How did you first get into the insurance industry?
I grew up around insurance with my father being a State Farm agent for 35 years. When I graduated in 2010 there weren’t too many opportunities but I was able to get my foot into the door at State Farm working in claims and operations. I figured let me do this for a few years before I look for my dream job but I ended up really enjoying the stability of insurance.
What did you think about the captive experience?
During my time working in claims at State Farm, it was a really humbling experience working with people who suffered major losses to their homes. Some of these people lost everything and looked to me to help start over but I had to navigate a lot of tough conversations in instances when things weren't covered at times.
When did you start thinking about going independent and why?
When you work at a large carrier, you don’t really understand how your role fits into the larger machine. You do all this work and don’t really get much recognition and it’s hard to give all the extra effort when you don't understand how you help move the needle. I had a friend who was underwriting at an MGA called Attune so after 7 years at State Farm, I decided to join them to help stand up their service center. Being on the inside, I saw so much opportunity for innovation and disruption. Things are done the old school way where there are better ways to do things - both for the agent and for the benefit of the end customer. Someone’s gotta bring needed change. At the same time, the opportunity with billy showed up and I jumped on it to change the space with the right team working on the right problems.
What were some unexpected challenges starting an agency from scratch?
I was surprised by how old-school all the processes are to get started. Even the most basic thing like filing for the agency name "billy insurance group." There were regulations in certain states on what our name had to be in order to sell insurance. We had to change from "billy insurance group" to "billy insurance services" because of the word group. Some forms still needed to be physically signed, notarized, etc. I thought things would’ve been more digital by now but I was wrong. Ironically, even on the internal technology side - even if you have a partner you really like, there’s still a lot of manual work you have to do. For example, your AMS might not connect with your CRM or Slack or other tools you may be using. If the carrier integrations aren’t set up, you will have to do it manually as well. The quoting and distribution process have been improved but you’d been surprised that a lot of the back end work is still manual intensive. I am excited to make a big dent in all that with billy.
What’s one piece of advice you would give yourself when just getting started?
I would have a really solid business plan. Know what you’re sitting on, what your 3, 6, 9, 12 month plan looks like. Especially when you’re talking to a carrier and you don’t have any written premium, they aren’t looking for you to figure it out as you grow (unlike insurtech), they are looking for you to have solid answers and prepared to talk about what your milestones are and how you plan to achieve them.
Having that business plan honed in is key because when you’re just getting started, you want to get quick access to carriers - especially those without production requirements. You could join agency networks but unless you know what you are sitting on, it's hard to give up a few points just to get carrier access. You might need them later when you have risks that are harder to place but having direct appointments to start is key.