20 women in insurance you need to know

From the executive ranks of leading carriers to the local agencies that meet consumers' needs each day, the insurance industry is increasingly being led by women. And for good reason.

Women are uniquely equipped to meet the changing needs of consumers who want relational and holistic solutions — and, despite working in an industry that's long been dominated by men, they're finally starting to realize this and celebrate it.

While there's still a lot of progress yet to be made, these 20 ladies are proof that women who dare to enter financial services can find much more than a job. They'll also find success.

dDaralee Barbera
Managing Principal, Waddell & Reed
GAMA National President Elect 


LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

DB: I was a high school math teacher, doing exactly what I had planned on doing all my life. I met with someone at Waddell & Reed to work on my financial plan — I thought I already had a financial plan, but I didn’t — and I loved how we could use math to take all the mystery out of the numbers. I eventually traded my students for clients. I loved what I was doing, but here, this isn’t just academic. This is real life.

LHP: Describe what you do.

DB: [As a managing principal for Waddell & Reed since 1987] I spend a lot of my time supporting advisors and recruiting people for the industry. I have a lot of women on staff, and that’s intentional. We do so well in this industry, and we’re such a critical component.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

DB: [As president elect of GAMA] it’s a tremendous honor and a very big responsibility, but it’s right up my alley. I come from an academic background, and that’s what GAMA is all about — teaching and sharing.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you see for the industry right now?

DB: We need to bring in younger people to this industry and keep them. At the same time, we need to work on succession plans for retiring advisors. Mastering the art of transitioning a retiring advisor’s practice and keeping all the clients safe is very important.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

DB: Seeing clients accomplish their hopes and dreams. They have a fortune that they never, ever thought they’d have, and that’s because of that financial planning process. We also have a lot of new products now — products with guarantees, long-term care products, long-term care riders. Those have absolutely changed lives.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

DB: Please do. Call me! And do your homework and your research on firms to affiliate with. You want to find a company that has your same heartbeat, that will support you.

 

cCaroline Banks
Managing Director, Caroline Banks & Associates
MDRT Second Vice President

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

CB: I was working for Canada Dry, and the company decided to relocate 200 miles away. I had just purchased this 400-year-old cottage, and I had no desire to move. My brother was an MDRT member, had a very successful practice, so I thought I’d give it a try — and 10 months in, I nearly quit. I was joining a big-ish firm, I was the boss’s sister, I was the only woman, and it was, literally, just something where you had to sit down and figure it out yourself. But I decided to take the time to educate myself, and I’m so glad I did, because I really found my purpose.

LHP: Describe your target market.

CB: I knew early on that I wanted to work office hours, so I work with a lot of business clients. A lot of retirees. I have quite a few clients in the music industry, entrepreneurs. And I have a lot of older, women clients simply because they’re outlived their husbands.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

CB: Winning the [United Kingdom’s] Independent Financial Adviser of the Year award in 1994. I knew I had been short-listed, but I thought it was a little like the Oscars, where you would know in advance if you were a winner. So I went to the ceremony, and Nigel Lawson [former Chancellor of the Exchequer] was presenting the award. And I heard him describing the specifics of the case [study, on which the award was based], but it wasn’t until he called my name that I realized he was talking about me! And I can still see myself, sitting in that chair, hearing it and realizing I had won. It was such a personal accomplishment.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

CB: Without a doubt, it’s the U.K.’s changes to commissions. The challenge is, often, having to turn people away. My worry is middle England just isn’t going to get advice. We are so grossly underinsured, and effectively now, there is no one specifically going out there to fix that problem. I could see it having a huge effect in the U.S., so that’s why you need to keep lobbying.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

CB: At the same time, insurance is really seen as a profession here now, and a lot of ‘new blood’ is finding it attractive. We have a lot of young people coming into the back office. My concern is, though, that they have a lot of certificates on the wall but they don’t know how to sell. There’s such room for an organization like MDRT to come in and help with that. It’s never been huge in the U.K., but I think it’s never been more needed than now.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

CB: I think women’s empathy and natural counseling skills make us perfect for this role. I do think it’s a bit about building confidence through knowledge, but … just go to it. Educate yourself. We are perfect for this role.

fJennifer Borislow
Founder/Principal, Borislow Insurance Agency

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

JB: I’m a classic, textbook case: I answered an ad in the newspaper, in the Boston Globe, for a marketing management trainee and it ended up being for a position in insurance sales. I met a wonderful mentor who I really believed in and who really believed in me — more than I believed in myself at the time because I started when I was 22. And I’ve been in the business 31 years now.

LHP: Describe your target market.

JB: We specialize in the employee benefits field, working mostly with companies with more than 100 employees. We also do a lot of business with independent private schools and nonprofits — that’s about a third of our business.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

JB: Being the second woman president of MDRT. It was great to be recognized by my peers for the ability to lead MDRT into the future. It was a remarkable opportunity, and one that will always be a part of me. It’s part of my blood. You can never get it out of your system.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

JB: Our greatest challenge by far is Obamacare. It just created a huge amount of confusion for our clients. The amount of time and expense that they’ve put into understanding and implementing the Affordable Care Act has been significant. The biggest challenge for us is that it continues to be a moving target. There’s never been, in 30-plus years, a more challenging time to be in our business than now.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

JB: Because of Obamacare, our clients need us now more than ever before. They’re looking for support and guidance. We deal with their second-largest expense, other than payroll, which is benefits, so now we have everyone paying attention, from the CEO down to the HR reps. It’s a significant opportunity, but you have to be passionately committed and really on top of your game.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

JB: I absolutely feel that women have some additional challenges in this industry, but I’ve never assumed that being a woman is a disadvantage. If you’re passionate about what you do, it shouldn’t make a difference whether you’re male or female. Surround yourself with really great people that believe in you. Create your own personal board of directors that you can reach out to for support and advice when you need it. I think there are a lot of great women in this industry that you can have as mentors and role models.


df

Jennifer Brase
Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion, Northwestern Mutual

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

JB: I was recruited, eight months out of college. I knew nothing about insurance or financial services, but I loved the people I was working with. There’s an energy in this business that you don’t find anywhere else. And I quickly came to understand that we do really great things for people and businesses.

LHP: Describe what you do.

JB: Our industry has a huge opportunity to become diverse and include more women in it, and it’s really important to me that [as Northwestern Mutual’s vice president, diversity and inclusion] I’ll get to have a part in that. If, when I leave, there’s even a little more diversity in this industry, I’ll be proud to know that I played a part.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

JB: I was one of the first female managing partners with Northwestern Mutual. There are a lot of firsts in my career, but that was a big deal for me.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you see for the industry right now?

JB: Because our industry isn’t as diverse as it could be, we’re not reaching and delivering financial security to as many people as we could be. And we need more women in field leadership. I think sometimes we tend to think that we can’t do it all, that we can’t have a family and a career. I think sometimes women don’t choose the leadership route, and we do ourselves a disservice.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

JB: There’s never been a bigger need for what we do — to help people become financially secure and provide for their families. There are unlimited opportunities out there.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

JB: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need — ask for the sale, ask for leadership opportunities, ask for more work/life balance. There are no limits in this career.

 

dLisa Butera
Senior Vice President, Swiss Re

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

LB:I got my start in insurance by accident. After graduating from college, I was working as a sports publicity writer covering thoroughbred horse racing. I studied communications and journalism in school although I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a writer. An early mentor and friend, a sports writer for one of the local newspapers, introduced me to his wife who was an executive at an insurance company. She — and he — convinced me to take a job with her company as an underwriting trainee. It appealed because they said I could use my strong oral and written communications skills to be successful in business. I completed a year-long training program at Crum & Forster, and so began my career in insurance.

LHP: Describe your target market.

LB: My target market is the US P&C insurance companies. In my current role at Swiss Re, I am the chief sales leader and relationship manager for six of Swiss Re's largest reinsurance clients within the Americas Region. I am responsible for growth and profitability of the overall client relationship and lead cross-functional teams to develop and deliver risk and capital management solutions to clients utilizing Swiss Re's suite of products and services.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

LB: In general, I am proud to be where I am in my career today. I learned very early in my career to make myself indispensable and to be open to new challenges and opportunities, even if the new position seemed to be a stretch for my skill and experience or outside of my comfort zone. By working hard and being open to new opportunities, I have been promoted to roles of increased responsibility over the years. In my prior company, I became the first female Division President in that profit center.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

LB: There are many challenges such as maintaining a market leading position and finding ways to add value to our clients every day. Also, I would say balancing work and family can be difficult at times.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

LB: A few things: Our ability to keep the global economy afloat and most recently, our response and support to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Also, just the idea of our industry continuing to respond to emerging risks faced by our clients. Finally, I am proud to be part of an industry who not only helps clients find solutions but one that is a very charitable industry that gives back to the community and those in need.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

LB: Unfortunately, the insurance industry is not where it needs to be with respect to equality for women in senior management positions. We need to work harder and smarter to be recognized — and need to raise our hand for new positions and make sure we use our voice to make visible our accomplishments. Networking and creating meaningful relationships within our organizations and industries is very important. 

 

sSusan L. Combs
President, Combs & Company
WIFS National President Elect

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

SLC: Everyone in the industry I have talked to either comes into it because their family was in it or they fell into it. No one ever seems to say, “When I grow up I want to be an insurance broker!” I actually was in the hospitality industry; I had worked for hotels and the University of Missouri doing concerts and events. I came to NYC in May of 2001 to be a Banquet Manager at the Marriott World Trade Center and then a couple weeks before my job was to start, they called and said they had a budget revamping and I could pick from Detroit or New Orleans. I had my heart set on NYC and had an apartment lined up in Long Island so I came anyway without a job and interviewed like crazy. I was given a couple of offers still in the hospitality arena but when they said, “You will have to work until 3am and then be back by 6am to set for a breakfast meeting.” I did the math, and it didn’t add up to getting paid $26,000 a year ... so, I met with a headhunter. I never thought I would get out of the industry I loved so much but they kept trying to get me to focus on Sales. I kept saying, “I’m not a slimy sales person. I’m Events, Catering, Banquets ... find me something” and then they set me up with an interview with Paychex, My first response was, “Payroll? I’ve worked with Destiny’s Child, Kenny Rogers and Bob Dylan and you want me to sell payroll?” But I went and met them and fell in love with the company. Paychex has the best sales training out there and when I was selling payroll and auditing companies for them they came out with a Workers Comp product that no one knew how to sell. I learned all about it and then they had me start teaching other reps and offices about it to help gain exposure with that product. So when I would get brought in to explain Workers Comp and sell it, the client would ask me about other insurances. I partnered up with a firm and would bring them in on appointments and then the light bulb went on that they were making a lot more than me and they didn’t start at $0 each month. I ended up going to work for this same firm followed by the largest entertainment brokerage in the U.S., DeWitt Stern Group. I learned a lot about insurance from DeWitt and then in 2005 I went out on my own with the prodding of a mentor. It’s been over 8 years and it’s still the best thing I ever did. And, I work predominately with hospitality and entertainment clients and I’m still a Workers Comp broker for Paychex, so everything has come full circle.

LHP: Describe your target market.

SLC: I have three niche markets I focus on: First, entertainment – for example actors, directors, producers, musicians. Second, food-based business – anything from cupcakes to Kimchi to bars and restaurants. Third, international companies that have done well overseas and are now opening up shop in the U.S. I have found that these are all brilliant people, they just need a little extra hand holding because of the translation; for example they all have General Liability over in the Netherlands but it’s called something else, so when we do an “Insurance 101” meeting with them and we say, “The coverage that protects you for trip & fall, your products, your property etc.” then the light bulb goes on and they know what it is back home.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

SLC: I’m originally from Missouri, where I graduated in a class of 15 people. My town had 986 people. Moving to NYC and running a successful business I feel is still one of my greatest accomplishments. But even though I’m here now, I’m very mindful of where I came from and who I am as a person. I went to school at the University of Missouri (Go Tigers!) and I’m very proud of my association with them, I was giving the G.O.L.D Award at the end of 2011 which stands for the Graduate Of the Last Decade. I was humbled by this award and ecstatic to receive it. I also play softball, football and hockey for charitable leagues that are tied to the University of Missouri Scholarship Fund and our teams have done so well that each year, money has been awarded to students that want to attend this amazing university. Lastly, I serve on the National Board for Women in Insurance & Financial Services (WIFS) and I will be their youngest National President that takes office the Fall of 2014. This is something I’m extremely proud of since I will be the face of this amazing organization that has been around for over 75 years and that is the voice of women in this great industry.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

SLC: Unplugging. I’m HORRIBLE at this. I try to put conditions in place so that I don’t email after 8pm and I don’t respond to clients after 12pm on Saturday but it always seems to creep in. Lucky for me I have an amazing husband that is also a business owner so he “gets it” and doesn’t give me a hard time.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

SLC: I always say to my students and mentees, “Insurance isn’t sexy, but our clients are.” We are a full service brokerage firm but I do a lot of health insurance across the country and it is an exciting, and scary, time to have a business that has a large focus in this area. There are a lot of classes and exams to take right now with different certifications for state and federal exchanges and there is something new every day so that is exciting in itself. Doesn’t have to be "good exciting" to be exciting, right? 

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

SLC: When you start out you feel like you have to take EVERYONE as a client and you are not allowed to be selective because you NEED them. Have confidence in yourself: The sooner you realize that they need you more than you need them, that confidence will shine through. There comes a time where you will see a flip, where you’ll be able to be more selective in who you take on as a client. We have a phrase in the office, “If they are not the type of person you would want to ‘friend’ on Facebook then we do not want them as clients.” About four years ago I saw that certain clients would have what I call the cringe factor: You see their number on caller ID and you do not want to pick up. We got rid of all those clients and we are quick to see the writing on the wall with prospects and decide before we take them on if we want them to be our friend. 

sSusan M. Cooper
President, Empire Wealth Strategies

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

SMC: I got into the insurance business by a fortunate accident. I had graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in education but there were no teaching jobs at that time. A friend had interviewed in the insurance industry and referred me to consider leveraging my education skills into financial services. 

LHP: Describe your target market.

SMC: I am in management now, but when I built my practice I worked in the medical market offering educational seminars to physicians. Today, the advisors in our firm work with many target markets, such as the medical market, CPAs, attorneys, etc. 

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

SMC: I am most proud of the many advisors I have had a positive impact on over the years to help them enter the insurance industry and support their efforts to maximize their potential in growing their business to new heights. 

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

SMC: The biggest challenge we face today in our industry is communicating to the public the critical importance of life insurance as a cornerstone of every individuals financial plan and educating them on and all the benefits, both living and death benefits that life insurance provides. 

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

SMC: What excites me most about the insurance industry today is that I feel this profession offers more upside growth opportunity than ever before for those advisors already active in the industry and for those new advisors considering entering the business. There is a huge need for the advice and products we provide and this need continues to grow and grow!

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

SMC:The best advice I would give to women considering coming into the insurance industry is to be open to hear about how you might leverage your skills and background to grow a successful practice in our industry. This business is focused on building relationships based on trust where we educate clients to make sound financial decisions. In addition, our profession offers great opportunities for lifelong learning, work-life balance and unlimited income — and we need more women to fill the gap of the aging population of current advisers! 

 

sBarbara A. Crowley
Principal, Brokers Clearing House

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

BAC: I grew up in the insurance industry because of my father, Bob Hoefer. Long before I got into the business I was traveling around the world with insurance carriers and agencies. He purchased BCH in 1975 and I joined him in early 1978. Fortunately, I became immediately enamored with the insurance brokerage business and have spent my entire career growing with Brokers Clearing House, Ltd.

LHP: Describe your target market.

BAC: We serve a wide variety of financial advisors. Many of these advisors have expertise in our product line and simply need a seamless back office to support their efforts. We provide that kind of support. Many of our advisors rely on us for business development training and support in growing their business relative to the lines of business that we represent. We support them in that area as well. Finally, some of our advisors have very little experience, if any, in the lines of business that we represent and need true hand-holding through the process of securing coverage for their clients. We are happy to support these advisors in any way necessary.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of. 

BAC: I was recently named Woman Business Owner of the Year here in Des Moines by the Business Record. This was very rewarding because I had no idea that I had been nominated. It was because of the letters from my office associates and industry peers that I was selected. If I get to pick two accomplishments, I would also list my position of incoming Chair of NAILBA. After being in this organization from its inception, it is an honor to go through the chairs and work with incredibly talented individuals on the board and on the staff of NAILBA.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice? 

BAC: It’s difficult to target one challenge. Our industry faces many. Federal regulation could become more ominous as multiple government agencies continue to look at our industry. Also, congress will seek additional tax income. It’s so very important that everyone stay engaged at some level of industry advocacy. Our Brokers Clearing House, Ltd. business model is extremely high touch and it’s difficult to understand the ridiculous commissions being offered by others. Back on the larger stage, I strongly believe our industry must work much harder to promote what we do and why younger people should feel proud to become insurance and investment advisors. 

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

BAC: There are many things that keep me excited about our industry. First and foremost, I have the utmost respect for the value and security the products we represent can provide for the clients our advisors serve. It’s tremendously rewarding to wake up every day and know that because of the work we do, a family in the midst of emotional devastation will not undergo financial devastation. Secondly, I would tell you that my colleagues keep me enthused. Through my affiliation with LifeMark Partners, LIFE Inc., NAILBA, and other industry organizations, I have developed deep personal and professional relationships. Many of these relationships span multiple generations. To be able to learn from those with whom I have these relationships is a valuable way to earn a living.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

BAC: I would give the same advice to a woman that I would to a male looking to enter our industry. I believe our industry affords women equal opportunity as long as they are competent in our field. I would suggest selecting a market where they could become an expert and invaluable to their clients. Last but not least, I would ask them to remember that what we do for living helps families and businesses get through their most difficult times because of the products and services we offer. 

 


cCaroline Feeney
President of Agency Distribution, Prudential

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

CF:I have always enjoyed sales and working with people, so when my sister, who at the time worked at Prudential, suggested I apply for a sales opportunity, I grabbed at the chance. That decision started me on a 20-year journey where I have experienced multiple roles both in the field and the home office — from financial professional to recruiter to management. I have remained excited and energized after all of these years simply because I am such a strong believer in the value of what we do and what we provide our clients.

LHP: Describe your areas of responsibility.             

CF: My current role is president of Agency Distribution, Prudential’s national sales organization comprised of over 2,700 financial professionals, who represent the company’s face-to-face proprietary distribution system for insurance and investment products in the U.S. Our focus centers on building a sales force that is based on quality vs. quantity; mirrors the communities we serve; and is well equipped to connect with and build long-term relationships with clients to help support their financial well-being through all of life’s stages.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

CF: Prudential is devoted to helping military veterans gain employment as they transition back to civilian life. Agency Distribution is driving this commitment through our 50 agencies across the country to identify and build relationships with local veterans’ organizations. We feel the skills that are necessary to succeed in our industry, such as structure, courage, team work and the passion to help others, are already embedded in our returning veterans. I am most proud of the fact that over the last 18 months, we have hired 92 military veterans. I cannot think of a better way to say thank you to them for their service then to provide an opportunity to build a rich and rewarding career.

LHP: What are the greatest challenges you face in growing Agency Distribution for Prudential?

CF: An industry-wide challenge continues to be attracting the next generation of financial professionals. We haven’t fully cracked the code, but a number of programs we’ve put in place are proving successful. For example, since changing the way we hire and train professionals in 2009, we’ve increased our headcount from 1,100 active new financial professionals to over 1,400 new financial professionals and increased 12-, 24- and 36-month retention rates. 

Another challenge we continue to face is growing the number of women and people of color in both field and leadership roles. As mentioned earlier, our focus on veterans is proving successful in terms of the skills they possess. However, they also provide one of the most diverse populations that we can draw upon. To further boost our efforts, we have Directors of Diversity and Recruiting in each territory and Agency Recruiters in each agency who are building relationships with community based organizations that help strengthen our pool of diverse candidates.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

CF: It is continually growing and changing, especially on the technology front.

It’s an ideal time to work in this industry.  People need us now more than ever given the number of individuals planning for retirement and the complexity of the products and services available to assist.

I am always humbled by the sincerity of our FPs and their dedication to our clients. They love what they do, they take their role seriously and stay educated and involved in the industry, they give back to others and they provide a truly valuable service to individuals and families.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

CF:I have a passion for this industry and the valuable impact it has on peoples’ lives — what we do makes a difference. Not many careers can offer you a reward that goes beyond purely monetary satisfaction.

When I speak with women I like to remind them of the incredible opportunities this industry provides and most of it centers on relationships. Our most successful financial professionals are the ones who have built relationships with their clients. This is what our clients want versus transactional business. We have found through experience that women are very good at building relationships and can use that skill to translate it into a very successful career.

My advice for women is to focus on the “people” aspect: helping people, working with people and providing a valuable service. Personally, this industry has afforded me so many opportunities, from career growth to work-life balance. I encourage women every day to take a comprehensive look at all it can offer them.

 

cMichele Lee Fine
Financial Representative, Guardian

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

MLF: I was looking for a career and life change, a business that I could dedicate my life to building and nurturing, that would have great impact on my life and of those I worked with. I wanted to build something that I could establish financial strength, freedom and independence for myself, and also provide that fortitude to my clients. I felt this business called upon all of my aspirations and business experiences. It enabled me to build a career that provides me and those lives I touch with lasting purpose and honor. I set very high standards of excellence and integrity for myself, my staff and the results I provide to my clients, which provides me with the foundation to earn the opportunity to work with the people I dedicate myself to.

LHP: Describe your target market.

MLF: My target markets are business owners, high net worth individuals and motivated individuals.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

MLF: My first official production year in the business, I was second runner up for 'new agent of the year.' I've made Leader's Club nine times since 2004; within a couple of years, I made President's council, which only about 60 people, out of about 3-4000 in the country qualify for. A couple of years after that I made 'Chairman's council' which only about 12 people qualify for out of about 3-4000. I have made that for three years in a row, but last year, I was No. 1 in the country for my overall production in life/investments/annuities/retirement plans combined. This was a tremendous honor and accomplishment for me. It was the first time in 150 years that a woman had achieved the No. 1 position. I could have never even imagined that when I started. However, I did imagine having a thriving, robust business that was a leader in its class and had a reputation that preceded itself. I was never looking to be 'No. 1", but when it happened, it was a tremendous honor and achievement.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

MLF: TIME. Time to be all and do all I want to be,  stand for and dedicate my life to. I squeeze as many hours out of a day as possible, I often times come back to my office at 8, 9pm, and stay until 3 or 4am, to be able to delve into all the details and nuances of my day or my week. I have added more staff, and am in the process of growing my team and hiring people that I'm excited about and see great possibility in, however, TIME is still my greatest challenge. I see and feel so much possibility and opportunity in every day, it's making the most out of what is most significant and relevant, giving it great focus and priority and executing my best and all towards that.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

MLF: I think now more than ever, people are looking for safety, security, protection and peace of mind. Safe, predictable growth is extremely attractive in a very unpredictable world. People don't know who to trust, what information to believe and how to pull it all together. Mutual insurance companies, in particular, have proven themselves in the worst of times, which in the past decade, there have been two major market downturns in the markets and economy. Mutual insurance companies were upgraded in financial strength, where most companies, including the U.S. government, were downgraded. People both young and old, are looking for more professional guidance, more secure growth and results. They are looking for leadership. I feel this is a fortuitous time to be a leader in our industry, a financial professional that is focused on protection and growth for the long term.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

MLF: Anything is possible. Dream big, aim high in your ethical and professional standards of excellence and, with relentless dedication, you can achieve a business and life that is filled with great purpose, substance and fulfillment.

 

Michelle HoeslyMichelle L. Hoesly
President, MDRT

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

MLH: I didn’t intentionally pick insurance. Just having finished a degree in business, I thought I’d work for a year before going back to school to get a master’s degree. I sent my résumé to MONY, thinking it was a financial planning organization. It wasn’t until I showed up for the interview that I realized it was an insurance company. The manager asked me what I was looking for and showed me how a career agent with MONY offered those things. I planned to only give it a short term commitment but after attending my first Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) meeting, I truly saw what this financial profession could be and was able to visualize myself doing this work as my career.

LHP: Describe your target market.

MLH: My firm specializes in retirement plans and managing wealth. Our ideal client is one who has something or someone they care deeply about, wants an advisor to help them develop and implement good strategies, and has the resources and commitment to carry it out.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

MLH: The highest honor in our profession is to be selected to serve on the Executive Committee of MDRT. The 87 men and women who have preceded me as President are some of the most admirable role models in our profession. It is humbling to stand in such esteemed company. It motivates me to nurture and enable our membership in their commitment to leadership and involvement in MDRT.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice? 

MLH: The biggest challenge is to anticipate change and to understand what new strategies or innovations might solve problems my clients face. With tax laws and regulation continually changing, in addition to products, riders and investments constantly evolving, it is the exceptional advisor who can always be on the forefront. Professional networking has been the best way to find innovative solutions I can bring to my clients.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

MLH: The insurance profession allows each advisor the daily opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Additionally, it is a career that not only promotes business growth, but also has the capacity for greatness. There seems to be no ceiling that would limit one’s future. Our profession is also unique in that the very top advisors are willing to share and mentor others. There are so many people who need our services and our expertise to filter through the immense barrage of information and distill what is best and most valuable for them.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

MLH: My advice would be the same, whether I were speaking to a young woman or young man considering this profession. I would suggest that they make a list of their strengths and values. There are some skills that align very well with being a successful financial advisor. For example, the ability to listen to someone’s concerns and help them visualize a path to follow is a skill that is key to being a great advisor, as is encouraging client discipline so their goals can be realized. Self-motivation is an essential skill. Having the ability to organize and prioritize are also skills that help an advisor succeed. But most important are having values that are in step with the principles this profession reinforces, such as taking responsibility to provide for loved ones and providing the dependability to follow through on long-term promises.

 

dElle Kaplan
CEO and Founding Partner, Lexion Capital Management

 

LHP: Why wealth management? How did you get your start in the industry?

EK: I came to New York after college with just $200, no job, and a dream of working on Wall Street. I wanted to help empower people financially, but I had no background in finance. Armed only with a degree in English and Chemistry and a lot of gumption, I applied for position after position, despite discouraging rejections and the ridicule of headhunters who told me I’d never land a job in finance. Finally, while interviewing to be a receptionist at a private equity firm, I convinced the interviewer to consider me for an analyst role instead. Several rounds of intense interviews later, I got the job. From there, I worked my way up, carving out an extremely successful career at some of the top banks on Wall Street.

LHP: Describe your target market.

EK:Lexion Capital, my independent asset management firm, is the “anti-Wall Street, Wall Street firm.” Our goal is to make top-tier institutional wealth management an accessible reality for everyday investors, not only an elite few. Our goal is to create an empowering, inclusive setting where everyone can feel welcome — especially those whose needs are overlooked and underserved by traditional Wall Street.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

EK: We are rigorously client-centric in everything we do. Our independence, our Fiduciary status, our emphasis on transparency are all designed to protect and empower our clients. I personally aim to demystify the markets and help people feel comfortable and confident taking control of their financial lives. A client once told me that I made her feel “jazzed” about her finances. That is the kind of success that we proudly work for every day.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

EK: More than building a firm, Lexion Capital is about building a movement. We are raising the bar on Wall Street and changing the face of finance with our independent, client-centric approach led by a female CEO. In an ideal world, those wouldn’t be exceptional qualities.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

EK: I hope to help inspire more women to pursue careers in finance because Wall Street is our street, too. This work can be rewarding, fulfilling and fun. You have to be your own best cheerleader; no one can advocate for you or make it happen like you can. Believe in your own success, and if the right opportunity does not present itself, create your own.

 

dHeather Lavallee
President of Employee Benefits Distribution, U.S. ING


LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

HL: My entire 20-plus year career has been in the insurance industry. I was recruited for a sales position during college and have never looked back. As a psychology major, I was positioned well to embrace the complexities of this industry. The decision and motivation for a person to purchase insurance — an intangible product — is challenging to de-code. 

Early in my career, I realized I have a real passion for the business. I fully believe in the value of what we do and derive my passion from the knowledge that we change lives every day. I have seen countless customers, colleagues and friends whose lives have been positively changed by insurance. In 2011, we asked over 1,000 claimants about the value they place on their voluntary benefits.  Nearly all respondents (93 percent) said they would buy voluntary insurance if making the purchase decision again, and 92 percent would recommend coverage to a friend or family member.  Insurance can’t ease the emotional pain of a loss, accident or disability, but it can dramatically reduce the financial strain on a family.

LHP: Describe your target market.

HL: ING U.S. focuses on mid to large employers (generally defined as having between 500 to 10,000+ employees). These employers tend to have somewhat complex employee benefits needs that require their insurance partner to have a sophisticated and tenured team. We have a highly-experienced employee benefits team, which appeals particularly to larger employers.  

With employees, our focus is on educating and helping them and their families understand their protection and financial needs and make informed benefits’ decisions. If an employer is changing their health care plan and introducing a high-deductible health care (HDHC) plan, employees need to understand what other protections they need — such as critical illness, hospital indemnity or accident insurance — that can complement the new medical plan.

We also work closely with intermediary distribution partners. These partners include national brokerage firms, technology organizations and brokers. ING U.S. focuses on certain firms with which the employee benefits business can build deep distribution partnerships that help each of us achieve our business goals by delivering the most valuable services to our shared customers. This strategy has allowed us to create custom solutions to meet specific situations. 

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

HL:  I am especially proud of the Compass voluntary product suite, which ING launched last year and is a tremendous step forward for our business and fills a need in the market. Compass brings a unique solution to the market that takes a different approach to voluntary. The approach introduces “true group” coverage so that employers can provide consistent coverage to all employees, have a simplified billing process and get away from being in the middle of the claims process. Also important, Compass plays well in a post-health care reform world due to its simplicity and flexibility.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

HL: There is a lot of uncertainty in the broader landscape that impacts the employee benefits business. Health care reform, medical costs, regulatory changes and the fast pace of technology enhancements have ripple effects that impact our business.  No one has a crystal ball about how these issues will evolve. One particular area of challenge is technology. Most insurance companies have complex legacy technology systems that require significant upgrades and resources to keep pace with the times. This means insurers have to pick a path, and yet be prepared to adjust course along the way without knowing where the technology and industry will be in five years. This is particularly true for private exchanges, the direction of which will be dictated by the changing philosophy of employers and shifting needs of employees. Consumer choice has never been more important in the benefits arena.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

HL: Today, there is so much transformation underway in the industry, even though we are in a mature market. With changes in health care, technology advances and aging demographics, I often feel like I am in a start-up environment but with the resources and support of a leading retirement, investment and insurance company. The current reality requires critical thinking to build and execute solutions that solve for today and tomorrow’s workplace protection needs. 

In addition, the needs of multi-national employers are changing. The world is flat and employers are finding talent across borders. I am hearing regularly from employers of all sizes about the need for protection that crosses U.S. lines. This is the next frontier for the industry.

Lastly, with the aging demographics and medical advances, employers face costs for complex and expensive medical procedures, such as implants, that they need to control. As a stop loss leader, ING U.S. is positioned to partner with employers to put in place protections to control medical costs.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

HL: I have not just one but three inter-connected pieces of advice for women. Be bold, believe in yourself and embrace your passion. This is a mantra that I have followed in my career and it has helped me advance and push through the bumps in the road while always staying true to myself and my values. Don’t be afraid to reach for the proverbial “brass ring.” It is within our grasp as long as we believe in our own ability.

 

sGail Linn
Financial Planner, MetLife
President, FPA-NY


LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

GP: I did not come into the insurance the "normal" way. I was in an executive position with an airline that went through a merger and I decided to take a package and leave. I received a phone call from my MetLife rep wishing me a happy birthday and she said I should interview with MetLife and so I did. I took the position as an interim position until I figured out what I really wanted to do.

I had no financial background other than being a math major in school — so I always found the work easy, but I had no background. I had been like a regular consumer, ignorant of how a lot of products worked. And as I learned and I found insurance so fascinating, it became a passion of mine, because other women should know this stuff, because look at what it meant to me. But I didn’t know how to do that, how to reach other women.

I did fairly well in the initial years making my company's conference qualifications, but I was not happy and not enjoying the business. For the first five years I was really just an insurance agent, selling life insurance. And then I met a group of ten women and we started brainstorming how we could reach women to educate them. We decided we need to do something that has meaning, so let’s give seminars to women on how to manage their finances. When we launched our first seminar, the group had ultimately evolved, so there were just three of us leading these. And even though I was nervous about leading that first seminar, it was like a light bulb went on for me and I realized this is what I wanted to do. I found my passion.

LHP: Describe your target market.

GL: My target market is professionals nearing retirement or recently retired. 

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

GL: Personally, taking care of my mom toward the end of her life, and getting myself out of a personal financial dilemma. Professionally, getting my CFP designation and mentoring other advisors. Mentoring other advisors, especially women, is a very natural thing for me. Even in my firm, I always partnered with new women that joined us over the years. I enjoy being able to teach people about the business and enable them to succeed. Lately, in a formal nature, my mentoring has been to women through my involvement with both WIFS and MDRT.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

GL: Succession planning is my biggest challenge. My clients rarely ask me about my retirement plans, but internally it is always top-of-mind for me, because I want to ensure that when I choose to start slowing down, my clients have someone that they will feel comfortable working with. Over the years, I’ve made many partnerships, but I haven’t found that ideal package [for a succession partner] yet.

LHP: What excites you most about insurance industry today?

GL: What excites me is to see the trend in the insurance business of much more holistic planning rather than transactional. It’s so much more fulfilling when you get a person to the point where they’ve looked at their whole financial picture by the time they retire, and are at peace with where they are in their financial life. It’s also a much more effective way to sell, because there’s a real relationship there. And people are demanding this type of holistic planning. They have many more questions than they did years ago, because of the lack of pensions and because people are living longer and because of the volatile stock market. 

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

GL: Women should look for a mentor. That’s my big thing for new women entering in the industry: Find a mentor; find a woman that you can emulate and learn from. I didn’t have this when I entered the industry. It took me five years until I found those ten women [and we started planning for workshops]. I don’t want other women to wait five years. I want them to have that right away. 

Eileen McDonnellEileen McDonnell
Chairman, President & CEO, Penn Mutual


LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

EM: By accident! When I graduated from Molloy College, I began my career with WANG Labs. While at WANG, I began graduate studies for my MBA in Finance from Adelphi University, which set the stage for a change in my career direction. Equitable (now AXA) was a large client of WANG, and I received an introduction into Equitable, and I was hired as a financial manager. Over my career, I’ve developed a great passion for life insurance and our industry. I truly believe I’m part of a noble profession that helps millions of American families achieve their dreams through the complete value of life insurance. We provide guarantees in an uncertain world.

LHP: Describe your target market.

EM: Penn Mutual markets to individuals, families and small businesses who share our perspective about life insurance. We do this through our network of trusted financial professionals who believe, like we do, that life insurance creates a world of possibilities for policyholders by building a solid foundation today and creating a brighter future for themselves and generations to come.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.                                                  

EM: To me the greatest personal achievement is that no matter which company I was in — Equitable, the Guardian, New England Financial, and now here at Penn Mutual — I’ve been able to surround myself with outstanding people. Together, we have made a positive impact and helped to grow the businesses of top producers and field leaders.               

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?                                       

EM: Over the course of my career, the industry has faced and overcome many challenges. But I don’t think in our lifetime we’ve ever faced the kinds of challenges that we’re facing today. So many things are converging on us — the challenging economy, persistent low interest rates, and the dynamic regulatory landscape, just to name a few. We are working hard to maintain our financial strength and keep a keen eye on earnings, while making targeted investments that are aligned with our strategy and provide opportunities for growth. It’s a delicate balancing act, but because of the people at Penn Mutual, I’m very optimistic about the future.                     

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?                                                  

EM: Having been in the industry for more than 25 years now, I think the industry is in for some significant transformation in the way we develop and distribute product, bring people into the business, and train, grow and develop them.  How are we going to evolve the product distribution model in a way that’s going to keep the industry relevant to future generations, keep producers engaged, and meet the needs and preferences of new and existing policyholders going forward? This is exciting to me because we can be on the front end of these changes and influence what those changes will be. It’s going to take a great diversity of thought to make the necessary transformational changes in our industry. If we as an industry don’t reinvent ourselves, someone else will do it for us — and none of us want that to happen.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

EM: Actually, it’s the same advice I give men and women. And that is to take every opportunity to be mentored and volunteer for assignments that can broaden your knowledge about the industry and your company. Also, follow your own deliberate path by taking control of your career — it’s your responsibility, not someone else’s. Chances are you’ll achieve greater things than you originally thought. My career has proven that if you work at navigating your own destiny, then your calculated risks have a much higher likelihood of succeeding for you. In the end, luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.

 

dJuli McNeely
Owner/Financial Representative, McNeely Financial Services
NAIFA National President Elect


LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

JM: I joined my father’s firm in 1996 after a five-year stint in the banking industry. Insurance must be in my blood since there are many family members who have chosen this career as well. Early on it wasn’t easy. I struggled as many do, but persistence paid off in the long run.

LHP: Describe your target market. 

JM: Initially my target was anyone who would talk to me. Now my target is much more focused.  I work with small business owners, high net worth individuals and women.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of. 

JM: I would have to say being elected as the Secretary of NAIFA (National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors).  It was a moment in my life that I will never forget. I’m thrilled to be able to serve and defend our industry and represent others who do what I do.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice? 

JM: The challenge may change frequently but overall I would say serving our clients beyond their expectations every day. I want to delight my clients so they have constant confirmation as to why they work with our firm and will tell others all about it.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?  

JM: I’m most excited about the vast number of people who truly need our help. There shouldn’t be any reason not to have enough people to assist. So many people need a little guidance with their financial situation. I love working with a new client and we see the light bulbs going on in their head and they leave feeling far more confident about their future and what they need to do to make it amazing.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?   

JM: Dive in (or Lean In if you are a fan of that book). There is a place for females in this industry! We have a very specific and unique skill set and many consumers are looking for what women have to offer — a different style.

dDeanna Mulligan
President & CEO, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America


LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

DM: In college and graduate school, I naturally gravitated toward statistics. Insurance is all about statistics, so it’s not surprising that I chose this field. I’ve worked in insurance ever since I graduated – as a consultant to this industry, an entrepreneur within this industry and an insurance company executive. Being able to really study an industry over the course of one’s career from such a variety of perspectives has been incredibly valuable.

LHP: Describe your target market.

DM: Guardian’s target market is anyone interested in preserving their financial peace-of-mind, as well as protecting the individuals they care about — their family, their employees or both. We are here to help people make the right decisions.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

DM: Over the past year, Guardian was faced with an unprecedented challenge when more than 1600 of our people in NY were displaced when our headquarters in downtown Manhattan was flooded as a result of Superstorm Sandy. Overnight we were forced to work collaboratively from dispersed locations, even if it was a laptop set up in someone’s neighborhood Starbucks. The initial weeks after the storm demanded a high level of adaptability and professionalism. Everyone delivered, and the experience made the viability of flex time and work-from-home arrangements clear. The experience was an example of great challenges leading to new opportunities. As a result of this event, Guardian is conducting a Workplace Initiative to help us determine how we apply lessons learned to how we work as a company moving forward. We are now back in our building but it is certainly not “business as usual.”

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

DM: Our biggest challenge is also our biggest asset — which is our people. Attracting and retaining the right talent is key to our success. The values that have defined Guardian as a company for over 150 years continue to permeate every corner of the company. How the team responded to Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath is a perfect example. Throughout it all the integrity of our field relationships and how we deliver services held firm and our customers never felt a thing. While a variety of factors came into play — it all really boils down to everyone at every level of the organization being engaged and determined to do their jobs, not just for a paycheck, but because someone else was depending on them.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

DM: I believe firmly these past few years of economic uncertainty have clarified the importance of sound financial principles for most Americans. This is a moment of opportunity to help more Americans achieve their financial goals.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

DM: Don’t be afraid. Many women tend to dwell on their perceived shortcomings instead of emphasizing their strengths. Success is all about self-awareness: understanding what your weaknesses are and figuring how best to compensate for them, while developing and showcasing what you’re good at.

sBarbara A. Pietrangelo
Financial Planner, Prudential

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

BAP: I saw an ad for a management trainee (at Prudential) and I applied for that. I didn’t realize at the time, quite honestly, that I’d be managing just myself. The management trainee program was basically getting started in the insurance industry, and if you were interested you could go into other management positions. Once I started in the business I fell in love with it and have been doing it for over 21 years. I never ended up going into any formal management. When I was with Prudential I was always liking what I did so much with my clients that I’ve stayed an agent ever since.

LHP: Describe your target market.

BAP: Probably my main target market is people 45 to 65 looking to retire. I help those people with retirement planning. Once they get to retirement age, it switches over to more income planning. I’ve picked up two interesting side markets because of that. One is children of clients who are now graduating from school, getting married, starting families and starting businesses. The second unintended market is people age 85 to 103 that are my clients’ parents or my clients getting much older. These family dynamics make my job very interesting.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

BAP: Two years ago I was the president of the MDRT Foundation and that allowed me to really help people from all over, and work with some wonderful people from MDRT. That’s probably one of the things I’m very proud of in my career.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

BAP: Right now, the biggest challenge is not enough hours in the day. I’m blessed with having some wonderful clients and people to work with and while I do hold a lot of client meetings, I do see a lot of people, there is such a great need out there for what we do in financial services. But I could use many hours every day and every week.

LHP: What excites you most about insurance industry today?

BAP: The most exciting thing is that insurance products can solve so many problems for the issues people have today, whether it’s guaranteed income and having a paycheck as they retire or providing funds if there’s a death in the family, or paying taxes on the IRA money or the qualified money. Insurance products can be the solution to so many of those problems.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

BAP: Definitely to get a mentor. The business is so complicated and there is so much to learn with it, that I don’t think a new person would necessarily be able to prioritize all those things by themselves. If they had a mentor to show them the ropes and help teach them some kind of prioritizing in their business, that would be very, very helpful.

I think it’s a fabulous business for women and people in general. There’s a huge need for our business and we still need lots of qualified people to do this.

sAngelia Z. Shay
Financial Advisor, Path Financial Strategies
WIFS National Acting President

 

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

AZS: It was a God thing. A friend told me about this company that was interviewing for a secretary. I was over my teller job at a local bank, 18, no college education and wanted a change. I interviewed and got the job. Very quickly I learned that I knew as much or more than the agents I was working with and that I really loved and wanted to help people. Not to mention the agents' paychecks were 100 times more than mine! When I inquired, I was told I had to be 21 so I waited until I turned 21 and said “put me in coach!” As they say the rest is history and a huge blessing!

LHP: Describe your target market.

AZS: One of my target markets is pre-retiree and retirees. Small business owners are one as well.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

AZS: Personally, having my daughter and seeing her grow into a sweet determined young lady. Professionally, it is so hard to nail down. Life and Qualifying member of MDRT before age 45 was so awesome. Speaking to 2,000 agents about our career and how awesome it is was something I won’t ever forget. Having served several YOUNG widows, the greatest honor I experience in my business is being there to deliver the last love letter their spouse has written. Helping the spouse make it through, planning for the “year of first” and holding their hand while answering tough questions has to be what I am proud of the most.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

AZS: Balancing my desire to serve and my need for rest. I am sure that there are many more sophisticated responses but quite frankly once you recognize the challenge you face you can create a strategy to overcome it or to work through it. For me the challenge that has remained consistent over my career is that work-life balance. The being all things to all people, or as my husband says, not knowing how or when to say no! I love helping others and this career enables me to impact people’s lives in ways that my manager could not have prepared me. We are so needed and that feels good. Not a week goes by that a client doesn’t come to tears in my office or on the phone.

LHP: What excites you most about insurance industry today?

AZS: What excites me the most actually began in question 4. This career will never be outdated, phased out or done away with. People need us. Every year that passes brings more complicated implications to our lives be it health, housing or finance. Functioning in this “do it yourself” world has caused many people to end up broke. No one wants to admit they don’t know, because commercials and media make them feel like they should know. That’s where we come in. They just need to know us. When we are good stewards of this career, when we pursue excellence with every single recommendation the consumers will be protected and inspired to do more, which will in turn impact the quality of their life. The industry is in great need of more quality people to replace our aging population of financial professionals. Consumers need more of us who have a desire to do this for life!

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

AZS: Put on your business owner brain right now! Invest in yourself as a part of your annual business plan. Block your calendar with planned activities; it’s not blank space. Change is the only certainty, so flexibility is your only option. Be flexible! Tell your clients the truth about their situation even when it hurts. Be transparent and authentic, and work with people who have the same value system as you or you will always feel unappreciated.

dJanet Trautwein
Executive Director, NAHU

LHP: Why insurance? How did you get your start in the industry?

JT: I am the CEO of the National Association of Health Underwriters, a national professional association for agents and brokers who specialize in the health insurance arena. I have been working for NAHU for 16 years, first as head of the Government Affairs department and, since 2005, as the CEO.

Prior to being hired by NAHU, I was an employee benefits broker in Austin, Texas for almost 20 years. I started in the life insurance business working for a Northwestern Mutual district agent, and after several years, we partnered to expand the business into the group health insurance area, which grew must faster and larger than we had ever anticipated.

LHP: Describe your target market.

JT: Currently, my target is the agent and broker who really wants to make a difference and provide superior service to his or her clients. When I was a broker, I specialized in larger employer groups.

LHP: Share an achievement you are especially proud of.

JT: NAHU has expanded dramatically in the professional development area, and we have always been extremely involved on the legislative and regulatory front. We have combined these areas and have become very involved with the state exchanges that are being created in each state. We have worked especially closely with the District of Columbia both on the software interface for its exchange, to ensure that it enhances and promotes the role of the broker, and the broker training for brokers who want to work with the exchange. Our most recent accomplishment there was in receiving a grant to develop and provide the training for all DC resident and non-resident licensees. I am the author of the program and the primary instructor, and both the software and the training are now being used as models in other states.

LHP: What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?

JT: The biggest challenge is apathy, and encountering people who are satisfied with average results. Another challenge is making important changes in a highly politicized environment. It is difficult to get things done, but we continue to work at it.

LHP: What excites you most about the insurance industry today?

JT: All Americans are looking at significant changes in the way they purchase and use their health insurance, and the difficulty level of the work brokers do has increased tremendously. Only those brokers who are willing to work harder than they have before will thrive, but those who do have more opportunity than they have ever had before. It is those new opportunities that excite me, and the increased opportunities for both prosperity and professionalism.

LHP: What one piece of advice would you give to women looking to enter this industry?

JT: I think women are particularly well suited for the health insurance industry. They are detail-oriented, naturally compassionate, but very astute in business. I have never had any problem being a woman in this industry, and I’ve been in it for 30 years. But I assumed from the beginning that I had to work harder than everyone else if I wanted to come out on top. I think that is good advice for anyone who wants to excel in their chosen field.

 

 

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