Faithful few revive young agents group
THE CHANGING FACE OF THE INDEPENDENT AGENT
Like the phoenix, Illinois’ Young Agents Committee rises up– thanks to Ken Samson and others
Sixteenth birthday. Driver’s license. It’s the time of life eagerly anticipated by teenagers and dreaded by parents. For Ken Samson, getting his driver’s license was a turning point because it meant that every day after school he could drive himself to his father’s insurance agency to work.
“I was a `gofer’; I did whatever needed to be done,” remembers Ken about working part-time in Dasco Insurance Agency, Inc., in Northbrook, Illinois. “By the time I graduated from college and returned to the agency,” he says, “I already knew all of the customers.”
Growing up around Dasco, Ken got an up-close and personal view of the independent insurance business. (Dasco stands for “David A. Samson Company,” started 40 years ago by Ken’s father.) Even as Ken left home for the University of Kansas, he was planning to return to the agency and pursue a career in insurance. “I looked at Dad’s life and all he had accomplished, and said, ‘I can live with that.’ My Dad is proud of what he has done. He has enjoyed the work,” says Ken.
The original plan was for Ken to work for an insurance company after college graduation, before returning to Dasco, to get experience on that side of the business. But, Ken explains, in 1992, the employment possibilities at insurance companies were slim, so he began working full– time at Dasco.
Working at the family agency brought no privileges. Ken remembers that first year as being very challenging-he made $100 a week and worked hard to learn the intricacies of the business. “I did get 50% of commissions, but it takes a long time to build a book of business,” he says. “I’ll never forget getting the commission on my first renewal.” During that year, Ken shadowed his father-observing him on visits, phone calls, figuring quotes-every aspect of the business. “My dad taught me everything I know about insurance,” Ken reports with admiration.
Ken has not been disappointed in his career choice. “I make a good living. It’s not a desk job and until the hard market started,” he chuckled, “allowed some flexibility in schedule. Every day is different-for better or worse. I like meeting people, which is a big part of the job.”
In addition to Ken, who is now vice president, and his father, David, the agency has five employees. According to Ken, Dasco is a generalist agency, although they insure a number of retail liquor stores and condominium associations. The agency’s book of business is 80% commercial lines and 20% personal lines.
Ken became involved in organized industry groups just a few years ago. In 1996, he and his father started attending meetings of the local group, Professional Independent Insurance Agents of North East Illinois (PIIANEI). A fellow agent, Gene Sberna, told Ken that he needed to get involved with the state association, Professional Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois (PIIAI), and that he was going to put Ken on the annual convention committee.
“Gene told me that it was `no big deal,’ just a few meetings. Being on the committee would be good exposure for me, he said,” related Ken. But of course a few meetings was not the only requirement. “I found out that I would have to go to the whole convention. I was used to spending one day there, going through the exhibits. My reaction was, ‘I have to spend four days with insurance agents?!’ But it was the best experience. I met a lot of insurance people and got CE credits from the educational sessions.”
After being on the PIIAI annual convention committee for several years, Ken noticed that there was not much involvement by young agents. “I was told that years ago the Young Agents Committee (YAC) was strong.” But by the time Ken became involved in PIIAI, “there was nothing going on with the committee,” he says.
In October 2000, Ken and Brian Konen, CIC, who is with the Konen Insurance Agency in North Aurora, Illinois, were appointed co– chairpersons of the almost nonexistent Young Agents Committee. They were determined to resurrect the committee, with the full support of the PIIAI board. “Brian, Laura Richter [with PIIAI] and I sat down and went through the existing Young Agent database,” Ken says. “We went through all of the 150 names: `This guy’s 60,’ ‘This gal’s now in real estate,’-you get the picture. We had to really clean up the list.” Ken, Brian and Laura obtained young agents’ names in several ways: holding a contest in which entrants had to submit the name of a young agent to qualify for a drawing, asking company reps for referrals. At every meeting that Ken and his cohorts attended, “we followed everyone around getting names of any young agents they knew.” Their sales strategy paid off-there are now around 400 up-to-date names in the YAC database.
In March 2001, the new Young Agents Committee (co-chaired by Ken and Brian) sponsored its first event, a Whirlyball party. Describing Whirlyball as “playing polo in bumper cars,” Ken said the event was a fun way to bring young agents together, many for the first time. And the event was considered a success, despite a snowstorm that hit the Chicago area that day, resulting in only the bravest (wildest?!) souls venturing out. Then in May 2001, to draw agents on the other side of the state, the YAC reserved a suite in St. Louis, for the Cardinals vs. Cubs baseball game. Being Mother’s Day weekend, Ken says the turnout wasn’t what they had hoped, but it was a start.
Ken says that young agents have responded very positively to the revived Young Agents Committee. “There is definitely a renewed interest and excitement in the committee,” says Ken. “Young agents are seeing the benefits and reaping the rewards of networking, education, and the other pluses of being involved. But with only a year under our belt, we still have to prove ourselves to potential YAC members. Why would a young agent drive three hours to be with us for two or three days? We’re still working to get young agents involved.”
Ken says that the YAC is “taking baby steps” to cultivate and grow the committee. “We have to carefully pick and choose our activities because, unfortunately, young agents are the ones who have the least time to spend on a lot of extracurricular activities. We are busy building our books of business and growing our families,” he explains. “Plus this is the first hard market most of us [young agents] have experienced, so we’re pretty absorbed in handling those challenges.”
Continuing to be co-chaired by Ken and Brian, the YAC has plans for several events this year. The 2nd annual Whirlyball party was held in April, in the Chicago area, and attracted about 50 young agents. “It was great. I think that the nicest thing was that about half of the faces were new, which means that we are relying less and less on the committee, the executive board and the PIIAI staff to fill spots.”
Also on the calendar this year was a Cardinals game in May; the YAC block was completely sold out. The YAC may sponsor a trip this fall to Champaign, Illinois-where the Chicago Bears are playing while Soldier Field is being refurbished– as well as minor league baseball games around the state. At the PIIAI annual convention in October, the YAC will sponsor a Young Agents Day, with seminars and topics to benefit young producers.
“This year we had six or seven young agents attend the IIAA National Legislative Day in Washington D.C., with our Illinois delegation,” according to Ken. “This is about twice as many as usual, and we are going to get even more next year. We all had a great time. I highly recommend it to anybody who hasn’t gone in the past.”
In 2001, PIIAI recognized Ken’s leadership and association commitment by naming him Young Agent of the Year. He was also named Chairman of the Year, for his role as chairman of the Young Agents Committee. Besides his YAC involvement, Ken has served on the PIIAI board for two years and on board committees for the past five years.
When asked for his opinion on the future of the insurance industry, Ken chuckled:’The answer I’d give today is different than the one I would have given a year ago … As my first hard market, I’d say that having good technology is important for independent agents to succeed, and the right mix of companies is essential. It helps to have a good relationship with underwriters. When they know you’re honest and you’re not going to burn them, they’re more willing to work with you.”
Because products will likely change in this market, Ken points out that young agents must have more expertise in the products they are selling and the companies they represent. “We need to use this as an opportunity to offer prospective clients what the rest of the industry cannot-a true independent approach,” he says.
“This is a people business; relationships are going to make or break agencies during this time,” Ken continues. “Insureds want to deal with someone they can trust. They can go anywhere to buy insurance. When I tell clients, ‘I went out to the market and this is the best I can do,’ they trust me. I’m proud to say we lose very few clients.”
The hard market has affected the way daily business is conducted, according to Ken. “I have been swamped for months. There are six or seven emergencies a day, then I still have non-renewals sitting on my desk. There are a lot more late nights than before. This hard market has messed up my social life,” Ken quips. When he used to have more spare time, he says, he enjoyed playing hockey. He is also working on his CIC designation. Most important to Ken is spending time at home with his three-year-old daughter, Emma, and wife, Jeannette, who is expecting their second child this month.
Five years ago, Ken Samson may not have seen the humor in being put on a “little ol’ committee,” but the payoff from his leadership in Illinois’ Young Agents Committee is already evident. “I have joined a network of insurance professionals who are all looking out for each other. We are friendly competitors, and we’re in the same boat. There is always someone who has had a similar problem whom I can talk to,” he says. “In the last few years, I’ve noticed that our marketing reps, company personnel and underwriters treat me differently. They know how active I am in PIIAI, and that seems to have earned me a certain amount of credibility with them. That is something you can’t put a price on.” E
Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Jun 2002
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