To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of the death of the industry are greatly exaggerated.”
Many see the industry as on its deathbed. Between the unprecedented number of agencies selling, the belief that the industry can’t recruit new talent, and the countless other challenges weighing on it, many see these as the final days of the independent insurance agency system.
But, they are wrong.
There is a wave of new talent that sees nothing but opportunity. They are excited, energized, hard-charging, and don’t carry the weight of decades of worn out practices. Ironically, it is this new breed of agency that will prove to save the industry, who will also be the final nail in the coffin of an era whose time to be put to rest has come.
If there is a posterchild for this new breed of agency owner, it very well may be Tom DiLiegro. Tom came to us less than a year ago full of hopes, dreams, and big goals. He also came to us humbly acknowledging his need for help and guidance.
His willingness to be coached, to push himself, and to collaborate with others shows us that not only is this industry not dying, it is going through the greatest rebirth its ever experienced.
Q4i: Your agency is still relatively new and was started in one of the most turbulent times the industry has seen. What was your motivation to start your agency when you did?
TD: Anyone can start a venture in times of calm and certainty, but every industry has turbulence and no time to start a venture is actually perfect. The time to start and have a real impact on the market is specifically in turbulent times.
Plus, I don’t really know any different. I started my career in this industry in 2007, right out of business school. At the time, the drums for national health reform were beating loudly. As a Massachusetts native, I saw Romney Care and thought that might spread nationally, so it was an industry I ran toward specifically because of the turbulence.
Fast forward to mid-2016 when I jumped both feet into the consulting role, it was relatively calm versus the real uncertainly I lived in from 2008-2010 when the talk was that the group medical market was going to completely dissolve. It seems our industry has been turbulent since it began, and I don’t anticipate that changing.
We seem to be fighting the same issues that were fought 40 years ago, only this time, with open collaboration, technology, and changing demographics, I feel like there is a real chance to be a valuable resource to our group clients.
Q4i: What has been your greatest surprise as you have ventured into the world of entrepreneurship?
TD: My CPA is fantastic. I have always asked her why she never ventured out to run her own firm, she’d always respond with, “I don’t want to worry about the cups in the breakroom.” Meaning, owning a business is more than working on the core function of the business, but also all the ancillary, little things of running a business, like “cups in the breakroom.” I have been surprised by all those little things that pop up and need to be taken care of on a weekly or monthly basis.
From a perspective of running a business in our industry, I have been surprised at the level of fear and uncertainty in the market. To me, it ties back to 2008, when seemingly the era of trust in business ended, but I feel for my prospects and clients. The level of anxiety in my market on the complexities and costs of running their business is still exceptionally high, despite the uptick in the economy.
Q4i: Over the last year, you have become quite active in a couple of peer groups for the purpose of transforming the ways in which you grow your business. What have these peer groups meant to you both personally and professionally?
TD: The peer groups I have aligned with have given me great comfort and confidence in the future and my ability to exist long term. All of the people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person, or just speaking to over the phone, have been warm, welcoming, encouraging, and helpful. I don’t feel like I am alone in my practice, even though do not yet have a staff. If I have a question, all have been open to taking my call and providing guidance and insight.
On a professional level, my stated objective is to give employers a differing perspective on how things have been done in the market. From a messaging, product, and operational perspective, the members of the peer groups have largely already been operating in such a way in their markets, so they’ve been a great model to follow in terms of learning what has worked and what has not.
Although the geographical locations are different, the problems faced by employers are similar, so being able to tap into their experience and expertise has been a big help.
Q4i: What would be your best advice to other young entrepreneurs who are considering starting out on their own, specifically in this industry?
TD: If you are young and have an ounce entrepreneurial spirit and a background in HR or benefits, take the jump. The only regret I have is not going out on my own sooner. I let fear of the unknown, the market, health reform, cold calling, you name it, be my excuse. But looking back, the fear was irrational and silly. So, I would advise any young person, to make a plan, perfect or not, and execute it. And FAIL is not a bad four letter word.
If you find yourself afraid of where to take your business next, just look to the Tom DiLiegros of the industry. They are proving every day that there has never been a better time to be in this industry. And, they’re not hard to find. You will find Tom, and others like him, collaborating and sharing ideas online every day. And, THAT may be the first lesson you should take from them.
Photo by Geralt