5 Key Skills to Look for in New Hires for Your Independent Insurance Agency

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    The insurance industry is booming. Net premiums for P&C insurers totaled $558.2 billion in 2017 in the US alone, according to the Insurance Information Institute, and the Department of Labor expects a 10 percent increase in employment of insurance agents over the next decade.

    Indeed many independent insurance agencies are starting to scale. And a large part of successfully growing a business is knowing how to hire the right people, whether operations staff or sales people.

    In this post, we’ll examine some of the specific roles you’ll need to hire for and identify five key traits to look for in these new hires.

     

    Critical Additions to Your Agency

    Staying on top of financials is crucial in any business, but especially the insurance business because of fiduciary funds. If you haven’t already, you’ll definitely want to consider hiring a bookkeeper and have an accountant on retainer.

    A bookkeeper will assist you with managing fiduciary funds, cash versus accrual and reconciling key data, explains insurance industry consultant Chris Burand. All of which make your life easier and free up your time so you can focus on core operations.

    Partnering with financial professionals experienced in the insurance industry is just good business, agrees accounting and financial management specialist, Brian Paulson. “Hiring an accountant to handle your financial needs isn’t a sign of weakness,” he adds. “It’s a sign that you’re serious about the financial health of your agency.”

    Stellar sales reps are equally as important. You likely won’t have the time to oversee every single customer contact and will need dedicated professionals to find and retain new business. They’ll need to deliver the same level of customer service that you do and be committed to helping your agency grow.

    Successful insurance agents tend to be high energy, well organized people with an entrepreneurial spirit, writes the team at Farm Bureau Financial Services. They’re also coachable and have a genuine desire to develop their skill set, they add.

     
    Attractive manageress conducting a job interview with a female applicant smiling at her as they discuss her CV

    Two other essential positions in a growing independent insurance agency are a receptionist and a marketing professional, according to a hiring guide by The Really Useful Information Company. When it comes to a receptionist, they’re often the first point of contact, and your customers’ first impressions are based on interactions with them. Therefore, a receptionist should be polite and friendly, communicate clearly, be a good listener and able to multitask, explains the team at CareerTrend.

    The marketing professional should be adept at the latest digital sales strategies including SEO, content creation, social media and email, says insurance marketing consultant, Zach Emly. These skills are vital for capitalizing on prospects who are researching insurance issues and seeking coverage online.

    Look for someone who’s capable of creating “deer-in-the-headlights” resources, advises digital marketing specialist, Betsy McLeod. By this, she’s referring to marketing professionals who have a knack for simplifying the customer journey and who can help customers understand complex subjects without overwhelming them.

    Now that we know the most important positions to hire for, here are five general traits to look for across the board, regardless of the role you’re filling.

     

    Communication Skills

    Good communication is hands down the most important trait in the insurance industry. Relationships are an agent’s biggest selling point, and customers turn to them because of the personal attention they receive. The top independent agents aren’t the ones “selling” insurance; they’re the ones cultivating meaningful relationships with customers, explains insurance business consultant Ryan Hanley.

    Agents and everyone working within your company need to put the customer first and provide next level customer service, agrees financial counselor Mark P. Cussen. Listening to what they have to say and providing them with helpful advice is vital to earning their trust, which is one of the most difficult parts of the job.

    So how do you identify candidates with great communication skills?

    Digital hiring platform Betterteam suggests asking the following questions during an interview:

    • How do you like to build rapport with others?
    • How would you simplify a complex issue in order to explain it to a client or colleague?
    • How would you explain a complex idea/problem to a client who was already frustrated?
    • Tell me about a time you had to relay bad news to a client or colleague.
     
    businessman interviewing female job applicant in office
     

    Adaptability

    The insurance industry is changing and evolving at an increasingly rapid rate. Whether it’s integrating new technology, implementing cutting-edge marketing tactics or using different communication channels, adaptability is vital for anyone working at an independent insurance agency.

    Business journalist Rob Waugh says many employers view the ability to adapt to shifting priorities and trends as a soft skill that’s every bit as important as technical skills. He also cites research from a recent report that found 60 percent of employers think adaptability is more important now than in the last decade.

    The Target Jobs team elaborates by saying employers define adaptability as being able to deal with and work around unexpected changes or circumstances, such as new business priorities or changes in a customer’s needs. They also explain the importance of being able to change the communication style with a customer or colleague to achieve the best results — a trait that overlaps with our first point.

    Besides that, adaptable employees can quickly change a planned course of action as new information becomes available and are willing to perform additional tasks outside of their immediate job description when the situation calls for it.

     

    Analytical Skills

    The career site Bright Network discusses the significance of efficiently analyzing information in the insurance industry. For instance, a sales rep may need to assess the particular risks a customer faces in order to point them to the best policy. Or an insurance marketer may need to examine key metrics like website visitor viewing behavior and customer conversion paths to optimize the marketing campaign.

    It’s all about taking a variety of information — often from disparate sources — and synthesizing it in a way that creates actionable insights. Analytical skills can come in handy for many positions within an independent insurance agency. As job search site Indeed points out, it ensures team members are capable of investigating complex issues and making sound decisions.

     
    attractive business woman talking on the phone in office
     

    Organization

    The best candidates for your agency are those who are highly organized. This is because your employees may be involved in several different projects at any time. For example, a sales rep may need to manage multiple accounts, know the status of claims that have been filed for different customers and stay on top of appointments.

    Insurance coach Ted Wolk agrees, citing other tasks in which organization is crucial, including record keeping, annual planning, quarterly planning and managing daily activities. Even being organized before making phone calls with customers and insurance providers is important.

    Ryan Hanley addressed organization too, saying it isn’t something that’s just nice to have. It’s absolutely essential. “On any given day you are going to interact with dozens of potential new clients,” he writes. “If you’re not organized and/or give off the impression of not being organized, prospects are going to lose faith in your ability to handle their insurance needs.”

     

    Emotional Intelligence

    Emotional intelligence is a term used to describe a person’s ability to monitor and manage their own emotions along with the emotions of others, writes researcher Courtney Ackerman.

    It boils down to being able to read, relate and respond to people, Hanley adds. And emotional intelligence plays a big role in winning over prospects and maintaining long-term relationships. One example is an employee being able to regulate their own emotions and remain calm when dealing with a difficult customer. Another is providing comfort to a customer in distress, such as when the customer is reporting that their home has flooded.

    Emotional intelligence is something that’s difficult to measure; in fact, Psychology Today confirms that currently there’s no validated test or scale for it. However, most people know it when they see it, and emotional intelligence is something employees with great people skills tend to possess.

    So what are some objective ways to identify this valuable trait?

    Executive coach Marcel Schwantes says you should look for people who behave reasonably, keep their emotions in check, are self-aware, display empathy and flexibility, and can maintain equanimity in stressful situations.

     

    Making the Right Hires

    It’s exciting when your agency grows to the point that you need to bring on new staff. That’s quite an accomplishment!

    Knowing the specific roles to hire for and the traits to look for in candidates should make this process as seamless as possible. That way you can continually build your agency and create a cohesive team of professionals who are primed for success.  

     

     
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