Leadership at an early age
Rick Dinger plunges into civic and political responsibilities while running an agency and the Young Agents of California To say that Rick Dinger is busy these days is an understatement. He undertakes supervision chores for his 14-monthold twin boys, serves as chairman of IBA West’s Young Brokers and Agents Committee and as president of his agency, Crescenta Valley Insurance in Glendale, California.
The 34-year-old multiline producer has been on IBA West’s Young Brokers and Agents Association Committee for three years and took over last fall as chairman for 2001. Dinger has been a member of the IBA West’s young agents group, traditionally one of the strongest chapters in the United States, for 15 years.
He reflects proudly on the recent work the Young Agents group has done. “Our main accomplishments have been associated with our conference in June. We raised a record amount of sponsorships to help underwrite the cost and allow more young producers to attend,” Dinger said. “Under the direction of Lou Partee, we started a statewide blood drive in association with the American Red Cross. For the first time we have a Web page that is updated monthly and we have turned our newsletter into an e-newsletter which allows us to get the information out faster, easier and basically for free.”
In addition, under Dinger’s direction, the Young Agent Committee has built up an impressive e-mail list that grows every month. It allows the committee to target its audience and get messages out more easily.
“We have a large annual conference and it continues to grow each year. I have really enjoyed the experience,” Dinger said. “It has been a challenge to communicate with our committee, which is spread out all over California; but thanks to the Internet, we have been very successful.”
The main goal of the Young Agent’s committee is to raise money to offset the cost of its conference which is about $225 per person. Dinger says it is important to make the event affordable in order to attract young producers. This year it has surpassed its goal by over 20%. Most companies are eager to participate in the event because IBA West’s Young Agent group has young, energetic, and hungry producers that are looking for direction and company-general agent contacts that they will use for their entire career. It is the benefit of networking early in their career that can pay dividends down the road.
Dinger’s agency, Crescenta Valley Insurance, is located in Glendale, California, a sprawling suburb 15 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Established in 1969, the agency has grown into a full-service independent insurance agency. It serves the insurance needs of about 4,000 individuals and families and over 250 business concerns in the Crescenta Valley and throughout Los Angeles County. It boasts state-of-theart methods for obtaining immediate quotes over the Internet from its computer system.
“We realize that more and more of our customers are looking for the additional convenience of conducting their business online, yet they still require our traditional expertise as their broker in dealing with the insurance process,” Dinger said. “Rest assured that we are here to give our clients and potential clients the quality professional representation and service as a client of our agency.”
Crescenta Valley Insurance currently has nine employees and produces a volume of approximately $6.2 million in written premium per year. “The agency writes a majority of its business with Mercury Insurance Group that specializes in personal auto insurance coverage. My personal book is spread out with personal, commercial, life and health accounts,” Dinger says. “I work on referrals, using a computerized direct mail program that I developed that allows me to write small commercial business throughout California.”
Ultimately he writes most of his business within a 10-mile radius of his office. In a metropolitan area of about 3 million people, Dinger maintains this refreshing focus because he has lived in the area all of his life and that is where his referral base is the strongest. The Glendale-Foothill area of Los Angeles County has what Dinger calls a “good mix of young working families and the very wealthy.”
The agency just signed on with Arrowhead’s increasingly popular YouZoom to help it meet part of its Internet needs and to provide a presence on the Web. “We are developing a program to attract auto dealers, escrow agents and real estate agents in our community to our Web page,” Dinger adds. “We are only a couple of months into our YouZoom project. We chose them because of the professional looking pages they provide and an opportunity to create another income stream.”
As part of his immersion in the happenings of the industry, in 1999, Dinger testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on small business liability reform. He did so at the request of former Congressman Jim Rogan. Dinger was asked to testify on behalf of the Small Business Liability Reform Act of 1999 because of his insurance expertise and the contacts he made during his tenure as the Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce president.
“This was a thrill of a lifetime and a great learning experience,” Dinger said. “Basically the Act protects small business retailers from being dragged into lawsuits because of products they sell (and do not manufacture) that may be defective.”
Under the Small Business Liability Reform Act of 1999, if a claimant is unable to sue the manufacturer, then a small business owner is liable only up to $250,000. Dinger read a testimony that was written with the help of the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA). It told the story of a local business that was sued for a defective motorcycle part.
Dinger remains involved, fascinated with the speed and intrigue of politics. He plans to run for a seat on the Glendale City Council in April 2002.
Currently, Dinger runs the Montrose-Verdugo City Chamber of Commerce golf tournament, as well as the golf classic of the Independent Brokers and Agents of Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale. He also assists with the Saint Francis High School Alumni Golf Classic. His other involvement includes serving on his high school’s alumni association board of directors and doing the play-by-play announcing of all the Saint Francis High School football home games.
His list of accomplishments in 2000 continues. He was the recipient of the Harlan Miller Award that is presented to an IBA West young agent in western states who has been active in its Federal Ambassador Program that promotes the IIAA national agenda to local congressmen and U.S. senators.
Dinger also was awarded the Independent Brokers and Agents of the West Member Agent of the Year for 2000. He is a past president of the San Gabriel Valley Young Agents and a former director of the Glendale Independent Agents Association. In addition to serving as chairman of the Young Brokers and Agents Committee of IBA West, he also is political action director of the Independent Brokers and Agents of Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale.
Dinger’s father, Virgil, and partner Gene Johnson founded Crescenta Valley Insurance in 1969. His dad bought out Johnson in 1991 and the younger Dinger took over the agency as its president in January 1999.
It is another classic example of keeping it in the family. Dinger sites his father as the most important mentor in his life and one who ultimately helped him set his vision in insurance sales.
“He taught me the value of networking and that you can’t make any money sitting at your desk,” Dinger says. “Two of the key things he did for me when I got into the business was to give me and the other agents at the agency an unlimited budget to attend association events such as the Young Agents Conference. Second, he forced me to stick it out when paychecks were tiny during the early days. I would get depressed about the money I owed the agency on my draw against future commissions, when some people I knew from college were waiting tables or bouncing at bars and making twice as much money as I was. My dad forced me to stick it out. He also introduced me to the sport of golf which in turn has introduced me to some of my biggest clients.”
Dinger obtained his insurance license when he was in high school in 1985. He knew then that it was insurance he wanted to make into his career. At an earlier age Dinger’s secret aspirations were a bit different. He wanted to be a disc jockey and also sing in a punk rock band. But now for young agents and those considering a life as a producer, Dinger provides a plethora of advice.
“Our business is based on renewal income,” Dinger said. “If you jump from shop to shop it is difficult to build a good book of business. I also tell other young producers not to worry about being the boss or having agency ownership. Just build up your book of business. Owners will come running to you to retain you and your book.”
Dinger further advises younger agents that it is important to always think long term and project the future. By building a steady and strong book of business experiences, an agent can learn when to walk away from a client or a prospect that takes the agent out of his/her selling strategy. He says those clients only cost time and money in the long run.
Dinger is very focused on his personal marketing efforts in 2001. He developed direct mail pieces that include a fax reply form that promises a quote in 48 hours. The information that is faxed to Dinger allows him to instantly quote the business, mail merge a few items into his data base manager and produce a professional quote in seconds. He faxes it back to the client with binder instructions, a process that is simple, but professional and effective. He says the program produces a 2% sales return each time it is sent. He also has partnered with a direct mail house that has allowed him to increase mailings and to keep overhead costs of converting the business to a monitored minimum.
Being accessible to his clients in this day and age of instant communication is essential, Dinger adds. Customer service is essential to maintain customer satisfaction and minimize errors.
In the office, teamwork is essential and vital to success. “Marilyn Ginn, a senior customer service representative, handles my accounts for me and has been with the agency as long as I have,” Dinger said. “I can trust her with anything. We complement each other very nicely in our work. I am the big picture guy and she is very detail oriented.”
“Communication is the key to success,” Dinger says. “I print my cell phone number on my business card. My clients know that if they need me, they can always get hold of me.”
As for the Internet, Dinger’s view is tied to the dynamics of future communication. “I think it’s still too early to tell the effects of the Internet on the independent agent,” Dinger says. “Some of our companies have really stepped to the plate and have great programs. I am sure the best is yet to come. It has made it nice for me because I have set up a cable modem at my house and can get work done after the boys are in bed. All companies still do not embrace e-mail yet, but I am sure it won’t be long before they do. It is a terrific way to communicate.”
It’s important, Dinger believes, for agents to be able to compete in an era when companies in so many industries offer 24-hour, seven day-aweek customer support. The new business environment has people working at all hours and customers want to be able to talk to people. They might want to call at 11:00 p.m. to find out if their coverage is bound before they leave on a vacation. Among Independent Agent Insurance companies, some offer after-hours support and some do not.
Asked about important new products, Dinger cites employment practices liability insurance. “It is a place where agents can really add value to their customers’ insurance program,” Dinger says. “I also feel that 99% of people are really underinsured with personal liability. Agencies can quickly increase revenue by just going through their current account and increasing limits or adding umbrellas.”
Another area in which Dinger sees opportunity is selling excess liability or umbrella coverage and the emerging ability to quote and bind this additional coverage over the Internet.
“It is fast and very competitive,” Dinger adds. “Many agents in the past did not sell umbrella to the client unless it was asked for because it was time-consuming to fill out the application and obtain a quote for very little commission. Now it can be done in minutes and really adds value to you and your client.”
As for the young Dingers-the tradition is in place for his twin sons to follow in Dad’s footsteps, but the other side of the family may be staking its own claim on the twins’ future. Ringer’s wife, a graduate of Syracuse University, worked for her family’s moving and storage company after college.
“I would love for Carl and Hayden, my boys, to work for me, but my father-in-law has other ideas,” Dinger proudly exclaims. “He says he has the edge because little boys love big trucks. My only chance is to get them into golf as fast as I can.” Perhaps Hollywood is their destiny. Dinger explains proudly that one of his twin sons, Carl, appeared in the recent made-for-HBO-movie “61” that was directed by Billy Crystal. The young Dinger twin played Randy Maris, who was born during the season Roger hit 61 home runs.
By Brett Hanavan
Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Jul 2001
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