Members of the baby boomer generation are entering retirement—in record numbers—and this trend is readily apparent in the ranks of independent insurance agents and brokers.
Many veteran producers are selling their businesses and moving off to a well-deserved time of leisure. But for some, retirement does not mean the stereotypical vision of fishing on a lake on a sunny day.
Instead, retirement and semi-retirement has meant embarking upon a second career or devoting themselves to good works within their community.
Here are the stories of five producers, either fully or semi-retired, whose golden years are being spent not on the golf course but in rewarding second careers or volunteer work.
Riding a ‘Wahve’ of Retirement
Seizing on an opportunity to fill a perceived gap in experienced human capital in the insurance industry, Sharon Emek started WAHVE (Work at Home Vintage Employees) about two years ago.
While she remains a partner at the brokerage firm CBS Coverage in New York, still handling a group of large accounts, Emek decided to step back from the daily stress of the office environment and help put experienced individuals back to work through her own start-up initiative.
Emek, the president and CEO of WAHVE, says the baby boomers are not like past generations of retirees. They are not senior citizens, she says, but the Grand Generation.
“We are wiser and have grand ideas,” says Emek. “We have the ability to see issues, think about them and solve problems. There is a lot of talent out there, and they all want to do something.”
As a younger generation fills the ranks of insurance agencies, she says the industry does not need to lose the knowledge and experience of the retiring generation.
The aim of WAHVE is to “in-source” talent, providing agencies with experienced individuals while at the same time giving the members of the Grand Generation an opportunity to remain active and earn extra income.
To become a member of WAHVE, individuals need to have 25-35 years of insurance knowledge and be of or close to retirement age. Typically, the individual worker is between the ages of 55-65, retired and wants to get back into the insurance business.
For some, it could be a full-time job; for others, it means taking a part-time job to enjoy a flexible work schedule.
Location is not an issue for employees. As the name says, WAHVE workers operate out of their homes; all they need is high-speed Internet and a computer.
The group has just started a mentoring program in which experienced, retired executives participate in conference calls with young agents to help guide them through their development as account executives.
Most of the 46 job placements WAHVE has made so far have been customer-service positions at insurance agencies, brokerage and wholesale firms. But there is also a need, Emek says, for account writers and other professionals.
WAHVE will be making its first placement soon with a carrier and plans to top 50 placements shortly, says Emek.
“The industry needs to rethink how it looks at the baby boomer generation and see this generation as a treasure trove,” Emek adds.
After spending a long career as an insurance producer, the last thing one might expect an agent to do would be to look out for other agents’ interests.
But that’s exactly what Mark LaLonde decided he would do when he became president of PIA Management Services, the umbrella corporation managing the Glenmont, N.Y.-based Professional Insurance Agents Associations of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
LaLonde retired from the agency business at 57, after a career going back to 1985 that involved being a producer, starting his own agency from scratch and eventually becoming president of Bailey, Haskell & LaLonde.
He says he spent 30 years in management, but was never far away from sales. And during those years he was a highly active member of PIA, serving as president of PIANY and chairing the PIA Management Services board. However, he never planned to work within the association.
“I was committed to retiring from agency life and wanted to start a new career of some sort,” says LaLonde. “I knew I wanted to continue to work, but I wanted a nice career where I could work to benefit others.”
He says that within days of making the mental decision to retire from the agency business, the offer came in from PIA.
“It was almost eerie how everything fell into place,” LaLonde says. He now heads up the for-profit operation of PIA Management Services, preparing to eventually replace current CEO Ken Bessette, who now focuses on the creative side of the association.
“I don’t have a termination date in mind,” he adds. “I will do this for as long as I can be an asset to the organization.”
An Agent’s Angel Flights
Jim Lambert’s love for flying turned his retirement into a mission to help others in need.
Lambert started his own agency, Allen & Lambert, in 1980 in Macon, Ga., and ran it successfully before selling the firm to Sanford Insurance in Macon in 2010.
He started flying in 1968 and got his own plane in 1989. Now semi-retired, Lambert today dedicates a lot of his time to Angel Flights. The organization flies people in need of medical treatment from one region of the country to another.
Lambert also flew mercy missions for a church group that needed help in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and relief missions into Haiti after the earthquake there. He has continued offering assistance, and with his wife, a retired nurse, they continue to go on missions to Haiti to help as they are needed.
When he’s not flying or writing business at Sanford, he finds time to play bass guitar in a band that performs contemporary Christian music and ’60s-’70s classics for church functions and fund-raisers.
“I don’t know if I had any real plans,” he says of retirement. “I will always do something with insurance. I owned the agency for 30 years, and clients become like family—and it is kind of hard to turn them loose.”
Daniel T. Haley retired in 2007 after selling his eponymous agency in Portland, Maine to United Insurance—a deal forming the second largest agency in the state. What he was most proud of in that transaction was that everyone kept their job.
A former Marine, Haley suffered a service related disability during Operation Desert Storm and retired a colonel. He joined Aetna Life & Casualty in 1972, and in 1973 he moved to his father’s agency, buying the business out in 1989.
Since his retirement, Haley has remained a member of the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents and has been an active participant in his community. He helped raise more than $600,000 to open a risk-management program at the University of Maine and is heavily involved in the state’s Boys & Girls Club.
In addition, Haley was named a harbor commissioner for the ports of Portland and South Portland. And as a member of the Friends of Eastern Promenade he works to preserve Fort Allen Park in Portland, a 68-acre historical preserve.
Fighting Child Abuse
Lou Bivona was a general agent for NewYork-based financial-services firm The MONY Group, which specialized in financial planning and life insurance. He retired in 1998 but came back two weeks later to work at MONY’s Trusted Advisors branch as a direct broker for certified public accounts.
Eight years later, after the MONY Group was acquired by AXA Financial in 2004, Bivona left the business, and in 2007 he devoted himself full time to charitable work. He is the New York chairman of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). In 2005, he began the Bivona Child Advocacy Center in Rochester, N.Y. for sexually abused children.
A personal friend of John Walsh, host of TV’s “America’s Most Wanted,” Bivona aimed to create a fund-raising vehicle for NCMEC using the model begun by actor/philanthropist Paul Newman with Newman’s Own Foundation: selling food products and turning a portion of the proceeds to NCMEC.
Bivona and his team created TavernDirect.com, a line of sauces and seasonings based on recipes from the legendary Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York.
After a trademark fight that began after the restaurant lost its lease in 2009, Bivona’s venture finally resolved outstanding issues in November of last year—allowing the organization to ship its line of products throughout the world.
Fund-raising for the cause of child sexual abuse is often difficult, he says, because victims and their families often want to put the incident behind them and move on with their lives.
“The survivors are not lining up to march in protest and that makes it tougher to raise funds,” he says.
A victim of abuse himself at the age of 8, Bivona recognizes the difficulties the group’s members have and the issues they are dealing with. He says it took him some time to come to terms with his own victimization, which has made his involvement all the more personal.
Bivona says one of his wishes is that the insurance and financial-services industries would take up the cause of distributing materials to families that would inform them of the warning signs of child sexual abuse. The materials are free and can be downloaded from NCMEC’s Web site.
“The financial-services industry touches almost every family in America,” he says. “If it could be an educational and information-change agent, that would make my life.”
Bivona adds, “We could all save one child at a time if we went out and we gave the parents the educational material needed, so if they do see the signs, and their child is trying to tell them something,” they won’t simply dismiss it.