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Get Up and Go

Today’s agent must be prepared for career change.

By David Connell

Last fall, Rob Francisco, who is now vice president of marketing for Niche Plan Sponsors, was having a great time—his sales were on track, and he was in the midst of his 12th year with a large insurance company. Then, he got a new boss—one with different ideas about the life insurance business and where Francisco fit in the agency.

“My new boss called me in and gave me a little talk about increasing my business,” Francisco, a member of Orange County AIFA, recalls. “He said, ‘You’re doing OK now, but I want to see bigger numbers in the future. Either you increase the numbers, or I’m going to have to let you go. Or, I can give you a package now and you can be on your way.’

“I sat back in my chair, and said, ‘I don’t have to go home; I don’t have to think about it. I want the package right now.’”

Any agent making a career change should take time off before starting a new venture.

Facing change
There was a time when an agent could enter the insurance business, work for the same company for 30 or 40 years, receive healthy commissions, raise a family and retire with a gold watch. For better or for worse, that environment simply doesn’t exist anymore. Whether it’s self-imposed or through unexpected business circumstances, today’s agent has to be ready to get up and go at a moment’s notice.

There are many things to keep in mind when moving on, but Francisco notes that realizing your new company may not have the same resources or culture as your former employer is perhaps the most important.

“The experience of going from a big company to a small company was exciting. But at the same time, for a moment, you kind of have buyer’s regret,” he says, noting that small companies may not have the technology or staff of an agency-supported practice.

He adds that any agent making a career change should take time off before starting a new venture to make sure he is mentally, physically and emotionally prepared to make a change.

“I went from a comfort zone to a really steep learning curve. Be prepared and be rested for a lot of learning,” Francisco says. He took three weeks off before starting at Niche Plan Sponsors. “Move ahead with no regrets. If you have any regrets people will pick that up over the phone, they’ll hear you talking about your old company and it really projects a lack of confidence that you made the right move. Who wants to work with a guy that’s not sure he made the right move for his family?”

Francisco stresses the importance of knowing when it’s time to move on and doing so with the recognition that there is an entire industry out there to help. Local association meetings, he says, can be a great source for networking or finding a colleague to provide a needed boost in confidence.

“If you ever find yourself complaining in your mind or verbally about your situation, [know that] you have the power to make the change yourself—it’s just a matter of having the resources,” he says. “This industry is a very helpful industry. … There’s something inherent in the life insurance industry that attracts really quality people. Use the people around you as a resource and don’t be an island.”

Striking out on your own
David Appel, CLU, ChFC, and principal of Goldwasser-Appel Insurance Advisors, also worked for a large insurance company for two-and-a-half years before realizing that striking out on his own—an option for many young agents—was his ultimate goal.

“I looked at the top 10 people who were in the Boston general office for [that company],” Appel, a member of NAIFA-Boston, says, reflecting on his early years. “They all ran their own independent practices where they had their own space and ran under their own name.”

Appel left to join his father-in-law, Willie Goldwasser, CLU, ChFC, at the Hancock Group where he could operate independently, get his feet on the ground and not be burdened with rent or paying for utilities. The two then moved to offices in downtown Boston. Eventually, Goldwasser decided the city was not for him, but Appel stayed in Boston to run his own practice, before finally rejoining his father-in-law a few years later. Through this experience, Appel learned what it takes to run a practice, and how to adapt to change.

“It’s a small industry and your reputation is your currency, so you don’t want to tarnish it when you exit your company.”
—Rob Francisco

“When you’re in an agency environment you have everything taken care of for you. You don’t pay rent … and you’re living in a very debt-free, closed environment,” he says. “But when you break out on your own, you realize you have to pay rent, take on copy machines, telephone lines, fax lines, high-speed Internet, computer systems. You have to take on all the expenses that go along with starting and opening your own office.”

Appel notes that captive agents often have to surrender much of their expense reimbursements to their general managers to offset the agency costs, while those working on their own get to keep the reimbursements. But, he says, when you add in the costs of running your own office, “all of a sudden you’re staring at a pretty big dollar figure before you even sell your first policy, and a lot of people can’t handle that.”

He adds that agents who open their own practices must often sell products from several companies to ensure they are getting the best product for their clients and to prove to the client’s other advisors they are truly independent.

“Other advisors, lawyers and fiduciaries want to know that you have the ability to go to 10, 12, 15 companies if you need to for a client and that you’re working for the client, not the company,” he says. “Today I’m licensed with probably 40 to 50 companies and the product [I sell] is going to be from whatever company works out best for that client.”

Keep it cordial
When an agent moves on for whatever reason, it’s important that he maintain cordial relationships with his former managers and co-workers. Francisco stresses that this is just as important as taking your client database with you when you leave.

“It’s a small industry and your reputation is your currency, so you don’t want to tarnish it when you exit your company,” he says. “I actually saw my old boss at a NAIFA meeting last week and we had a great, nice, cordial conversation.” He adds that since they target different markets, they likely won’t do business together on a company-to-company level, but Francisco believes they may refer clients to each other in the future.

“You never want to burn a bridge,” Appel adds. “I’ve sold policies [from my old company]. I’ve gone back to that agency and done business with them and I continue to place business with Hancock. … It’s like anything in life. When you burn a bridge, it can come back to bite you.”


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