At first, it might seem normal, but over time can become a maddening experience.
Because it's something that's hard to come by your first few years in the industry. Especially if you came to insurance later in your career.
It's possible that process is what makes the people who survive it successful.
It's also possibly preventing a lot of new talent from sticking around for the long haul.
Jennifer Chenault, Vice President at Lovitt & Touché, talks about her delayed experience jumping into insurance.
Full Episode Transcript
Joey Giangola: Jennifer Chenault, how are you doing today?
Jennifer Chenau...: I'm doing great. How are you, Joey?
Joey Giangola: I'm doing all right, Jennifer. I'm kind of curious. I want to know how you handle a very particular situation. I've never actually said this out loud, I'm curious how this goes. Have you ever been in an environment where you're constantly running into the same stranger over and over again? How do you handle that? Because it's very awkward. You've never seen this person before in your life and then all of a sudden they're thrust into your world for an intense amount of time.
Jennifer Chenau...: You mean when you run into somebody over and over again, you don't know their name or what have you?
Joey Giangola: The best case scenario for me is the grocery store. You walk in at the same time but basically you end up grocery shopping together but you've never met this person before and you just keep seeing them over and over again. Do you have those situations where you feel like it's socially awkward in them?
Jennifer Chenau...: I wouldn't say I feel socially awkward. I would say that I'm really intrigued and it does happen to me and I usually try to make the other person feel less socially awkward and yes I have run into that before.
Joey Giangola: Do you go up and introduce yourself?
Jennifer Chenau...: I do.
Joey Giangola: Sometimes I've thought about should we just swap grocery lists? Let's help each other out here. We're in this together.
Jennifer Chenau...: I do and I usually try to find something that is interesting about the person and just bring it out like, "You like avocados too?" I mean, I haven't had it happen in a grocery store but I've had it happen in restaurants before. I've actually had it happen where I thought I knew the person and acted very happy to see them and the person had never met me before so that was more uncomfortable on my end but that's happened.
Joey Giangola: Were they nice? I guess it's a true secret test of somebody's character. Were they nice about it? Did they make you feel comfortable in that situation?
Jennifer Chenau...: Oh gosh, they were totally nice about it and then it was a situation I was in a restaurant and I don't wear my glasses often because I tend to forget them and I looked across the way and I would have bet my paycheck that I knew the person. So I get up and I go over and I'm like, "Hi Sally." That wasn't the name but, and she looks at me and then I realize I don't even know this person. And she was really lovely about it and we laughed and I sent her a dessert just to save face but yes that's happened.
Joey Giangola: That was a nice little touch. I appreciate that. That's a good little I think making good of [crosstalk]
Jennifer Chenau...: I think most people I run into are usually pretty nice about things. I do make a lot of socially awkward mistakes I've realized.
Joey Giangola: Well I mean, and speaking a little more seriously we do run into people quite a bit, or at least traditionally in the insurance world that was our job is to run into people over and over again in some way, shape or form. We've been limited in that sort of aspect now. What's that looking like? I mean, how are you running into people now and have you found it hard to keep the frequency up?
Jennifer Chenau...: That has been a topic of conversation ever since I think probably really beginning of last quarter it started to really hit home with not just myself but a lot of people on the team. And we realized the old way of doing things, networking, sliding your card across the table, that really drove a lot of frequency and interaction. And quite truthfully for me, either it's out of a fear of failure or I liked the connection and being creative about it but I have found really it to be the frequency of connecting with people is just different.
So for example, like with you and I on Zoom I think we met a few years ago and it was a phone call and we had never met each other but I think I look at what you do and I look at your signature and I look at what you're putting out and I feel like I still know you even though you and I have never physically met. And I try to do that with surviving in this new world. I use a lot of LinkedIn. I try to be more connected with what that individual is needing rather than just being selfish and just wanting a connection. So for me, it's been still very busy, a lot of new connections, a lot of new ways to help people, but it's also a little bit, it's unchartered territory. So I don't know how exactly this will all pan out but so far so good which is where I get confident.
Joey Giangola: Well I mean, you hit on something and I'm obviously a big proponent of the knowing you without knowing you sort of thing. That's a hard concept to get across to people that are we'll say traditionally in the business. What has that been like in the people that you've been talking to around the agency and things like that? How receptive have people been to that idea and what, I guess, methods have come up into ways that you could actually do that?
Jennifer Chenau...: Well, I think one thing that we really have that's strong in our agency is that we've noticed that in the past you could get by, by just being friends with somebody in a way. So, a lot of relationships are built where you have a connection, you're golf buddies or tennis buddies or a wine club buddy and then that natural progression of well let's do business together happens. And that was in the past. Now with our markets are changing so it's getting tougher to place business. I think that the demand for quality has risen a little bit like a cream of the crop has risen up. And business owners are making decisions differently now. They're making decisions based not just on that relationship piece that I like hanging out with you but where's the quality of the team.
So, what we've been focusing on is specializations, is education. We've been doing a lot of cross initiatives. So I guess I'm fortunate with being part of Marsh, I have access to Mercer and Marsh itself, and Guy Carpenter and Benchmarking and all these things that frankly wouldn't even be needed a couple of years ago. So I see that the buyer is searching for even a different experience and I think that you can do that virtually.
Joey Giangola: Yeah that's interesting the quality thing because at some point I always was, I don't want to say afraid but when insurance companies are involved anything can happen. And is it jeopardizing that friendship based on that third party not necessarily coming through when it's a little out of your control. That always made me nervous. That gave me I guess another form of social anxiety with my friends. But the thing, and you talk a lot about team and having the right people around you to help really go into different situations when you're going to those clients but I guess the one thing that I was curious about, you said that's changing. Markets are getting tougher to come by in terms of their appetites and things like that. Is there a moment where you notice something that happened that said, "I used to get by with this but that's not cutting it anymore and now we've got to take it to the step or the next step."
Jennifer Chenau...: Oh my God you ask really good questions I've got to say. I don't know how you do it but you have to share your secrets offline with me. Because really, so I didn't grow up in insurance. You know my background, this was a mid career move for me. I really didn't know what I was getting into. And insurance has so many layers and there's so many ways you can go. And when you and I first started talking, I was spread thin. I thought I could be everything to everybody and I had this big fear of missing out, fear of missing opportunities. And so to answer your question, what I've found is by really getting good at let's say so during the pandemic I've really focused in on a couple of specializations for designations. And I think that you can be just as successful focusing in on a niche or into a specialization and you can still touch and help others that are outside of that by using the team concept.
So before I was a generalist, I would say a pure generalist. Anything, anybody that came by I would try to help and that is something that worked in the past. So for example now, the DNO market is going, it's going bonkers. And so, I got a management liability designation which still doesn't mean that I am up here. I still have to strive to get there and I'm going to do that by working with one of my counterparts in Phoenix who has a really strong DNO background. And by just focusing in on that I think that that will create opportunities that will open up doors to other opportunities. Rather than just let's talk about your insurance package for example, let's talk about the director's and officer's market and here are some of the pitfalls of how you're covered now because that's rapidly changing.
Joey Giangola: Yeah and that specification, because again like you said, it just allows you to go above and beyond where anybody else is moonlighting and we've had plenty of these conversations. And what is it I guess about that space that has maybe attracted it to you? Because again like you said, coming into insurance as a we'll call it maybe a second career potentially, I guess that's fair enough to say of from education, is there something that you find yourself gravitating towards, different lines maybe that play into your personality strengths?
Jennifer Chenau...: Yeah and that's another thing, I have a mentor. It's the person that hired me. I worked under her for a good four years and she frustrated the heck out of me with a lot of what she would help me with because I didn't get it at the time. And the more that I am honing my skill and learning and keeping an open mind and knowing that I don't know everything. I know what I'm really good at but there's a lot of gaps there. And she always told me, "Don't worry so much about being everything, find something that you really love and then you'll be able to do whatever you want to do within that space."
So to answer what am I attracted to I'm attracted to the, even by saying this it's hard for me to say this because I don't want to put myself in a box, but anything that has a heart is where I get excited. So non-profits, schools, behavioral health, federally qualified health centers, those industries that itself are areas that are generally underserved and they're also really open to the kind of help that we can give them. So they're open to the conversation, they're open to learning more and I'm passionate about it because if we help them with their mission and vision so that they can do the great work out in the community and they can help the children or the people that need them then I know I'm doing a good job and that gets me really excited.
Joey Giangola: Yeah. I guess I mean, I didn't even think about it Jennifer but yes your background, coming from teaching and, going into talking to the educators I'm assuming that gives you a big advantage in terms of the way that you're able to communicate with them and be relatable to them versus just some fancy suit coming in there and trying to sell them a policy. Has there been anything that has stood out there in those communications that you said, "Oh wait a second, yeah this makes a lot more sense why haven't I been doing this more."
Jennifer Chenau...: Oh, absolutely. I think part of when you asked about what's changing also in networking and who do you connect with I have so many opportunities to really get deeper in the associations that I've been a part of but I've been so busy doing things that really didn't make any impact. So, I think that just reflecting on busy and productive are two different things. And a big thing I'm doing is slow down so you can speed up. Slow down and think about, "I'm a member of this association, this one, this one. So what can I do to enrich those associations? But then I have to give up this, this and this." That's the challenge because by giving up something there's always that fear that I'm going to miss something but that's not true, that's just in my own mind.
Joey Giangola: That definitely makes sense. Is there anything, even just drilling down a little bit more in terms of the things that you are focusing on productivity ways that has clicked for you that you said, "This is really something that I've noticed as has created an uptick or really taken things to a better place for me."
Jennifer Chenau...: Yeah I mean, I think that really continuing to work on my signature that's big. So I want to be the one that's in control of what people are saying about me and in order to do that I have to drive the messages. So I focused over the past six months, which I'll continue this year, really on doing more of the signature blogging, doing things like this, this interview with you. I mean what an opportunity, thank you so much.
I explained to somebody that part of being unique, and physical, and visible and viable is really bringing something different to the table, being authentic and being consistent. So I have to always be working on those things. And also you have to stay humble which is I think almost too easy to do but there's a fine line between you're going to be humble but then also being confident in here's what we can do for you as well and it's a partnership. So, this past year has been a real, my brain has gone with things clicking and I can't even imagine what next year is going to be like.
Joey Giangola: Like you said, it's definitely a pretty thin tight rope to walk to maintain that edge but still like you said maintain that humility. I'm dying to ask this question, to people that are maybe just getting into the business or on the fringes of it that are just orbiting, paying attention to what's going on here as somebody who was once there looking on the outside what was it like to go through that process to say, "Oh no, actually I think I can do this. It's not too late per se. I'm not too far down this one road." What gave you the confidence to make that change to jump over and to feel confident about it and doing it.
Jennifer Chenau...: That was my biggest struggle honestly. To get your swagger in a way, in my past life I was what's called consciously competent. So what that meant in a learning environment is you just you really know if you do certain activities you're going to get a certain result and it's a formula and it gives you comfort. Because if you know those, I worked on this many calls and this kind of industry and then this kind of close rate you know you're going to get X result. And then you walk into this industry and there are no, I mean there is a formula of course like you'll hear I have to see five new organizations a month and if I do that, that's absolutely a great starting point because it gives you those little successes.
For my first three years, I felt like I was a foreigner without any knowledge. I'd walk into rooms, I couldn't understand what people said. I was not allowed to talk really because every time I did say something it was wrong. And yeah I could do it but for three years it was tough but humbling. I went from being a director and being the one that's making it decisions to working in a cubicle, working with people and I had all these bosses. So I had all the account executives who thankfully when I think back who trained me, who were patient. And they would frustrate me because I wanted to say things, I wanted a voice. No, you know what, you sit, you learn and you absorb, and then you don't make any money. So for three years you have no validation that you're doing a good job. You don't know if any of this networking is making a difference. Everyday you walk in you learn something new. I had to hear that. I mean, at one point I was like, "I don't want to learn anything new. I just want to feel good about one day."
So you get through that and what I see is I see people giving up right at that point where you break through. This is a fantastic career. I wish that, I mean one thing I'm trying to work on is working with the institutes to bring their curriculum to some community colleges because we don't talk about insurance. Insurance allows businesses to take risk. That's the basics of it. It's like you can take more risks by using insurance. It doesn't mean you have to buy every line of coverage except work comp but that's even negotiable sometimes.
But I think that everybody's success is different. For me, success was earning a vice president title. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean that I get a seat at the table at MMA, it doesn't mean I have signing rights, but it means something to me personally. It means that I am valid in what I do on a daily basis. I've done well this past year. Every year I do better than the previous year. I don't get pressured to do better ever but for me if I do better every year then I know I'm growing and that's why I do the designations and that's why I do the blogs and that's why I do things like this. Because, there's somebody else out there that's going to do it.
And I want my signature to be maybe she isn't always the most eloquent or tied up insurance person in the room but heck she's great to be around and if you need anything she will go the extra mile. I will find a solution for you. It's probably not going to be me but I will get a connection and I'll help. And I think people give up too soon and if you push through that... And it is so frustrating in the beginning. I almost gave up. I almost gave up multiple times. I got recruiters calling me to go back to education all the time and it was like, "I can easily just go back into something that is comfortable, that I work 40 hours that I walk in." And I'm really glad I stuck it out though.
Joey Giangola: Well Jennifer, the story started out a little scary. I wasn't quite sure. When you sum it like you think why does anybody ever come into insurance but then I think we found ourselves at a somewhat happy ending so at least that's good.
Jennifer Chenau...: Well, I didn't mean to make it scary but I think that the truth of the matter is that you see producers and the turnaround rate and I mean the attrition rate for producers is so low and it doesn't have to be. And I think that if we can look at our industry and really fix that it would be an area of opportunity and this is one recession proof industry. And by getting through all that, there's a lot of benefit once you make it through.
Joey Giangola: All right Jennifer, I've got three more questions for you. And the first one very simply, what's one thing that you hope you never forget?
Jennifer Chenau...: That the person in front of me does not have... I never want to forget that feeling when I walked into my first meeting and they were talking about ACA and I asked the person next to me what ACA stood for. And I never want to forget that sometimes, I think oftentimes you're talking with clients and we're in it all day long and it's an ambiguous, you can't touch what we're doing and so keep that in mind.
Joey Giangola: And on the other side of that, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?
Jennifer Chenau...: Okay we have not enough time to answer that question. [crosstalk] Gosh one thing, that's hard, that's a hard question. I think I still need to figure out... No, you know what? That isn't hard, somebody had talked with me about this last month. The one thing I still need to learn is that I still need to get in my mind that doing business with me is also valuable. I think I lose that sometimes. That I bring value and I've earned that and I need to get really comfortable with that.
Joey Giangola: All right Jennifer last question, if I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape change, alter, really do whatever you want to insurance we'll say in a positive way what's that thing, where's it going, and what's it doing?
Jennifer Chenau...: Oh boy. Oh gosh, I could go into so many different places. I just, I wish that education and learning and learning styles, I wish we could flatten the curve so that we could have more understanding about what we do and that way your clients really do see you as a partner, which most of my clients I would say do. Also, if I had a magic wand I would use it to help me with all the follow-up and thank you letters and all the things I want to do that keep me up at night and the grocery shopping and the dog grooming, I would probably like clone me to have four of me so I could do even more.
But I do think that the industry is changing and I think that we're on a track where we're going to see a lot of changes. It's forefront and I think that just really helping clients understand where their risk is and doing that in different ways. And technology like Zoom, you can do things like that. You can record. It doesn't have to be just that one time that you have that meeting a year and it shouldn't be. It should be, as front of mind as the daily news but you can make it fun too. It doesn't have to be [inaudible]
Joey Giangola: Jennifer, this has been fantastic. I'm going to leave it right there.
Jennifer Chenau...: Thank you. It's good to see you.