As Gen Y grows into an increasing presence in the workforce, the old rules become irrelevant. Learn young agents’ priorities as they sound off on mentors, work/life balance, sales strategies, legislative issues and more.

Holly Rossell, AAI

Vice president of Operations at Action Advantage Group
Years at company:
10 years
College: Michigan State University, 2002
Organizations:MAIA Board of Directors, Big I YAC member

Read Holly’s Q&A from AA&B’s January issue

What have you learned working in a professional environment?
It is very difficult to achieve your goals if you don’t have a strong support staff behind you. I feel that CSRs are the heart of the agency. They work so hard behind the scenes taking care of clients’ needs. Always be kind and up front with your support staff when dealing with an account issue. If you lie or treat them poorly, it will take you a very long time to gain their trust and respect back.

How did you choose a career in insurance?
In 2002 I graduated from MSU with a degree in human resources. While I was interviewing for my dream job, I took a part-time job at my dad’s agency in the accounting department. Before I knew it, I obtained my insurance license. Once I moved into personal lines sales, I realized I liked helping people through the insurance process and giving them a positive experience. Now 9 years have passed and I’ve moved into a management role. Every day is a new adventure with different challenges.

Who is your mentor?
My father, Ron, is my No. 1 mentor. Ron has worked in the insurance business for 36 years. Through hard work and dedication he’s built a successful agency that is growing, despite today’s tough economic conditions. Agency management is a very tough role, balancing staff, carrier and client relationships. My dad’s passion for life and insurance just spills over on everyone at the agency and creates a wonderful work environment. The biggest thing he has taught me is to have balance between work and home life. At the end of the day, whether you succeed or fail, tomorrow is a new day to begin again.

Jessica Medlin

Consultative broker at Edwards, Church & Muse
Years at company:
3 years
College: University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 2005
Organizations: IIANC, YAC Vice Chair, IIACM, BLOC, Charlotte Chamber

Read Jessica’s Q&A from AA&B’s February issue

What advice do you have for Millennials struggling in a professional environment?
I think technology has hurt them as much as it has helped them. With technology comes lack of social interaction. This generation prefers to use social networking rather than actual networking. Technology has improved efficiency and time; however, people still want one-on-one interaction when they are spending a lot of money on something as intangible as insurance. My advice is to make sure your clients know your face. It’s a lot harder for clients to move their business when they have more than an email relationship with their agent.

What sales strategies worked for you?
Because of my age and inexperience, networking has helped me. I volunteered for events and showed people I’m a dedicated, hard-working individual. When people see you in action, no matter what you are doing, they form an opinion. I have had more people ask me about insurance due to my commitments.

Do your associations or your agency reach out to students?
Our local IIACM and state IIANC are both great at reaching out to the universities. We have three universities in North Carolina that have risk management and insurance programs. North Carolina knows the importance of getting new and young blood back into the industry. Both organizations provide scholarships to students at each of the schools and the IIANC makes sure the students have an opportunity to join our events throughout the year. This allows the students opportunities to talk to both agents and company representatives.

Rachael Rizzi, CSRM, CISR

Commercial insurance broker, Commercial insurance at Orgill/Singer & Assocs.
Years at company: 7 years
College: UNLV 2004 (BA), Grand Canyon University 2012 (MBA)
Organizations:IIA of Southern Nevada, Nevada Young Agents Committee, Society of Certified School Risk Managers and Society of Certified Insurance Service Representatives

Read Rachael’s Q&A from AA&B’s March issue

How did you choose insurance as a career?
Like many of the youngsters in the industry I am second generation—my mom has been a licensed independent agent for more than 30 years. I worked at agencies while in college and found that I have a talent and affinity for insurance sales and service.

What advice do you have when working with family?
You have to create boundaries—keep a complete separation between church and state. In other words, all business conversations and interactions have to be kept at an appropriate, “need to know” level. Each party has to know and understand where the lines are and never put each other in a position where they have to cross them.

What’s your mantra for success?
It is easy as a young agent to get caught up in the money. To borrow from Suze Orman’s sage wisdom in my effort to combat this, I often put “people first and money second.” The insurance industry is a peace of mind business. When you devote your efforts to helping people find that peace of mind through the best possible products for their individual risk situation rather than on your own personal agenda, the money always follows.

Karl Ieuter, CPCU, ARM, CIC

Vice president of Ieuter Insurance Group
Years at company: 6 years
College: Miami University 1995; MBA, risk management and insurance, Georgia State University 1997
CPCU Chapter of Northeast Michigan, Professional Insurance Agents of Michigan, Young Insurance Professional of Michigan

Read Karl’s Q&A from AA&B’s April issue

What are your main priorities as a young agent?
I have three kids under 9 years old and balancing my family responsibilities with a growing book of business and the commitments to non-profits and industry events is very challenging. I designate which nights are late nights at work, family nights and social networking nights. Unfortunately, at this point in my career, I don’t often make it home before 8 p.m., due to all these commitments.

What advice do you have for Millennials struggling in a professional environment?
At least in sales, it is often hard for the Gen Y to be successful. Too many owners (and Gen Y) expect instant success. My advice would be to get as many advanced certifications as possible, as quickly as possible, as they will give you more credibility with clients. Then get a specific niche and go with it. Some accounts will take several years to write, but in the long run, hard work will pay off.

How did you choose insurance as a viable career choice?
I am a third-generation insurance agent. My grandfather was an insurance agent in Ottawa, Ill. Now I work with my dad and one of my brothers in Midland, Mich. Also, my uncle has an agency in Chicago and his three sons work there. Six members of my immediate Ieuter family have CPCU designations. Insurance is in my blood. My career in insurance started on the company side and changed over to the agency side. It has been very valuable having worked on both sides of the business.

Daniel J. Kaufman

Broker at Burns & Wilcox Brokerage of Chicago 
Years at company:
6 years
College: University of Michigan, BA 2007, Loyola University Chicago, JD 2010

Read Daniel’s Q&A from AA&B’s May issue

Who do you look to as a mentor in this industry?
I look to my father, Alan J. Kaufman, and my grandfather, Herbert W. Kaufman, as mentors in this industry. While my grandfather was an astute businessman, it was his charisma and kindness that people reflect on the most. At the end of the day, our business is built upon relationships and reputation and no one understood that better than he did. My father, meanwhile, is a visionary in his own right and backs it up with an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for growth. He has guided Burns & Wilcox to new heights and recognizes that if we aren’t always moving forward, we’re moving backwards. While I try to emulate both of these men, I understand from them that I need to be my own person and forge my own path.

How does your office reflect how you work?
I recently helped redesign our Chicago office, where I am based, to reflect a more collaborative work environment. We lowered the walls on the workstations and put in pockets of soft seating where people can meet and work together in a more relaxed, communal atmosphere. I believe it to be a more productive and energetic environment that encourages our people to work as a team and, as an end result, provides better service to our clients.

What legislative issues are you interested in?
The United States needs to foster an environment that better supports business and entrepreneurship. Our current tax code does not incentivize people to work, save, invest, and engage in entrepreneurial endeavors. Nor does it incentivize corporations to reinvest in their people or infrastructure. Yet, those are the behaviors that drive our economy and, naturally, sell insurance policies.

Jonathan Lohman

Insurance and benefits producer, Marketing specialist, at Lohman Cos. Insurance, Real Estate and Benefits
Years at company: 10 years
Illinois State University, Katie School of Insurance, 2007
Organizations: Gamma Iota Sigma, NAIFA, Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois, Young Agents of Illinois

Read Jonathan’s Q&A from AA&B’s June issue

How did you determine that insurance was a viable career choice?
I was shown the benefits of working hard, client outings and what I could do for the client. Talk about a life-changing moment when you are handing your first life insurance or business insurance claim check at age 23 and changing the life of someone forever. When another agent shared how powerful insurance is with a personal story and not just through a book, it sent shivers down my spine. I knew right then that insurance was for me.

What’s toughest about being young in a field where the average age is 55?
It’s very tough! When the average client knows my age, he wonders why he shouldn’t work with someone 30 years older than me. Just because that agent is older doesn’t mean he’s been in the industry longer or is willing to work harder. I also let clients know that I’ll be here for another 30 years with my name on the door versus someone retiring in 5 years.

How does technology fit into your work strategy?
I bought an iPad to cut down on paper and for mobile access to my markets. Just in proposal printing costs and by selling insurance remotely I paid for the iPad in 5 months and it should last quite a few years. I’ve sold insurance in places I’ve never even thought possible—including in a casino over the weekend. Then on Monday I quickly reviewed the client’s specifications, obtained a few signatures, a check and a handshake. Technology didn’t sell that policy but it definitely made it easier.

Brent Kelly, CIC

Property & Casualty agent at Clemens Insurance
Years at company: 8 years
College: University of Illinois 2000
Organizations: Kiwanis, Chamber of Commerce, Business Networking International, Toastmasters International

Read Brent’s Q&A from AA&B’s July issue

How do you balance work and your personal life?
It’s a work in progress. I have a wife and three daughters—ages 8, 5 and 2. When I first started in the business it was all about me, but I know I have four people who count on me not only financially, but emotionally. You only have so much time in each day so it is really important to maximize every minute. I use the early morning time to plan, read, and prepare before anyone in my house has awakened.

What’s the toughest thing about being a young agent in a field where the average age is 55?
Building credibility. Young agents need to leverage all of their skills as much as possible to compete. You can’t magically create 20 years of experience, but you can show prospects and clients that you are committed, knowledgeable and in their corner. Obtaining accreditations and certifications are helpful, but you need to use the knowledge from that education to provide real- world solutions for your prospects and clients.

What sales strategies have worked for you?
I started my first blog in 2011 as a way to better communicate and provide value. This has been a great learning experience and has provided many different opportunities. I also have started a second blog and focused my marketing to a few targeted niches where I have had the most success.

Chiquita Lovings

Senior alternative risk specialist at AGL Resources
Years at company: 6 years
College: University of West Florida 2003
Organizations: RIMS, YRP, American Assn. of Blacks in Energy, The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research

Read Chiquita’s Q&A from AA&B’s August issue

What is an important lesson you learned when joining a professional working environment?
Professionalism is always important, even during stressful situations. You can’t let your emotions get the best of you and cause an unattractive work situation.

How can employers retain young talent?
Employers can retain young talent by offering career growth opportunities and by allowing them greater opportunity to introduce new ideas into the discussion that complement their value, creativity and talent. One of the first things I learned at my company was the value they place on people with fresh ideas, tenacity and the drive to advance.

What do you see young agents struggle with in their first years in this industry? What advice do you have?
Study, study, study. Then, study some more. The insurance industry is ever changing and young agents should continue to seek educational opportunities to help them grow in the business.

Jon Beckham

Chief marketing officer at Accident Insurance Co.
Years at company: 3 years
College: University of South Carolina 1997

Read Jon’s Q&A from AA&B’s September issue

What challenges did you face as a young agent, and how did you handle them?
The two biggest challenges that I faced as a young agent were overcoming the age factor as well as developing existing relationships. To overcome the age issue we implemented a team selling approach that partnered younger and veteran producers together for prospecting and account management, which enabled a higher level of learning for the young agent. The second challenge, existing relationships, was overcome through increasing my product knowledge and developing a sales strategy based on a risk management approach versus price and relationship.

What legislative issues interest you?
I primarily focus on legislative issues that pertain to workers’ compensation. In recent years, several states have passed legislation that has had a positive impact on the workers’ compensation industry which allows for a more competitive marketplace for the insured.

What important lesson did you learn when joining a professional working environment?
The most important lesson I learned is the importance of punctuality. Earlier in my career as a commercial lines producer I showed up 10 minutes late to an appointment with a new prospect. The owner of the company called me into his office and asked me why I was late and before I could answer he gave me the following advice: “If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; and if you’re late, you’re forgotten.” That was the conclusion of the meeting as well as the chance I had to work on the account, but it is a lesson that has stuck with me for more than 12 years.

Wes Becknell, CIC, CSRM

Agent/producer at BDI Insurance
Years at company: 5 years
College: Southwestern Oklahoma State University 2004
Organizations: La Vernia Greater Chamber of Commerce, La Vernia Lions Club, IIAT Young Agent Council, Independent Insurance Agents of San Antonio Young Agents, La Vernia Central Business District Committe

Read Wes’ Q&A from AA&B’s October issue

What skills do you think young agents will need next year?
Young agents need to keep learning. We should start seeing a hardening market, which will have an impact on our insureds and we need to be ready with alternative options when they ask. Also, try to find ways to differentiate yourself from your competitors. I try not to give anyone my office number, just my cell. If they have a problem, they can contact me directly anytime.

What are your future goals in this industry?
I want to own an agency. I enjoy working for our agency, but I told my agency owner that if there wasn’t an opportunity to work toward ownership, then I would prefer not to be hired. I found out later that he had said something very similar to the owner of the agency during his interview. I also would like to teach CIC classes for the National Alliance. I think that it would be a great way to give back to an organization that has given me so much knowledge. The practical information that is shared is very valuable for any young agent trying to learn this ever-evolving industry.

What’s your mantra for success?
Brutal honesty. I tell everyone that I will do my best and if my best isn’t good enough, I will let them know to stay where they are. It has won me more clients than I have lost. Even when my pricing isn’t where it needs to be, clients see that I shoot straight and will not try and take advantage of their lack of knowledge. That comes from my parents. They are the best examples for me and my brothers.

Christopher M. Paradiso

Owner at Paradiso Financial & Insurance Services LLC
Years at company: 6 years
College: Anna Maria College 1998
Organizations: PIA, Big I

Read Christopher’s Q&A from AA&B’s November issue

What’s your mantra for success?
“The customer pays our salary.” Too many businesses create culture that has employees believing that their wages and benefits come from the boss, and therefore focus their energies and attention on the signature at the bottom of their checks. Customer-centric businesses have everyone focusing on the source of their revenue—the client.

What is your biggest weakness and how have you addressed it?
My first weakness was my leadership, so 2.5 years ago I made a complete staff change as my staff reflected my poor leadership. Procedures must match the philosophy, so I hired people who match mine. From great mentors, my leadership has improved and I will continue to work on my leadership skills.

How can employers recruit young talent?
Recruiting starts with understanding how talents meet our business strategic goals. Too often employers focus on the past experience of the potential employee rather than how a staff member can enhance clients’ experiences. Decide the culture of your business: innovative, customer centric or sales focused. Then recruit talent to drive that culture. I voluntarily teach classes at high schools and colleges and I have met many amazing young people who will have very successful careers in the insurance industry. At Paradiso Insurance, we recruit outside of the insurance industry, never from within.

Ashley M. Hunter, CRIS, AIC, ARM

President at HM Risk Group
Years at company: 6 years
College: Centenary College of Louisiana BM 2000, Texas A&M University MBA 2003
Organizations: Texas Wall Street Women (chair), RIMS, Reinsurance Under 40 (Texas chair), South Texas Society of Healthcare Risk Management (treasurer), PLUS, and City of Austin Bicycle Advisory Committee

Read Ashley’s Q&A from AA&B’s December issue.

How has your all-female advisory board helped your agency?
My advisory committee members are all accomplished women in the insurance and business industry. Through this connection I have received appointments with many global carriers, client growth and retention strategies, and learned how to differentiate my agency. There are very few women in the insurance industry, with only a handful in executive positions. Many times I have felt like I am chasing my tail, and these women offer advice and support.An agency of our size is easy to be lumped into your “neighborhood” agency. My advisory board gives us larger clients (national accounts).

What do you see young agents struggle with in a professional environment?
Young agents often try to change a business mindset within a week of starting a new position. Get to know your company and its personality. It is possible to make meaningful change but it takes time.

What was it like to turn a hobby into a job in insurance?
I had no intentions of going into insurance; I figured I would spend my life preforming as a concert violinist. After college, I handled several fine arts and musical instruments claims in the Middle East as an independent contractor for an insurance carrier. I wanted a summer corporate position and State Farm had the most attractive offer. You have to be willing to try new things. Ask for the opportunity to try new areas of the business and try an industry that many would tell you sounds boring. There are so many avenues that you can take in the insurance industry, from claims, marketing to underwriting, insurance to reinsurance. Trust me, I have done them all, and all over the world.