2021 Agency of the Year
By Dave Willis, CPIA
As we’ve done for more than 30 years, we at Rough Notes magazine again are naming our Agency of the Year. Since the late 1980s, we’ve featured some of the nation’s most extraordinary independent insurance agencies on our covers. We continue to be amazed at the new and better ways agencies find to serve and build up their communities, and we are honored to be able to showcase some of the very best firms out there.
Each year, one agency is selected to become the Rough Notes Agency of the Year. Agency of the Year winners truly represent the best of the best—the most remarkable agencies around. The selection of our annual winner is not made by Rough Notes staff, but rather by votes from their peers—the previous Agency of the Month honorees—who carefully review information on each of the nominees and select which one they believe deserves top honor.
Candidates in this most recent class of 10 agencies run the gamut, from smaller single-location shops to larger firms with operations in multiple states. Voting results were particularly close this year—a testament to excellence shown by a number of cover agencies. But in the end, just one agency made the cut: Stewardship, in Gilbert, Arizona, our February 2021 cover agency.
“Mission” and “growth” were two Stewardship attributes that caught our voters’ attention. One previous winner, when submitting a vote for Stewardship, cited the “amazing growth curve [the agency is] on” and the agency’s “great value proposition” as reasons for their vote. Another voter echoed the sentiment, identifying Stewardship’s “mission and incredible growth” as notable. Another past winner said, “We’ve gotten to know Grant via the Insurance Agency Owners Association (IAOA) and he is a tremendous voice and advocate for the independent agent.”
One past cover agent took a slightly deeper dive, explaining of Stewardship: “They build the essence of an independent insurance agent—helping others in the community—into their core belief, even if it’s not insurance related. Stewardship seems to fill many gaps for individuals and families, from financial education to proper protection, and is deeply invested in their communities.”
The February 2021 Rough Notes cover feature on Stewardship explains that the agency grew out of founder Grant Botma’s idea about how financial products should be made available to people. It involved providing completely open communication about the financial services being offered, as well as educating people about finances. In short, he wanted to promote financial literacy—something that has been shown to be seriously lacking in our society.
At the same time, he wanted to make certain that income derived from providing financial products to clients was clearly delineated. Clients would know exactly what they were paying for in the service being provided and those fees would be reasonable, rather than designed to simply enrich the salesperson or organization.
Grant approached his then-boss with these ideas and was told they were great but impractical, and they wouldn’t be implemented there. He added that there was no way Grant would be able to offer financial services in this manner and survive.
So, Grant did the only reasonable thing: He ignored the warning and started his own firm to implement his ideas. Stewardship Mortgage opened its doors in 2007 and the next year Stewardship Insurance was launched to offer property/casualty coverages, as was Stewardship Planning, for life, health, disability, long-term care, and estate plans. In 2015, Stewardship Financial was added to offer investment advisory and financial planning services.
And with that, all the pieces together were in place. Stewardship would be able to deliver on Grant’s vision of offering products and services and provide customer education about finances—earning back-to-back honors as an Inc. 5000 fastest growing privately held company, with three-year growth topping 200% each year.
Rough Notes is proud to honor Stewardship as our Agency of the Year. Their retention rate of 95% is a testament to a service model that makes each client feel like they are part of the Stewardship family. For more, read the February 2021 Rough Notes cover story.