I’VE LEARNED IN MY
Insights from almost two decades in the industry
By Jeremiah Gonzales
I started my insurance career by accident at the tender age of 20. I never really considered a career in insurance or in any field for that matter at that point in my life. In fact, my first position with an insurance company wasn’t even insurance related. I was a temporary employee sent to work in an insurance office to answer phones, send faxes, file paperwork, and other simple responsibilities.
Over time, I was given more insurance-specific work and eventually a position became open in our account management team. One of the producers in the company suggested to management that I could be a good fit. A few tests and an insurance license later, I was in the insurance business, and have never looked back. During my almost two decades in the industry, I have learned quite a few lessons in my various roles.
- Managing personalities. The first lesson I learned in my role as an account manager is that, in addition to managing a book of business, I need to manage personalities. I have worked with several commercial insurance producers, and they never work the same. Some are young, eager, and hungry producers, ready to learn and listen. Others are more seasoned producers who love to tell stories to no end. I’ve worked with producers who are hands on and know the insurance world inside and out and others who are very, very hands off.
During my career, I learned to adapt to each producer’s style to maximize their strengths and have a fluid working relationship. Learning to adjust and setting expectations on what you need and understanding the producer’s expectations of you creates a clear workflow between the two of you. It has helped me establish trust and created a much better working environment. Even if you master this lesson, things won’t always be perfect. There will be missteps and miscommunications and a good understanding of each other’s personalities will go a long way in resolving issues and continuing to move forward together.
- A mistake is not the end of the world. Yes, mistakes can be frightening and cause massive levels of anxiety. No one wants to make a mistake, especially in an industry where the error could lead to coverage gaps, leading to angry clients. I learned during my career that there is a process that can really help get through this tough situation. The three steps include: accept when a mistake is made, process that feeling, and start working on a solution. You need to own up to the issue. Trying to blame someone else or bury it is only going to make it worse in the long run. It creates a lack of trust in judgement and skillset. Next, you need to process the feelings that come with your mistake.
You may feel frustrated or angry or scared, but these are perfectly normal and understandable feelings, and they need to be acknowledged. Finally, start digging into the problem and see where it went wrong. Begin to research and retrace your steps. Talk to underwriters and see if they can reverse or correct errors. In most cases, underwriters work with agents in good faith and can fix a lot of issues that may occur. Mistakes happen but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
- Help is available. In addition to underwriters, people within your company may be able to provide assistance in correcting errors. I’ve never been a part of a community of people that is so willing and ready to help each other out as I have seen in the insurance industry. There are organizations, such as The National Alliance, and other city and state insurance associations that are valuable resources. Insurance companies and partners and co-workers have so much knowledge and expertise to share with you.
When a mistake does happen, talking it out with experienced industry professionals can be in-valuable. They may have faced similar situations or have different perspectives to find a solution. Classes, designations, and other resources are widely available to help you advance in your career and feel confident about the knowledge and skills you have learned.
- Livelihoods are on the line. A key lesson to remember when working with your clients and your book of business is that policies are attached to real people and their livelihoods are at stake. While an insured may be one of many of the accounts you handle, each insured with a commercial insurance policy is putting their livelihood in your hands. They rely on you as their insurance agent to help them ensure they have the proper amount and types of coverage needed in the event of a loss.
Most consumers do not under-stand the types of perils they can face as a business owner. There are situations that are easily quantifiable, such as property damage, or being liable for injury, but there are many situations that a business owner may not foresee. For example, business income is a coverage many new account managers and business owners alike don’t really think about. In many situations, a small amount may be included on a package or business owners policy, but what if it’s not enough?
Ensuring that you have a client’s exposures covered could mean the difference between the insured’s continuing to operate their business or shutting their doors down if a loss ends up being self-retained, or the responsibility of the insured. Insurance professionals are valuable and vital to people, whether it’s a business owner or someone who needs proper homeowners or auto coverage. Policyholders are human beings with emotions, concerns and fears and it is our job to help guide and protect them.
- Don’t forget to have fun. Insurance is not easy work. It takes knowledge, continuing education, experience, and attention to detail, but you can’t forget to have fun. The insurance industry can be a lively and eventful community.
There are several associations for various age groups, experience levels, etc. There is a group for everyone and most of these groups have a variety of events and activities for their members. Insurance companies may also offer to take agency members to lunches or dinners or even special activities such as mini-golf or even driving exotic cars.
When a mistake does happen, talking it out with experienced industry professionals can be invaluable.
They may have faced similar situations or have different perspectives to find a solution.
During my time in the insurance agency world, I oversaw planning team events and activities where we participated in a multitude of fun endeavors. We did everything from escape rooms to happy hours to axe throwing. However, this is not to say this is all fun and games for the sake of fun and games. These activities and events not only breed comradery and community, but it breaks up the daily grind of insurance and reminds everyone that we, too, are human beings and don’t want to burn out.
One bonus lesson I learned is that I love insurance, which was the biggest surprise to me. That’s right … I’m just a big insurance nerd who loves to continuously learn and grow. As I mentioned before, I never expected to be involved in the insurance industry. I didn’t even fully understand how my personal auto policy functioned when I began my journey but the more I learned and understood, the more value I found in insurance.
I grasped what policies can and can’t do and saw the unique personalities that the insurance community draws in. Beyond all of that, insurance has provided me with a career that has helped provide for my family. It has helped teach me empathy and patience. I’ve had a great 20 years in the industry and hope to have another 20 or more years with even more new lessons and new experiences.
Jeremiah Gonzales is the academic director for commercial lines for The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. He has 20 years of industry experience with multiple designations, including a Certified Insurance Counselor, Certified Risk Manager and Construction Risk Insurance Specialist.