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Town & Country Insurance’s Scott Oswald, farm and crop insurance department manager (far right), poses with an agency turkey farmer: The John and Andria Volkmann family of rural Jewell, Iowa. The Iowa turkey industry is one of the agency’s most successful niche markets.
Town & Country Insurance, a Webster City, Iowa-based agency, is owned by the local First State Bank organization. During the last 10 years, Town & Country Insurance has grown into the largest insurance agency in the country affiliated with a $100 to $300 million asset size bank. Acquisitions have added substantial growth to the agency. Additional growth has been generated by marketing campaigns targeted toward the Iowa turkey industry and crop insurance. I’m a farm kid from southwest Iowa who graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in agriculture business with a finance specialization. After college, I entered the banking and insurance industries with a bank in Gowrie, Iowa. That small, family-owned bank had an insurance affiliate–and I joined First State Bank and Town & Country Insurance in 1984. Since then, I’ve been involved with managing First State Bank’s insurance operations. I relinquished my other bank responsibilities and began working full time in our growing insurance agency in 1996. As agency manager and executive vice president, I manage a substantial book of farm, crop and commercial insurance business, which helps me keep in touch with our carriers and changes to our product offerings. As a member of the First State Bank board of directors, I also act as the agency’s conduit for information to and from the bank management and our agency staff. One of my primarily responsibilities is acquisition recruitment. We average one agency acquisition about every 12 to 15 months, so much of my time is spent negotiating agency purchases and managing the merger process once the deal is closed. We have completed eight agency acquisitions during the last 8 years. Only one of the agency’s four offices is located within a bank office. The remaining three locations are “insurance-only” offices. Webster City is the main location. There are full-service branch locations in Eagle Grove, Clarion and Story City, all in Iowa. In the fall of this year, another bank and agency branch will open in Fort Dodge, Iowa. As an independently operated department of the First State Bank of Webster City, Town & Country is managed by a five-member agency management team and four department managers. During the past decade, Town & Country has grown from a staff of three people to an agency with more than 35 employees. We accomplished this through our aggressive acquisition program as well as consistent organic growth. In 1997, agency revenues were less than $700,000. In 2008, our revenues exceeded $4 million. Residing in a rural part of north central Iowa, Town & Country is not able to specialize in any particular product line. To be successful, we must be proficient in and market a wide range of products. This product diversity makes staff training an ongoing challenge, but also protects our agency revenue during the hard and soft market cycles. An approximate breakdown for our 2008 revenues is 35 percent crop, 25 percent personal, 20 percent commercial, 11 percent life/health/employee benefits and 9 percent farm.
A 5-member agency management team and four department managers oversee the agency
The agency management team: Doug Follmann, executive vice president, agency manager Craig Nelsen, vice president, sales and product manager Mary Struchen, operations manager Clay Hansen, vice president, customer service manager Reta Youngdale, accounting and compliance manager
The following individuals manage one of the agency’s product lines: Scott Oswald, farm & crop insurance dept. manager Tim Anderson, commercial insurance dept. manager Lynn McKinney, personal insurance dept. manager Connie Wilson, life & health insurance dept. manager
Town & Country has not been able to focus exclusively on one or two industries or product lines. However, we have had success with target marketing toward our most successful niche market–the Iowa turkey industry. This industry has been expanding in Iowa in recent years, and we have written many new accounts by focusing specific staff resources to it. During the past 10 years, Town & Country has become the recognized leader in writing coverage on Iowa turkey farms. We regularly attend turkey industry trade shows, help staff an Iowa State Fair food booth operated by the Iowa Turkey Federation, and participate in industry golf outings. Scott Oswald, farm and crop insurance department manager, leads this marketing effort and has built some wonderful relationships with key leaders in this industry. He was our agency’s top producer last year due in part to his efforts with this target market. The second product we aggressively market is crop insurance. Each year we put together a marketing campaign consisting of billboards, direct mail, newspaper and radio ads, along with an aggressive call program. We have been pleased with the results. Our crop insurance revenue is up more than 125 percent from just 2 years ago. Some of this is due to higher premiums on crop insurance because of the higher grain prices we have had, but we also have brought in a larger number of new crop insurance clients during this 2-year period. Management and automation For the past 13 years, our agency has used the Applied Systems WinTAM agency management system. The server is hosted in Webster City and all of the branch locations access it through the Internet. Several years ago the agency switched to an e-filing system where documents are scanned instead of keeping the actual paper document. The scanned documents were filed in date sequence. Recently, we have begun using the bar code scanning feature that Applied System software provides. Our employees prefer this new method of retaining images, because the images are linked directly to the client within our agency management system. Our previous e-filing system was a third-party software, and it required a few extra keystrokes to retrieve the document. We have spent considerable time in 2008 updating our agency management structure. We have had some key retirements this past year, and 2008 seemed like a good time to take a fresh look at how our business operates. In the past, we had a branch manager structure, so much of our management was built around that position. With the retirement of several branch managers, we had to rethink how best to operate the agency. Out of that review came the decision to structure the agency around departments instead of branches. We now have four department managers, who hold department meetings once a month to improve communication, review goal setting and train within the department. We also recently expanded this by appointing a senior customer service rep in each department as that department’s training coordinator. The training coordinator works with the department manager to implement appropriate product training within that department. We had identified that we were not providing adequate product training to our newer staff members. Each department is now working on a proposed 12-month training timeline for 2009. To accomplish our growth goals, I decided 2 years ago that we should formalize and improve our sales processes. One of our branch managers had expressed the desire to some day work as a corporate sales manager, so I jumped at the opportunity to create a new sales manager position. This is the smartest thing I have done in my 25 years with the agency. Craig Nelsen, our sales and product manager, has done a great job of pulling together all of the sales and marketing activities that we have. We now hold monthly sales meetings that are mandatory for all of our producers. At this meeting, we review each producer’s sales for the month, their YTD sales and how they compare to their YTD goals, and also their prior YTD numbers. We have put an increased emphasis on life insurance sales this year and we spend a little time at each sales meeting talking about our success in that area. Our producers sold more life insurance in 2008 than in any previous year. I just can’t say enough about my staff. I feel fortunate each day when I come to work that I have the opportunity to work with such a dedicated, fun group of people. They truly are an amazing group of professionals.
If I had to sum up our plans for the future into four phases:
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