Image Source: Arturo Paulino, Rough Notes
This article at a glance:
- The (not-so-secret) secrets of agency growth
- Communication & client experience
- A passion for people
- Setting the bar for an elite agency
When HawkSoft customer Mike Stansbury got a phone call from a colleague to let him know they’d nominated his agency for Rough Notes’ Agency of the Month, he had no idea where it would lead. After receiving the award and being featured in Rough Notes’ May 2019 issue, he was surprised to learn that it didn’t end there. Elite Insurance Solutions, along with all the other Agencies of the Month that year, would be in the running to be named Rough Notes’ 2019 Agency of the Year. “They assumed I knew, but I had no idea,” he told us. “I was just excited to be featured by Rough Notes, which has a history of well over 100 years of publication in the industry.”
Over 40 people, including previous Agency of the Month winners and the Rough Notes advisory board and board of directors, voted on who would be named the Rough Notes 2019 Agency of the Year. Again, Mike had no expectations of receiving the award. “The level of the agencies in that group is just astounding,” Mike said. “It’s an amazing array of people. We were extremely flattered just to be considered by that group of agents.”
When Elite was announced as the winner, he was speechless. “After 20 plus years in this industry, receiving this honor from Rough Notes, an organization that does so much to advance independent insurance, was just beyond imagining. It is the most professionally proud moment I have ever experienced. To say I’m appreciative is an understatement.”
“After 20 plus years in this industry, receiving this honor from Rough Notes is the most professionally proud moment I have ever experienced."
At HawkSoft we wanted to learn more about what makes Elite the kind of agency that stands out to everyone who comes in contact with them. We talked to Mike about what makes his agency unique and what other agents can do to deliver the type of service that has landed them a prestigious national award.
The (not-so-secret) secrets of agency growth
In 2008, Mike left the banking operation where he worked to start an independent agency in Franklin, Tennessee, relying on prior experience with the captive side of the business. He was joined a year later by partner Randy Hulett, who had previously been a captive agent. Their combined experience and expertise led Elite to exponential growth over the next 12 years. The agency now has 6 locations, just under 50 employees, and is still growing each and every month.
“Almost 99% of our growth is organic,” Mike says of the business. “We are very much a shoe leather business that works on the street, sharing what independent insurance can do for clients, and helping them manage those risks. We’re doing what we’ve always done: providing choice, carrier lineup, and honest information to our clients.”
When discussing Elite’s astronomical growth over the last decade, Mike emphasized two things above all else: his agency’s commitment to helping people, from employees to clients to the community as a whole, and its fanatical devotion to the client experience.
Communication & client experience
For Elite, the key to creating the best client experience is three-way communication: “Our goal is to develop a triangle of communication between the client, the carrier, and the agency on a real‑time basis,” he says. “We’ve been working on that for well over five or six years now.”
The agency strives to achieve superior communication between the three parties by utilizing digital tools, including a mobile app for clients. Their sights are set on integrating information from the carrier as well, so that the client only needs to go to one place to find all the information they need, no matter how many different policies and carriers they have.
“As independent agents,” he says, “we have to continue to push carriers and tech together to create a seamless experience for the client. If a client is injured in an automobile accident while on the job, they should be able to notify one person. The worker's compensation, the commercial auto, and the agent should all get the same level of information.” Instead of the client being forced to go back and forth between different parties, he envisions a world where everyone stays up to date with policy changes in real time.
“If a client is injured in an automobile accident while on the job, they should be able to notify one person. The worker's compensation, the commercial auto, and the agent should all get the same level of information.”
With the growing need for data transmission between agent and carrier, Mike warns of the increasing importance of data security and privacy. “It is critically important as we move forward with data exchange between agent and carrier that we protect our client data and keep it from being manipulated by other sources, which many carriers and Insurtechs are doing right now. Client data is being collected by these parties and getting sold for profit, and not for the gain of our customers.”
Mike sees the agency management system as a vital piece in the communication process because of its role as the gatekeeper of and source of truth for policy data. In fact, this was one of the reasons his agency decided to make the move to HawkSoft about a year ago. It wasn’t a decision he made lightly. “We choose our partners very carefully,” he says. “There were a lot of people putting HawkSoft in front of me knowing what my standard and expectation is for a management system.”
HawkSoft delivered on the things Mike felt were lacking in his previous system. “The intuitive workflows of HawkSoft are superior to anything I’ve seen in my time, hands down,” he says. “It is truly built for a distributor of insurance. HawkSoft gives us the tactical advantages we need to push the industry forward and help us embrace technology while retaining the personal touch.”
He likens this melding of technology with human relationships to a computerized chess program that has been tested against humans. He says, “when a human plays the computer, sometimes the computer wins, and sometimes the person wins. But they found that when a person and a computer work together against the program, they beat it every time. It’s the combination of people and technology that will be the winner when it comes to the client experience, not just one or the other.”
"It’s the combination of people and technology that will be the winner when it comes to the client experience, not just one or the other.”
Elite’s focus on technology put them a step ahead when COVID-19 forced their agency to transition to working remote. “We were very fortunate,” he says. “We have had the necessary technology and infrastructure in place for many years, as part of our disaster preparedness for tornadoes, so that we could still function even if we lost a facility. In this case, it’s helped us to continue business as normal at a time when there is a high need for our services.” This infrastructure helped the agency continue to serve its clients and community through two tornadoes and a hail event that hit in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A passion for people
It’s easy to see that Elite Insurance’s passion for the client experience is rooted in the desire to help people. Serving others is the agency’s mission statement, and they take it seriously.
Elite sees the independent agent’s role not as that of a salesperson, but first and foremost as an educator. “Insurance isn’t that different from any other product you’d buy in a store,” he says. “There’s not just one option—there are multiple brands and products, and the consumer has to decide which one is best for them. We empower our staff to educate consumers on their policy options and help them make the choice.”
Mike and Randy meet with the team at Elite. Source: Arturo Paulino, Rough Notes.
Because of this, many of Elite’s staff come from educational backgrounds, some having Master’s degrees or higher in teaching or education. “We make sure we know insurance,” he says. “We train on it. We have staff meetings on it. We bring people in and we read contracts. We understand how those contracts work. It’s very difficult, very laborious, and very technical, but it’s our job to do it so the client may have confidence in complicated protection products.”
Elite’s focus on helping others extends beyond what’s required by the job. “There's a saying, if someone asks you to go one mile, go two. We have a two-mile strategy to go above and beyond in all that we do.” Not everyone has that kind of work ethic, but Mike believes in surrounding himself with great people. “You get by with the company you keep,” he says. “I know the kind of person I admire and want to be like, and if you’re paying attention you can spot the people who demonstrate those characteristics.”
“There's a saying, if someone asks you to go one mile, go two. We have a two-mile strategy to go above and beyond in all that we do.”
Elite’s beloved former Director of IT, who passed away recently, was exactly that type of person, and the agency has since renamed an internal award they give out to the Amanda Randolph Serving Others Award. “It’s something we’ve done for our employees for the last 11 or 12 years, purely to highlight someone who is doing good in the community.”
The agency does all it can to encourage and empower its staff to be involved in the community. “We’ll work our schedule around staff who coach women’s soccer or officiate basketball games,” he says. “We have military personnel, some of whom have been called to active duty and returned, and we’re honored to accommodate those scheduling adjustments.”
In addition, the agency donates time and money to many organizations, including Shriners Hospital for Children, Wounded Warriors, and the Make‑A‑Wish Foundation, as well as various local community shelters. “There’s nothing that’s too small,” he says. “One example is Amanda Randolph and her family, who have made and distributed paper bag lunches to hospital emergency waiting rooms every month for over 20 years. No matter what it is, we always feel we get way more than we give. These are the things that make our days feel truly fulfilled.”
This type of fulfillment and community involvement is exactly what future generations of workers are looking for when they choose a job, and Elite has noticed that it’s one of the things that attracts next-generation talent to the agency. “We have several younger people in our operation that truly do feel like they are engaged in something worthwhile,” he says. “The beautiful part about our industry is that it's noble to protect people from hardship and help them recover from it when it happens.”
“The beautiful part about our industry is that it's noble to protect people from hardship and help them recover from it when it happens.”
Elite is also actively engaged in programs that empower students to begin insurance careers, such as a university program where teams of students majoring in risk management competed in a simulation. “We were able to learn from them, see how they’re thinking and what’s on their mind,” he says. “It’s made it clear that we need to pay things forward, open up the door and let more young people come into the business. It’s a good time to be in our industry. We need more quality people coming into the industry and distributing our product than ever before.”
Setting the bar for an elite agency
While the difficulties of COVID-19 and catastrophic damage from recent tornadoes in the Nashville region prevented the Rough Notes Agency of the Year award banquet from taking place this year, Mike has already experienced the impact of receiving the award. “I was so honored to share a post on LinkedIn about the Rough Notes award. It absolutely blew me away to see how many people commented and shared and reached out.” It’s clear to see that Elite’s approach of truly caring for others and putting the client experience first has endeared them to their customers and brought them into the national spotlight.
In fact, it’s in the most difficult times that insurance agents truly shine. “As accredited, licensed women and men in our field who are actively involved in our communities, we put our names behind what we do,” Mike says of his agency and all the others working in service of their communities. “We’re the ones who are there for you when there’s a tornado or fire. We’re the ones who call you when there’s a pandemic. Combine that with systems and technologies that create a seamless client experience, and we can offer something to the world that truly makes a positive difference for others.”
“We’re the ones who are there for you when there’s a tornado or fire. We’re the ones who call you when there’s a pandemic....We can offer something to the world that truly makes a positive difference for others.”
HawkSoft is honored to have Mike and the entire team at Elite Insurance Solutions as part of the HawkSoft family, whose core values are so similar to their own. We’re incredibly grateful for them and for all the other agencies who are proudly showing the industry it’s possible to keep the client relationship at the forefront while stepping into the future of insurance.
Read more about Elite in Rough Notes' May 2019 Issue
Special thanks to Rough Notes for granting us permission to use Arturo Paulino's photography from their May 2019 feature article