Luke Darling has plans for his career.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Diego State University, he obtained his status as a licensed financial professional and went into business as a commodities trader, where he traded futures. Yet the choice was less than ideal. Darling says the volatility and emotional impact of a high-intensity career, coupled with a 5:30 a.m. start time for the market from his West Coast location, was taxing. Before long, he realized that while the job was exciting, it wasn’t for him.

That was ten years ago. Now 35 years old, Darling has moved into an insurance career, one that he says came after some soul searching and an inventory of his skills. An Affordable Healthcare Specialist with SureCo Health & Life (formerly Bayside Group) in Newport Beach, California, Darling says the inventory was telling. “When I looked at it on paper, what I was good at was different from what I wanted to be good at. It’s a difficult process to accept.”

Yet it landed Darling in a career that he thinks checks all the boxes. “The few things I really wanted out of a career was the passive, residual income aspect of insurance itself. A stable market and stable industry as a whole, something that was transferrable — something where it didn’t matter where I was geographically as long as I had an internet connection I could plug  in and do what I needed to do, and also something with upward mobility.”

An agent since November 2015, Darling is an ACA specialist, a position he’s embraced. Because there will always be a need for health insurance, he says the career gives him the stability he was looking for, and the ever-changing nature of the insurance industry provides a continuous challenge.

The moving target

That very nature was at first his biggest challenge to overcome, and it was a bit of an eye-opening experience, he says. “It seems like, from the outside looking in, that there shouldn’t be a lot of moving parts. But it’s constantly changing. Another big challenge was the delayed gratification. As most people know, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow build. I certainly feel like I put in a lot of time and energy and you don’t see those immediate returns of your efforts.”

Another challenge he faced — his clients’ understanding and education regarding the ACA. Some of his toughest conversations have been with clients who don’t qualify for health insurance. He doesn’t enjoy “explaining to people that they can’t get insurance even though they’re obligated to do so, because they don’t have a qualifying event. That’s a challenging conversation to have with someone. From their end, they know they’re going to incur a fine and penalty because they don’t have insurance, and then you as a professional are telling them they can’t get it because they don’t have a valid reason to do so.”

Customers, he says, don’t always understand that obtaining coverage during the year requires a qualifying event, such as a marriage, job change, or lost coverage within the last 60 days. It’s quite a shift in perspective for him, as well. “I’ve never been in a position where people are interested in buying something, but I have to explain to them that they can’t.”

Still, that type of situation is where Darling says the agent and broker can be of most help to their customers. “I don’t have just a hammer in my tool belt. I have other tools that can help that individual get some kind of coverage.”

Hitting the ground running

If accolades are any indication, Darling’s approach is a winning one. In just one year, he was named the quarterly sales winner for both the second and third quarters, and he was recognized by Best of Newport Beach for health insurance services for 2016.

It’s quite a list of accomplishments for an agent who, by his own admission, does little face-to-face business. He says his approach, which includes the phone and social media, allows him to be more efficient with his and his customers’ time. “It makes it convenient and efficient for reaching my clients rather than doing that belly-to-belly stuff,” he adds.

His success isn’t just one-sided, either. Darling has started an internal peer group. Necessary, he says, because 80 percent of the agents in his office are millennials. Darling says that’s because along the way, he had plenty of mentorship, particularly from the principals in his office. “The group effort collectively could be more than its parts. Getting together and pushing one another, exploring different ideas doesn’t limit me to what I know. I meet people every day who know things I don’t. It provides an opportunity to go outside of my comfort zone. For newer people, it helps speed the learning curve for them.”

He says the challenge for new agents is being able to adapt to the changing marketplace and the shift in client behavior. Through the peer group, he hopes to help these agents learn new ways of growing their businesses. “For people who might be newer to the industry and being taught that belly-to-belly method of insurance sales, I can see that as a very big challenge for new agents, specifically in the age where we as consumers have been indoctrinated with the likes of Amazon shopping. It comes with a certain expectation. We need immediate confirmation and gratification.”

Also, Darling wants newer agents to understand that building a business requires time and energy. “It’s a lot of groundwork and a lot of input in, and you don’t necessarily see that output immediately. Be patient. Find a mentor, somebody who can show you the ropes.”

He also wants newer agents to know that in his short tenure, Darling came up to speed rather quickly and has found his stride. “I’m embracing it. I put myself out there and I’m embracing what’s coming back. I’m excited for what’s to come.”

Know a great young advisor who is making a difference in the industry? Nominate them to be featured in The Succession Initative or LifeHealthPro’s 30 under 30 feature by emailing kbeckman@alm.com.

Related: 30 under 30: Meet the millennials who are transforming the insurance industry