The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America offers platform for recruitment and assessment of potential new employees
By Christopher W. Cook
According to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America’s (IIABA) 2018 Future One Agency Universe Study, about 45% of its participants responded that their number one concern was the ability to find new talent. After all, I’ve heard time and time again that the insurance industry isn’t considered to be sexy. But at the same time, with the large number of Baby Boomers retiring soon, plenty of job openings will become available. More colleges and universities may be offering degrees in risk management and insurance, but the key is finding the right candidate—the right fit—for one’s agency. And where and how do you find them?
“We talked with a few national recruiting firms that work in insurance, and the price points to hire a new producer were really above what the average small agency could afford,” says Madelyn Flannagan, vice president of agent development, education and research at the IIABA. “You were looking at an average of $7,500 to $10,000 to find a new producer. That’s a lot of money for a small agency.
“Our executive committee asked, ‘Is there anything that we can do?’ They knew what some of our state associations were doing to find recruiters in their areas.”
This eventually led IIABA to reach out to IdealTraits, a recruiting firm based in Lake Orion, Michigan.
“I gave them a call; they’re former Allstate agents and one is still an Allstate exclusive agent,” Flannagan says. “They created an online recruiting program that shows if a candidate would be a good salesperson, based on an assessment that one of them had taken many years ago. It’s insurance agency specific.
“We decided this was a good start and that we could partner with them. As I was talking to some of our state associations, we decided it would be good to put everything together in one place for members to recruit their talent and do some training.”
This was the birth of Big “I” Hires, which had a soft launch in November 2018 with a larger release in January of this year.
The Big “I” Hires website focuses on a four-step process: recruit, assess, train and retrain. The recruitment portion involves the IIABA’s partnership with IdealTraits.
“Members sign into the platform, create an account, and create their own unlimited number of job ads,” says Flannagan. “They decide where they want to place them across hundreds of job sites like Indeed and Glassdoor. They can also post them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or even their local newspaper.
“Once people start applying to the ads, we can send them a 40-question assessment; it’s mobile friendly and quick to take—about 10 to 15 minutes,” she continues. “It will then rank the potential employees by how they did on the assessment. Are they nurturers? Are they empathetic? It knows what traits are best for a CSR, producer, and so on. It rates them right in the system.”
Assessment segments on the platform are contributed by IdealTraits and Caliper, a long-time partner of the IIABA.
“The Caliper assessment provides an in-depth profile of potential applicants,” says Flannagan. “Agencies use this to determine whether someone would be a good fit. A lot of times they will match up current employees’ Caliper results to potential employees and see how they might work well together or do an assessment for all of their employees to see if the team is working well.”
Big “I” Hires also features sales call reluctance testing, in partnership with Exceptional Sales Performance in Phoenix, which was founded and is run by Connie Kadansky, MMC, a noted authority on call reluctance and sales productivity. “She administers the test, and will then go over the results with you one on one,” says Flannagan. “She will also coach someone who might be a great salesperson but might have a few flaws here and there. I think this is an amazing opportunity for our members because if they’re hiring new producers who have never sold insurance before, she really works well in that space.”
When it’s time to interview potential employees, “you can keep your interview questions on the portal, you can reject people, you can say ‘thank you for applying’; those letters are built into the system,” says Flannagan. “You can also store your notes. That’s nice when multiple people are interviewing somebody; you can look at everybody’s notes and see what they said. Afterward, you can send the job offer letter from the platform.”
Training—and retraining—round out the four-step process. Big “I” Hires offers training opportunities by providing access to the IIABA’s Big “I” Virtual University.
“We have all types of training from webinars to classes,” says Flannagan. “We have lightning learning, which takes place in fast-paced 15-minute learning sessions. Chris Boggs, executive director of Big ‘I’ University, created a set of technical knowledge tests—25 questions on how well a candidate knows ISO forms, from personal auto, homeowners, commercial auto, general liability, and workers compensation. And they’re free to our members to administer to potential hires to see how well they might know the coverages they’re going to be selling.”
Big “I” Hires also provides do-it-yourself (DIY) hiring toolkits for those who may be uncomfortable with the online platform concept. There are five categories for guides: commercial lines CSR, personal lines CSR, personal and commercial CSR, personal lines producer, and commercial lines producer.
“These toolkits have interview questions, sample job ads, sample job descriptions, offer letters, job applications, and rejection forms, and they include the legal issues you need to consider during an interview,” Flannagan says. “They were created by a recruiting firm in New York called Affinity HR.”
The latest partner of Big “I” Hires, Affinity HR will also be providing pay-for-use HR services on the platform, including compensation plans, agency handbooks, employee handbooks, and market and salary analysis.
“The toolkits have been pretty popular so far for the people who get afraid of that online platform, and they’re not expensive,” Flannagan says.
An individual toolkit costs $99 for members; the entire group of five costs $299.
This is the first time that dollar signs have shown up in this article. What are some of the costs of other features? Posting unlimited job openings costs $69 per month for IIABA members. The site also offers a “fast start” option, which provides premium support, priority onboarding and other recruiting tools for a one-time charge of $399 per location.
“If agency locations are within 20 miles of each other, you can just have one account,” explains Flannagan. “If you have used Indeed and Glassdoor, they locate you by zip code and place the ads for people to find in specific areas.”
Despite still being in its infancy, the Big “I” Hires platform has already begun seeing success.
“I keep track of everything that’s going on within the program, and we hit 100 active users in mid-April,” says Flannagan. “As of early May, we have 133 active accounts. We’ve delivered 11,000 potential candidates to our members, and we have had 179 hires to date. One job that was posted on January 18 got 268 candidates. They interviewed three and hired one.”
As with most new products, challenges exist—the main one being simply getting the word out.
“Now that we’ve created the platform, it’s all about marketing it and getting it out to as many people as possible,” Flannagan says. “It’s been a challenge. Our HR personnel have jumped in to help me.
“Our partners have been really great. We’ve created a series of webinars about how to use the toolkit and the sales call reluctance training. We do ongoing webinars with IdealTraits to talk about the product and what it does, and to show people what it looks like.”
Jon Jensen, chief executive officer of Correll Insurance Group and chairman-elect of IIABA, is a strong advocate of the platform.
According to Flannagan, Jensen has been a “guiding hand behind this. He said he could spend an average of $80,000 a year recruiting new producers since he’s multi-location. He was one of our trials, and his agency is a solid user now. They keep their ads running all the time.”
Correll Insurance Group has 21 locations across North and South Carolina, with 226 employees; 60% of its business is in commercial lines and 40% is in personal lines.
“We’ve found Big ‘I’ Hires to be a great platform for us,” says Jensen. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in a small or large agency, a rural or metro area; there’s a limited number of people we’re able to find.
“The Big ‘I’ executive committee and others formed a strategic plan to help fill this void for our members. That’s what the association is all about—providing our members with benefits. And this was the number one thing we could do. We have made three hires—good quality people. We’ve been very happy with it.”
Jensen’s agency uses the platform for recruiting—it already had a previous relationship with Ideal Traits—as well as sales call reluctance testing, Caliper profiles and some of the forms that are available.
“As you go in as a new user, the team at IdealTraits is walking you through it, helping you in every way possible,” Jensen explains. “Everyone I’ve spoken to who has used the program is thrilled with the service behind it.
“However, some people will use the product, hire someone and then believe they don’t need to use it anymore and come off the platform. We encourage people to stay on and constantly use it.
“My HR person uses the recruitment features 15 to 20 minutes every single day. We’re constantly looking at what people are out there and what qualifications they have. Before we were using search firms. It was very expensive, and our results were just okay.
“The program’s been very successful. It’s really shaping up to be exactly what we hoped it would be,” Jensen concludes.
Michael McBride, JD, president of Mason-McBride, Inc., and a member of the IIABA executive committee, is pleased with the success that the platform has brought his agency, which is based in Troy, Michigan, has 30 employees, and is 75% commercial and 25% personal lines.
“We on boarded the resource late in 2018 and have used the search and screening functions for a few different positions,” McBride says. “We have hired two individuals from the Big ‘I’ Hires site, and we would not have had access to these individuals but for the platform.
“We like the ability to engage in the employment marketplace digitally on a real-time basis. The platform reflects the new reality of how employers and prospective employees connect.”
Like Jensen, McBride recommends making the platform a “permanent resource for agencies,” Because even though the insurance industry isn’t considered to be sexy, there are still plenty of positions to be filled and even more becoming available in the future.
For more information:
Big “I” Hires