Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Management

The Accidental Agent

In ancient Egypt, people installed shrines in their homes with statues of their favorite gods and goddesses to watch over their property. Today, they have Carrie Reynolds, the Insurance Goddess.

Folks in Bellefontaine, Ohio (population around 13,000 and home of the first concrete street in America), have grown accustomed to seeing the Insurance Goddess around town in full regalia, doing things like passing out trick-or-treat bags around Halloween or posing for pictures at a Relay for Life fundraiser. She even has an “INSGDSS” vanity plate on her car.

It’s a persona that Reynolds, partner with Alan Galvez Insurance, developed four years ago when she launched an insurance education blog. Passionate and savvy about the need for agents to engage in social media marketing, she wanted a catchy name to engage her readers; so, tongue firmly in cheek, she dubbed the blog “Confessions of an Insurance Goddess.”

The agency was set to host a downtown block party, and a friend suggested she “do something” with the character. So Reynolds found a pattern and recruited a seamstress friend to create an Egyptian queen costume, complete with headpiece, bejeweled collar and golden cape.

“I debuted the Insurance Goddess at the party, passed out goodies advertising my blog and took pictures with the attendees,” she says. “They thought it was a hoot and so did I.”

Since then, the character has taken on a life of its own and garnered more publicity—and goodwill—than Reynolds could have ever imagined. The Ohio PIAA, company publications from Erie and Progressive, and speaking engagements on insurance marketing followed.

Reynolds views her Goddess alter ego as one way her primarily personal lines agency stands against the competition from local agencies and direct writers.

“You can’t out-GEICO GEICO, so we don’t even try. I don’t pay much attention to what [direct writers] do,” she says. “I’ve taken a lot of business from direct writers. If people know you and like you and trust you, you’ll always win business. If they see you in your community with your kids and get a feel for you as a person, I think that’s a tough combination to beat.”

The Family Business

Reynolds—who as a kid wanted to be a marine biologist or a Broadway dancer—grew up in Bellefontaine the daughter of local independent agent Alan Galvez, who began work at a local property-casualty agency in the late 1970s and left to start his own agency in 1988.

Like many “insurance brats,” the last thing on her mind was joining the family business, so she attended Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, to earn a business degree. In 1996, about a month before graduation, she realized she didn’t have any job prospects and called her dad in tears. “It’s a conversation I’ll never forget,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Carrie, come work for me. Even if you end up not liking it, you’ll gain valuable work experience that looks great on a resume.’”

Today, Reynolds and her father are co-partners in the agency, with her mother, Maria, still handling front-desk duties. It’s a thriving business, with $1.2 million annual premium volume, 70% personal lines business, representing insurers including Erie, Motorists Insurance, Buckeye Insurance Group and Progressive, with specialties in health insurance, Medicare supplement and small contractors. The agency has a staff of six: three producers, two CSRs and a receptionist. Reynolds wears many hats, including producer, marketing specialist and agency operations.

In many ways, Alan Galvez Insurance is the kind of Main Street independent agency that in the past comprised the backbone of the industry. But Reynolds’ commitment to technology, customer education and social media-based marketing are the earmarks of an agency poised for future growth.

The agency uses a cloud-based agency management system (Catalyst by QQSolutions), a move that some agencies still shun, but provides “access from anywhere,” she says. The agency is also constantly analyzing and reinventing its internal processes to make full use of the agency management system and automating processes as much as possible.

The Power of Social Media

A self-styled Insurance Goddess is someone who makes branding and marketing a priority that goes beyond the costume, and utilizing technology and social media is key. “The biggest trend right now is prospects using the Internet to research insurance,” she says. “Trust me, they’ve Googled you before you even know it. So if prospects and customers are online doing their research, you have to be there, too.”

The agency has ramped up its marketing activities with both traditional and digital media to keep its name top of mind—and search engine. Along with her blog, there also are monthly e-newsletters and free reports on insurance-related topics. Reynolds is rabidly active on social media (on Facebook, The Insurance Goddess; Twitter: @carrie_AGIns). It’s a strategy that’s paying dividends.

For example, Reynolds learned about a client’s homeowner claim when she saw the client’s posting about a tree falling on her house on the Goddesses’ Twitter feed. Reynolds knew a contractor who lived nearby, so she contacted him to tarp the property. “He was there within 20 minutes,” Reynolds says. “That doesn’t happen every single time, but I’ll bet you a bazillion dollars that it doesn’t happen that fast with the direct writers.”

It’s this combination of technology plus the homegrown, hometown network she’s built that equals the agency’s unique recipe for success.

Well, that and the Insurance Goddess—whom Reynolds sees as an antidote to the traditional stodgy image that insurance conveys to most people.

“The industry has always been famous for being dull and boring,” she adds. “If you’re the opposite, I bet people will remember you. If all the Insurance Goddess character does is bring a smile to someone’s face and give them a chuckle, then I will have succeeded. If it helps them to remember who I am, then even better. And if it brings them around to talk about my favorite subject, then that’s a bonus.”

Networking to a new producer

With its tech and social media focus, Alan Galvez Insurance has an eye to the future. But sometimes it takes some old-fashioned Main Street networking to get things done. Reynolds knew that the agency needed a new, young producer to help perpetuate the firm, but dreaded the process of recruiting one. Late last fall, Alan Galvez had taken Roxanne, one of the office’s two cats, to the vet for a checkup and mentioned that the agency was looking for a new producer. A week later, a young man brought his dog to the same vet and mentioned that he was looking for a job in insurance. The vet recalled the conversation with Alan and referred the young man—a recent college graduate with a producer’s license—to the agency. He interviewed at the agency and was offered the job. Today, Reynolds is training the new producer by taking him out on prospect calls and home inspections, and he is a good fit with the agency’s laid-back culture. “It was a happy accident,” she says. “The power of your network is unbelievable.”

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