It’s no secret that the age demographic in the insurance industry has changed. When I started with the Campbell Group in 2013, the average tenure of the support staff was well over 15 years. 

That’s great for knowledge and client service but a decided threat for succession planning. The agency was fairly traditional, having just added a second service layer (CSR) in the prior year. Team issues ran the gamut, from lack of delegation and consistency to book size imbalance to struggles with backup support. You name it.

Since that time, we’ve been through three senior-level service colleague retirements. The first one left everyone frustrated by lack of qualified talent, over-hiring, underperformance, and dissatisfied clients. We’ve learned a few lessons since then and have revamped our hiring process and team structure as a result. The next two exits were extraordinarily successful. And with an expected 40% of key account managers retiring in the next five years, I’m now confident we can handle the changes.

Our commercial property and casualty middle-market service team has three basic layers: account manager (A/M), client service representative (CSR), and client service representative assistant (CSRA). We also have a separate Service Processing Department that handles certificates of insurance, policy three-ring binders, printing and binding documents, etc. Claims are handled by our specialized claims consultant department.

Entry Point

We’ve created entry-level positions at three points: service assistant (SPD), CSRA, and our receptionist. When I interview qualified candidates, I take them through our team structure graphic and show them their potential career path. Many candidates are from employers without career paths, so it is exciting for them to see a future. Additionally, I include time for the candidate to meet promoted employees, and I let them explain how they have been trained and promoted and what they like about our employee culture. For me, this is where the rubber hits the road. I’m so proud of what we’ve created when I hear the positive feedback from our current staff.

It’s important to note that I’m hiring for the next level, and I explain that to our candidates. I’m hiring someone who is promotable, so they need to understand there will be parts of the entry-level position that are tedious. These are also foundational positions that provide a service to many clients—for example, certificates of insurance—and that may be the only communication clients receive from us on a regular basis. But showing up, taking notes, doing excellent work, and having a great attitude will get them in line for promotions as soon as possible. I prefer to keep entry-level employees in a position for six months or more, but it doesn’t always work out due to internal promotions and staff changes.

We do not use any outsourcing firms for our entry-level work, such as policy checking or certificate issuance. In our job market, we are most effective hiring and training our entry-level employees in our culture, systems, team structure and expectations. CSR assistants begin their training by learning our Applied Epic agency management system. During this time, they are also learning to check policies by comparing the issued policy to the policy detail in the system. The CSRA learns to understand where to find limits, coverages, and application, premium and transaction information, even if they don’t understand the nuance behind the screens. Policies are double-checked with a CSR, questions answered, changes requested, etc., until such time as the CSRA becomes proficient. We are also following our Training Boot Camp timeline, planning for licensing school, then sending the licensed CSRA to CISR (Certified Insurance Service Representative) courses to support an insurance designation. CSRAs are involved in most team meetings with the producer and other colleagues. Over time, the CSRA learns how best to support the CSR and back up the CSR when he is out. Ultimately, the CSRA learns the CSR role. Then, it’s only a matter of time before a CSR position opens due to internal promotion or growth within the department.

On the other end of the spectrum, we begin identifying retiring employees well in advance. We consider anyone within three years as “high risk” and a high priority. Using a succession planning spreadsheet, we look at who would be ready now, ready in one to two years, or ready within three to four years. We maintain this conversation at the team leader level throughout the year. In this structure, one of our most important positions is the senior CSR. This is a mentored, safety net position. Successful CSRs who want to become account managers begin by taking approximately 10% of the book of business they work on as a CSR and move into the A/M role on those accounts. The former A/M is now a mentor, assisting and guiding as needed.

We’ve moved beyond theory to actual nuts and bolts. In the past 18 months, two longtime A/Ms retired, with a combined 50+ years of service between them. We followed our process and had a smooth transition, especially key when one of the retirees ended up taking the last two months on an emergency medical leave. Our system was in place, and we pulled the trigger just a little earlier than we’d expected.

What we did:

  • Added an additional CSR position so that every A/M shared a CSR who supported their book of business.
  • Reassigned the book of business by account so that the future A/M began working on the account while being mentored by the retiring A/M. We used our Applied Epic system to keep both A/Ms on each account.
  • At the same time, the CSRs were trained to fully support the A/M so that the A/M could delegate 100% of what needed to be flowed down. (This also begins the training process for the CSR to move into a future A/M position.)
  • Once the big day arrived, the A/M was able to handle the accounts with familiarity and confidence. Clients didn’t suffer any service issues, because there weren’t any service gaps.

The true additional staffing cost was the new CSR. Investing in this employee in advance, or any entry-level employee, creates a training opportunity that ultimately translates into satisfied clients, reduced staff stress and disruption, and opportunities for future internal promotions.

New voices and fresh eyes make a difference. Our CSR and CSRA colleagues formed their own working group to be able to discuss issues, training, coverages and recommendations as a group. They are a strong voice for continuous improvement.

Hayward is SVP of Client Services for The Campbell Group. shayward@thecampbellgrp.com