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Why one young agent says she has the best job in the world

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“There is nothing more exciting than being an insurance agent.”

When Danielle Byrne thinks of the various careers of the people she knows, she feels incredibly lucky. Where some of her friends have to use great tact and care in dealing with people in their lines of work, Byrne, an independent life insurance agent in Chesapeake, Virginia, says “Man, I love my job. There’s nothing better than being able to tell people the way it is.”

Her excitement is evident in how she approaches what she does. “If someone is faced with a pile of insurance policies and tells me to go through them and save them money, I might as well be eating an ice cream sundae,” she says with a laugh.

There’s been plenty of that kind of enjoyment in Byrne’s job in the two short years she’s been a full-time agent. She’s self-employed and thriving, having contracted with 30 different companies to offer life insurance and related products to her customers. She enjoys most working with Royal Neighbors, a fraternal benefit organization started by nine women in the 1920s, and one with which she writes most of her business.

Byrne has opted to seek contracts with so many companies to ensure that she can offer the widest range of product options possible. “I never want to be in the position where I can’t help somebody.”

That’s a good quality to bring to insurance, and it’s one that’s earned her several accolades. Currently, Byrne is Royal Neighbors’ Top Female Agent and is considered one of the top three agents working with Royal Neighbors. Despite being relatively new to the industry, Byrne also has a Top Life Agent award from the same company, this one for Q1 2015. 

Unlikely beginnings

Ironically, a career in insurance wasn’t Byrne’s first option, or even one she’d considered. But with a freshly earned MBA from Saint Leo University in Florida, she went online looking for opportunities, only to find the job market wasn’t ideal. One day she and her husband, who is on active duty in the military, saw a job advertisement for Combined Insurance. “All my husband said was, ‘Insurance is a big field. I know a few people in it who have made a good living.’ That’s all he had to say. I thought, I’ll give it a shot.”

She applied, got the job, and got the training. The experience laid the foundation for her sales training and success. Combined Insurance put her to work immediately after her March 2012 licensure. She was with Combined for just four months before she was promoted to territory manager, including heading out-of-town sales training events.

The career, however, was quickly interrupted when she found out she was expecting. Having gone through a rough pregnancy with her son, Byrne put her career on hold until her daughter was born. She left insurance in September 2012 and returned a year later.

Starting fresh in the field, she decided to diversify. Feeling that serving a single insurance company was too limiting, Byrne went out on her own and secured contracts with those 30 companies, including her association with Royal Neighbors.

It’s a formula that’s working. Within just seven months of contracting with Royal Neighbors, Byrne earned enough in premium — $65,000 — to win the annual trip the company offers. It’s a benchmark most agents need a year to qualify for. Byrne has already won the trip offered this year.

The sales are all within her community. While she’s working toward creating her branding and online presence, Byrne prefers working locally. That hasn’t been without challenges, but she says the real challenge for her is overcoming distorted facts, preconceived notions, and apathy among her client prospects.

Market challenges

Her No. 1 challenge is educating potential and existing customers on the facts about the market. In the final expense market, Byrne says there’s plenty of misleading information or lack of full disclosure regarding the products being advertised on television. “There’s not disclosure on what the policy is, what the waiting period is and why there’s no medical exam. It bothers me when someone pulls out a policy they own and it has a 24-month waiting period and there’s no real medical reason for it. Nine times out of ten, it’s more expensive.”

She sees the same disconnect at the other end of the age spectrum. Too often millennials are too trusting of what they hear, she adds. “When you get out of college and you get into a job and hear those famous three numbers — 401(k). You automatically think you’ve made it.”

Her goal is to help younger investors understand the necessity of diversification. The younger generation, she says, needs a diversified investment plan in order to retire. They also need life insurance, which is a tough sell at most age brackets, particularly the younger prospects. The industry in general, she says, continues to face the attitude of “I don’t plan on dying anytime soon.”

“It’s the one line I cannot stand,” she says. “That is probably one of the most challenging things you come across, especially if you get a couple who believe they’re simply checking the box on a list.”

Also, convincing them that life insurance offered through employment isn’t enough can be tough. “It’s educating them about what is life insurance through work, is it enough? I see the devastation that happens when people don’t take the precautions on getting the proper life insurance, with or without children.”

Yet convincing the buying public to purchase life insurance is just one hurdle in the market. Byrne says the sweeping generalizations about life insurance are just as harmful to the customer as the apathy toward coverage. She’s had to help new customers get over the falsehoods of coverage — that term insurance is bad or whole life insurance costs too much.

Building on success

Her hands-on, educational approach has helped her rise quickly in the industry. “When you put the right energy out there and do the right things for the right reasons, the right things happen. That has been the theme of my life.”

She believes her success is also in part due to having the right mentors in the business. Byrne has two mentors — one who helps her with higher-end clients and one who gives her business guidance. Plus, she says she’s learned not to lean on excuses, a trait that was borne of being a military spouse. “When you have a husband in the military who’s deployed and whose life is at risk all the time, you don’t have a lot of excuses. That’s one of the things that has to go if you’re an independent life agent. There are no excuses. You have to work it like a job because that’s what it is.”

Still, she says her greatest success has been her family. “We moved recently to a house I know we wouldn’t have been able to afford without my income. It’s in one of the best school districts that we could be in. I have been able to provide things for my family that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. That money has become a tool to provide a better life for my children.”

Despite not having sought out the insurance industry, Byrne says her desire to be in control of her income makes it a perfect fit. Having come from corporate life, Byrne wanted something more flexible and with more earning potential. Now, she couldn’t be happier. “I can’t see myself doing any other career.”


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