Agency of the Month
PUTTING ALL THE PIECES TOGETHER
From personal lines startup to financial services powerhouse
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
Tim Hyland started his working life as a high school teacher and coach after graduating from St. Louis University where, in addition to studying, he also played basketball. His next job was as an administrator for a downtown insurance agency where he was told that he could also do some selling “if I wanted to,” Tim remembers. “Well, I was the oldest of seven and knew a lot of people in the area who weren’t family, so I took them up on that offer. I was there for two years when my brother Pat lost his job at International Harvester.
“I’d found out that I could sell during those two years and knew that Pat had a good way with people. I liked him, and not all brothers can say that about each other. We sat down and had a heart-to-heart about his unemployed status and decided to look at that as an opportunity. We’d start our own insurance agency from scratch.
“We co-founded Hyland Insurance in 1983, bought an old Victorian mansion as our headquarters, jumped through hoops to renovate it according to historical requirements, and proceeded to make every mistake possible on our way to establishing a successful agency. What we didn’t do, however, was repeat mistakes. Instead we learned from them, but it did seem like I had to do everything wrong before I could do it right.
“We fought all the battles that faced independent agents then, mostly finding producers and learning about automation. Fortunately, we were with what is now Vertafore and they provided assistance from the start, growing with us as we grew.” The agency still uses a Vertafore system.
Hyland started out primarily in personal lines. “Both Pat and I knew a lot of people and were trusted by them. We also were fortunate to have entered the business when insurance company requirements weren’t quite as onerous as they are today and we were able to get appointments. But I have to be honest: we were not exactly raking in the dough,” Tim admits. “Like I said before, we were learning by doing and screwing up every once in a while before getting it right. I looked around for a model that would show us what we needed to achieve to be profitable and found the Big I’s Best Practices Agencies.
“The Big ‘I’ published the important ratios that these agencies had achieved, and I saw that we were almost always only a few points off the target, and that was the difference between a strong profit and just breaking even or staying marginally ahead. Those ratios became our goals and as we hit them, we started to enjoy greater profitability, which meant we could hire people who could help us grow even more. Our controller continues to compare our ratios with the Best Practices ratios every year to make certain that we meet or exceed them. We were finally seeing some real progress, and were able to start strategic planning based on long-term goals for our agency and our clients.”
Moving to other lines
“As we approached the 21st century, we realized that we needed to expand beyond personal lines, and fortunately my son Terry graduated from college in 1997 and told me he wanted to be a commercial lines producer. I told him he was just what we were looking for. Since then, Terry has led an expanding commercial lines department that has brought our ratio of commercial to personal to 55/45. And that’s why he will be president of the agency when your readers see this article.” (Tim was president when I wrote this, but was getting ready to pass the torch to Terry on April 1. He will be taking over in a modern building in the heart of the Louisville business district.)
The move into commercial lines turned out to be the first step in the agency’s strategic plan to ultimately become a single-source solution for all financial services needed by its customers. It also would begin to open the doors for other entrepreneurs to get into the insurance business.
The year after Terry started working with the agency, it was approached by the Strategic Insurance Agency Alliance (SIAA) to become one of its Master Agencies. “We liked the concept,” Tim says. “It was becoming increasingly difficult for startups to get appointments from insurance companies. There were a lot of bright young people with an entrepreneurial bent who wanted to start their own business. We thought it would be a shame to see those people go to another industry if we could instead offer them a way to get into insurance.
“We set up AHA Insurance Network to serve as a separate profit center and initially had some of our people work part time on building that up,” he adds. Today, AHA Insurance Network has a separate staff of eight people and is one of the largest SIAA Master Agencies in the country.
Several years later, Tim hired Mickey Matran to head up the agency’s new employee benefits department. “That was the hardest thing to develop,” Tim says. “We looked for a couple of years for someone with employee benefits expertise and the right cultural fit. Mickey had the expertise but lived in Louisiana. Then we learned that he wanted to move to our area, and we offered him a job. We knew that employee benefits was a key concern for our customers, and that was borne out very quickly once we got that department up and running. The proof is in the fact that employee benefits has grown by more than 200% every year.”
The next step was to jump into a low-commission area—senior health care—because more and more of the agency’s customers, including some people in its leadership, found themselves in the Medicare generation. “It may be low-commission business, but it’s so important,” Tim says. “Bill Nash heads that division and is available to counsel seniors on Medicare supplements, Medicare Advantage, prescription drug plans and long-term care insurance. The division has been well received and is very successful.”
The final piece was financial services, and that proved to be relatively easy. “My youngest brother, Mark, is in the financial service business, and we brought him over to run our affiliate, Hyland Financial Strategies, which offers comprehensive financial planning, investment advisory services and employer retirement plans.”
The single source
New president Terry Hyland notes that “we’re now able to provide everything needed by businesses and individuals. My job will be to maintain the culture and see that all the departments succeed.
“One of the important tools we use is a referral incentive program called the Hyland Bird Dog Battalion.” Under the Bird Dog program, employees receive one point for every referral to a department. The objective is to achieve a Grand Slam by placing a referral in each of the five departments—personal, commercial, benefits, senior care, and financial services.
“Anyone who gets a Grand Slam receives $100 and a half day off. In addition, anyone who garners 15 points also gets $100 and a half day off. This program has really helped us build our 25 people into a team, and more than 175 accounts have been written from these referrals,” Terry says.
“As we continue to grow, we’re hoping to add more owners to the agency,” he adds. “I’m looking to identify people from within the agency, and there is certainly opportunity for those who demonstrate a team-first attitude.
“I’m also convinced that, as much as we will miss the old Victorian home in the historic district, the new building offers us a real opportunity to operate more like a team. We’ll have all our people on one floor instead of three and will have rooms where we can meet with clients and offer seminars and so on. It’s really going to be exciting.”
Combining work and fun
Chief Operating Officer Jeffri Northcut says what stands out most about the agency is that “we have a great group of professional people who operate like a cohesive team. We have a terrific level of participation at all our events, which include holiday-themed costume contests, decorating our workspace and volunteering together in the community. We have a summer outing, an annual Oaks brunch for carriers where we wear derby hats, an October-fest, a Christmas party, cookouts, and cook-ins.
“No one is required to attend, but they show up because they enjoy being part of this work family,” she notes. “And this will be enhanced by our move to the new building because we’ll have added space for gatherings.
“Although we all enjoy the activities and spending time together, everyone here knows that we can only do this if we get our work done. Part of my job is to mentor people to set and meet goals and provide guidance to get everyone through the routine day-to-day operations, as well as explain changes and help them adopt those changes without experiencing trepidation.”
Melissa Stewart, who is commercial marketing director and oversees the agency’s committees (health, fun, philanthropy, and culture and communication), points out that “our people are all part of Hyland Cares. We have the opportunity to participate in events that promote health, have fun, and join in community projects that are supported by the agency, with the goal of creating a cohesive culture where everyone looks out for each other.”
And the sense of fun and camaraderie is exemplified in the agency’s social media offerings. Abbie Chambers is the social media and digital marketing manager, who admits that she came into this role knowing very little about insurance. But she found that to be one of her strengths “because I’m talking to people in their 20s and beyond who also know very little about insurance.
“We’re on Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, connecting with these people in a way that makes sense for that platform and the targeted audience,” she adds. “I don’t spam them with insurance jargon because I don’t expect them to know anything about insurance, so our blogs and our postings are simple, informative and fun. They present our employees as fun people a potential customer would like to meet.
“One of our most successful videos was one I did when I joined the agency in 2018 fresh out of college. It showed our employees eating nasty-flavored jellybeans. Their expressions were priceless. We have clients who are still talking about that video. People see things like that, and it makes them feel comfortable to come in and talk to us. It’s important to remember that it’s called ‘social’ media for a reason. It’s intended to be a way to start a conversation, to meet people. It’s not supposed to be a barrier that protects us from having to deal with the public,” she concludes.
Hyland’s unique blending of the old and the new while having fun and succeeding is the reason Rough Notes is proud to recognize it as our Agency of the Month.
Dennis Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.