Pennsylvania agency stresses P.S.-Personal Service-since I928
By Dennis Pillsbury
One of the things that I’ve learned over the years of writing articles about successful agencies is that every agency has its own unique personality. And like people, that personality can be one that we like and want to spend more time with or one that we don’t.
Invariably, each agency’s person-ality reflects the person or people in charge-along with the impact that history has had on the agency. This month, I once again have the pleasure of writing about an agency with a personality that I really enjoyed getting to know.
Headquartered in Corry, Pennsylvania, a small town in the western part of the state, Rossbacher Insurance Group has been led by Brad Allen, CIC, CRM, since 1999. Two partners were later added to the leadership team: J.T. Colwell, CIC, CRM, in 2005 and Scott Fogle, CIC, in 2011. The agency has two branch offices-one each in Cranberry and Oil City, with Jeannie Henry, CISR, serving as branch manager.
I believe what I liked best about the agency’s personality was its emphasis on a team approach that was designed to treat all parties in the process with dignity and fairness. The agency’s website is TeamRossbacher.com and that web address was reflected by my initial conversation with Brad; he constantly pointed to other members of his team-fellow team members at the agency, of course, but also customers and carrier partners-for every good thing that has happened at the agency.
Brad, who started his insurance career as a district sales manager at Erie Insurance, readily admits-with a smile-that he “never came up with a new idea. I stole most of them from others.”
He explains: “I learned from others what to do and what to avoid, and that doesn’t just include people at the agency. I have really good customers who have shared their business acumen with me. I’ve spent my life learning and have tried to bring people on board who share that passion.”
Making it personal
Rossbacher Insurance Service was founded in 1928 by Richard Rossbacher, whose stated goal was to offer each customer a meaningful personal experience. When his son, John Rossbacher, took over leadership of the agency, he had his dad’s goal emblazoned on a tie clip. The clip was engraved with the letters “P.S.” followed by the phrase “Personal Service.”
In 1977, John handed the reins to Chip Colwell, CIC, who led the team for more than two decades. In the late 1990s, when thoughts of retirement were taking center stage in Chip’s mind, he went to dinner with Brad to celebrate their success writing a new commercial account together. Chip (J.T.’s dad) was looking for a way to perpetuate and Brad, who grew up only 20 miles from the agency, had come to the realization that being an agent matched his future desires. Chip ended up offering the perpetuation opportunity to Brad. He accepted.
After Brad took over the agency he had worked with for years while a sales manager at Erie-and not long before John passed away-John presented his engraved tie clip to Brad, with a note that said: “I wore this for years-I now bequeath it to you. All good things, John
Rossbacher.” Richard Rossbacher’s goal continues to be memorialized in the agency’s tagline: “P.S.-Personal Service since 1928.”
Brad makes it abundantly clear that the positive personal experience that is promised to clients applies as well to the Rossbacher agency team, both veteran members and new hires. “When I drew up my strategic plan in 1999,” Brad recalls, “it focused on two things: bringing in great team members through a careful recruitment process, and establishing scalable processes and procedures that guarantee consistency for each client, regardless of which team members speak to that client.”
Also included in the plan was a further expansion into the large commercial lines arena. Brad wrote his first commercial client the following year. “That client is still with us today,” Brad says proudly.
Building a strong bench
Partner Scott Fogle says, “I spend a lot of my time recruiting, and developing existing team members. Since we don’t generally hire people with industry experience, recruits spend the first month studying for their licensing exams. We ask all our new hires to obtain both the P/C and L/H licenses. We’ve found it works best to do that while they are already in a study mode.”
For the next two or three months, Fogle adds, “We undertake a structured training plan that includes carrier product training, obtaining a CISR designation, and agency-specific training where they learn our best practices and procedures.”
“Our training program follows a path that is determined by the direction we think best fits the candidate’s strengths,” says Branch Manager Jeannie Henry. “Our intensive interview process helps us determine what position would be best for each new hire. In essence, we create a position for that person and figure out how that will best fit in with our team.
“The direction of the training program is communicated both to the new hire and to the person responsible for mentoring that person,” Jeannie adds. “Our goal is to make them comfortable with the program right from the start. We’re building really great bench strength with this approach.”
“In order to identify truly quality prospective team members,” Scott picks up, “we obtain quantitative data on the potential new hire from an online assessment, and then we supplement that with qualitative feedback from six hours of interviews conducted during multiple visits by the candidate.
“Hiring decisions are vetted by a group of people that includes top management and team leaders,” he continues. “Because they are involved, team leaders end up being more vested in the long-term development of our team and they get actively involved in the mentoring process.
“I learned from others what to do and what to avoid, and that doesn’t just include people at the agency. I have really good customers who have shared their business acumen with me. I’ve spent my life learning and have tried to bring people on board who share that passion.”
-Brad Allen, CIC, CRM Partner
“That’s a key component of our program,” Scott adds. “There is no substitute for quality time spent solving problems together.”
“Another key part of our training is our regular team meetings,” Jeannie points out. “We have three meetings each week: one for the personal lines team, one for the commercial lines team, and one for the entire Rossbacher team. And each of those meetings involves some type of training, like a review of new coverages or going over a claim experience someone was having or developing word tracks on ways to present to clients.
“We have videoconference rooms in each of our offices,” she adds, “so everyone can be involved in this process. The technology we developed to allow for videoconference proved especially useful when COVID forced us to work from home. Our transition was seamless.”
Brad points out that “our recruiting process has been so effective that only one person here actually applied for a position; we found the rest. We’re constantly looking for top talent and when we find them, we run them through IQ and personality testing.
“At the same time, we make certain that they’re coming to work for a great employer. We offer an excellent salary and benefits package that includes a 401(k), typically up to 18%, a bereavement policy on top of our regular time off, and liberal vacation time.
“Everything is built around trust,” he adds. “We entrust our clients to our team members, and we trust them to work responsibly.”
Scott adds, “We truly understand that a person’s family comes first. Caring for and prioritizing one’s family is an indication of high character, and that’s what we’re looking for. We’ve always believed in enhancing the quality of life for our team members, but now we better appreciate that one way to do that is to maintain a culture that puts family first.
“This became an area of emphasis in our recently updated set of agency core values,” he explains. “We’re commit-ted to weekday hours and staffing limits that minimize the need for regular overtime. Hiring is very competitive these days. Our focus has helped us compete for and hire some of the best talent out there.”
“We truly understand that a person’s family comes first. Caring for and prioritizing one’s family is an indication of high character, and that’s what we’re looking for. Hiring is very competitive these days. Our focus has helped us compete for and hire some of the best talent out there.”
-Scott Fogle, CIC
Commercial support group
“Since we began writing commercial lines at the start of this century, we’ve developed a unique approach to working with our insurance company partners,” says Partner J.T. Colwell. “We created a centralized support group, staffed by CIC professionals, that interacts with carrier underwriters. The people in this group are experts on the various carrier coverage features and software systems.
“Underwriters will deal with the same team member on each account,” he adds, “allowing for strong personal relationships to develop. The underwriters know they can trust our submissions to reflect their own marketing appetites.
“Endorsement requests also are funneled through commercial support so they can coordinate changes with the carrier representatives,” J.T. notes. “The group also includes an independent quality control function that checks all carrier-endorsed policies against intended endorsements.
“The support group helps uphold agency best practices and minimizes potential E&O risk,” he continues. “It also frees up producers to focus on customer relationships while leaving the intricacies of carrier processes to our professionals.”
“We created a centralized support group, staffed by CIC professionals, that interacts with carrier underwriters. The support group helps uphold agency best practices and minimizes potential E&O risk. It also frees up producers to focus on customer relationships.”
-J.T. Colwell, CIC, CRM
“We have a long legacy of working within the community,” Jeannie says, adding that “this commitment has been attractive to the kind of people we are looking to hire. They are family and community oriented and appreciate the fact that we don’t support the community with just money, but with our time as well.
“We allow time off for team members to be engaged in the community,” she adds. “For me, it’s working with the Chamber of Commerce. Others are involved with the YMCA, United Way, Rotary and numerous local sports teams and redevelopment boards.”
“All of us are blessed,” Brad concludes. “At the turn of the century, we had five team members. Today, we have 27 and our premium revenues exceed $20 million. We owe it to the communities that have supported us to reciprocate. And that comes back ten-fold in terms of the help and ideas they offer us, as well as the life-long friendships and relationships we have established with our clients and other members of the community.”
Rough Notes is pleased to recognize Rossbacher Insurance Group as our Agency of the Month. Their commitment to bringing new talent into the insurance industry is not just good for their business, but also helps elevate the insurance industry overall.
Editor’s note: Brad Allen’s pre-insurance history includes military service-including time spent in a foxhole with Bob Klinger, principal of our July 2015 Agency of the Month, who introduced Brad to us. Thank you both for your service.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.