PIA’s National Agent of the Year delivers straight talk to agents everywhere
Once a year the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents declares one agent—out of many hundreds of thousands—to be recognized as Agent of the Year. This year, longtime Agency Revolution client Rich Savino, CPIA, CIC, and Managing Partner at the Broadfield Group—a member of PCF—was honored. Not only does Rich have 42 years of experience in the insurance industry, he runs an agency that strives to be as modern as the day is new – with the growth, loyalty, and reputation to prove it.
In this very important episode, Rich Savino shares:
- Why he looks 2-3 years ahead to navigate the course of his agency in the ever-changing insurance marketplace.
- How his agency chooses among the many new emerging technologies.
- His view on the opportunities for the independent agent, and why many agents will get left behind.
If you’re an agency principal, or if you work in the independent agency space, don’t miss this conversation with the industry’s most respected agent.
What are other agents & brokers doing to thrive? What are the biggest trends affecting the retail insurance agent & broker? What are the most important strategies and tactics you need to grow faster? Find out here in the Connected Insurance Podcast, where our hosts discuss the biggest issues affecting the independent insurance agent & broker with the industry’s leading figures.
One More Thing! What do you think? How will you and your peers use this to grow your agency or brokerage? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, subscribe to get updates delivered to you and *please share this if you found it informative
Michael: Rich Savino, agent of the year, thank you very much for joining us. How are you?
Rich Savino: I’m doing well, Michael. Thank you for having me.
Michael: There are a number of things that I want to talk to you about, I think the platform that you have as national agent of the year for professional insurance agencies say first of all, remarkable achievement, congratulations.
Rich: Thank you.
Michael: Also gives you an opportunity, obviously, you are recognized by your peers. I know that process.
Rich: Either that or I drew the short straw.
Michael: The best of the best are saying, “Hey, you are the best of the best.” It’s an unbelievable accomplishment out of however many– we know that there are roughly 40,000 insurance agencies in the United States and among them probably whatever an average of three or four principles. So out of some 100,000, or more agency principles, boom, this year you are the man. The first thing that I want to ask you about and we can keep this part of it relatively short, but I know you. You and I go back like 1 million years.
In full disclosure, I’m going to inform the audience, you and I’ve known each other for years, you’ve been a client and your agency has been a client for years and years. But not everybody knows you so well, you’ve been active really, ever since I’ve known you in this, that or the other. If you can, a little thumbnail sketch of how Rich Savino got to be Rich Savino.
Rich: Well, that’s big question.
Michael: That’s a big question.
Rich: I don’t know how I could have even prepared for this.
Michael: The cliff notes version.
Rich: It’s actually funny because I was just down at the PIA conference in Atlantic City, New York, New Jersey conference. We were talking about some stuff around a table. When you went into the industry is something that came up. When you’re doing something you love, you’re not really thinking about how long you’ve been doing it for. I started doing the math and a number came up and I was like, “What?”
Michael: How old am I?
Rich: The scary part is, probably if I chose some other things I might have been retired, but I’m not so sure I’d want to be retired, but 41 years.
Rich: The nice part about this is that I think I’ve seen everything that this industry has throw at us. When I started in this business, paper files, handwritten applications, or better yet the cocktail napkin, typical New York City broker, you get into it and you’re out there hustling, you meet with your underwriters, it’s more relationship driven. Through the years, I’ve seen this industry change in so many ways. So I’m going to tell you for the better, some maybe for the worse, but we know how things go. Sometimes you have to overcorrect to correct.
Part of I think what’s helped me get through all of this and stay relevant is the fact that I stay involved. What I mean by that is that– There’s one thing about staying involved and showing up every day in your business and right just taking care of your clients and there’s another thing about keeping your ear to the ground. Then being flexible enough and being able to think out of the box and not being so stuck in the ways that when you hear things that are going on and you see things that are happening, that you’re able to adjust to that.
Case in point, Mike, even yourself in your business, from the time I got to know you better In the Quantum Club days to the agency revolution days, it was an evolution of the way things that are being done that created the change. Quite frankly, I’m not saying that I am the inventor of some of this, but there’s definitely always market interrupters that come in and change the way things are done. Being ahead of the curve allows you to stay relevant enough to be in the game and be in the game for real.
Michael: Keep going.
Rich: Go ahead, it sounded like a question.
Michael: You made reference to the fact that staying involved was perhaps one way you kept your ear on the ground. Since I’ve known you may not you were on the– I know you were on the board of the state association. As I recall, you were the president of the state association. Now you are a past president of the state, that it’s owned by the Association.
Rich: I’m actually currently Vice-Chair.
Michael: Currently Vice-Chair.
Rich: I will be chair.
Michael: Then involvement at the national level?
Rich: National Director,.
Michael: You represent the state on the National Board of Directors for the PIA?
Rich: I’m like a bad penny, I just don’t go away.
Michael: You’re not going to get rid of this guy.
Michael: All right.
Rich: No. That comes down to part of what you’re asking me. I think that part of staying relevant out there is just staying persistent, staying consistent. That’s what I’ve done not only in my business, but also in the association world. When I jumped into it, I jumped into with both feet, and worked hard, and developed the right friendships and relationships, but also, as I’ve often said, to and I did say in my speech when I accepted this prestigious award, not being involved is hazardous to your wealth.
Why I say that is that while I can’t quantify or qualify the dollars that being engaged in organizations, be it the professional insurance agents association both on the state and national level, or or participating in things like like quantum club or our group, the million-dollar club, or things of that nature where there’s always something to gain and be learned by not only your fellow agents but also by some of the people that you get to listen to, to speak that may have thought a little bit further outside of the box then I have had been able to take that information and go, “I have a couple of choices here. One is, I could dismiss it completely because I think they’re crazy. Second thing is I can say wait a second, I see that, it’s going in that direction and then the third thing is I can implement the strategy to work within that direction, to stay ahead of the game.”
Michael: In the 41 years, Rich, you’re longer than I’ve been. I’ve lost count but it’s probably sneaking closer to 30 than 25, which is what I’ve been saying, 25, for a bunch of years now, somehow that doesn’t stop the flow of time.
Rich: Everybody gets a number.
Michael: What’s interesting is sometimes in jest, I will say, “It ain’t 1995 anymore”, and I say that in part because I had a lot of clients who were baby boomers in 1995. Now 20 years later, or 20 plus years later, they’re thinking, “I’m looking around thinking, wow, this is a very, very different world.” It’s really different than it was in 2005 or ’15. But what’s interesting is that it was different in 1995 then it was 1985. I remember some of the conversations then.
I recall early in my career when I was the executive vice president of the PIA on the west coast, bringing in agency management system vendors, and doing a battle of the AMS systems. Each one would get up on stage and do screenshots and people would take questions and then in the back of the room, this was new to me, I’d be listening to agents saying, “Are you going to get one of these things?” That change seems to be– I know we talked about it a lot now, but this isn’t the first time.
Rich: No, it’s not. I can remember when– ironically, interestingly enough that the first person I ever spoke to concerning obtaining a technology or an automation package for my agency is still actually out there doing it and pretty high up in the game these days. Back when I first started looking at systems in the early ’80s, this was the time when agent’s offices, as archaic as this was, everything was paper files. We needed larger offices because we had store file cabinets and in those file cabinets we had file folders.
The big question always was like, exactly when do you start a new file folder? Is it by the year, is it by how much paper you can jam into it before it says no more? There was just no rhyme or reason to some of this. Then if you were fortunate, you had a rating computer, one.
Rich: You populated it with a floppy disk and you sort of got near the number. It was like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then we evolved to the fax machine if you remember that. Maybe three or four people would have a fax machine.
Michael: And curly faxes would be rolling up on top of the machine and the paper was so light, it would fall on the floor.
Rich: I think you’ve heard this story from Keith and I explained to you that we had a woman working for us, Michelle, and we’d get in these since we deal so much with the construction issue, we’d get faxed over a lawsuit. He would literally take a book, stick it on one end and walk the end the hallway and literally with his scissors, walk and cut each page.
Michael: Cut each page. Got it, I love it.
Rich: So when you’re talking about where we’ve come to where we are today, this is a 180 from then. What I see in the business now at least from where I stand is the boat’s leaving but not everybody’s coming along. What I mean by that is, some people see it, some people think it’s just going to be like it was. I’m noticing more and more, that the people who think that things are just going to be where it was– most agents sell within a 25 to 50-mile radius, most of it is local business.
Yes, there’s some people if it’s a larger firm that break out of the box and may do some stuff in other places, but nowadays, the definition is, I believe you defined at one point, which is so true, the definition of local is your cell phone.
Rich: Is your?
Michael: Is your cell phone. That’s the definition of local, local is anywhere you are. Now the opportunities in the world are vast because you don’t have to necessarily be face to face with selling and the expectation not only of the buying public but even– I’m going to tell you for myself as an agent, I’d rather do things via email and other technologies that are involved than have to spend time, an hour, to drive someplace to sit down with somebody only to waste another hour to drive back and waste another hour.
What I could do in that same three hours is multiplied by efficiencies if you take use of them. The cell cycle that I’ve noticed that has gone on, a lot of people are very, very afraid of. One of the things that we’ve been trying to foster for a long time is the buy button because us as agents, or at least independent agents are somewhat handicapped compared to what the direct riders are from the standpoint that person could go and basically instantly receive gratification by getting a quote.
We ask for information, we’re like, “Thank you so much we’ll get back in a day.” The speed of the way that we have to do business now needs to change for us to continue to stay on top this. So that’s more personalized and commercialized, but still, small commercials is going in that direction too. My thing is, I’ve always tried to keep an open mind, I’ve always tried to see what’s next year and the year after as opposed to what was and what could have been.
I try to make sure that we keep our firm in the direction that speak to where we want to be five years from today, not just today and deal with the emerging technologies and deal with the disruptors and just try to be smarter than what we’re working with.
Michael: All right. I’m furiously taking notes. I am dude, because when the agent of the year talks, Michael takes notes. I’m going to circle back to the buy button. I wrote that one down. You were identifying, I think certain characteristics of success in a fast-changing world. One was maintaining an open mind. Presumably, we’re all exposed to new ideas and new ways of doing business. Clearly it’s changing. We need an open mind. Two, you said that you’re always looking at your business in terms of not just today, but a year, two years down the road. Kind of have that site on the near the mid-term future.
Three, you identified the need to be consistently dealing with emerging technologies, got it? You may want to add more to that, but I want to ask you a question about this. At some point, let’s say an agent is keeping an open mind, is seeing new stuff appear, and they’re curious, and let’s say they have a healthy embrace of new technologies, but we also have to make discerning decisions, we can’t chase after every shiny new thing. I’m curious when you make decisions about a new idea or new technology, how do you decide which ones to pursue and which ones to maybe watch or not pursue?
Rich: That’s a great question. I actually have an answer to this. Thank you. We didn’t talk about this ahead–
Rich: That’s a great question. I’m glad you brought it up for this reason, I can remember going back probably three, four years ago going to– we do these regional awareness programs, we call them RAPs. They’re really one-day conferences, I think you’ve actually might have come to one. In our annual conference, it was a bunch of companies that were there that had mobile apps for our clients to use. This stuff looks slick. You get out there, you start looking at players, you’re like, “Yes.” Except there was one big problem. I bet you know the answer.
Michael: Don’t make me guess and embarrass myself. It didn’t really integrate with agency management?
Rich: It doesn’t integrate with the agency management, integration. Here’s the biggest key, I believe two things. One is errors and omissions because the more times we do things, the more things can get displaced and if things are not coordinate with each other, we can’t just believe or assume that everybody is going to remember to make a note in the system. Anything that’s running detached from the mother ship can become an issue.
First and foremost, we picked our agency management system. I believe that all the agency management systems out there good, it’s just a question of which one may be works a little better in your particular model. You know how technology is, it leapfrogs itself? Maybe this one’s shinier or this year and the next one, it doesn’t matter. You just have to find the one that works for you. After that, what’s important is anything that you’re going to start to work with or use should integrate with your system.
If you’re going to use a CRM system, there’s no sense of running it detached, because then it’s more work and things are going to get lost. If you’re going to run a technology that’s going to deal with applications and things of that nature. You want to run with something that is attached. We don’t have to get into that whole conversation but you know where I stand on that.
Michael: You know integration is near and dear to my heart and I’m also happy that I’m no longer engaged in it like I used to be. That’s a topic for maybe after a couple of drinks at a meeting. That said, you also– want to circle back to something else you said, you’d raised the concept of opportunities. One of the things you said was our footprint is no longer 25 or 50 miles, now our footprint is defined by to some extent your imagination or where you can get a license and your capacity to communicate.
What else do you see? One of the things that I love about you is that you engage with people, people get to know you, you know agents from California to New York, and from Maine, Texas.
Rich: All over the country.
Michael: All over the country so I’m going to break this down a couple of ways. The first question is, what do you see as the behaviors of the agents who in this day they’re really taking off, they’re really comfortable in this year and they’re growing, you can see it on their top-line growth. What are they doing differently?
Rich: They’ve redesigned their definition of relevance. What I mean by that is this, back in the olden days, and I’m not saying that this still doesn’t work, and I’m not saying that, you can’t do because I still do part of this, belonging to a specific organization, joining a golf club, whatever you may do to put yourself in front of people, you’ve got to stay active for that way. But that’s a limited marketplace at some point.
At some point, you’re going to pop out or bottom out because there’s only so far that’s going to go. The vehicles and the tools that are available to us today via social media are just immense, and how we can get our message out there,
As you well know there are so many channels so what I am saying and what I’ve learned from agents that I watch across the country that are really doing some sleek stuff is that they’ve learned how to take the specific niches and use that in a way that they can now put that out to the buying public, not necessarily in their community but in the world and they do that by making sure to stay in front of people from a social media perspective.
One of my dear friends Danny Merilin does a significant amount of work actually set up– he took an office that used to be occupied by a producer who now works remotely and converted it into a studio where they produce every day Youtube videos-
Michael: Nice, got it.
Rich: -anything you can– name it, a little couple, 10-second clips on specific coverages and what it starts to do is elevate you within a community that may be looking for that particular type of coverage.
That’s why the disruptors are actually growing because when you take some the insurer techs that are out there, that realistically are running with 800 numbers that are now starting to compete with the little local agency and growing like crazy because they have the right backing and they have the right tools and they pump out the right type of marketing to enable them to stay in front of people, they’re becoming a threat to the person who is sitting here thinking that they can just do things like they did.
Michael: So what would you say to the local– the main street agency? When they look around and they say, “Gosh, the world is changing a lot. It is new technologies are coming in, yes. Every marketing guru’s throwing a shiny new thing at me, yes, and now, maybe there is a disruptor that’s coming in and threatening one of my markets or part of my market domination”, what do you say to them?
Rich: Got to get in it.
Rich: You’ve got to get in it because you got a couple of choices and that is you can sit and watch this go past you and do nothing about it or you’ve got to get in the game. When I said before, staying persistent and consistent was something that I’ve always tried to do.
It’s when I look at things and I look at how I have to address or meet my market place and how I can stay relevant within that market, I need to use or choose, let’s say the vehicles, that by today’s standards are going to bring me the greatest results and are going to get me in front of enough people that I’m going to be able to take care of what I need to take care of to continue to be successful but that means to sell insurance, because at the end of the day nothing happens until a sale is made.
We could talk about lots of stuff but it’s all about closing a deal, then being able to keep the client because you’re able to keep enough purchase in front of that client that you stay at the top of their game. As we all know people don’t generally leave for price they leave for indifference.
Michael: Right, so let’s talk about that for a moment. You’d mentioned personal lines, you said small commercial lines is following suit in some ways and I think one of the common complaints according to a fairly substantial research is that a lot of those customers felt like, gosh, I have an agent so I should feel like I have a person. Yet 11 months or something can go by on the smaller accounts and the common complaint is, “I never heard from him for a year and now, 11 months later, they want money from me again.” How do you address that one?
Rich: It’s the indifferent piece, how you address it, again we use– in our particular case agency revolution. Not that I want to throw a shameless plug here but in our case, we use agency revolution to stay in front of people. We make sure that we’re touching them once a month, twice a month. We push out good information to people.
Michael: When you say touching them, you’re not reaching in their back pocket to pull their wallet out every single time. You’re really trying to give meaning and delight to them.
Rich: Correct, and doing it differently. We’ll send out a postcard, we stay in touch with them, birthday messages. I know it’s cheesy but hey, people like that and a phone call every now and then. Because the way that we do this, “What’s going on, how are you? Just wanted to check in, see that you’re okay.” It’s a three second’s thing but it makes a difference.
If you think bout the way that the world is and you watch what’s happening out there, go into a car dealership to get an oil change and just see how many calls you get on the back and making sure that you’re completely satisfied.
Michael: Yes, interesting.
Rich: Why is that different where we sit? We go selling an insurance policy, we collect that commission, goes in the drawer, next year we send them another policy and five years later we [crosstalk].
Michael: And hope they renew, okay.
Rich: We have one of the greatest businesses in the sense that it’s a renewal business, it’s renewable income. It’s just a question of being smart enough to know that you got to keep it and the only you’re going to keep it is if people feel like you’re actually doing something for them. It’s not about price, I’ve been selling this for a long time. I shouldn’t even say selling this, I’ve been helping people for a long time, make good buying decisions but it’s not been about price.
It’s always been about finding their need and then making sure they understand what it is and then making sure I stay enough in contact and in front of them. Now it’s easier, it’s not like it used to be 25 years go. You’d have to actually create a physical motion to do that, a phone call, a visit. People used to be on the road and I mean seriously on the road, you do your tour. Nowadays we have the opportunity of being able to do something right from our desk or from anywhere for that matter. That allows us to stay in front of people and if you’re in front of people you’re fine.
Michael: Got it, I have another question about the way you approach your business. I know that on one hand, I’ve got this image of Rich going to another association meeting and making contributions, sharing insights and opinions and moving the dial on the strength of the association, on how well it serves its membership and so on and so forth. On the other hand, I know this because you and I, we’ve done this together. You also have made a commitment as has your brother’s last business partner to periodically curve out time to think and to speak openly and confidentially with other non-competing insurance agents like in a mastermind group for example.
There are mastermind groups here and they are throughout the industry, that’s a different format, at least the one that we operate, there is a little bit of a contemplative aspect where you get to think clearly about the business. Yet that’s a little bit of a commitment, it takes some time to pull that off. Tell me about why has that been so important to you?
Rich: Like anything else, when you’re in the forest the only thing you can see is the trees. It has always been our mindset, I’m saying our mindset because obviously I do have a partner in this business, that in order for us to better view our current strategy and situation, we need to step out of that environment and we need to put ourselves in an environment that is basically– where we can concentrate on the matters at hand and then we can share with other agents and get feedback from other agents that are non-competitors to us, their thoughts and ideas and also see the direction they are going.
I have to say that it’s helped us tremendously to make some very solid decisions about things that we needed to do to implement and how we are able to also again continue to stay open-minded to make the changes necessary, to continue in our opinion to be relevant in today’s market place.
Michael: I have one or two last questions for you and one of them is, tell us a little bit about the buy button, because that’s an initiative that I think impacts the entire industry. It’s been a while since we’ve heard about it on these podcast series.
Rich: I’ll tell you I’m going to suggest and if you really want to do something and that may be a great idea to do something like that Michael, invite Keith, because he’s really the godfather of this but in theory, it’s going to go back to the same thing. We are at a disadvantage. We don’t really have as agents at this point,
this quote, buying thing.
At some point, even if someone’s able to get a quote online, they still have to get to us and we still have to go through a lot of things in order to make something occur. There are channels out there that you don’t have to do it. Let’s face it, people want to buy insurance wearing their bunny slippers, drinking a glass of wine. They want to shop for it online when they don’t have to talk to anybody because the thing that I’ve been noticing now is that in most purchase situations, and I think all people that do this, will shop online. We may buy from an individual, but for some reason, there’s this huge comfort of being able to go online and investigate the hell out of something before you do it in a non-intrusive environment.
If you think about this, let’s take something as simple as going to buy a refrigerator. You used to have to drive to all the local stores, then you’d have to get out and you’d have to deal with somebody who’s trying to sell you anything that they could sell you because they just need to make a sale because they have to hit their numbers. Half of them don’t know what they’re talking about anyway. At the end of the day, you’re more confused than you ever were, and sooner or later somebody wears you down and you just say, “All right, let’s just do this.”
Where now, you can go online, you can find a make, a model, you can read all about it, you can read it from the manufacturer, you can see what other people say, you can get the social buying through reviews, and when you go out there to talk to somebody, you now know the price and the model you want.
Michael: Right on.
Rich: Now, I need to understand why insurance is a lot different than that, especially in the personal lines, the small commercial lines arena. Granted, larger commercial lines, there is the huge amount of complication that does require a significant amount of handholding and design. But in some ways on the personal lines and on the small commercial side, things are plug and play. The buying public truly would prefer to not talk to you. I think that’s where agents are struggling because everybody wants to talk to somebody.
Michael: Indeed I’ll bring Keith back onto this podcast, it’s been a long time, we can get an update on the buy button as an emerging technology.
Rich: To bring that back to your original question, it’s about making an instant purchase.
Michael: Got it.
Rich: That’s what it’s about. Unfortunately, you would think that there’d be such instant buy-in by agents and instant buy-in by carriers. There are carriers that want to do this, but they come back and say, “The agents don’t want it.” Honestly, there’s some agents I’ve spoken to, said, “No, no, I don’t want that. How can that work because I’m not getting to talk to that person?”
You just have to think about the fact that if it’s sold for you, you come in the morning, you call up Mike Jans and say, “Hey Michael, thank you for purchase insurance from us. Let me just go over what you bought for us. I see it that this, this and this. We should really talk about increase in your values or your coverage or your limits”, but the difference is you already sold it. Now, you’re just fixing it.
Michael: [chuckles] Okay. It’s my understanding that there are high-level conversations going on in the industry, who knows exactly where that will end up, but there’s pretty strong advocacy for the buy button.
Rich: Sure is.
Michael: I do have one more question for you that I can think of right now. You’d indicated that you operate with looking two years out the windshield? For the listening audience, what do you think the future looks like for the independent insurance agency system, like 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, whatever you want to do. What do you think the future looks like? Then I’ll ask you, how should we prepare for that?
Rich: I think the future is extremely strong when I see what’s going on out there. I’m going to try to keep this as brief as possible, I’ve noticed now that some of the direct rider companies really want to pull things back and in some cases, just go direct to the public. In one case, make all their exclusive people independent, which I think is interesting that they’re going to different direction. But there’s a lot of things and movement in there which says to me that no one’s really figured out the best way except one thing they know that the independent agents still deliver the best buying system out there, that that’s still far and most important.
But I think the way that we’re going to do things is going to go on a differ. I almost see this as at some point, we’re going to have to be Travelocity or Expedia where someone is able to get to us and they can go through our marketplaces and put in information and get comparative quotes and look at the different coverages and be able to make a buying decision that they think might be best then, and then, like I said before, as opposed to it being a presale, it’s going to be a consultation on the backend, and then I do think that the whole making sure that you have a strong CRM to stay in front of people and communicate and make the people feel warm and fuzzy is going to be critical.
I really believe that anybody who still wants to sit out there with a pen and pencil and think that just because they’re in a community, it’s going to save them, I don’t know that that’s the answer anymore. Because as they’re sitting there, somebody who is 200 miles away is picking off clients in their neighborhoods, and they don’t know it.
Michael: Yes. Got it. Rich, you probably don’t want a bunch of inbound phone calls from people with questions, but if somebody did want to gain a little perspective, maybe learned from you, maybe they want to be more active in their association, whatever, is there any way that you prefer a contact from the vast public?
Rich: Sure, I don’t mind if people call if they would like, but they can email me. That’s probably the best way to go about it at least initially.
Michael: Okay, fair enough. Best email address for you?
Rich: Would be Rich S, as in Sam, @broadfieldinsurance.com.
Michael: Very good. All right, Rich, as always, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Again, congratulations. First of all, congratulations on all the success with the agency. That wasn’t the purpose of this conversation, but you guys have done a remarkable job in building really one of the premier agencies in your region. Of course, congratulations on your recognition, National Agent of the Year. Thanks so much for joining us,
Rich: Thank you Michael. I very much appreciate it. Thank you for the opportunity to do this podcast.
Michael: You bet.