“It is the best decision I have ever made.” “It was the best thing for my Agency!” “I love it!” “It was one of the best things that I ever did.” Insurance agents who have made the transition from being a captive agent to an independent described their experiences this way. The journeys have had their challenges, but they don’t regret taking that path.
While the agents have found success as independents, many admitted that they had a lot to learn at first. “It was originally like drinking from a firehose,” says Jessica Fukuchi, an agent in the Seattle area. “I had to learn quickly how to run a business.” Dave Taylor, another agent in Washington, admitted that in the first year he didn’t know the different agency management systems. Las Vegas agent Jeff Blichfeldt said, “The first year, the learning curve was probably a little bit steeper than I expected or was prepared for.” Things smoothed out after that, but he continues to learn.
Others found the change less daunting. Tony Jones spent two years planning his Texas agency’s transition, reviewing and testing agency management systems, and interviewing agency networks. Georgia agent Steve Compton said it went smoother than expected; he credits his agency network, Premier Group, for its training and help getting carriers and rating systems.
Blichfeldt says having options is the number one advantage to being independent, an opinion many share. Jordan Jurow, whose agency is in California’s Bay Area, was able to quickly pivot his focus during the pandemic, from hospitality businesses toward contractors. He likes having the ability to grow in whatever direction he wants and not having to take only one answer on an account. Matt Kalla of San Diego says, “The biggest advantage is simply having the freedom to write anything you want to if you so desire.”
Others say going independent has helped them retain clients. “Our retention is 95% plus year over year and has been from day one,” says Colorado agent Josh Martin. Compton says his personal lines closing ratio has increased 40% and his client retention is up 15%. Jones says his rolling 12-month renewal average is 96%.
The agencies evolved after going independent. Blichfeldt developed a market niche in trucking and transportation. Fukuchi’s book of business has shifted from almost entirely personal lines to a mix of personal and commercial, and she’s been able to focus on the affluent market. Kalla has been able to pursue market niches in areas that interest him, “allowing me to pursue clients with products I really enjoy selling.”
Like Compton, agents spoke highly of Premier Group. “The ongoing support and the investment they make in their agency partners are definitely a part of our success,” says Martin. Blichfeldt nods to the carrier access they provide but also points to administrative help. “They take care of the commissions for us. That saves me eight hours a month.” The group also gives him someone to offer advice when he needs it. Compton says since he joined his commission percentage has grown 25% for carriers he used to access as a broker, and his close ratio has increased 40% while his overhead costs have held steady.
Similarly, agents who are members of Pacific Interstate Insurance Group (PIIB), another network, had high praise for them. “I honestly do not think our agency would be nearly as successful without their help and support,” says Fukuchi. Taylor, who ran his independent agency for more than three years before joining PIIB, said he was eligible for contingency bonuses in year one with them. He likes the built-in support group of other member agents. Kalla compared several networks before joining PIIB. “PIIB’s contract was the most fair that I found where they are really an advocate for your agency,” he says. “I truly hit the jackpot with my affiliation with PIIB.”
The time and work spent learning the independent side paid off. Taylor’s agency grew from $5 million in volume to $26 million in seven and a half years. Fukuchi’s agency does $8 million in volume with 15 employees in offices in five states. Kalla says the time spent investing in his agency has opened up previously unavailable doors.
These agents are proud of what they can offer. Jones feels “our agency can now truly offer a superior range of products and competitive packages for our clients.” For Taylor, it’s all about helping clients. “We get to be a trusted adviser to our clients,” he says. “We’re right there beside them.”
Please note, while The Premier Group and Pacific Interstate Insurance Brokers are mentioned, there are many group who are similar and do a great job helping agencies transition as these two groups do. To see a directory of these groups, please go to: Agency Clusters | Alliances| Networks Franchises | Aggregators
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