Congratulations Highpoint Insurance Group
2020 Agency of the Year
By Dave Willis, CPIA
Peers have spoken. Voting results are in. No recounts or challenges are required. The 2020 Rough Notes Agency of the Year has been chosen.
Since the late 1980s, Rough Notes magazine has featured some of the nation’s most remarkable independent insurance agencies on its cover. As different as 2020 was in many respects, the year was no exception when it came to our identifying and showcasing the very top-tier agencies from around the country.
Each year, one firm is selected to become the Rough Notes Agency of the Year. These are the best of the best—agencies that stand out among the standouts. The selection of our Agency of the Year is made by votes from their peers—the previous Agency of the Month honorees. They carefully review information on each of the nominees—in this case, the 10 agencies that appeared on the cover throughout the year—and select which they believe deserve top honor.
Candidates in this class of agencies ranged from small operations with just a handful of employees to large, multi-site firms with global reach. All received votes from previous winners, but in the end, only one made the cut: Highpoint Insurance Group in Friendswood, Texas, which was founded in 2008 and is run by Heather and Brandon Smyrl.
One previous winner, when submitting a vote, said that they “found [Highpoint] to be fresh and innovative in their approach to our business.” Another chose the agency because “it has an awesome culture and work-hard, play-hard environment that seems a lot like ours. They have a fitness room as we do. Staff love that! Also, I love the casual dress. Big agency firms are way too stuffy for most clients we both seem to go after. I love that!”
Another agency principal cited the quality of many candidates but selected Highpoint because it is “moving [staff] out of their comfort zones and obtaining growth in its wake. So many of us have been moved out of our comfort zones this year. It’s best to embrace it.” Another observed, “Each day is filled with fun, creativity and innovation. Heather, Brandon, Jackie and team have made our industry super cool and sexy.”
Finally, another shared part of what goes into their decision-making process: “One of my criteria is how many highlights I make in an article of points I would like to share with my agency. I like to see ideas that can be of value to other insurance professionals.”
The February 2020 Rough Notes cover feature on Highpoint points out that, when Heather and Brandon started the firm in 2008, their goal was to create an agency where employees would be treated like family and allowed to have fun in an industry that is naturally stressful. “At the time, we were strictly commercial, working primarily with construction-related or servicing contractors in the oil and gas sector,” Heather recalls. “Our personalities mesh well with that group. I guess we’re a little redeck.”
Heather, the agency’s chief experience officer, who carries the Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designations, is not afraid to show clients her energetic and fun side, and she encourages her people to do the same. Team members have opportunities—indeed, they’re encouraged—to move out of their comfort zone.
Agency President Brandon, who has earned the Construction Risk and Insurance Specialist (CRIS) professional designation, explains it like this: “We use the phrase ‘pursuing discomfort’ around here. In our world, that basically involves us all exploring new ways to drive customer success.
“It may sound crazy, but comfort is the casualty of growth,” he continues. “We strive to be innovative and elevate the success of our clients by constantly challenging ourselves far beyond our natural comfort zone. Believe it or not, we have learned how to have fun being uncomfortable.
“Vulnerability, humility, and authenticity have gone a long way with both our clients and our Highpoint family,” Brandon notes. “As much of a lighthearted atmosphere as we tend to embody inside our four walls, our clients have no doubt we take very seriously the responsibility and trust they put in us.”
The cover article took a deeper dive into agency culture, noting that, amid a focus on growing and serving clients in their chosen niche, Heather and Brandon from the start began to work on agency culture. “And that was before ‘culture’ was cool,” Heather recalls. “From when we opened our doors with 10 people, personal development has been a priority. As the agency’s chief experience officer, it was—and still is—part of my job to inspire, innovate and elevate.
“We were fortunate from day one to have a group of people with servant hearts, who wanted to help clients succeed,” she adds. “That made it relatively easy to bring the same customer-focused idea inside our own walls, with each person helping fellow employees develop and grow.”
Acknowledging that the industry and the tools used to serve clients are constantly changing, Heather points out that “we have to constantly change. That means learning to use different tools, and that almost always makes people uncomfortable. But for our people, that’s an everyday occurrence and they know how to deal with it; they know how to get out of their own way and move beyond the dis-comfort to become proficient at a new way of doing things.”
Part of that “new way” involved the agency’s being a heat-seeker and going all-in on social platforms before many of its peers. “We would let our people go on social media during office hours, which was heresy at the time in many agencies,” Heather explains. “But that’s where our customers are and, for many of them, that’s where they see us. We were on YouTube when getting 1,000 hits was considered ‘viral.’
“We have to meet the buyer where the buyer is,” she continues. “That lesson hit home in a big way when we were talking to one of our largest clients. They had been referred to Brandon by another client. In the old days, a simple referral would have been enough. Not anymore. They explained that before they came to us, they Googled Highpoint and admitted they validated our credibility from our website and Facebook, and not just the referral.”
Amid the fun and social engagement, team members aren’t the least bit afraid of hard work. “A lot of times when I talk about us having fun, people seem to think it means that we aren’t taking our jobs seriously,” Heather explains. “Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t have ulterior motives and succeed. We are focused on building trust and establishing effective communication with all our clients. What we are really about is bringing value to our clients—and also to our people—in a meaningful way.”
The cover story pointed out that part of that initiative involves creating a workplace environment that encourages personal growth. “This shows up in our unique approach to wellness,” Heather notes. “It’s just not about getting on the scale, but rather about a sense of well-being that comes from feeding the mind and the body. People see how much energy comes from moving, getting enough sleep, and eating the right foods. It fuels their fire.
“Employees have been known to get up and dance at their desk when they have success—or even just when they feel like it,” she adds. “And we bring that same approach to our clients, establishing fundamental behaviors that will improve the health of their employees and increase their overall productivity and happiness at work. It’s just one more way we live out something Brandon is constantly saying: ‘We believe our clients are better with us than without us.’”
The February 2020 feature points out that a key element of this involves a formal structure emphasizing risk management and risk mitigation. As an outgrowth of its involvement in the Beyond Insurance Global Network, Brandon says, “… we offer RISE365®—which stands for ‘Risk Improvement Strategies and Execution 365 days a year’—a diagnostic and consultative approach for uncovering and mitigating risk for growth-oriented businesses and their families.
“And it starts with curiosity,” he adds. “Our people are trained to be consultative, to listen to clients and prospects and find out everything they can about the client’s businesses or personal needs. Only then do we work with them to develop a risk management program that could include commercial insurance, employee benefits and personal insurance, along with other risk management tools and services.”
For more information:
Highpoint Insurance Group