Posted on 29 Nov 05
Return with me for a few minutes to simpler times. It was over ten years ago and I was doing a presentation at the PIA Summer Conference in Point Clear. The first transparency (this pre-dated Power Point) included a picture of Johnson Grass and Mark Twain’s famous quote, “The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
My comments included, “This is Johnson Grass. As a young boy, I’d ride the headlands on a family farm with my Uncle. He’d point out Johnson Grass and say, ‘that’s Johnson Grass – you can’t kill it!’ As a kid, death was a difficult concept but not being able to kill something was even more foreign to me.
As I got older and worked with a swing blade, lawn mower, and chemicals, I learned what Uncle Booz meant. Johnson Grass is very resilient.
When I started in the Insurance business in 1973, everyone was predicting the demise of the Independent Agency System in general and the individual agent / agency specifically. Today I still hear that the ‘little guy / gal’ can’t survive. The reality is that the Independent Agent is the Johnson Grass of the Financial Services Industry. You can’t ‘kill’ them off.
I believe the reason the doomsayers make this prediction and the reason they are wrong is that they focus on the wrong half of the term. They think it’s about AGENCY when actually the soul of this system is captured in the word INDEPENDENT.”
Insurance Carriers no longer honor the “partnership” that is suggested by the term Agent. Agents have learned the hard lesson that they must work for the best interest of their customers in spite of the challenges and roadblocks thrown up by the marketplace. All agree that the agent / carrier relationship is not like the “good old days.”
In recent years, agents have worked and prospered through market cycles, shrinking capacity, and the ever present stigma of being in Louisiana. Agents have been kicked, knocked down, and beat up and still keep marching forward like the Energizer Bunny.
In the last 30 days the tag-team of Rita and Katrina slammed the insurance industry, our families, our clients, and our communities to the mat with unbelievable force. This morning’s Advocate headline said simply “100 percent destruction.” That’s the bad news. The good news is the devastation is physical – our spirits remain strong.
The good news is that the bad news is yesterday, today each of you are standing again (maybe bent but not broken), and tomorrow we will all see simpler and happier times. The scar tissue that is the badge of honor of the Independent Agency System will serve you well as you rebuild with your family your individual lives, you and your staff recreate your agencies, you and your clients work toward indemnity, and you as the good citizen work to develop communities better than those we lost.
I’m not naïve. I know how tough it is. I know most if not all agents can be knocked down and get back up. What makes this test so difficult is that not only individual agencies / agents are knocked down but the communities they serve has been seriously damaged or destroyed. This double whammy may cause the loss of some agents and agencies in our system. Such a loss is tragic but never a failure.
The “learning experience” that is owning, operating, and working in an agency is of such value that your skills and experience can help an industry in desperate search of talent and the diverse knowledge base developed through your client relationships equips each individual to pursue a career change if desired or preferable.
In the simpler times mentioned at the start of this essay, there was a proud old company called The Aetna. Their slogan was “Aetna, I’m glad I met you!” Today as I offer our industry and each of you as individuals and friends these words of encouragement, I can<