PROTECTING FAMILIES AND
D.C.-area agency measures success by
its impact on the community
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
“Insurance is our way of helping people, so we need to provide as many products, lines and financial education offerings as possible to accomplish that,” says Eboné Granger, who, along with her husband Jeff, serves as managing partner of Granger Financial, Sterling, Virginia. “I realize that makes us different from a lot of agencies where specialization is paramount, but we need to be generalists if we are going to be able to serve our community.
“We’re different simply because we’re different,” she adds. “We’re intent on bringing new life and new color to this industry. We want to bring more innovative and creative young professionals from minority communities into an industry that can and should play an important role in providing protection from loss to people in all walks of life.”
The focus on writing all lines of insurance, including life, health and financial services, is not surprising, considering that both Jeff and Eboné worked at an agency for a large direct writer that offered all lines to its captive agency force and expected its agents to market all those products. Writing all types of coverage is the direct-writing model that Jeff and Eboné decided to export to the independent agency system but make it better by being able to offer those coverages from a variety of companies. This lets them make certain that the business they send to each company meets its appetite, so that a strong relationship develops between all parties involved in the transaction right from the start. It also guarantees that Granger will be able to provide coverage even if a particular company decides to leave a market.
How it all started
It all began with an ending. Jeff’s career with the direct writer, where he had risen to an executive position, ended abruptly on Friday, July 12, 2019. On Monday, July 15, he open-ed his independent agency, Granger Financial, and he wrote his first client on July 16. “It was accomplished with resolve and sheer determination,” Jeff says. “After what happened, we decided that we would never work for somebody ever again.” Eboné joined him and they worked to develop a plan for growth.
“One of my personal mottos is a quote from Ray Lewis: ‘Success is one thing, impact is another,’ and that is what we wanted our agency to provide: an impact on our community,” Jeff says.
“Our goal was to wrap our arms around each customer, providing them with financial understanding first and then the means to realize their financial goals. … We are a family agency whose goal is to help each client protect their family.”
Jeff and Eboné brought a unique perspective to the building of their business. Jeff had seen the impact that a lack of financial literacy could have on young professional athletes when he was playing basketball in Europe. Some of these young players, now making millions, became targets for unscrupulous individuals who were intent on separating them from most of their money. So, they decided that educating people on the various insurance and financial products and ways in which they could help clients maximize their individual success and legacy creation would be a key part of their business.
Eboné brought her educational background in sociology and philosophy to focus on finding ways to directly impact the community through philanthropy. “I find that entrepreneurship allows me to do even more philanthropically,” she comments.
“We want to bring more innovative and creative young professionals from minority communities into an industry that can and should play an important role in providing protection from loss to people in all walks of life.”
“Our goal was to wrap our arms around each customer,” Jeff says, “providing them with financial understanding first and then the means to realize their financial goals. To do that, we determined that the only way to get business was through referrals so we were dealing with people who had come to understand our commitment to honesty, integrity, diligence and service.
“We made it clear that we were not focused on closing a sale,” he adds, “but rather on closing any protection gaps that a client may have so that their legacy would remain intact. We are a family agency whose goal is to help each client protect their family.”
Touching without touching
And then the pandemic hit. There would be no literal arm wrapping or even any face-to-face contact. Jeff and Eboné were left with social media as a means to reach people with their message. They established a Facebook series called “Financial Fridays” that offered an hour-long educational con-versation around the importance of asset protection and the role it plays in legacy creation. These in-depth conversations included talks with a variety of individuals, ranging from insurance industry professionals to high-profile athletes.
While the pandemic made personal contact with clients more difficult, it did have one positive effect that really helped an agency that was just starting out. “We were one of the only agencies looking for appointments from companies and they were happy to hear us out,” Jeff says. “We also found that when it came to calling clients and prospects who had been referred to us, they were always home. And people wanted to talk.
“So, our approach of educating people really paid off,” he explains. “People were all too ready to hang up on salesmen, but they were happy to listen to someone who was providing them with information about financial matters that could help them reach their legacy goals.”
The agency also continued to impact its community through philanthropy. “We organized drives for school supplies, sewed masks during the pandemic, and worked with a local civic group to create a peace march and rally in honor of Breonna Taylor,” Eboné points out. “Our goal, given the climate in our nation, was to bring unity and healing through peaceful action.
“This has become an annual event,” she continues proudly, “providing scholarships each year to four minority females entering the healthcare field. Since its inception two years ago, we have awarded some $40,000 in scholarships.”
Impact on the industry
In addition to enhancing the financial literacy of its community, Granger Financial wants to expand that education across the country. “We want to bring more minorities into this business,” Jeff says. “We plan to have agencies throughout the United States that will provide financial education and commitment to their community through a requirement to do community service at least once a month.
“We may look at purchasing other agencies or establishing partnerships with people who want to establish a branch office,” he notes.
“And this has already happened,” he continues. “Two first-generation Americans, Juan Portillo and his wife, Diana, also were fired by the direct writer. Juan was an agent who worked in my territory. I knew his character and was happy to offer them a job when they approached me.
“It made sense for me and Diana to be partnered with people who wanted to make an impact on the community. It coincides with our approach to this business.”
Portillo Agency, LLC
“They came on board in the middle of the pandemic, opening a branch office in Columbia, Maryland, in July of 2020,” Jeff adds.
Juan describes this moment as “an opportunity for us to control our own future. It made sense for me and Diana to be partnered with people who wanted to make an impact on the community. It coincides with our approach to this business.
“We want to be able to offer financial education and write all lines of business,” he explains. “We feel that it creates a more powerful bond with clients when you offer all products. My own area of expertise is on the life insurance side of the business, where very early on I experienced how important insurance can be when I paid my first life insurance claim. It really made a difference in the life of the family that had already experienced the tragedy of losing a loved one. They weren’t going to lose the legacy they had been building.
“The focus and drive that the Grangers exhibit and their desire to empower and offer opportunities to minorities aligns perfectly with what we are trying to do.”
Portillo Agency, LLC
“I really like the way things are going here,” Juan continues. “We are starting from scratch, building strictly through referrals, and we already are seeing results in terms of our brand being recognized, and we are starting to become the center of the community. We are already looking to add one or two sales people to our staff.”
Diana adds that she appreciates the support from the home office. “We are able to connect with phone systems and management systems; that has shown us the way toward opening other branches. The focus and drive that the Grangers exhibit and their desire to empower and offer opportunities to minorities aligns perfectly with what we are trying to do.”
Granger Financial has already grown to provide insurance and financial services to more than 600 households and a growing number of commercial enterprises.
Rough Notes is proud to recognize Granger Financial as our Agency of the Month. They should be commended for their commitment to bringing more minorities into the independent agency system and for showing us yet another way that the system has the resilience and opportunity to serve diverse clients and interests. The focus on educating clients and prospects about financial wellness should be beneficial not only to the industry overall, but to all those individuals who avoid being taken advantage of thanks to their new financial literacy.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.