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You might not realize it, but the insurance industry is a secret to a lot of people.
Unless you were born into it, there's a good chance you've never considered it a viable career option.
Which is even wilder considering the massive upside compared to the relatively low barrier to entry.
It appears, little by little, the secret is getting out and, hopefully, soon will consist of many more diverse layers.
Phyllis Brumfield, owner of Brumfield Insurance Agency, talks about the mixture of talent she wants to attract to the industry.
Joey Giangola: Phyllis Brumfield, how you doing today?
Phyllis Brumfield: I am well. How are you?
Joey Giangola: Phyllis I'm doing all right. I'm doing right. I want to know this before we really get into anything too serious, is there something maybe insignificant that for whatever reason you can't bring yourself to waste?
Phyllis Brumfield: Waste?
Joey Giangola: Yeah.
Phyllis Brumfield: Time. I am not good at wasting time and a good bottle of red wine.
Joey Giangola: Fair enough. I was going to go even simpler: pancake batter. I can't bring myself to not — like I'll make the smallest of pancake no matter what. Even though if it delays me cleaning up, I just have to do it. It's not even like a nickel, but I have to use it all for whatever reason. It's maybe something that I need to really look into, but time is very perfect and practical. I guess this would apply, but I'm going to ask it anyways. Is there something in your agency then that you feel like you maybe refuse to waste maybe more than others? Is there something you pay more attention to of not sort of overlooking or taking for granted in any way, shape or form?
Phyllis Brumfield: I think I pay more attention to social media. I also pay an awful lot of attention to diversity, equity in my practice and in the practice of companies that I do business with. That's very important to me.
Joey Giangola: From developing the agency in that way. What do you generally like to do? How has that sort of evolved throughout your career and through insurance in terms of where agents maybe not be putting as big a focus on it?
Phyllis Brumfield: Well, I can't tell you what agencies are not, I can tell you what my agency does. So we work very heavily with the veterans. We are hire disabled veterans and veterans. We look in those arenas for those types of communities. We service women, we service people with disabilities. I have a grandson with autism, very intelligent. So I think people tend to look at the outer person and not really engage and try to be inclusive and not exclusive. So I work very hard as including all communities from all walks of life and all educational backgrounds.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, no, and that's great. And I guess maybe something that might make a little more sense is how did that evolve over your insurance career? I guess how did you even get started and at what point did you say, "listen, I can focus on things that matter a little bit more to me" because obviously when people get into the business, they're sort of fighting and clawing for anything that sort of comes their way. But at what point was that where you felt comfortable where you could sort of say, "no, we're going to do this and this means a little bit more to me".
Phyllis Brumfield: Probably within my third year of owning an agency, because there were many people in the industry who did not look like me. I could walk in agencies and just companies in general, insurance companies, like the large companies. I didn't find a lot of people who look like me. I didn't find a lot of people who had obvious disabilities. I did not, when I spoke with people, we didn't have a lot of veterans even though there was an outward approach to obtain veterans. But the reason they were obtaining the veterans to me were not to obtain veterans, it was more to get at veterans to use their benefits to purchase an agency or get into an agency, but not for the real reason. So I guess my little story was we have a lot of agencies or a lot of companies do suits for soldiers. And my question was, "okay, we doing this campaign where our suits going?" And our suits were not coming to Georgia.
Well, I'm a Georgian agent and we have many veterans who need things in Georgia and they were shipping their suits to another state. Well, I'm out. So I joined a group, the veteran support group in Madonna, Georgia. And we can give our clothing to Georgia veterans because there's so many Georgia veterans and we have bases here in Georgia. So I service where I work, where I play and where I pray and that's where I want to give my service, to my community. So it's very important that I look within my community for employees. It's important that I looked for my community to provide services.
Joey Giangola: And so the veteran connection, I mean, how deep does that run for you? Is that something that came out of your family? Is that something you yourself are a veteran or what sort of got you into that?
Phyllis Brumfield: My father was an army veteran, but I have a daughter and a son in love and a grandson who was born into the military. My daughter was a disabled Air force veteran and my son-in-law was an Air Force veteran and they were disabled veterans. And I watched the struggle that they had finding employment, even though many companies said, "oh we want veterans", not so much. My grandson has autism. So people said, we want this type, but really not. So it's important to me that I am a very inclusive agent and I include everyone who has the ability to work in the agency. You just have to put in an extra effort on my part and I'm willing to do that and I do that.
Joey Giangola: Yeah. You mentioned the agency. What was that process of getting to go out on your own? What was the history before? At what point did you think, "man, this is going to be a thing, I can do this", and what really gave you sort of that push?
Phyllis Brumfield: Oh wow. Well, good question. I kind of started off as a captive agent, with a captive company. And I guess our ideology wasn't the same. I wasn't interested in promoting someone else's company. I wasn't interested in being in a captured company where once I retained the clients, the clients were not my clients. They belonged to the captive company. So as an independent agent, my clients belong to me so I can service them the way I want. I can speak with them. If they have a problem, they can call me because I'm the owner of the agency. So my motto is, "I service people not their policies". I service the people's needs, whatever they are. And my clients can call me because insurance doesn't work 9-5. Usually when you need insurance it's usually after 9-5. And so I make myself available to my clients because I service people.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, that's a great point. I've always wondered why insurance, we work the hours we work because in reality, like you said, it's more of a five to... So realistically more retail hours probably that people would actually need to get ahold of us. But being able to take the agency and whatever direction you want. And you mentioned there's not a lot of people that look like you and to other agency owners and to people across the industry. As you're saying, working in that diversity and inclusion space, what is it that you would like to see to encourage others to again get to a position where you have been able to achieve yourself? What is missing to bring more people into the conversation?
Phyllis Brumfield: Probably the biggest thing is insurance is not really glamorized. It's oh insurance, ugh. But insurance is an ability to create generational wealth. There is wealth in insurance. It is not taught at the grade levels of junior high or senior high, is rarely taught in college. So people usually do not understand that you can really create generational wealth. You do not have to have an advanced college degree, really, to be in this industry. And those are things we leave out. Many, many agents, I think our young people look at, "well why am I doing this? What's in it for me?" I don't think we see TikToks about insurance. Have you seen any TikToks lately about insurance. It's always, do you need life insurance? Do you need this? But we don't discuss how we can employ our family members. We just don't talk about the generational wealth.
I want to say this, my daughter was a disabled vet and still is a disabled vet. However, I was able to hire her, my child, to work for me within my agency, while she attended law school. That was a phenomenal feeling, that you can hire your own child. That's generational wealth, that you can pass that down. And this summer my nephew worked in my agency. It was like, "wow, this is nice. This insurance thing is, never thought about it". He's 22 years old because we don't talk about it enough. It's just this hidden exclusive kind of group kept quiet. It is kept very quiet in our culture or in my culture.
Joey Giangola: I guess it's really interesting, right? Because a lot of insurance has been born out of that family legacy. It has been handed down from generation to generation. And it feels like that's one of the best ways that people get into it, is somebody has to introduce them to it. Maybe begrudgingly at some point. And what about it maybe, was there a conversation, I guess maybe with your daughter or your nephew at any point where it was like, "I really don't know about this". And at what point did they maybe come around on it?
Phyllis Brumfield: Well my daughter came around to it because her mom was involved in it and she watched it. And so she was interested in helping it grow and she was phenomenal and she helped me so much because she's what do you call that, the next gin. So she did a lot of stuff like texting and on her phone and that type of nature because I'm old fashioned. So I was like, "Hey, you're not calling people". And she goes, "mom, I don't have to. I text them". So that was funny. When my nephew came over, I begged him to come spend the summer and work with me and he was like, "no, I want to hang out with my friends and work here". Well whatever happened, he decided to come and work at the agency one day and just kind of fell in love with the ideology of the industry, helping people, talking to people, answering the phone.
And he picked up so quickly because he was so unafraid to be himself and to talk with my clients and he understood insurance and it was amazing. He applied for his license because he thought, "wow, you're really helping people" and he can do nice things. I mean, he was just so excited to talk to people on the phone and be able to assist them. And I'm excited because whether he goes in this avenue or not, he knows about it and I don't think we share it enough. Everyone can't be a movie star, athlete, a doctor, a lawyer. That's not in everyone's role. But insurance is an excellent way to create financial security as well as getting involved in your community. Because insurance is about meeting people, talking to people, engaging people. And what a wonderful life to have. And I love it.
Joey Giangola: And I think that's the other thing that we don't talk about enough too, is that maybe you don't get to be the doctor or the athlete or the movie star, but you can insure them if you really wanted to and you could really focus on having those be your ideal clients. And it really kind of opens the door to a lot of possibilities. The thing that I'm kind of curious about, the whole thing that you're talking about is just really the approach of doing things your way. And it sounds like there's been this specific, I want to do it this way because I've never seen it done this way before, sort of mindset. Is there something that you feel that you maybe have figured out in your past experience that has really sort of benefited you to get to this point that maybe other agency owners could benefit from?
Phyllis Brumfield: Yes, I do. So I think the best way to grow yourself as a person is to engage younger people into the industry and move away from that white guy with black shoes and white socks coming over to your grandma's house, picking up the $5 or $2 or whatever they was picking up it that way. Because that's what people have of agents, this older white guy with silver hair and that is not it. That is so far from it. I was just in Houston at a Black Friday event and it was so nice to see so many black agents. Back in August, I went to NAAIA, the National African American Insurance Association, phenomenal. I've always been in a room of 200 agents and there were 10 agents of color, not very promising, but when I went to NAAIA, there was over 500 people and everybody in the room was of color.
How phenomenal was that? I mean, you could go to some agents' insurance companies, period, the companies and they are looking for people of color and they can't find them or that's the narrative they want to write, they can't find them. So it was so interesting to go someplace that's my industry that I'm in and the room was filled with people of color owning agencies, holding very high positions in insurance companies. And those are the insurance companies I want to work with. I want to work with a company who can find a person of color, who could find a disabled veteran in a state like Georgia and work with them. If they don't, I choose not to work with those companies.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, I mean, do you see the tide turning a little bit? I guess do you feel like momentum is building in the right direction? Is there more that can be done? Is there something that you would maybe like to see maybe done differently to help again, discover or I guess maybe uncover those people and bring them in? I know you're definitely trying yourself.
Phyllis Brumfield: Well of course things starts from the upper level of the major insurance companies and they need to really look within and see if you have everyone in your management circle who's white, everyone in your management level as white. And everyone in your middle management is all white, and then when you get down to the lower level, you may have seven or eight people of color. Well guess what? You're not getting anything to the top. They're not hearing it. So their narrative is "we can't find anyone of color, we can't find that talent". You're not looking for that talent. That's the narrative you're trying to write is that, "well, we can't find anyone". I actually go to colleges and speak to them about insurance and I speak to them about when you're looking for who you want to work for before you make a decision, look at the top and see is anyone at the top look like you? Is anyone at the top a veteran? Is anyone at the top a woman? Is anyone at the top of color? Is there one person of color? Well, one person of color can't represent all the people of color. So is there a nice mixture if you got one woman, one person of color, and 10 people that are white, that's not the right company for me.
Joey Giangola: And the question that I really want to ask, and you're sort of talking about serving your community, it seemed really important to you to be able to go back and get into that community. And what conversations, I guess, are you able to have now on a level that maybe you felt the next generation couldn't? Because again, there wasn't somebody that they feel representing them in this industry, but now you're that person for that community. What kind of conversations are you having now that are different that you are maybe excited and surprised about that you feel like you might be just sort changing the way people view even just their own personal insurance?
Phyllis Brumfield: So this is the conversation I have with a lot of my clients. When we talk or when I do webinars or interviews, this is my conversation. Purchasing insurance is something in most states you have to do to own a home, a car, a boat, however, do you think where your premium dollar goes? And they all kind of look like, "well no". So let's look at your agent. Does your agent live where you live? Does your agent give back to your community? Does your agent, do you see when your agent is promoting you or does your agent live on the other side of town and your agent put your premium dollar in his community or her community? Do you see where your community dollars are going? Because now let's look at the political end of it. You are paying your premium to an agent who doesn't promote your community, doesn't promote your school system.
Do you think they're going to promote your political views? So now you're looking at your senators, your congressmen, even your president, what party you're with. You have to pay attention with your dollars and your cents because that's where you can make a difference. And that's what I speak to them about. And when you have that conversation with people face to face to kind of think about it, they actually sit back in their chair and go, "I never thought about that". If you are putting thousands and hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars in your agent's pocket, where'd you see it? Do you see it? Where do you see it? Where's it going? You have to be conscientious where your dollars and cents are going and you need to pay attention to that. And so when I have that conversation with them, they're like, "oh, I didn't think about that".
Joey Giangola: Phyllis, if you had to give one piece of advice to somebody who might be sitting at a captive right now, might be somewhere on the carrier side sitting somewhere in a cubicle and they're thinking, "I don't know if I could ever do that. I don't know if I could ever make the jump, start my own agency". What would be the thing that you could sort of tell them to your experience of making that journey and to sort help them maybe take that step or give them that little push?
Phyllis Brumfield: Well, I guess you really need to ask yourself this question. Do you really want it bad enough? You can talk yourself out of anything. So my conversation is, do you really want it? DO you really want to be your own boss, determine what your income is. Do you really want to determine or do you want somebody else to give you 3% every year and a review of what someone else think of you? It really shouldn't matter what others think of you. It's important what you think of yourself. That's my advice. You have to sit down and if you want to be an independent agent and make a difference in the lives of others, a difference that you want, not a difference that a company is telling you, "oh, we need you to write 25 life policies, 10 home policies", then you're not servicing your people. You're not servicing, you are being told what to do.
So basically what's the difference in being a captured agent, then an independent agent. If you want to be an independent agent, you make the decision of how you service people, the type of people you want to service and the type of product you want to sell. If you don't want to sell that product, I don't want to sell it. But if you captured, you have to fit into their box. So you have to think out of the box and say, I can. And if you believe in yourself and put in the work you will.
Joey Giangola: All right, Phyllis, I got three more questions for you. And the first one is, what is one thing you hope you never forget?
Phyllis Brumfield: I don't ever want to forget the person who introduced me into being an independent agent. He came to my office and he spoke to me and it was powerful and he believed in me and I began to believe in myself. And I speak with that person often. So you can't forget where you got your hand up from because I didn't want to hand out. I wanted a hand up and he just lifted me to another level, just by talking to me. So that's why I always talk to agents because I know the importance of it.
Joey Giangola: Now on the other side of that, what is one thing you still have yet to learn?
Phyllis Brumfield: Oh gosh. I have so much to learn in this industry because the industry changes every day and every month you learn something new and things that was once important, are not important. And the pandemic happened. But almost two years ago or a year ago, it taught me so much. It taught me a different way to communicate and I had to learn that. I was used to going to my client's house, sitting down, pulling up a chair, having some tea and chatting. We had to learn how to do zoom and we had to learn how to do emails. And I had to contact my clients and talk them through DocuSign and things of that nature. So this is a ever, and that's the reason I love it so much because it's constant change and I love that part about it.
Joey Giangola: All right, Phyllis, last question to you. 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 is it going and what's it doing?
Phyllis Brumfield: If I had a wand, I would like to have honestly a more diverse industry. I would like to see more younger people, more veterans, more disabled people, more just different people. Just a nice rainbow of people. Different sexes, different genders, different races, different abilities. Because a disability is not a disability, it's just the ability to do something differently. So just if our industry can get out of that old in the box stuffy mentality, just move to where we not checking a box. We got this, we got a black, we got a woman, we got this, we got a disabled, we're done. I want to get away from checking a box and I actually want to move the needle where it looks different.
Joey Giangola: Phyllis this been fantastic. I'm going to leave it right there.
Phyllis Brumfield: Well, thank you.