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A PASSION FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE

A PASSION FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE

A PASSION FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE
March 31
07:37 2021

BROKEN GLASS

A PASSION FOR COMMUNITY SERVICE

Washington agency owner gives back with her whole heart—and builds relationships that drive revenue growth

By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU

Stories abound of the unexpected ways in which people find themselves owning an independent agency. From the sudden death of a parent to a chance encounter with a future mentor, the paths to agency ownership are as colorful and varied as the leaves of autumn.

For Amy Drewel, owner and principal of Mosaic Insurance Alliance, LLC, it was the desire to return to the community where she grew up combined with a referral from a colleague. This meant giving up her job as human resources manager for a major telecommunications company and striking out on her own to explore a new career path as an agency owner.

“A captive carrier offered me the opportunity to establish a business in the community, which is exactly what I wanted to do,” Drewel recalls. “As an HR manager, my passion was hiring people, developing them, and building great teams, so agency ownership appealed to me as an opportunity to operate a business where I could put my experience to work.”

After five years with that carrier, in 2010 Drewel and three other agents decided to leave the captive world and open a brokerage. “Four of us were involved in the transition, and we looked at ourselves as different pieces of a puzzle,” she explains. “That’s how we decided to call ourselves Mosaic. Alone, the pieces of a mosaic are just tiny shards of glass; together they form a beautiful whole.” Ultimately two of her colleagues left the firm, so Drewel and the remaining associate took over the operation. Today the agency is owned by Drewel and Paul Pukis.

“Insurance is an industry where you do better when you work together, even as competing agents,” Drewel observes. Not surprisingly, the agency’s slogan is “Stronger Together.”

But the slogan’s meaning extends beyond insurance. Working together is what community involvement is all about, and Drewel pursues it with fervor. “I come from a family that’s always been involved in service. My mother was a teacher and my father was involved in local government, so I grew up volunteering for a variety of causes. My passion is for helping those who are either less fortunate or don’t know how to find the resources they need. I love being that silent friend who is helping behind the scenes,” Drewel says.

A question of motive

A bright line separates those who pursue community involvement for the sole purpose of generating leads and those who engage in such pursuits for the sheer joy of giving back and changing lives. “I don’t serve the community to grow my agency, but it has definitely rewarded me many times over, not just with referrals but with an opportunity to be out in public,” Drewel asserts.

“I’ve done auctions; I’ve emceed local events with thousands of people, and I currently serve as co-chair of the county’s COVID task force,” she explains. “I also serve on the county economic alliance council, which works to bring industry into our area. I talk with corporate leaders about why the business climate here is great and why they should relocate here.”

All of this involvement, Drewel says, “ultimately helps our community thrive and helps my business grow. Being part of the community goes hand in hand with any kind of business ownership, and I’m fortunate that the community has embraced me and also embraced my business. I think this is because I don’t market myself when I do community work. I put on my community hat, I do my best, and that itself is its own reward.”

Drewel also serves on the boards of nonprofit organizations for disabled children and seniors.  “I get more referrals and more respect for not marketing my business,” Drewel remarks. “In every endeavor, I focus on building relationships. If that results in leads, that’s great, but it’s not why I’m involved in my community.”

Mosaic Insurance Alliance has ten locations and is licensed in eight states in addition to Washington. Drewel supervises 22 employees in the Lynnwood location. The other nine locations employ about 48 people and access carriers through the Mosaic corporate entity. Premium volume totals about $24 million and comprises approximately 60% personal lines and 40% commercial lines.

A specialty niche for the firm is providing insurance for cannabis producers, processors, transportation companies, and retailers. Among the products offered are cannabis business insurance, CBD insurance, cannabis retrospective rating, Delta-8 THC insurance, and optional coverages. The cannabis industry, Drewel comments, seems to have come through the pandemic largely unscathed, and she’s optimistic about its potential for growth as more states legalize cannabis for medical and/or recreational use.

“My passion is for helping those who are either less fortunate or don’t know how to find the resources they need. I love being that silent friend who is helping behind the scenes.”
—Amy Drewel
Owner and Principal
Mosaic Insurance Alliance, LLC

Women in the industry

We asked Drewel to describe attitudes toward women in the insurance industry, and her response offers provocative food for thought.

“In my community involvement, I’ve always been treated with respect and have experienced no discrimination on the basis of my gender,” she says. “Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the insurance industry.” As a Millennial, Drewel didn’t grow up expecting to be regarded as “less than” because she was a woman, but along the way she’s had some experiences that have given her pause about the industry’s commitment to equality.

“I’ve hired wonderful women of all ages, and I feel a strong responsibility to mentor them,” Drewel says. “The insurance world seems to believe that women are best suited for customer service positions. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’d guess that about 80% of account manager or CRS positions are filled by women and 20% by men, and on the sales side it’s probably the other way around.

“When I was hiring women, I was always shocked that they did not have the confidence to advance in their insurance careers,” she adds. “I’m 46, and I’ve talked with women who are both older and younger than me who wanted to start their own agencies but perceived that agency ownership was more of a man’s world.

“We’ve come a long way in the fifteen years that I’ve been in the industry. I serve on some carriers’ agent advisory boards, and a lot of carriers are committed to equality, inclusion, and diversity.” That said, Drewel comments, “I have been on agent council boards where I was the only woman.” More recently, she notes, “I’ve been gratified to see that in many cases women are well represented on these boards.”

Interestingly, she says, “It’s usually the older men who are giving us the kudos and high fives, showing that they want to see us succeed. Over the years of my career I’ve had many mentors of both sexes, and I’m extremely grateful for the men who have provided valuable guidance and mentorship. I can state with certainty that I know how to play with the boys.”

On the carrier side, Drewel notes, “Women are being placed in positions as actuaries, underwriters, and other disciplines that traditionally have been thought of as being for men. I’ve also seen carriers promote women to vice president positions. Many of these women have worked their whole lives to earn these appointments, whereas men sometimes are hired at that level just because they are men.

“Overall, the industry’s response to calls for diversity and inclusion has had mixed results,” she says. “The intentions are good, but the ‘old boy’ network in many companies and agencies will die hard.”

For example, Drewel points out, relatively few women hold C-suite positions with carriers. “Many carriers take this challenge seriously and are establishing women’s groups that focus on how they can achieve those positions. A lot of men mocked those groups when they first started, but now are being supportive and are sending their female team members to the groups.”

Drewel is quick to acknowledge the contributions of women in older generations who paved the way for today’s women to aim high and attain positions of responsibility. “I feel blessed that I haven’t had to experience what some of my heroes went through,” she says frankly. “Seeing how hard these women have worked makes me want to work even harder to be worthy of the opportunity I’ve been given.”

Women in leadership

What unique qualities does Drewel think women bring to leadership positions in the insurance business?

First, she says, “I think women tend to be more empathetic, and the insurance industry requires empathy. We are asking clients to put their financial future in our hands; and if a claim happens, we need to be able to take care of them and support them through that process.”

Second, Drewel continues, “I think women are more detail oriented. We’re in the age of artificial intelligence and high-tech innovations, and the desire for speed and instant gratification can cause us to lose the human touch. Women seem to be less concerned with accomplishing tasks quickly and more concerned with doing things correctly. We tend to think ahead and look down the road at the consequences certain actions can bring.”

Third, Drewel says, “I’ve observed that women tend to be more analytical, possibly because many are so used to being expected to have all their ducks in a row in meetings and other situations where men may not think it’s as important to shine.”

Fourth, she points out, “I think women tend to be more intuitive and more committed to relationship building. This is a key trait when it comes to hiring as well as developing relationships with clients. Females today are making more insurance decisions, and females like supporting other females.

“I remember when I started in the industry fifteen years ago, five men told me: ‘I don’t want to work with you because you’re not a man.’ Now I hear men saying, ‘I’m so glad I get to talk with a female.’”

What’s more, she adds, “Women with families always feel this push/pull when it comes to work/life balance. Time management is a skill that women bring to the workplace with regard to being able to handle multiple tasks at once.”

That said, Drewel notes, “I know a lot of wonderful men who are doing the same thing and are so involved with their kids.”

Today, she comments, “Women right now are set up for success, and I love seeing women have this opportunity.”

Opportunities abound

How does Drewel view the opportunities for women in independent agencies?

“Huge,” she responds. “There are more opportunities for women now than ever, so whether you want to be an agency owner or a producer or an account manager, women are seen as being a win for the agency. For many years the independent agency space was dominated by male-only firms, and now those firms are hiring women for management positions and as producers versus just the customer service role.”

Flexibility is another key benefit of pursuing a career with an independent agency, Drewel remarks. “As an owner or a producer, you can achieve a healthy work/life balance because you’re not working on a nine-to-five schedule.”

Asked what advice she would give to women who may be considering agency ownership, Drewel says, “Knowing how to manage people is probably the biggest asset. Coming from the HR field, I knew how to hire, train, and manage people. If you have those skills, agency ownership is a great opportunity for you. This isn’t about quoting and servicing; you can hire people to do that.

“I always advise women to find a mentor,” she continues. “I’ve had both male and female mentors, and I’ve benefited from their knowledge and ideas.”

On a personal note, Drewel says, “I did not go to college to become an agency owner. So, if you don’t have a college degree, that shouldn’t prevent you from pursuing agency ownership.”

Returning to her theme of relationship building, Drewel explains that she views carrier-agency relationships as a partnership and doesn’t see the two sides as separate entities. “I’m able to look at both sides and find a win-win solution. I believe every agency owner should be able to achieve this goal.”

Do you know a female independent agency leader we should feature? If so, please email details as well as contact information to Elisabeth Boone, CPCU, at elis.boone@icloud.com. We’ll take it from there.

The author

Elisabeth Boone, CPCU, is a freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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