Oftentimes, potential clients respond better when you lead with their best interests in mind.

While on the surface that might seem simple, it's not easy to put your passion for their interests on full display.

Because it's hard to consistently show up and build trust when there might not be anything in it for you that day.

Michael J. Vance, advisor for Hundley Batts & Associates, talks about the communities he's constantly there for and how he tries to serve them.

Joey Giangola: Mr. Michael J. Vance, how you doing today, sir?

Michael J. Vance: I am thankful to be here with you today. More importantly, how are you doing today?

Joey Giangola: Michael, I'm doing great. More important I don't know if we're going to weigh sort of things like that today, but we'll see how it goes, but I appreciate you being here. Michael, before we jump into anything too serious, I got to know this first. What's one thing that you think more people should do or use, something that you like that you think you've figured out that you think, "Man, I think more people should be using this thing or doing this thing"?

Michael J. Vance: Yeah, I think, wow, for me and my family, I think more people ought to turn off their computers and get out in nature, do some camping. I think it'll do a world of good for them. That's just something my wife and I do, or my family does, on a consistent basis. We find it very refreshing. It's just give us more energy to get back into the mainstream of things. But I think people ought just unplug and get out in nature. Yeah.

Joey Giangola: Michael, I may or may not have just returned from a week underway in the woods. So who knows? We'll have to see, but for me I have to say it's very simple. I think people should use forks more often. I feel like people eat too much with their hands and especially in a post-pandemic world, there are less adventurous things that could be said. I think next time you think to eat, just "could I use a fork" and don't worry about being socially judged for it. I mean, French fries are okay. Just go ahead and poke it.

I want to move this over to insurance, Michael. I feel like I'm very interested in your answer to this question and I feel like you are, I don't want to say particular, but you know what you like and it works for you and your agency. What is that thing that you do that you think that you... Again, in the insurance world, that you feel is important, that runs your agency and that you think more agents should maybe take a minute to stop and consider?

Michael J. Vance: When I think about our agency and our team, I think that people that are in the industry ought to want to be there. I enjoy working in the insurance industry, building relationships. I mentioned that I've got some relationships with RPS that have gone over 20 plus years. Without those meaningful relationships with people that want to be in the industry, it seems that that's the key thing that's missing. People come in and out, but when you want to be here and you talk to the insurance professionals that want to be there, you notice there's a different type of conversation there. Also want to say that whereas the insurance industry is concerned, this is one of the great places to be right now is in the insurance industry, I think. I think it's a great industry to be in.

Joey Giangola: You mentioned those relationships and that's something that we all sort of hear in the industry. Was there a point in time, maybe coming into the business, where you heard that, and then was there a moment where it clicked for you that like, "Oh yes, this is really relationship based," and what sort of circumstances were surrounding that?

Michael J. Vance: I would say the way that I got into the independent agency system was unique. I had started with a company called Metropolitan Life. I was working with them in their personal risk management division, helping high net individuals protect their assets and had been working here in Huntsville, Alabama for a couple years and was told about a company called Hundley Batts & Associates. That's where I am now. Didn't know anything about them then. They said, "Have you met Mr. Batts," and kept hearing that. I was working with a lot of your professionals here in the community, entrepreneurs, and they kept saying, "Have you met Mr. Batts?"

And so I took it upon myself to go introduce myself to him, and as we were conversing, he began to tell me what it's like to be in the South, to have an agency and to run it. As he was talking about his goals and his aspirations, something, Joey, resonated with me. I said, "I want to get on board. I see where you're going. I want to be a part of this." From that relationship there with Mr. Batts, that really clicked for me. I said, "This is something I think I could do for the next 30, 40 years is impact our community." So, yes.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, and I've heard a lot of those situations where you have that moment where you're talking to somebody and the light bulb sort of comes on. There's something that stood out to you as maybe "I can do this a little bit differently"? Was there a way that you wanted to approach insurance that felt maybe unique, that was maybe a missed opportunity?

Michael J. Vance: Good question. I remember initially starting with the agency in the first couple of weeks being there, I remember coming into the office and saying to Mr. Batts, "Mr. Batts, I can't find anyone to sell to." And he said to me, "That's your problem, son. You're trying to sell people." He said, "Find people you can serve." Those five words, find people you can serve, change my whole paradigm for how I approach business. I'm always trying to find people that needs our service that I can serve, the underserved community. So yes, that would be the A-Ha moment for me in terms of my perspective on how I approach the insurance industry, instead of selling, finding communities that I can serve.

Joey Giangola: Well, Michael, I got to ask this then is how do you define that serving? What characteristics do you need to have in place? What are you looking for then, once you approach it from that situation? How do you serve those people and then bring them into the conversation?

Michael J. Vance: So, Joey, I love people. I love helping people, and I had to have a coming home to meeting with Jesus about what I was doing, because I was spending time with people that I really couldn't help. I could educate them, I can show them how insurance works, I can show them different things. But I had to have a coming to home meeting with Jesus and realize that my job is to help protect people's assets. If a person didn't own anything and didn't have any assets, at the end of the day, there's really nothing our agency could do for them. So I had to realize that what I do is helping people to acquired assets of business, homes, property, anything like that, helping them to protect their assets. That was that aha moment in terms of how I approached the service that I give to people.

Joey Giangola: Through that process, did you find any areas specifically that you liked to focus on, and conversations you liked to have, businesses you liked to talk to? Did something stand out or was there a while where you just took whatever came across your plate?

Michael J. Vance: Because the insurance industry is so unique and vast, I kind of stumbled upon this. There's certain industries I like to work in. I love music. I'm a musician part-time. I've been playing for local churches in this community for years and years and years. Because of that, I'm in churches, I'm in 50 churches probably a year. Because I'm naturally in that market, I tend to enjoy working in that particular market because I'm already there. That's one of the markets that I've learned to work in that is very comfortable for me to work in. It's a market where... Tell you a quick story. I remember writing this small church, maybe a hundred or less members, I remember after writing at church, the pastor asked me if I can help his son-in-law with insurance.

So I went out and worked with the son, wrote his home in auto, and then from this pastor and his church, I end up giving several members personal service. Even though I wrote the one church, I end up having 15, 20 policies with that one relationship. I found that when you're there on a consistent basis, they see you develop these relationships, they ask you what you do. For me, when you work in areas that you have a natural proclivity to, you're going to be a little bit more successful because they are seeing that you're authentic in what you're doing.

Joey Giangola: Yeah. I mean, that's interesting, because that's another thing that we hear quite a bit, and that's one of the things I think draws a lot of people into insurance, or I guess maybe doesn't necessarily draw them, but once they get here, they realize that they can find a connection point to another passion. Would you have any advice to somebody who is maybe looking to connect insurance with a passion and maybe it's not going as well as they think it should?

Michael J. Vance: For me, I would tell a person... We have in our agency, we have three core values, and one of our core value is continuous optimization. Meaning that you have to constantly be willing to grow in the insurance industry. If you're one of those persons that wants to settle, then I will probably tell you, "This is not the industry to be in," because you're going to be asked... I don't care if you've been in business three years, 30 years, to continue to grow. I think that's one of the reason you've seen the last, I guess two or three years, a migration, baby boomers like myself, not wanting to learn something new, this technology. "I've got to learn technology and insurance now? I don't want to do that."

I would say that if you're not willing to grow, and if you're not one of those person that want to excel consistently throughout your career, you're probably not going to enjoy your experience in the insurance industry. As you can say, you're doing a podcast here. I mean, if you thought, when you first started in insurance, you would be doing a podcast now, "Why do I need to do that?" There's certain skill sets, you've got to adjust, you've got to be flexible, you've got to see opportunities. If there's someone that's not getting all they want out of their current position, I would tell them to look inside to see if it's something that they maybe need to reconsider in terms of wanting to grow and excel.

Joey Giangola: Michael, I have to know then, is there any other passions that you're trying to work your way into, the insurance angle? Where are you growing to? What's sort on your horizon as far as something that has captured your imagination?

Michael J. Vance: Wow. I'm in a community right now, Huntsville, Alabama, that has really inspired me in our agency. The potential that's happening right now here in Huntsville is absolutely unbelievable. When I first relocated here in '88, I knew it was a great community to raise a family in, but the amount of resources and economic development that's happening here in Huntsville right now is mind-boggling. Give you example, within the last 18 months, Facebook has invested $750 million here in Huntsville in a data center. Jeff Bezos has started a company here called Blue Origin. They're here in Huntsville right now, today. Within the last 24, 18 months, Huntsville has opened the only technology and cyber school in America right now for high school kids that actually come into the community, they live on campus. These high school kids are learning about technology and the future and where it's going. These high school kids are going to have opportunities to earn $30,000, $40,000 a year in high school.

This is amazing. I mean, that's happening here right now in Huntsville. Huntsville has the second largest research park in America, soon to be the first. There's a lot that's going on that's inspiring me. The movement, having a space and rocket center camp here is in Huntsville as well. So there's a lot of things that's happening in technology that's inspiring me and our agency to continue to grow our agency and the opportunities that's presenting itself here in the agencies now. The FBI recently located their cyber security department here to Huntsville, 4,000 jobs are coming here with that. There's just so many opportunities in the technology and cyber field, that's giving me hope far as an agency, because technology, binding technology and insurance, there's so many opportunities out there for us. Yeah. Good question.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, you bring up a good point. I think maybe one of the realities that is a little harder to face in a lot of terms is that we say the internet has made the world smaller, but still a lot of insurance is done within a pretty tight circumference from where the agency exists. It's still the community based thing. If you're not all that excited about your community, you don't see a lot of opportunity, it becomes very challenging. Would you say to somebody, this is a bit of a reach, but feel free to give me what you've got, Michael. Would you say to not be afraid to expand what you defined as potentially... Maybe you might need to go one or two towns over, maybe you need to start considering more drastic moves for your agency. Is that something that you think would be on the table if you weren't in a position of this growth, as you mentioned?

Michael J. Vance: I get an opportunity to speak at local colleges and universities, just encouraging young people to go into the insurance industry. One of the things I tell them is, "Follow the opportunities. The opportunity for you might not be in this community, but go to where it is, and you might be able to circle back later on back to your community, but follow the opportunities. The opportunities might not be right there where you are. Where are those opportunities? Is it in the next city? Is it in the next community? Is it online? Where is the opportunity for you? Then follow that opportunity."

Joey Giangola: It's an unfair question, but I want to ask it anyways, Michael, if there's one thing that has made you successful in the agency space, what's the thing that sort of got you to where you are today? If you had to move everything else away and say, "This is the one thing," it might not even be the most obvious. It might even be the most overlooked, but is there one thing that sort stands out to you as getting you where you are right now?

Michael J. Vance: In the insurance industry, as I mentioned earlier, it's built on relationships. I've been able to build some meaningful relationships in the insurance agency that has enhanced my career. I am the first African American to be the president of the Alabama independent agent association. I am the first African American and agent to do an online conference for the Alabama independent agent association. People have found Michael Vance to be a friend, an ally, and so the relationships that I've built over years have gotten me to the place that I'm am right now today. I would say that. One of the things that I value is loyalty. My wife and I'll be celebrating.. Well, we celebrate 39 years of marriage. You don't have long- term relationships. I've learned so much from being married, that I've been able to take over into the business arena.

People are looking, they're longing for loyalty today. Employers want people that are going to come to work and plan on being there for a minute. Companies, they promote people that they know are going to be around for a while. The one thing I would tell a young person in their career, especially at the initial part of it, "Be loyal to that company, stay there for a minute. Three years is really not a long time. Five years is not a long time. Give yourself 100%, go in there and be loyal to where you are. I think that will bring a lot of growth on your own part. You'll see that the longer you stay in places, the more people get to know you. The more they can trust you."

Long-term relationships are built on trust, and how do you build trust? It takes time. It's not done one quarter after the next quarter. It takes years to do that. I would say the one thing that have helped me in my career has been loyalty, sticking to it until you get good at it, and people notice you. Yeah.

Joey Giangola: All right, Michael, I've got three more questions for you, sir. The first one is, very simply, what is one thing you hope you never forget?

Michael J. Vance: I celebrated our family reunion every first week in August, every other year. My family is originally from Arkansas. They were farmers, prior to that sharecroppers, prior to that being enslaved. And so my great, great grandfather, he had one of his fingers cut off because he wanted to learn to read. One of the things I tell my kids and my grandkids is that the very fact that 150 years ago here in America, you were not allowed to read. It was illegal. So you need to take advantage, take advantage of the opportunity to educate yourself and never stop learning, always be willing to grow. I always remember that my ancestors sacrificed a lot for me to be where I am today. I'll never forget that, as enslaved people.

Joey Giangola: All right, Michael. Now on the other side of that, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?

Michael J. Vance: Gosh, the world's a university. I'm still married to the same woman. I'm learning about her every day, Ardella, my wife. There's so much in the insurance industry you have to learn, if you just open your eyes and realize that don't know everything. Right now with the technology that's happening this year, if I was, I guess, appointed to serve on the National Committee for Technology for the independent agents association, nationwide, independent agent brokers. That is going to be something I'm going to have to learn, to spend more time in that particular area. For me, there's so many areas in technology that's expanding, I'm like a sponge right now, so everything around me, I'm just learning. I'm growing.

Joey Giangola: All right. Michael, 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, where's it going, and what's it doing?

Michael J. Vance: I think when I enter rooms or spaces today, and I want to see more people that look like me, more people of color, especially on the management, upper management and leadership. When I had the opportunity to serve in certain leadership position, I noticed I would walk into rooms and there would be no one there like me. I would say, if you could change the structure of many of these organizations, many of these organizations, like the one, the Alabama independent agent association, they started in the early, late 18th century. Back then the world was different, so they were put in place to keep certain people down so they can keep control of it. You have to change that whole structure, not the people, the structure itself. You could change the structure of all this organization that's been in place, these institutions where there put things in place that make it more difficult, people of color, for women, to advanced. If you change those structures, if I had a magic wand, that's what I would do, and make it an even playing field for all people.