Agent for the Future exists to help independent insurance agents succeed. Through the years, we’ve seen agencies innovate and evolve to meet the changing demands of the market while offering customers the ease, choice and expert advice they need to make wise insurance decisions.
The Agent for the Future Awards celebrate the most innovative, forward-thinking, and digitally savvy agents and agencies. This year’s winners are implementing cutting-edge technology, investing in recruiting and training top talent, and finding creative ways to position their agencies for long-term growth.
Here are the 2023 Agent for the Future Award winners:
Outstanding Agency Overall: Guaranteed Rate Insurance
Guaranteed Rate Insurance (GRINS) is dedicated to making the process of buying insurance seamless and convenient for customers.
In the last few years, GRINS focused on embedding insurance into the buyers’ journey. The agency launched a digital insurance marketplace that allows customers to compare quotes from multiple carriers and even bind policies within the platform. They integrated the digital marketplace into the mortgage process for their parent company and created an API for business partners to embed the marketplace into their point-of-sale systems. To ensure that remote transactions still feel personalized, each agent has a customized quote platform within the marketplace.
GRINS has also implemented strategies to boost customer retention, diversify lead sources and improve recruiting and training efforts. As a result of these and other efforts, the agency achieved a 40% growth rate in premium and revenue in the past year and has a 98% customer satisfaction score.
Looking to the future, GRINS has a clear plan to achieve aggressive growth goals by continuing to invest in technology, hire top talent, focus on customer experience and pursue strong partnerships.
Outstanding Large Agency: WalkerHughes Insurance
WalkerHughes Insurance has grown by nearly 40% every year for the past 10 years. The agency achieved their high growth rate through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions.
WalkerHughes has acquired more than 30 agencies throughout Indiana, including three this year. To identify like-minded agencies for acquisition, WalkerHughes uses a proprietary screen-scraping technology built by the agency’s development team. The technology generates reports from the websites of prospective agencies that align with what the agency is looking for. The marketing team then sends those agencies a “Legacy” book of content that tells the story of WalkerHughes and offers information on partnering with the agency.
The team at WalkerHughes also developed a proprietary software named “Violet” to fit the needs of the agency. Violet acts as the agency’s management system – using a fully integrated personal lines comparative rating tool, automating transactional process, generating scorecards for performance tracking and more.
In the next few years, WalkerHughes plans to expand its acquisitions outside of the state of Indiana. The agency’s continued acquisitions and recent partnership with a minority capital investor are allowing them to tap into new markets and continue to grow while investing in local communities.
Outstanding Small Agency: Camargo Insurance
Five years ago, the agency leaders at Camargo decided to completely restructure the agency to drive long-term growth. They moved the agency’s location from the suburbs to an office downtown near local universities. They implemented an integrated AMS-CRM to streamline workflows, improve customer experiences and track data. They built out a strategy for digital marketing and invested in recruiting a diverse team, adopting a mantra of “people first – tech to empower them.”
As a result of the changes, Camargo experienced four consecutive years of more than 20% organic growth. With the rapid growth bringing new opportunities and challenges, Camargo’s leaders realized that the agency could benefit from experienced, executive-level leadership. With the cost of full-time C-suite level leadership being prohibitive for a small agency, Camargo thought outside the box and adopted a strategy of fractional leadership. Fractional CFO, CMO, COO and Sales leaders have helped the agency clarify strategy and direction while also coaching young leaders for the future.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are key aspects of Camargo’s operations and culture. Women make up 50% of the agency’s leadership team, advisory board and sales team, and the team also includes native speakers of four different languages and members from a variety of backgrounds. The agency plans to continue its focus on DEI as it grows its sales team, with a goal of doubling the size of its sales team in the next three years.
Digital Innovator: Ericson Insurance Advisors
Ericson Insurance Advisors is at the cutting-edge of digital adoption, thanks to the passion and innovation of Vice President Kurt Thoennessen. During his years in the industry, Thoennessen has created a client diagnostic center to automate risk evaluations at renewal, started a blog to attract new clients, built a website designed to streamline the new business process, and more.
In 2015, Thoennessen decided to build a tool to help the agency save time gathering information from clients and prospects. After a year of development, he launched RiskRevu, an InsurTech platform with a library of smartforms to help agents gather data across service, sales and renewal transactions.
RiskRevu helps agents streamline their data gathering efforts so they can spend more time on interactions that add value to clients. The tool is now used for work within Ericson Insurance and shared with other agents.
Looking forward, Theonnessen plans to help Ericson implement a new, data-informed content marketing strategy to position Ericson as the go-to partner for high-net-worth insurance customers. This will include setting up a customer and referral partner email newsletter, connecting in-person and digital experiences, creating new episodes of his podcast, and more.
Outstanding Female Agency Principal: Elisha Cavanaugh, Sound Pacific Insurance
Elisha Cavanaugh started Sound Pacific Insurance in 2012 after more than a decade working in captive agencies. Since then, she has dedicated herself to creating a positive culture for her employees, helping customers understand insurance and advancing the insurance industry as a whole.
Cavanaugh views her team as her greatest asset and is heavily investing in staff development and training to equip her team to meet the evolving needs of clients. To support a work-life balance, the team at Sound Pacific works a hybrid schedule and gets unlimited paid time off.
In her work with clients, Cavanaugh aims to make insurance accessible and straightforward. She tailors her communication to clients’ individual preferences, while delivering easily understandable information to the average consumer. This year, she developed several videos and graphics to help consumers understand the constantly evolving insurance marketplace. She shared the videos with other agents as well as with clients.
Cavanaugh is the vice president of Safeco’s National Agency Council, where she serves as a voice for independent agencies and contributes to industry growth. She also established a social media group for agency owners across the country, where they can discuss their challenges and concerns and share ideas and solutions.
Emerging Leader: Jacquelyn Zampella, EA Boniakowski Agency
Since joining her family’s agency in 2018, Jacquelyn Zampella has dedicated herself to breaking the agency out of the “way it’s always been done.”
Part of this effort was modernizing EA Boniakowski’s technology. Zampella worked to overhaul the agency’s website to make it more user friendly and improve SEO. She implemented a series of marketing emails that achieved an 83% open rate among the agency’s customers. She partnered with the agency management system to develop an agency mobile app for clients.
As a third-generation agency leader, Zampella has bold plans to revolutionize agency operations by harnessing the power of technology. Her goal is to double the agency’s revenue by 2027. To achieve this goal, she plans to implement more omni-channel marketing strategies, optimize efficiency and use AI to enhance the customer experience.
Zampella is also invested in developing young talent in the insurance industry – especially young women. She was invited to participate in the Selective Insurance Women’s Agency leadership initiative and was asked to be on the Beyond Insurance young women’s panel. She also worked to strengthen her agency’s internal culture and attract younger talent by getting her agency involved in local charity events and organizing a quarterly employee night out. In 2024, she plans to work with local community colleges to start an internship program to bring the next generation of talent into the agency.
Congratulations to all the 2023 Agent for the Future Award winners!
- Outstanding Agency Overall: Guaranteed Rate Insurance
- Outstanding Large Agency: WalkerHughes Insurance
- Outstanding Small Agency: Camargo Insurance
- Digital Innovator: Ericson Insurance Advisors
- Outstanding Female Agency Principal: Elisha Cavanaugh, Sound Pacific Insurance
- Emerging Leader: Jacquelyn Zampella, EA Boniakowski Agency