Posted on 16 Jun 10
There are 79 million baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, in this country. It’s estimated that over the course of the next two decades, an average of 10,000 baby boomers per day will reach retirement age. Some will be able to retire comfortably, some will need supplemental income in light of the economic turmoil that has seen 401(k), mutual fund, and IRA income diminish, and others will want/need to remain active professionally in some capacity. At the same time, industries, including ours, will experience a “brain drain” as knowledgeable and skilled individuals retire. A real gap is occurring with those who have the knowledge and are set to retire and those who need the knowledge and tenure of these people in their businesses and are finding talent hard to come by.
That gap is now filled with the launching of WAHVE – Work At Home Vintage Employees – a domestic remote staffing company for insurance agents and brokers that employs skilled insurance industry retirees in the United States. We spoke to founder, President and CEO Sharon Emek about WAHVE and how the firm is giving retirees an opportunity to work and enjoy life while providing high-quality services that enable agencies and brokers to significantly improve their profitability. Sharon is also a partner at CBS Coverage Group, Inc., a regional full- service insurance brokerage based in New York. She has been a pioneer and a visionary in the insurance space advocating for insurance exchanges before it was fashionable. Sharon founded Metro Partners, Inc., where she managed 38 agencies on an outsource basis using service center and Internet technology to create the Virtual Insurance Exchange Agency model of the future, and has been instrumental in developing the model for the Insurance Exchange to be released by LexisNexis.
I spoke with Sharon about the inception of WAHVE and the benefits it offers to both retirees and agencies and brokers.
Annie George (AG): WAHVE is a great concept, connecting retirees who want to work with agencies and brokers who need experienced talent. What was the genesis of WAHVE?
Sharon Emek (SE): “Having been so active in the industry for a long time, including running an agency, I’ve been thinking about such issues as finding new talent to replace an aging population in our industry that is exiting, and the fact that not enough young people have entered into the insurance space. I could see a huge brain drain taking place. On the other side, I speak a great deal about long-term care and retirement, specifically to women who are business owners. And in studying the research you see that those who stay engaged and active, remain healthier. What’s more, a declining economy has resulted in people having to work longer because they need to supplement their income. I looked at all these factors as well as the technology that’s available today to connect us and determined that there must be a solution to address the issues taking place within our industry: finding knowledgeable staff while giving qualified, experienced retirees the opportunity to stay engaged, give back, and remain financially sound into the future.”
AG: Sharon, why haven’t new people come into our space?
SE: “For the last 15 years, most young people went into the financial services sector rather than Property/Casualty because there was more money to be made on Wall Street. Things may have changed in the last few years, but out of college, there was more opportunity to be made elsewhere rather than on our side of the business. Perhaps now more people will come into the P/C space, but this still won’t be enough to replace the talent needed and then there is the question of training. Years ago, many individuals started out with carriers and were trained there and later moved onto the agency side. About 10-15 years ago, the carriers stopped offering this type of training and there is no longer much recruiting from insurers to work at the agency level. The carriers are recruiting and training for themselves. Therefore, younger people are not getting the same level of training the baby boomers received from the carriers. The wisdom of truly underwriting well and knowing insurance well is sitting with these baby boomers.”
Sharon also looked at the fact that those entering retirement not only had the insurance knowledge and experience but also were technology-savvy – they use smart phones, talk to their kids and grandkids on Skype, etc. In fact, the second fastest-growing segment on Facebook is women in their 60s, which complements the demographics of the employees you find in agencies. “The majority working in the back office of agencies are women, many who are in their 50s to early 60s. The average age is 54,” says Sharon.
Additionally, most agencies don’t feel comfortable outsourcing back-office responsibilities to offshore companies. “Insurance is so knowledge-based, complex, it’s not like calling for a late payment,” says Sharon. “It involves high-level work that doesn’t lend itself well to being outsourced overseas.”
As a result of all these factors, Sharon came up with WAHVE and began to seriously look at a business model that would match retirees with agency needs.
“I looked at all these people retiring who didn’t want the stress of going to the office, of a 9 to 5 job, but had all this knowledge and wanted to remain active in addition to needing supplemental income to provide them with the type of retirement they envisioned,” says Sharon. “Many began to email me once I started putting out feelers, saying, ‘I am bored, I don’t want to work at the local store, but I want to do something. This [WAHVE] would be perfect. I can work from home, I don’t have the pressure of the office, I know this stuff, and I can do all the process work, the policy checking, the renewal preparation, loss analysis…’”
Sharon explains that “retirees” don’t want to be called as such, which is why they came up with “vintage employees”. They want to continue to work in some capacity but not in the same way they have for the past 20, 30 years.
AG: How does one go about being a WAHVE, what is the vetting process?
SE: “We have a preliminary application on our website (www.wahve.com) that needs to be completed. We screen everyone, verify all the information and the experience they have in the industry, and we conduct phone interviews. Once they are properly screened, we determine the number of hours they want to work…if it’s part-time, full-time. Some people may want to work eight hours a day as they need the supplemental income. They are working at home, so working a full day may make sense for them. Once we know this information and their area of experience, they complete a more thorough application and provide references. If they qualify, they take both an insurance test and computer skill test. From there, we then match the WAHVEs up with agencies and their operational needs.”
AG: The agency is your client?
SE: “Yes. The WAHVEs work for us and we outsource them to the agencies, much like any staffing company.”
AG: Do most WAHVES work for agencies where they live?
SE: “No, that’s not important. We have an agency owner with locations in Manhattan and Long Island. He has contracted a WAHVE who lives in Texas with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. She is doing high-level complex Commercial Lines policy checking for the agency, such as renewals, certificates. She was trained on his agency system, and procedures were established with reports set up so that her work can be monitored. The agency is thrilled with her. She has an objective eye and is helping the agency by making recommendations that will help in E&O claims. She is not interrupted by client servicing, sales calls. She is focused on the work.” Sharon explains that at the level of work the WAHVE is performing for this particular agency, the cost of an in-office employee in the New York metropolitan area would be three times as much as what they are paying.
“Another agency in upstate New York hired a WAHVE in the state of Washington in order to further branch out into Commercial Lines. They were unable to find anyone who could set up a Commercial Lines department and do the work that was needed at a price they could afford. We found a WAHVE to set up the department and support the producer in the expansion into Commercial Lines.”
AG: Did the WAHVE have to visit the agency at all to set up the department?
SE: “No, she has an IP phone, uses SKYPE with a video camera and talks with the agency every day. She is a remote extension of their office.”
The agencies that use WAHVE pay only a monthly fee and the employees are then paid by WAHVE. The savings is significant: Retirees are on Medicare and don’t need health coverage or a retirement plan, there are no benefits to be paid, and there is no office overhead. “Immediately, there is a 30% savings between the overhead and benefits you’re not paying” says Sharon. “Additionally, because WAHVEs are already retired and are working from home, they accept less money. There are statistics that show that retirees accept 40% less pay. Also, many of them are located in places that pay less than in urban environments, so now you get people with a wealth of knowledge at a significant savings.”
WAHVE was launched in mid-March after a successful pilot was conducted. There is a great team behind WAHVE in addition to Sharon: Roger Siebel, COO, co-founder of PayChoice; Rick Morgan, Vice President-New Media, Aartrijk; and Frank Sentner, founder of Soulware Ltd. and a consultant to insurance agencies, carriers, ACORD, agency management system vendors, policy administration system vendors, and other insurance software vendors.
Since its launching WAHVE has generated a great deal of interest both from those who have retired or are planning to retire, and agencies looking for talent. “Everybody wins with this concept,” says Sharon. “You’re keeping jobs in America, you’re keeping money here, you are helping retirees supplement their income, which results in retirees being less of a burden to society. And agency owners benefit because they get all this amazing knowledge at a great price to help supplement their staff, make their operation more profitable while providing an opportunity to stay more focused on the client than the process work.”
Agencies interested in WAHVE can contact Sharon at 646.807.4372, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find out more information at: www.wahve.com.