Tyler Asher, the new President of Safeco Insurance Company, made the headline statement in his speech to SIAA’s semiannual meeting in Boston.  His comment was made in the context of a listing of things his company is working on to sustain their growth and prepare for a future insurance market, much different from today’s.

If you just take the statement at face value it makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  Of course we must all prepare for a bigger future if we want one, and an oak is a great symbol of strength and stability.  I was immediately captivated by the idea.

But, where the analogy breaks down for me is that it takes a long time to grow oak trees, and the future is coming upon us with breathtaking speed.  Do we really have time to grow oak trees?

Then I thought again about Jeff Bezos’s quote I wrote about recently where he says, he is more concerned about what stays the same the next 10 years, than what changes.  I’ve decided that it’s the intersection of Asher and Bezos where we as independent agency owners need to focus.

For example, it’s estimated that 60% of the employees in our industry will retire in the next 7 years, and if you believe “Outliers” author, Malcom Gladwell, it takes at least five years (10,000 hours) to train an expert in anything.  I believe, channeling Bezos, that customer service and person to person selling will be as important to agency success in the future as it is now.  So, how are we going to replace the oak trees (people) in our industry fast enough to secure our future?

I don’t have an answer.  But, it’s an incredibly important question for anyone who plans to continue to make this industry their career in the decade ahead.  In our organization we are creating a streamlined training curriculum coupled with third party courses and old fashioned apprenticeship to meet our needs for new blood.  Frankly, it’s expensive to do this.  But the only other options are to hire other’s problems (which is getting harder and more expensive to do) or go out of business.

The need to invest in new people comes while commission compression and new competition, in the form of online sellers, are beginning to stress some agency income statements.  As Tyler Asher points out, you must prepare for the future if you want one.  Viewed in this way, the spending on new employees is an investment, not a cost, and the promise of the future is a profitable business built for the long term.

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