A guest post by Tyler Asher, president of independent agent distribution at Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance.
Struggling with hiring and staffing in your agency? You're not alone. Finding and hiring top talent can be tough.
The insurance industry is facing a talent crisis. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 400,000 insurance employees are set to retire within the next few years. And younger generations aren't necessarily considering insurance as a career path.
It's time for agencies to get creative about how they attract talent and build their teams.
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For ideas and examples to help you get started, we asked six insurance agency leaders for their advice on hiring:
Market your business
It's a competitive job market for employers right now, with plenty of businesses looking to hire. To attract candidates, independent insurance agencies must show what they have to offer.
“You almost have to market your business as much for a new hire as you do for a new sale," says Ashley Whitney, president of Harbor/Brenn Insurance Agencies. “You've got to talk about the culture of your business. You've got to talk about how much people enjoy working for you. Because it's not just a paycheck anymore."
Kelly Donahue Piro, Founder of Agency Performance Partners, says this starts from the initial job posting. Instead of only listing what you're looking for in a candidate, you need to showcase your agency's culture.
“In order to make your agency attractive and compelling, you should include things that would hook candidates," Piro wrote in her article for Agent for the Future.
“What makes your agency fun, what incentives do you have? Do you do any special trips or training sessions?"
Don't be afraid to hire from outside the industry
When hiring, many agencies look for candidates who already have experience in the insurance industry. But Seth Arruda, personal lines team leader at Alta Vista Insurance Agency, says hiring from outside the industry can provide opportunities to develop long-term roles within your agency.
Arruda says his agency has had success hiring people who are coming from outside the insurance industry or candidates who are just graduating college and looking for a career path. When evaluating candidates, he looks for people who fit with the agency culture, are tech-savvy and personable.
“There's a lot of knowledge that can be taught," he says. “You can learn the insurance stuff. You can learn and practice how to sell. But being able to listen well, identify what problems people are having and communicate well about the solutions, that goes a long way when you're trying to learn this business."
James Castell, owner of Castell Insurance, also says he's seen agencies have more success when they hire for personality and disposition rather than experience.
“Hire someone who is a helper, happy, excited and ready to serve," he says. “If they know how to help people, they can probably learn insurance."
“After all, most of us weren't born and bred to be insurance geeks. We honed the coverage knowledge over time. We just have a passion for helping and educating."
Create entry-level opportunities
How can you identify people's potential if they don't have experience? One option is to create entry level positions to get people in the door.
To find new producers, Compass Insurance created an entry level telemarketer position. New hires can prove themselves by creating leads for licensed sales agents. Those that do well have the opportunity to become producers themselves.
Jack Hoedeman, CEO of Compass Insurance, says the program has been extremely effective to drive sales and help the agency find producers. The agency actually has a waiting list of people interested in sales roles.
“The agents are selling more, because they have a great stream of leads," he says, “and it's provided a solid, steady stream of candidates."
Invest in onboarding and training
Whether your new hires have industry experience or not, onboarding and training is essential to help them learn the ins and outs of how your agency does business.
Training someone from scratch takes a significant investment. Seth Arruda advises agents to be prepared to invest a minimum of three years into fully training a brand-new agent.
It may take less time to get an experienced agent up to speed, he says, but you will still have to train them on your agency's workflows. Plus, he points out, some agents lack the skills it takes to do business in the 21st century. It may still take a significant amount of time and training to get the type of results you want.
Video can be a helpful training tool. Lori Busi, owner of Advantage Insurance Solutions, advises agents to create videos walking new hires through repeatable tasks. This makes it easier to scale training, since employees can go back and watch the videos as many times as they need.
Include your team in the hiring process
Referrals can be a good way to find new employees.
“The best employees we've hired usually come from referrals from existing staff," says Ashley Whitney, “So I'm constantly asking, 'Do you know anybody? We're looking for people.'"
However you find a potential candidate, Amanda Shults, president of RiskSOURCE Clark-Theders, advises agency leaders to involve existing staff in the hiring process. At RiskSOURCE, one of the steps of the hiring process is a peer interview with the team the person's potentially going to work with. The company's HR director sits in, but the team's supervisor does not, which Shults says allows for more open conversations.
“I encourage candidates to ask those questions: How do you like your job? What's a typical day?" she says. “I think it helps to build trust amongst the team. And when the team is part of hiring, if they're an advocate for that candidate, by the time the person says yes and joins us, it creates a sort of chemistry in the onboarding process."
Think outside the box
When Lori Busi of Advantage Insurance Solutions realized her small team was overwhelmed with everyday servicing, she made a list of all the tasks that she could take off her producers' plates. Then, she started hiring virtual assistants (VAs) to do those service tasks.
Her agency now has a team of eight full-time VAs in the Philippines who handle marketing, data entry and policy changes that don't require licensing. This frees up the agency's licensed producers to focus on client meetings, sales and relationship building. Freeing up this time has allowed the agency to keep growing by 20% year-over-year. Her VAs have referred new VAs for the agency and also helped train new VAs that come aboard, making for a smooth process.
The staff at Advantage view the VAs as integral parts of their team. The VAs go through all the relevant carrier training, and Busi also uses Total CSR for continuing education.
She says thinking outside the box for servicing has saved her agency money and allowed her team to focus on growth goals instead of getting bogged down with routine service tasks.
“We're trying to grow deeper with our current client base," she says. “We're focusing on our goals to increase policy count, and we're going to try to work our book for referrals."
This article was originally published on AgentFortheFuture.com. Agent for the Future exists to help independent insurance agents succeed. On AgentForTheFuture.com, Liberty Mutual and Safeco Insurance shares insights from agents and industry experts.