be helpful for me.
If you could have lunch with any person who has ever existed, who would it be?
Given the chance, I would love to have a conversation with my grandfather. I have his wooden painted office sign on display in my office and his achievement pins from the 1950s. I think about the conversations we would've had about the industry, owning an agency and how the industry has evolved over the years.
What are your hobbies?
I practice a lot of mindfulness and I really have a passion for self-development. In my downtime, I really enjoy live music. I have a 1974 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van with the pop top. My husband and I love to go to see concerts and live music. I'm an old soul.
We also love vinyl. We have three record players in our house, one at the office, and a growing collection of vinyl. We're building some built-in shelves in our living room to fit the 12-inch records because they're a little tricky to fit on regular shelves.
Will Jones is IA editor-in-chief.
This article is the second installment in a three-part series that profiles women insurance leaders to celebrate Women's History Month.