Generational Issues in the Insurance Workplace

This morning I am reading a great  article from “Property Casualty 360” titled As Older Agents Try to Adapt, Younger Agents Want to Be Heard. Over the years I have worked in a number of firms that were family owned with children becoming part of the firm or small firms adding young producers. Even though today’s internet and social media issues did not exist, some of the same conversations did exist. Those of you that were the “young” guys then are the “old” guys now. You need to think back and take stock. I heard more than one of your bosses say you would never make it.

Shakespeare  Punk

In one agency I worked in for a number of years I saw two things happen that so defines such differences and discussions. The time period 1970 – 1974. A lifetime ago right? I think you will recognize that similar issues exist today.

The Nonconformist Son – The owner’s middle son joined the firm after returning from his time in the military. The middle son had a great education, life experiences, a wide range of connections and many friends. Actually not so different from the Dad. Yet their work visions and habits were very different. The three of us actually shared a workspace so I heard almost all of their conversations. Many were very uncomfortable. The Dad was very successful. A diligent task master. Ethics beyond reproach. A great teacher. A really great mentor to his staff. However, not all of that transferred to his son. He somehow expected his son to understand how things were done and just get too it.

The son’s approach was much more his own style. Having lunch with his prospects and clients. Playing golf and tennis with them, etc. I’ve learned over the years that some of these great differences come from the Dad being influenced by the Great Depression and WWII and the son being living in a much different time period. Ultimately, the son left the firm and moved onto a very successful career outside the insurance industry.

The Loss of a Major Account – Same agency owner here. Of course the agency owner was personal friends with the owners of his major accounts. In the early 70s most of the business in our area were family owned instead of being corporations with boards of directors and owners located elsewhere. This particular account had many family members involved in the ownership and daily operation of the business. We also wrote the personal lines business of almost this entire family along with numerous employees of the firm.

The senior member and personal friend of my boss passed away after a short illness. The line of succession in the firm had been decided a number of years and the Dad of that firm had been grooming the son so that such a transition would mean no interruption in the business. About three months after the passing of the firm’s owner the son walked into the agency with all of their firm’s insurance policies in his hand. He sat at my boss’s desk and signed the front of each policy with his name, a request to cancel and the date. It was a very somber day in our office.

A few weeks later when I was processing the return premium invoices my boss and I had a conversation about this. I asked what he thought had happened. We had always made sure that anyone connected with the firm was well taken care of. There had been no negative claim issues. No apparent problems. His reply to me was that he had not taken the time or thought it necessary to build a relationship with the son that was now in the senior position. He thought that would automatically transfer from Dad to Son.

The Son had a friend also in the insurance agency business. The friend had solicited their business for several years. Once the Son was in the senior position he found that he preferred doing business with his peer and friend instead of someone he didn’t know all that well.

Senior agency owners and managers. Take note here. While these examples are from the 70s, I think there are many similar stories today. The only difference, more tools with which to engage prospects and clients. Maybe the young people in your firm should be your mentors.

Help them set goals, be sure they know your agency’s core beliefs and ethics and get out of their way.

What challenges are you facing one either side of this issue?