Greg Nemec finds himself in an unlikely position these days — filling the role of insurance advocate.

What’s unlikely about his advocacy is that Nemec, regional director at American Financial Network in Parsippany, NJ, never saw himself in the insurance business. In fact, insurance was the last place Nemec thought he’d be.

Nemec grew up with the insurance industry all around him. His father, also named Greg Nemec, had worked on Wall Street in the equity market. He saw the future of financial services heading toward the financial planning sector, so he started his company, where the younger Nemec interned during high school.

Nemec Jr. says it was from that background that he learned to “believe in the power of financial services.” His perception of the industry is of positive work that impacts families significantly. Still, it wasn’t where he wanted to be. “This isn’t the world I was supposed to enter, and certainly not the path I was supposed to go down.”

Still, Nemec’s career path didn’t lead directly into the insurance industry. He began college with visions of becoming a lawyer or politician. Yet sometime in his final year at Villanova University, where he was earning a criminal justice degree, Nemec became disillusioned with his chosen profession. He explained his disenchantment to a trusted professor. What he heard back shocked him. “He said, ‘Oh Greg, don’t worry about it. You can absolutely become a social worker or a prison guard.’”

Switching direction

After applying for some internships at the FBI and being turned down for lack of security clearance and connections, Nemec came home that holiday and sat down with his dad for a heart-to-heart. “I laid the cards out on the table and explained to my dad that I wasn’t going to go to law school, that I didn’t see it.”

At the same time, Nemec’s father was grooming another family member to join the firm and to become part of the elder Nemec’s succession plan. The family member didn’t work out, but the timing was ideal for Nemec. After having broken the news about law school, he presented his case, hoping to be part of his father’s business and his successor.

With some hesitance, his father agreed to let him try to build a career through the family business. Not eager to face any nepotism charges, Nemec jumped with both feet into the business. Teaming up with the in-house underwriter, Nemec says he learned the business from every angle, and obtained his life insurance licensure.

That was in August of 2006. Since then, Nemec, who is 31, has enjoyed a career where he’s able to control his own destiny. He’s a young agent with big plans. One of his initiatives is to move his career into the wholesale realm, develop more relationships with CPAs, P&C brokers, employee benefits people and potentially wirehouse reps. The reason, for him, is simple: “I stand a greater chance of helping more people through those strategic alliances than I can prospecting on my own.”

He likes the ability to define his own future. “This career I really couldn’t recreate anywhere, and I don’t think I’d have been given the same opportunities.”

Facing challenges, old and new

It’s also a career that has given him tenure in an industry where he’s positioned alongside plenty of veteran agents. In fact, he thinks one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the average age of insurance producers.

Recruitment is a sticking point with Nemec. Perhaps having been through his own personal career search, he’s tuned in to where the industry can be infused with new blood. He thinks insurers are missing an opportunity to convey the good that can be accomplished in the profession. “I don’t know why that message isn’t being brought to college campuses. And not for nothing, you can be compensated fairly well for it. But we don’t see young blood coming into the industry” including an infusion of younger talent at the C level, he adds.

That he says the responsibility lies in part with the insurance carriers. There’s too little emphasis on the raw talents many younger agents possess. “It’s not like it used to be where big companies would bring in new agents and they’d stay there for thirty years.”

Also, he sees a training issue that he thinks many insurers aren’t addressing. Carrier and platform agnostics, he believes, are the future of the industry, and newer agents are in need of that training. It’s a long-term initiative he’s working on, but he wants insurers to step up and help agents focus on their strengths rather than the organization’s interests.

Still, he says his biggest challenge is getting financial services up to speed in terms of technology. One large financial corporation he’s working with is coming around to the idea of growing a customer base by adapting to doing business on the customers’ terms. “There’s a new layer of transparency, one in which customers can see when you’re just bullshitting them. I see social media as one avenue to interact, but I also see that opportunity in one’s online résumé.” White papers, articles, thought leadership, he says, are how companies and agents are able to build that level of transparency that appeals to customers.

Responding to changes

It’s a refreshing change, in his opinion. “We’ve gotten away from that linear funnel that’s been jammed down everybody’s throat since way before my time.” Instead, he sees people coming in and out of the buying process at various stages. “Rather than dictate that process, we need to create one in which we can participate when a consumer is ready to. We’ve gone from push marketing to pull marketing. I’d much rather go out and find my own information than get my email box blown up or get phone solicitations.”

That’s why his personal approach is a holistic one. He becomes an advocate, he says, for not just the couple he’s meeting with, but for their children. While he’s focused on the life insurance side, he builds a plan that includes other kinds of investments, as well. “I may not speak or execute every step of the plan, but that’s where my mindset is.”

He also has a conversation, which he says is much different, and ultimately better than a fact-finding mission. “If you go through a fact-finding, people shut down. I manage their insurance portfolio like financial advisors manage equities portfolios” which he says helps them develop the best long-term financial strategy.

Actually, Nemec is also part of a more personal long-term strategy. Four years ago, he and his father put together a succession plan for the business — a five-year plan that will transfer operations to the younger Nemec. It was what Nemec calls “an unintended consequence” of his career success. “Quite honestly,” he says, “I think my dad thought I was going to fail and leave years ago.”

Not so. Nemec has built a solid career in insurance, having realized that college is not always the answer. To him, the idea that everyone must go to college is “the biggest fraud that’s been perpetrated on the American public.”

Instead, he advises young people to rethink their college option. “Take whatever college money was allocated and use it to finance your career. Jump right into the business.”