By Ken Kukral
As I look back at my 26 years in the excess and surplus lines business I have a lot of fond memories. The insurance industry gets a bad rap as a potential career and it surprises me that more people don’t choose it as a career path. My observation is that most people in the insurance industry sort of “fell into it” and very few went to college looking to major in insurance. I have found it really is a great profession and we need to improve the image that we project as an industry so that we can attract some of the best and brightest coming out of high school and college.
I hope to continue my carrer in insurance for quite some time but I thought I would share with you what I have learned so far:
1. Details DO matter! – The single most important lesson the prior owner of the company imparted on me was that details were extremely important. Little errors could become huge problems. A missed endorsement, a decimal point in the wrong place or a missed phone call could change everything. When you consider we are non-lawyers, selling contracts it is important to take care of the details.
2. Education is a never ending quest – There are so many details in this business that a thirst for learning on a daily basis is crucial. I know maybe a handful of professionals in this business, that are in the top tier of knowledge capabilities and many of those are near the point of retiring. You have to keep improving your craft just like a world class heart surgeon would. You wouldn’t want to have bypass surgery with someone who has not kept up on the latest in cardiac surgery, would you?
3. Ethics are critical – It only takes one time where you stray to “the dark side” and your image will be tarnished forever. Do the right thing, even if it is not the easy route to go. Insurance Departments see this as such an important area that many of them have implemented continuing education requirements that include ethics training.
4. Never stop asking questions. – Both from an educational standpoint and from the standpoint of your clients. When you ask questions you learn. Asking questions also shows a level of interest and will be noticed by other insurance professionals and clients alike. Besides, no matter how long you have been in this business you still have more to learn.
5. Surround yourself with great people. – While this could go without saying it does need to be said that great people will help you to stretch your capabilities, challenge you do your best and will also result in the phenomena of “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. Together you can achieve more than you could do individually.
6. Keep looking for a “better mousetrap”. – Look to continually refine your skills, automate whatever you can and increase your productivity. Continuous improvement should be a driving force since you can never rest on your laurels. When you close your eyes and ears to new ideas you risk being left behind. Change sometimes happens at the speed of light and you can get left behind by trying to do things the same old way you always did them.
7. Think outside the box. – This is so very important in the excess and surplus lines area. We are called on to provide solutions for the risks our retail agents bring us. This is truly where we can be “adding value” to the transaction and prove why we are needed. Many times there is more than one way to get something done and the more open you keep your mind, the better able you are to come up with those innovative solutions.
8. Legislation/Regulation & Compliance – An understanding of the “playing field” we operate on is important. Getting involved with pending regulation and legislation will allow you to help “set” the playing field you and others will operate under. Compliance cannot be underestimated and are some of the “details that matter” that I mentioned in #1 above.
9. Give back – This may be more of a minority view in the insurance industry, but I think you need to “give back”. You need to help others via education, mentoring or encouragement so that they can build their passion for this business. The insurance industry does not just happen within a vacuum and it is important for people to help the next generation of insurance professionals so this industry image continues to improve.
10. Risk management and loss control knowledge is sorely needed. This area of the business has become somewhat of a lost art. I have a belief that your clients need your help in order to improve their risk profile and expect and appreciate your advice and consultation. This is an area that is one of those “value added” type services that distinguish you from other insurance professionals.
11. You need to manage expectations. Finding out your clients expectations can be the difference between satisfying them and building a long term client relationship or losing a client. This is not to say that the client’s expectations are in line with what you can do but it would help to know them. If you can’t meet them, it is better to know up front and not wait till you have expended significant time and energy.
12. Figure out where you fit in. – Based on your skills, personality and long range plans you need to figure out your career path. The earlier you can learn what you really want to do, will allow you to excel sooner. What do you still have to learn? What skills do you need to enhance? Who can help me achieve my long terms goals are all important questions to contemplate.
13. Develop a couple of specialties. – Everyone wants to be seen as an expert in some area. What area do you specialize in? Whether it is learning your agency management system inside and out or specializing in a particular industry, you will be rewarded long term for these efforts. Who wants to be “average” at everything?
14. It is all about trust. Trust with your carriers, trust with clients and trust with your co-workers. It takes a long time to build but only one mistake to tear it all down.
15. You need a mentor – Have someone you can call to run things by? New ideas, a problem or your frustration with a particular matter can all be areas you could discuss with a mentor who will help guide you on the right track. Sometimes you are too emotional on an issue or too close to a situation to stand back and determine what path you want to take.
16. It’s all about the people. – Relationships are “key” to getting things done. Sometimes it is not what you know, but who you know. Make sure to never “burn a bridge”. I find out on a regular basis how “small a world” it is in the insurance business.
17. Balance.- A lesson that is more recent for me. Health, work and family don’t just happen. They need to be a priority and need to be worked on daily, but need to be kept in balance.
18. A quick “no” can be better than a long term “yes”. – If you can’t do it, that is OK. If you say yes, then follow through and get it done. Your “word” depends on it. It has taken me years to realize I can’t do everything and I need to pick and choose what I can do best.
19. Return calls promptly- This goes without saying because the business world has evolved towards the expectation of more immediate responses. This includes e-mails and other forms of communication.
20. Enjoy the ride – I used to forget that you only live once. Once the day is gone, it is gone. Make the next day more productive and move you towards the goals you have for yourself.
And I still have so much more to learn and experience….