Why New and Risky Contractors Need a Better Insurance Experience
Laura Allen, southeast region vice president, talks about the challenges and opportunities you face targeting small and midsize contractors.
There's certainly nothing wrong with saying thank you.
But maybe a little extra understanding could mean more.
It's a notion you might not have naturally considered, but makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
Nothing feels better than when someone understands who you are and where you're coming from. That's often not the case when it comes to veterans making their way into the business world.
Brian Foley, RPS president of Personal Lines, talks about his journey to insurance and what we can do to help improve the path.
Joey Giangola: Mr. Brian Foley, how are you doing today, sir?
Brian Foley: I'm good, Joey. How are you?
Joey Giangola: Brian, I'm doing all right. I'm doing all right. I want to know this before we get started, what is an underestimated responsibility in your opinion?
Brian Foley: Underestimated responsibility? You can encounter this in a lot of places. I think oftentimes, folks who are in... Well, maybe not all folks, but probably folks who are good leaders oftentimes underestimate the responsibility that they have, or maybe underestimate the influence they have on the folks that they're leading. They may be fully well aware of the responsibility, but want to downplay it, at least in their own mind.
Joey Giangola: I'm going to go really simple with you, Brian. For me, it's the person that picks the channel on the waiting room TV. I don't think they fully understand the impact they're having on that person's 20, 30 minutes. Sometimes you get some really old channel that you didn't know existed, you have no idea what you're encountering, and I just don't know that they fully comprehend that. Maybe it's their personal taste, and then it says a lot more about them. But I find that to be one that I don't think people really grasp what they're doing to other human beings.
Brian Foley: I would agree with that. I was once in a... My daughter had to get her ear tubes taken out, and we were in a children's waiting room, and I think whoever chose the TV that morning probably did not realize the responsibility they had, because it was not geared towards little children.
Joey Giangola: Not appropriate at all, huh?
Brian Foley: No. That's a great example. Yeah.
Joey Giangola: All right, fantastic. Kind of where I wanted to go with this, Brian, is talking about the world of insurance and your history, and maybe the underestimated responsibility of somebody who has found their way from a military background into the business world. We see that an awful lot, but I don't think people really understand that transition. They see it, they're like, "Oh, this is great, this is fantastic, thank you so much," but there's probably a lot that they don't really understand. Maybe walk through that for somebody that, again, as they say, "Oh, thank you for your service," but is there something that you found maybe a disconnect that they just really truly don't understand when it comes to that?
Brian Foley: I think, depending on the individual you come across. As somebody who has made that transition myself, you come across a wide variety of individuals who have varying degrees of knowledge on what the military experience is like. I'll tell you, my own wife didn't even know that there were multiple branches of the military when I first met her. She now knows a lot more about the military. So, you go from somebody on that spectrum to then maybe somebody who's had sisters and brothers or parents that have served in the military, and they have a much larger appreciation for what that experience actually is. It varies widely.
Brian Foley: As the veteran coming out, you can encounter a wide spectrum of folks on the civilian side that may or may not know what you've been through, or may or may not know that not everybody is a Navy Seal. That's what they see on the news, and out of the million-plus military members out there, that's a very small subset of them. A lot of the other veterans coming out have a huge amount of technical skills, depending on the military occupational specialty that they served in, everything from computers to radio equipment to cyber warfare. The folks that serve in the military have jobs from A to Z, and so I think it really depends on who that veteran is coming out, and then who they're coming across in the civilian world, and what experience they have with the military.
Joey Giangola: Depending on that experience. How do you ratchet it down, based on if you're inactive duty and things like that? How do you come into an environment and reacclimate and make things meaningful? Because I would imagine that it would be tough to have, again, just selling an insurance policy or helping with an insurance transaction be meaningful in a way, coming from a previous experience where the stakes were a lot higher. Is that something that is a challenge, or what was it like for you?
Brian Foley: I'd say it's funny you use the word challenge, because obviously one thing that probably anybody that's in the military has a great appreciation of is dealing with challenges. So, is selling an insurance policy a challenge? Absolutely, absolutely. But as somebody coming out of an organization that not just faces challenges, but knows how to thrive and succeed through those challenges, selling an insurance policy is just another one of those challenges that you look at the issues that are standing in your way, and you develop a plan, and probably a plan B and a plan C, depending on the policy and reference, and then you go and attack that plan or that challenge.
Brian Foley: And I think, even outside of insurance, I think that's one of the key things that makes military veterans stand out in the business world. Obviously business, depending, regardless of which industry you're in, there are a lot of challenges on a day to day, and then military veterans generally handle those pretty well, just by referencing their past and how they've done the same thing in the military.
Joey Giangola: So I guess, real quick, I mean let's maybe lay down some table stakes here. What led you down that initial path to go that way, and then how did it turn into, "Well, I think insurance might be a good spot for me."
Brian Foley: I came from a family where service and the military were always at the forefront. My grandfather was in World War II, was actually captured at the Battle of the Bulge and managed to escape, had an interesting experience in World War War II. My father used Air Force ROTC to pay his way through college. Ended up spending 22, 23 years as an Air Force pilot. My older brother followed suit and used Marine Corps ROTC to make his way through Notre Dame. Spent 20 years. He just retired about two years ago as a very decorated Marine officer. And several of my other brothers and sisters, I come from a large family, have either gone the military route, or I'd just say the government service route. Several of them still work in government service organizations.
Brian Foley: So, when it came my time, time to pay for college, Army ROTC seemed like a right fit. It was just one of those things I thought I was going to do for 20 years, like my dad and my brother. Circumstances were different for me, so I got out after four years, and then my second childhood dream was to go work at insurance. So, that's how I made that transition. That's a joke, Joey. I don't know anybody whose childhood dream...
Joey Giangola: I was going to let it sit for a minute. I just wanted to see. So, when you did get out and when you were entering in the business space, what about, I guess, getting into the world of insurance was appealing? Or is it just one of those things where you found it by accident, like most of us here?
Brian Foley: Yeah. When I went to go get out, I was trying to essentially take any opportunity I could in the civilian world, anything that I stumbled across in terms of networking and interviews. My brigade commander in the Army had a connection with the owner of my former company, and suggested I get on the phone with him. And like I said, I wasn't turning down any interview practice or anything like that. So I said, "Well, this'll just be an interview, use it for practice."
Brian Foley: And by the time I got off the phone with him, I remember I turned to my wife and I said, "I think there's a lot more to insurance than I know about." At that point, I knew that my auto insurance, I got a card in the mail every six months, and that's all I knew about insurance. Having that one conversation kind of started opening my eyes to what it is that insurance is.
Brian Foley: But even at that point I thought, I'll do it for a year, get some civilian experience on my resume, and then I'll go find my real career. And two months ago, I hit 10 years in the insurance industry, and I have no plans on stopping. It is an absolutely phenomenal sector of the business world, and I really think it's the well-kept secret of the business world, the best-kept secret.
Joey Giangola: Coming from such a long line of, like you said, family that is involved in the military, what have you seen over the years? Again, you see people just throw up stuff and say "Happy Veterans Day," all that fun stuff. Is there something that you think maybe is missing? Is there a little more impact or meaning that could be had in... I mean, it's obviously coming from a good place, but is there something that we could do to, again, like I said, bring it a little bit back to reality in terms of, listen, there might be a disconnect in terms of what you're thinking this is and what it actually was. Just in your experience with your family members, is there something that you thought might help further that appreciation, I guess?
Brian Foley: Yeah, that's a really interesting topic when you speak to veterans, especially in the post-9/11 era. I will tell you that obviously, you see it everywhere, as you said, folks finding out you served in the military and the response is, "Well, thank you for your service." But when you talk to veterans, a lot of folks, whether they're past their military days or still serving, when they encounter that, it's uncomfortable for them. It is. And I think a lot of that stems from where we started this conversation, was downplaying the responsibility and what it is you actually are doing. A lot of folks that are in the military are pretty humble about that. Encountering that thank you is actually an uncomfortable situation for a lot of folks. They don't know how to address it.
Brian Foley: I think it's great. I really do. I think that, especially when... Now, I wasn't alive back in the Vietnam days, but when you take what the uncomfortableness is of veterans today having to deal with a thank you, versus what our men and women coming back from Vietnam faced, really not a whole lot to complain about. I think it is obviously great, especially compared to those times.
Brian Foley: I'd say the only thing, really, that I think the veteran community really needs is maybe not just a thank you, but a willingness to hear and understand their stories and get a better appreciation for what they went through. That's not to say go stop every veteran you know and tell them to open up to you. But just that willingness to understand, and then a willingness to not offer a hand of assistance, but be open to helping veterans out, whether that's introduce them to your network, potentially as RPS is doing, opening up opportunities to recruit, specifically individuals who have served in the military. But maybe going a step above that thank you. They're not asking for charity, but opening up the opportunities.
Joey Giangola: That's all very fascinating, because a couple things. If I'm hearing you correctly, I just want to make sure, maybe you toss out that thank you, but then quickly follow up with, "What was it like?" Or making them feel comfortable talking about the day in and day out, or asking for a little bit more perspective is something that might help further that. Is that, kind of getting a good story. They want to sort let that experience onto you in some way?
Brian Foley: Yeah, I think so. And like I said, it's not appropriate in every situation.
Joey Giangola: Right.
Brian Foley: Definitely not appropriate in every situation. But just as so many groups out there are feeling disconnected from each other today, the divide between former military and the civilian world. I think a lot of, there are pockets of the veteran community that don't feel understood, obviously feel appreciated, but maybe not understood from their civilian counterparts. And I'm not saying that telling stories is going to solve everything, but I think trying to gain an appreciation for possibly their life over the last four, five, 10, 20 years, whatever it was, can help close that gap or further their appreciation for it.
Joey Giangola: It's really interesting, and that's a very simple and powerful thing, and I honestly don't know that I've ever heard anybody mention it to me in that way before. And the other thing too, you mentioned of when you're talking to somebody. This is, I'm going to speak from my personal perspective here of you talk to somebody that's been in the military. He's like, "Man, what can I tell you? You've seen much more than I have. You've just experienced life in a much more extreme, different way than I have." But the fact that, like you said, they're, I guess, oftentimes looking for other opportunities, because they want to find a path that leads them... If they're out, they're looking for more opportunities, and maybe most people aren't maybe expecting that, that that's something that is in need, I guess. I don't know, that's maybe my personal perspective on it.
Brian Foley: Yeah, I mean, I'd say, and maybe this might my own personal experience, but I venture to say that a lot of other veterans have this when they first come out, is when you're in the military you have this great sense of purpose and camaraderie with the men and women that you're serving with in your small unit. And when you get out, that's kind of the biggest issue you face, I think, in general terms. The biggest issue you face is trying to find a new purpose and be a useful part of something bigger than yourself. And I think, when I talk about opening opportunities, I think that's, helping a veteran see that there is cause out there in the world that they can be a part of.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, and I guess, to bring it full circle, is there something that, if an agency owner was looking to maybe, like you said, reach out and maybe help people find that purpose, similar to your position, is there anything that you think that they could do to implement themselves? You mentioned RPS is doing some stuff. Is there anything you think would be helpful for them if they did want to go to that path and find people that are looking for that?
Brian Foley: I'd say, one, creating programs like RPS is creating, where they're targeting folks that are coming out of the military. Now, not every individual coming out of the military is going to be a fit for every role. When I was coming out there were very specific, "Hey, if you're an engineer officer, you can fit these roles." I'm not an engineer officer, so no background in that.
Brian Foley: And I think the same rings true in the insurance world, or in a sales-based organization. Not every military veteran coming out is going to be a good fit. It's finding individuals within your organization that can help you understand who those folks are, so like Ash Thomas is leading that effort for us here. He's a former Army officer as well, and he's putting together a program that is going to help the civilian leadership at RPS understand who it is that's coming through this pipeline that's going to be a really good fit.
Brian Foley: And a lot of times, it's the soft skills and just having somebody be there to explain a military resume, which is full of jargon a lot of times, and explain how they might be a good fit and what traits they likely have that are going to help your organization succeed, whether that's an agency owner, a wholesaler, or an insurance company, if we're talking the insurance industry. A lot of times those soft skills aren't displayed on the resumes, and it goes back to that the humbleness. In the military, you never say I, you say we, and you downplay the individual. And so, I think being able to have somebody there that can help explain that, or finding an organization that can. There are military headhunters out there that do specifically, connect an organization that wants to benefit from the skillset that military veterans have and translate that for that individual organization and find the right fit.
Joey Giangola: All right, Brian, I've got three more questions for you, sir, and the first one is, what's one thing you hope you never forget?
Brian Foley: Specifically from my military days? Just one thing? I mean, honestly, there's a lot of things. To this day it's been, like I said, it's been 10 years later and I still on a near daily basis think back to times. I think it's that I've been in a lot worse situations. No matter how bad the situation is, or frustrating it is, that I'm dealing with in the insurance world, I've been in a lot worse. I've overcome a lot worse. And so, that's what I hope I never, that appreciation for this really isn't that bad in the big picture of things.
Joey Giangola: Now on the other side of that, what is one thing you still have yet to learn?
Brian Foley: Just one thing? Joey, I've got a ton of things left to learn. One thing left to learn. I really don't know that I can zero it in on one thing. I mean, especially, I've only been at RPS for two years this month actually, and it seems on a near daily basis I'm learning new things. That's obviously within the company, but those new things sometimes are company specific. A lot of times they're industry specific, and I mean, honestly, a good deal of them go above and beyond the industry and can apply to life in general. So, I don't know that I could zero it in on one specific thing, because I'll probably learn three or four things the rest of the day after we hang up this call.
Joey Giangola: All right, Brian, last question to you, sir. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape, change, alter, speed up, really any part of insurance, what's that thing doing? Where is it going?
Brian Foley: Ooh, that's a good one. I would say, and we're kind of already down this road, right, with the digitalization and technology, but it's a long road. I mean, I've been, like I said, I've been in the insurance industry for 10 years, and it seems like we've been talking about it for 10 years. We've made, and I say we. The industry as a whole has made leaps and bounds in those 10 years, but there's still so much left to do that you just sit there and think so, so often, why do we still do it this way? You can almost work out the framework in your head of how to do it in a more efficient way. But as an IT programmer once told me, he had to learn to stop saying it's easy, because once you start... The concepts are easy, but once you start unraveling what all goes into that in a four or 500-year-old industry, it's not so easy. But that would be the one thing I would wave a magic wand at, is speeding up the digitalization and efficiencies in insurance.
Joey Giangola: Brian, this has been fantastic, sir. I'm going to leave it right there.
Brian Foley: All right. Well, I appreciate it. Thank you. Thanks for inviting me on, and I look forward to future conversations.