At NAIFA's 2014 Career Conference and Annual Meeting, held in San Diego September 6-8, LifeHealthPro Senior Editor Warren S. Hersch spoke with Aprilyn Geissler, an insurance agent and owner of Geissler Agency. She discussed, among other things, initiatives she's undertaken to make her practice a top-performing Farmers Insurance agency. The following are excerpts.
Hersch: Tell me about your practice. What are your product lines and areas of expertise?
Geissler: We mainly sell P&C and personal lines insurance, but life, disability income, health and long-term care insurance are also growing parts of the business. My husband, who works in the agency, has taken over the health insurance side.
Hersch: How well is your practice doing now overall?
Geissler: Business is very good. I purchased two other Farmers Insurance agencies in the last 12 months, effectively tripling the size of my business. We're also growing the business organically.
Hersch: Can you quantify your business growth in revenue or percentage terms?
Geissler: From August of 2013 to August of 2014, we grew our net book of business by 293 policies, mostly on the P&C side. We're also servicing between 60 and 80 policies per month.
On the life insurance side, we're doing more business than we did in the last three years combined. As to retirement and business planning, I earned $16,000 in commissions last year -- not fees -- which is how compensation for financial advice is counted at Farmers. For 2014, I expect the commissions will be at a comparable level.
Hersch: How does Farmers evaluate your performance? What benchmarks do they use?
Geissler: Farmers looks at your key point initiatives, or KPIs. They track, for example, how many licensed insurance professionals you have on staff, and whether you're meeting a threshold number of appointments, quotes and annual reviews over a specific period. The company also tracks new sales and retention of existing business.
Hersch: So given these various benchmarks, what is your firm's standing within Farmers?
Geissler: We're rated AAA, which is the best you can be; lower rankings include AA, B, C, and D. Because we're a triple AAA agency, we know we're hitting all of the KPIs.
Hersch: What best practices did you implement to achieve this high rating?
Geissler: A big reason why we're enjoying the growth we've had is because I have systems in place. Part of the business model calls for establishing and tracking the benchmarks I mentioned earlier. To help meet the quotas, I've delegated specific tasks to our four people on staff: full-time customer service and sales reps who are fully licensed in P&C and life insurance product lines; a part-time reception who answers phone calls; plus a marketing person. I've also empowered my people to take on new tasks and to grow themselves professionally.
Hersch: How did you learn about and implement the methodology and best practices you've adopted?
Geissler: Farmers put the top 20 to 30 percent of their agencies -- ours included -- into a program called Platform. The program distributes funds on a monthly basis in exchange for meeting the company-established benchmarks. Under the program, an agency business counselor -- a sort of operations manager -- visits our offices weekly to review our numbers.
Among these are, again, the annual reviews, calls to prospects, policy quotes, staff size and licensing requirements for employees.
But the counselor also checks on whether our office has a certain approved look, whether appropriate signage is place, and whether the office is open for an approved number of hours and days per week. The company, in sum, is standardizing how an agency should be run.
Hersch: Are there still other steps to implement or are all the requisite program components now live?
Geissler: The system is fully in place. But it has to be periodically reviewed to ensure we're keeping up with the standards. With each passing year, Farmers also forgives, based on our production, money given to us under the program. As our business grows, the program provides more money to match new performance benchmarks.
Hersch: How does your practice compare to that of other Farmers agencies?
Geissler: There are four or five districts in my state, New Mexico. In my district, our agency is rated number one, up from the middle-of-the-pack ranking we had before implementing the program. In New Mexico, our agency is in the top 5 percent. In our three-state region -- New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada -- we're in the top 10 percent.
Our move up the ranks owes to a lot of factors, not least the time we put in. I tell people we work half-days: 8 am to 8 pm or 12 hours. So we work hard, but we play hard, too.
Hersch: Are there things that you hope to take away from the NAIFA meeting?
Geissler: I go to the NAIFA annual meetings to network with industry colleagues, learn about new products and techniques -- and to be inspired. Some of the innovative ideas I've implemented at our agency I learned about from other NAIFA members, both at the national conference and at local chapter meetings. The conference really has been instrumental to increasing my knowledge about the life side of the business.
Hersch: Turning to cross-selling opportunities, how do you know that a P&C customer's financial situation has improved to a point where additional insurance or financial planning is warranted?
Geissler: Because I meet with my customers annually I know when, for example, they purchased a car financed over a certain amount, bought a bigger house, are starting a family or are expanding their business. Any one of these transitions may call for additional protection products and a new or revised financial plan.
Hersch: Will Farmers' home office also alert you to potential life, retirement or business planning opportunities?
Geissler: Yes. I now have access to prospect leads via a new Monday Morning Life Stage marketing database. The milestones we just discussed, plus some others -- say, a prospect turning age 65 -- Farmers alerts us every Monday morning through the new database.
Hersch: What regulatory issues are top of mind for you now on the life side?
Geissler: The potential taxation of life insurance policy death benefits and the cash value component are very much a concern. I have customers who are in a hard place in their lives and they need to live on all of the money they've accumulated. If they're on a tight income, a revision to the tax treatment of life insurance could significantly impact them -- more so than for my affluent clients.
Hersch: And how might implementation of a fiduciary standard of care by the Securities and Exchange Commission or Department of Labor affect your practice?
Geissler: I'm a registered rep and am held to a product suitability standard. Under a fiduciary standard, I likely would have to adapt my practice to meet new compliance requirements. Also, I may no longer be able to recommend specific products. So the proposals are a general concern.
Hersch: Do you have any final thoughts for fellow advisors in your space who are looking to grow their practices as you have?
Geissler: If you have systems in place to achieve your goals, and put into practice even a few of the things you learn at NAIFA and other professional development meetings, you'll reap the benefits. Follow the plan and put in the hours, and it will all pay off in the end for you.