The modern insurance consumer is different.
Tom Minkler is the president of Clark-Mortenson Insurance in Keene, NH. However, what separates Tom in the independent insurance industry is his service and dedication to helping our industry grow. Tom has served again and again, giving up his own time, sharing his talent at both the state and national level to improve and expand the insurance industry.
Tom Minkler on Adapting to the Modern Insurance Consumer
Take a few minutes, watch this video and digest valuable insights from Tom Minkler on adapting to the modern insurance consumer:
Marty Agather: So welcome. I’m here with immediate past chair Tom Minkler, Big “I” Association. We’re here at the National Legislative Conference in Washington, DC. Yesterday we spent some time on the Hill, talking with the local representatives and senators. Tom, welcome.
Tom Minkler: Thank you, Marty.
Marty: We’re happy to have you.
Tom: I’m happy to be here.
Marty: Great. So tell our viewers a little bit about your agency, Clark Mortenson.
Tom: Okay. Our main headquarters is in Keene, New Hampshire, which is in the southwest corner of the state. We have six locations. Three in New Hampshire, three in Vermont. The agency is made up of about 45% commercial, 45% personal, and then obviously on top of that, I’m not counting our benefits and financial services division. We’ve been around a long time. Since 1873.
Marty: Wow. That’s pretty remarkable.
Tom: We’ve been there for a long time. I love the business. It’s been a wonderful business for all of us. We have about 50 staff and our marketing area is geographically that area but really our reach is much longer. We have about . . . We’re licensed in about 45 or 46 states now, for a variety of reasons. So what we used to think of a marking territory has been redefined.
Marty: Why did you do that? Why have you gotten to be licensed in so many states?
Tom: Well, a couple different reasons. One segment of our personalized side, we have what we call Select Client. It’s high net worth individuals. Those folks tend to have houses all over the country, and so we needed to be licensed for them. But also, a lot of our commercial accounts now have locations that are maybe domiciled in New Hampshire or Vermont but they also have a plant in South Carolina or Florida. That type of thing.
Marty: Fantastic. You said a little bit about you weren’t including your benefits division.
Marty: Let’s talk about that because I know that’s been a hot topic. But we just heard earlier from Bob Fee that their agency is doing very, very well.
Tom: Yeah. We are too. That’s an area we’d like to continue to grow in. We think there are a lot of opportunities. We have some additional services. We kid, “If it has an acronym we have a best practice for you.” So if it’s COBRA or FMLA or FLSA, that leads well into a benefits discussion. And that’s a segment of our business that continues to grow. Obviously we’re sitting here today in Washington, DC. What happens the next couple of years may influence where that goes, but we’re still bullish on it.
Marty: Excellent. So you’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a couple of different state association leadership roles. You started out I think in Massachusetts.
Tom: That’s correct.
Marty: And then into New Hampshire. So talk a little bit about, sort of how you got involved initially and how that might have led to you becoming involved at the national level.
Tom: Sure. I started my career in Massachusetts, in western Mass. I served on some . . . The association in Mass came to me, asked me to serve on some committees as a young guy. That led me to understand what the association can do for me as a member, for me as an agent. It’s been a terrific experience. I moved up through the chairs in Massachusetts, became the president there.
I had a life change, a new marriage at one point in my life, and ended up moving to New Hampshire. And restarted the cycle and did the same thing in New Hampshire. And that eventually led me to now, the national position that I’ve been in.
Marty: So at the national level, let’s talk a little bit about that. What have you seen that has been going on? I know there are a number of issues that are facing the national association.
Marty: Tell me what sort of, from your viewpoint, where have you seen the most progress in the time that you were both a national director and on the executive committee, and then as chairman.
Tom: Yeah. I think we’ve seen a lot of legislative progress in the last several years, you know, areas like TRIA and flood insurance. The NARAB bill that was just passed really benefits an agency like mine that has multiple states. I think we’ve seen a really good working relationship with Congress. We talk all the time about the dysfunctional Washington, DC, but I’ll tell you that our legislative team here does a wonderful job interacting with them. So I’ve seen a lot of progress there.
Some of the other areas that I’m not sure I would characterize as progress but evolving, I think in a digital world, or digital evolving world, I think a lot of agents, especially folks that look my age, or are my age, I think there was a resistance to embrace that up until a couple of years ago. And I’ve found that, in my 35 years in this business, up until about five years ago we went left or right as an industry based on what the insurance agent wanted to do or the insurance carrier wanted to do. That’s changed. It’s now what the consumer wants to do. And we need to adapt to that. So when I say what’s changed, I think I’m seeing a brighter realization by my fellow agents out there that they’ve got to be in that part of the game.
Marty: Well we heard from the chairman of CNA earlier . . .
Marty: . . . That he’s got that same focus.
Tom: Right. Yeah. That’s encouraging to hear that because while maybe agents have been slow to respond, I’ll say that the carriers have been slow to respond, too. And I think there’s now . . . We’re at a crossroads where we all know we need to work together to serve the consumer better.
Marty: Well I want to take that. You said, sort of, “As this new technology changes.” I had the opportunity to talk to one of your young producers at the young agents gathering the other night. And he told me that you had charged him with a fairly unique opportunity.
Marty: And so I’d like you to sort of talk a little bit about why you came up with that challenge and then explain to our viewers what challenge you gave him.
Tom: Sure. The producer you’re referring to is Christopher McIntosh. He’s been in my agency for about three and a half years now as a producer. But from day one we saw his aptitude and his passion for everything digital and everything social. We’ve been utilizing those talents in a way that helped us move ahead. But now we’re taking that to a different level. While he’ll continue to be a producer, we’ve now named him the director of our social media and digital strategy.
And the charge that I’ve given him is that I want to see us have 25% of our incoming new business from either a social platform or a digital platform over the next three years.
Marty: That’s pretty aggressive.
Tom: That’s a really aggressive goal. But I’ll tell you Marty, I have been in this industry, as I said, a long time. I think the opportunity by using that medium is so far . . . The opportunities are so far advanced compared to what I’ve done over the past. I think we can get there. With social and with digital, I can measure every single thing minute by minute.
We’ve run flights of campaigns over the years, marketing campaigns, that I didn’t know the results for days, months, and sometimes years. Really hard to measure your ROE and your ROI when that’s what’s going on. But with digital, if it’s going the wrong way we can turn it off tomorrow and start on a new path. If it’s really expanding we ramp that up. I think Christopher can take us to a place that’s . . . Forty-five percent probably is not unrealistic.
Marty: So I want to expand upon that. What do you now look for? Because we know that . . . Right? The whole graying of the industry.
Tom: Right. Right.
Marty: And how do we attract young talent? So talk a little bit to me about what you might be looking for for a new producer, or even somebody in a service role in your agency?
Tom: Yeah, well it’s evolved. The last three or four producer hires we’ve had, we always measure for aptitude and sales ability, of course. If they can fit in our culture. All of the normal things that you would expect. But we also are now looking at their willingness and their ability to deal in the social world and digital world.
And that’s something that’s relatively new to us. They’re going out with iPad in hand and that is how they’re doing business today. They’re on the road more than ever, which is right where I want them. I don’t want them back in the agency because they’re connected in a different way. And they’re also doing presentations and presenting information to our prospects in a way that we didn’t do three or four years ago. So that’s an evolvement of what we look for in producers.
We’re going to also have higher expectations on them to be more fully engaged in LinkedIn, setting up discussion groups. What they’re treating that’s relevant, it comes back to us. Either maybe back to a blog or some place on our business Facebook page. All of that is part of their training and part of their expectations now going forward.
Marty: So talk to me a little bit, and more importantly, talk to our viewers who might be in a position similar to yours, who may not be as technically literate.
Marty: And it’s a little scary.
Marty: So how do you deal with that as a manager? And when you’ve got young guns that want to get out there and do things in a new way?
Tom: Yeah, well I’m in my, hate to say it, but I hit the 60 mark. And so for the rest of you out there that look or sound or act like me . . . Or maybe not act like me, but that are of that era, this was scary for me. I think I’ve probably been more comfortable with this because of some other things. I’m involved with the association. But in the same token, it’s hard for me to say to Christopher, “Okay you’re now in charge of everything that goes out socially.” Because I know his brain and my brain don’t think alike.
But I’ve seen the results, and the results are really good. When we put him in charge of this campaign, for example, our Twitter activity went up by 6,000% in the first month.
Tom: Now we started with a pretty low base, so we’ve got a lot of room for improvement. But I think trusting in that generation, the Millennial generation, if you hire them you must trust them already. But if you give them this extra leeway . . . And by the way, I’m the wrong guy to run our social media and digital platform. I know enough to be dangerous, he knows enough to make us successful.
And so to those that are listening in, I would say have the courage to turn over the reins at some level to that generation. They can take you to places that you couldn’t have done on your own. You obviously need to mentor along the way, but they really can make a difference.
Marty: Thank you.
Tom: You’re welcome.
Marty: That’s perfect. Finally . . .
Marty: You’ve been involved with the Trusted Choice Initiative since the early days. I think you probably chaired the first . . .
Tom: The very first meeting.
Marty: So tell me what the vision of the association was, how you identified this, and where you’ve seen the real progress? And how you think it’s helping the association.
Tom: Sure. It’s a long story. I’ll try to make it short. It started with a group of agents, actually from our association in New York, came to the executive committee which was . . . First year that I was on the executive committee. And they said, “Look, we don’t know what needs to be done but we’re down to roughly 33% market share and personalized for independent agents. And it’s bleeding. It’s not acceptable for us to roll over and say, ‘Well we can never compete with the GEICOs of the world, we can never compete with any of the directs and that method, because they’ve got too much money. They can out-advertise us.’ We’ve got to do something about it.”
And the executive committee said, “Yeah, you’re right. We do.” And so I think I was either the first guy or the last guy to put his hand up, so I got the assignment. Our initial vision of what we wanted to do with some form of online presence we couldn’t even define at the time. It was rather daunting. There weren’t a lot of places to go to. But over time we ended up with an initial working group that helped us frame the vision of where we wanted to go. Took a couple more years to bring that vision into a more crystallized vision. Took us another year to raise the funds, because to do what we needed to do we needed to raise millions of dollars. This was not some small project. We had to be able to compete on that higher level.
We got a lot of early company support, which was great. Carriers saw this vision and they embraced it. And they continue to come on board today. And we encourage anyone that’s not on board to come on board. When we launched, we had some fits and starts. I’ll be honest with you. We didn’t always get it right. But I think that’s any new business, or any new endeavor. You’re gonna have speed bumps.
But we started to level those speed bumps out. We’ve gone from about 10,000 folks finding on us TrustedChoice.com a little over a year ago to over 200,000 a month. By any measure that’s really successful. So the model continues to grow. It allows agents to tell their story. A lot of folks that aren’t sure about this, they go, “Well, you know, I don’t wanna sell insurance online. I wanna compete against that.” And my answer is, this isn’t a technology answer. This is an opportunity answer. This is for you to be able to find a set of prospects, consumers that wouldn’t have found you and be able to say, “This is what we do well. This is why we do it better than those directs. This isn’t 15 minutes and I’ll save you 15%. This is guidance. I’m the high school coach, I’m the church leader in your own town. And I wanted to show you a different way of doing business.”
And that’s what’s’ happening. This isn’t about changing the model of how you treat your staff or your prospects. It’s building relationships in a different and better way.
Marty: So we’ve accomplished quite a bit, but there’s a lot left to do.
Marty: Where do you see the biggest opportunities and challenges as this venture moves forward for the next couple of years?
Tom: Really good question. I think the biggest opportunity is to have more agents and more insurance companies come on board. It’s been . . . We had some really quick early growth, which was great. And now we need to get more people on board. Marty, here’s the deal. If the Trusted Choice brand can become more recognizable, it feeds itself. It goes up and up and up until the point where TrustedChoice.com is number one, number two, or number three on every Google search. Any search engine.
It’s when the local person is driving through the community and sees that Trusted Choice logo on an agent’s window and says, “I know what that is.” Or at least, “I recognize that.” So it becomes an awareness. Once we do that, if someone came to me and said, “I know an under-served market. Seventy percent of a market is under-served. You want to take a shot at it?” I go, “In a heartbeat.”
But that’s what we have today. We have roughly 70% of the personalized market is controlled by somebody other than Trusted Choice agents. There’s an opportunity that’s unbelievable. In my case, when we get a chance to talk to a consumer and compete against direct, I win about 80% of the time. But I’ve got to have the chance. This gives me the chance to do that.
So I think the sky’s the limit. I think where we can go with TrustedChoice.com, the opportunities for independent agents across this country is truly remarkable. We just need to embrace it now and move forward.
Marty: Excellent. I appreciate your comments. I want to thank you for, number one, the service that you’ve given to this association over the years.
Tom: My pleasure.
Marty: Obviously you’ve committed a good portion of your working life to the association, and agents out there all across the country. So thank you for that. Number two, thank you for your leadership on TrustedChoice.com. Obviously, my employer. I’m happy about that. And finally, it’s just been a pleasure to know you.
Tom: Thank you, Marty. It’s been great.
Marty: Mm-hmm. Bye-bye now.
Tom: Thanks now.
We can no longer pretend that agencies and carrier dictate the way business is done in the insurance industry.
Consumers are now in control.
We either make the necessary adjustments and adapt or we don’t.
Not adapting is NOT an option that leads to success.
Thank you and good luck,