Read the latest from our NAPAA President, or find the archives below!
Trust me, I’m here from Headquarters and I’m here to help!
We hear this way too many times. And while Allstate HQ has good intentions, all too often the needed results do not come to fruition as quickly as needed. It is both sad and frustrating at the same time. While I try to remain as positive as I can, the technology issues occurring at Allstate are trying to all of us. I need to vent!
Everyone needs the right tools to do their jobs. A plumber needs a pipe wrench, a fireman needs a hose and, in the insurance business, we can’t write policies without access to the Allstate network .
In the past few months, getting this access has become a real problem. I recently endured the horrendous transition from Microsoft 365. Although I paid for IT support for the conversion, the results were inconsistent, and our office literally could not write business for an entire week. From what I hear from agency owners across the country, I am not alone.
Today, I have experienced three Allstate system outages. As I reviewed my third system outage email notification, I began to feel pickpocketed, courtesy of Allstate. I am losing money because I am paying my staff to sit and wait for the system to be functionable and unable to bind new business. With great embarrassment, I have escorted prospective clients out of my office, promising them that I will gladly provide an insurance quote when our systems are operational.
To add insult to injury, it is the same dysfunctional Allstate IT department that now wants to take an additional percentage of my commission so they can provide “service and expertise” via a new phone system that uses artificial intelligence to direct callers to the right department. As we all know, the new Integrated Service Center initiative will soon be on our doorstep unless we insist on the Company getting their current IT fixed before doing more harm to the agency channel.
We could indeed use some help from headquarters. The Company could start by providing an IT infrastructure that actually works. We need to stand together to get the Company to fix what is broken before moving on the next technology program. This is our opportunity to band together to fight for our individual business and yes, actually fight for what is right for out customers whom the agent community has to meet day to day.
Struggling, trying to find your way through the Allstate network of landmines, band together with your friends at NAPPA – we deserve better. NAPAA is here to join forces with agents across the nation to open dialogue to share ideas and solutions that not only will be productive for agents but win/win solutions for agents and Allstate. We have weathered many storms, including: IPS, ABO, losing line 19, and requirements of LSP count.
Can we talk? Join NAPAA and let us work together and help Allstate help us.
Summer 2019 - Debe Campos-Fleener
I am proud to be your NAPAA President for an additional two-year term. It is a great honor and I hope to continue on the path of making it a wonderful association for agents countrywide. I know that I, our board of directors and the executive director will continue to work on your behalf as we deal with changes in our field and those that Allstate throws our way.
As I speak to agents nationwide, I have noticed a pattern that several agents have a special niche. Some agents are passionate about commercial, life, property and casualty, and of course as you hustle through the day of meeting your ABO, anything you can put on the board becomes a passion. It is important to keep the relationships of those colleagues who have the knowledge and experience in areas that you are not familiar with within easy access. The NAPAA Board is a diverse group of agents who truly have expertise in almost every aspect of the business, and they are good people to go to for advice. My niche happens to be the Allstate Foundation. Several years ago, when I had been an agent for a short time, I was selected to lobby with the NNDV and the Purple Purse foundation to convince the senate and congress to release the funding to assist victims of domestic violence. The trip to Washington turned out to be a success. A year later the non-partisan bill was passed by the house and senate.
It was at this time, I realized that I was not just an Allstate agent for a nationally recognized and respected insurance company, but indeed the Allstate Foundation was an entity of its own with a national reputation that has taken the Purple Purse Foundation to a whole new level. I am passionate about the Allstate Foundation. The only negative comment I can make is that each year the rules change ever so slightly, but enough so you cannot just enlist a group or individual project without doing your homework.
A short time later, I put in my name to win the Serena Williams bag valued at $350, where 500 bags could be won by the agents. I was a winner of one of these bags and was trying to think about how I was going to use it to generate awareness of domestic violence. In April, I received a call from the Arizona State Treasurer who had been working on a bill when she had been a state representative to require that high school students were now required to fulfill a financial literacy course to graduate. About a week later I received a call from the Tucson Medical Foundation to let me know that they were going to launch a program to assist victims of domestic violence and if I thought they could connect with the Purple Purse Foundation. It was a match made in heaven, Kimberly Yee, Arizona state treasurer came and spoke to over 75 people about financial literacy. I had four other agents join me in this group project: Mike Arambulo, Mike Brown, Christopher Benear and my personal financial specialist, Steve Hite. We gave out charms to the guests and I spoke about the Allstate Foundation and the Purple Purse Foundation. It was an amazing event that raised some much-needed cash for the TMC Foundation and domestic violence victims. The TMC Foundation placed the Serena Williams bag on their website and continued to sell raffles for a month to generate extra income from the bag. Here is a link to an article about the event.
The Allstate Foundation has four components: empowering youth, ending domestic violence, transforming communities and developing nonprofit leaders. The WE program empowers youth, Purple Purse fights to end domestic violence, disaster preparedness events are great for transforming the community and the Allstate Foundation has a program through the Kellogg school of management at no cost. There are many events that I have had in the tenure of my Allstate relationship in regard to the Allstate Foundation, it has been a 100% positive experience and an opportunity for agents to participate in philanthropy they may otherwise find unaffordable.
If you have any questions, feel free to send them to me. Also, please join us September 29 and 30 in Las Vegas for our conference!
Spring 2019 - Debe Campos-Fleener
It's hard to believe but my two-year term as president of NAPAA is approaching its end. We have accomplished a great deal since June 2017.
We offered group health insurance to both members and non-members of NAPAA, and we improved our group vision and dental offerings.
We opened up a new communication channel with Glenn Shapiro and his predecessor Matt Winter.
We are sharing your concerns with the home office and are having success.
We have nine dedicated board members working on your behalf, and if you ever have any questions please call any of us. We are all listed on NAPAA's webpage. You can also call Ted Paris, our executive director, or our administrative office and they will route you to the party you need to talk with. Thanks for your support during my term as madam president. Now on to other things.
Recently, my office was attempting to send our birthday list for January to Versicall for birthday calls, and to no surprise there is a new hurdle to jump over in regard to using e-agent. In the past, we were able to export the birthday list to an Excel spread sheet, clean it up, and then send it to our vendor, who calls our clients for the birthdays and sings to them (great NAPAA vendor!). My tech-savvy high school staff person managed to figure another way to complete the task by passing the new hurdle. It made me think about how cyber security is now an issue that every agent has to content with, including meeting the IPS goals and bundling.
I am starting my 14th year with Allstate and as you know there have been many changes since 2006. For those who are new, we did not always need a FOB or security code on our phones to open our computers, nor did we need a security code to ask for assistance from the CIC, or to change our passwords frequently with one capital letter and one character, etc. The WISP policy came afterward as well, and though these steps to just log on are a real pain, they are here to protect our client's privacy and information.
If you think it will get better soon, you might want to remove that thought entirely from your head. If anything, it will become more cumbersome. The European Union just passed a General Data Protection Regulation on May 25, 2018. I cannot confirm that Allstate has decided to conform to the new EU regulation; however, many other companies that sell internationally are in compliance and the system will log you out if you are not. According to Wikipedia, this is the purpose of the GDPR:
- If the data subject has given consent to the processing of his or her personal data;
- To fulfill contractual obligations with a data subject, or for tasks at the request of a data subject who is in the process of entering into a new contract;
- To comply with a data controller's legal obligations;
- To perform a task in the public interest or in official authority;
- For the legitimate interests of a data controller or a third party, unless these interests are overridden by interests of the data subject or her or his rights according to the Charter of Fundamental Rights (especially in the case of children).
I suspect Allstate is preparing to comply or has already begun the process of complying in which the security measures have been increased for the agents. If you have any interest in this topic there are several articles you can read. Google GDPR for more information.
As I close, I would be remiss if I did not ask you to join NAPAA. We are your Voice to the Company. We give unbiased advice and we can be a great resource of information. You should think about it. The greater the numbers, the greater the influence.
Fall 2018 - Debe Campos-Fleenor
Recently your Board of Directors, along with other invited guests, gathered at our annual in person board meeting. I want to thank all the board members, guests and NAPAA staff who took time away from their agencies and families to attend. As you know, we are an all-volunteer board and all of us are/were Allstate exclusive agency owners.
Our Executive Director and the editor of the Direct Express and Agent Informer newsletters were both long tenured Allstate agency owners as well. We know Allstate! These meetings afford us an opportunity to reflect on NAPAA’s accomplishments over the last year.
This year, those accomplishments included getting a group healthcare coverage option for all Allstate agents, staff and their families. I was proud to see this long-term goal to bring quality healthcare to our agents become reality. Another accomplishment was getting our membership numbers to grow. With this growth comes a stronger voice of representation for the needs of our agents.
Our Executive Director has had increased dialog with top Allstate management. We are communicating your concerns to Allstate management in a professional and positive manner. We continue to advocate for our agents and promote changes in Allstate that can make us all more successful and more profitable.
Our focus at the in-person meeting was to have a strategic planning session. We took a hard look of where we have been as an organization and where we want to be in the future. We discussed our past successes and our past failures. We formulated a three-year plan on where we want to be going forward. I don’t have the space in this article to elaborate on the details, but we will be sharing them with our members in the near future. I felt our planning sessions were very effective.
I will continue to represent you as your president for another year, and I look forward to another year of representing you, the hardworking agents who are the backbone of Allstate.
In another section of this magazine we invite you to meet your directors and officers. I hope you take the time to read it. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our many hardworking agents who make NAPAA a success. We are a volunteer board and truly have one agenda: to support, educate and advocate for the agent. We are making a difference.
I want to acknowledge Lezlee Liljenberg for her past service as vice president. She has been a tremendous asset to our team. We wish Lezlee the best in life and future endeavors and thank her for her past contribution, love and support of NAPAA.
If you are not already a NAPAA member, this is a perfect opportunity to join. I enjoy the many emails and phone calls that I get from so many of you. Many of you have also shared that you would like to join the Board of Directors and/or participate on a committee. Please reach out to me or to any of the board members to learn how you can make a difference with NAPAA.
Summer 2018 - Debe Campos-Fleenor
Health care has been a hot potato in America for some time. The changes and uncertainties that have clouded health care over the years only seem to have added to its cost and complexity. The adage, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything” has a lot of truth to it. Having had my own issues with surgeries, recovery and physical therapy, I know it’s hard to run a business when you are operating at less than 100% and worried about health coverage. While we can’t control accidents, sicknesses and disease, we can help lessen the worry and concern over rising medical expenses through affordable health insurance.
Saying all that, I am proud to inform you that NAPAA is offering affordable group health insurance to all Allstate agencies and their staff, regardless of membership status. This has been a long-sought goal for NAPAA since I joined in 2006. So now, through NAPAA, you and your staff and their families have an opportunity to obtain affordable health care coverage.
This past May at the Forum in Las Vegas, we rolled out our health insurance offering. NAPAA is here once again to offer value and stability to your offices. I have been an Allstate agent for 15 years and an owner for 12. I can remember asking as I began my career in insurance what health care options were available through the Allstate network. I was disappointed to hear there weren’t any. Everyone was on their own. As an owner, I can see the value that NAPAA is adding to me and my entire agency by arranging this much needed coverage. Some of you have already signed up and are so pleased about being able to offer this benefit for your employees and families. Thank you for supporting NAPAA. Special thanks to the board members, our executive director, and staff who made this happen.
While this is a great addition, it is only one of many benefits that NAPAA offers. We are so much more. Check out www. napaausa.org for an entire list membership benefits.
As you may know, many of our members collaborate and share winning ideas. One of these very simple ideas shared at a prior NAPAA meeting was Versicall. In my office, we used to mail out birthday cards that sometimes arrived late. Now, we are use Versicall instead. They call our clients on their actual birthday and sing Happy Birthday with a personal message from me, asking them stop by the office to pick up a birthday gift. I’ve had so many clients offer gratitude and have remarked about how touched they were with our personal call for their birthday. Most marketing studies have shown that it is important to touch the clients at least six times a year to make a significant improvement in retention. This new program has also indirectly given us high scores with our online review.
We are in a tough, highly competitive business. We all need fresh ideas for marketing, acquisition and retention. As times change, so must our marketing strategies. Millennials and retirees are both important to our book of business, but respond to different techniques.
Call me or send me an email if you have questions, need help or if you want to join the great NAPAA organization. It has been a wonderful investment for me, now going on 12 years. Give us a try, we are a group of agents trying very hard to make things happen regardless of the numerous changes Allstate throws at us.
Best of health to you!
Spring 2018 - Debe Campos-Fleenor
It is April already. Where the time go? I would swear that I just got over Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Add to that, we had to finish up 2017 and work on completing our business plans for 2018 while anxiously awaiting the official results from Allstate. Only then could I complete my agency budget to see if I had enough money left over for fun stuff — You know pay for food, bills, and maybe vacations. I know it is similar for all of us. It’s almost like Groundhog Day: it starts over again. But I do love it.
The NAPAA Executive Committee met in January to plan our year and to start sharing our successes, as well as the concepts that didn’t work as well. We want to share with our members that our vision is to be your voice, to offer you unbiased advice and to share with you our library of resources. As a member, you can share with others your personal experiences as well. Maybe your experiences will help us find new areas of success and avoid time consuming pitfalls.
NAPAA sponsors the All Agent Page on Facebook. You don’t have to be a member to join this group, just ask. You must be an active Allstate agent and we don’t allow negative posts. The All Agent Page is about getting and giving advice and positive ideas to improve your agency. To help build shared success among our members, we have scheduled educational seminars for the year. Our vice president, Lezlee Liljenberg, always has the latest in marketing tips to grow your client list along with compelling advice to help you run a more efficient office. Board member Rob McBride recently shared on the Agent Informer/Direct Express his secrets of communication and relationship building.
One success story that I can share is how to develop an effective EA/EFS partnership. Because of the DOL rules, Allstate Financial Services significantly changed our pay structure. The EFS/Agent partnership was an attempt to solve the issue and drive more financial services. The penalty for not hitting your life and financial numbers is severe: 10% loss of P/C commissions and loss of bonus opportunity. If you did not reach your production goals in 2017, partnering with the right EFS could make the difference this year. We have resources and articles at www.napaaUSA.org that might help you.
I personally found a great EFS. My partnership with Steve Hite resulted in a huge boost to my production credit and was an important contribution to my entire business. I have a keen interest in financial services, and I try to find ways to work life insurance into the conversation with every prospective client. Asking the right nonthreatening questions can open the door of opportunity and, once done, I introduce my EFS partner to prospective clients. Once they begin to appreciate his expertise and the depth of his experience, it does not take long to gain valued trust. I’m a generalist and having to deal with home, auto, commercial, life and investments can be a lot to juggle. Steve is the specialist. He is knowledgeable and personable. It doesn’t hurt that he was once a CPA and played college football for our beloved University of Arizona.
Once we get through the small talk and introductions, Steve knows how to probe to see if there are other areas that can assist my client. Perhaps they left a 401(k) at an old job, will be retiring in six months from a local government position like teaching, or have extra funds sitting in a bank account earning a whopping 0.02% interest. These are all things we would find out if we weren’t so busy running our agency. The EFS has the time to uncover these things. Some pay a monthly fee for a financial planner to do exactly what Steve can do for free. Allstate Financial has many options while your typical financial planner might be married to their list of funds. Like a skilled expert, Steve shines a light on much more than life insurance. You get the picture — expertise is a critical asset.
This is a process that has proved to be successful for me. If you have struggled reaching your IPS count, why not try the total commitment with your EFS? If you are not in the Tucson area, you can’t have Steve. But I have met other EFS’ throughout the country and I know there are good ones out there who you can successfully work with.
Call me or contact NAPAA. We are here to help you, guide you and be a cheerleader in your corner. You are not alone; we are all in this together. Join NAPAA if you are not a member. If you are, don’t forget to renew your membership. We can accomplish much, and let 2018 be your best year ever. Remember, NAPAA is the only organization whose purpose is to support the agency force though being a strong voice, offering unbiased advice and by having a library of resources to support you!
Winter 2017-2018 - Debe Campos-Fleenor
As I gather my thoughts to write my opening remarks, I am overwhelmed with the tragedies we have faced recently in our nation. The recent succession of hurricanes and tropical storms brought devastation from Texas to the Carolinas, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. These events underscore the importance of what we do every day as Allstate Agents – to provide security and protection to families in a time of crisis. We can all take pride in Allstate’s immediate response in the wake of the storms. The Good Hands network of claims employees and agents has shown why we are here: to help in time of need. The hard-working Allstate agent community has been there to advise our clients daily with sound products and services providing protection of homes, autos and to their financial well-being.
We can take great pride in what we do to help protect our families, friends and insureds in their time of need. But let’s not lose sight of what we need to do to help protect each other’s careers by joining together to make positive changes within Allstate. Now, more than ever, we need to come together to let Allstate know the differences and concerns that we are facing as an agency force. It is through NAPAA where we can best voice those concerns to help the agent community succeed.
We are continually monitored for compliance and even have an IPS quota that needs to be managed to retain our good standing within Allstate. It is our locally owned and operated agencies that keep the Allstate business model afloat. In the everyday world, we – all the agents on Main Street USA – are the face of Allstate. Allstate holds agents accountable to achieve acceptable business results. But doesn’t Allstate have the responsibility to provide the technology infrastructure necessary to carry out transactions? The numerous rashes of system outages in Alliance, Gateway, and Outlook have made it quite difficult for all to maintain operations. Quite frankly, it is adversely affecting our ability to efficiently operate our businesses.
How do we effectively voice our concerns? Try NAPAA. It is a great place to come for support and to band together to petition the company for the appropriate changes needed to help our businesses thrive.
Like many of you, I have been able to circumvent technology issues with the RMBC and have shared my experience of how to work around various problems with my fellow agents. But should we have to circumvent these problems? Should not the company deliver to us a technology platform that is working and efficient? At our recent conference, a number of roundtable discussions were held where agents shared their experience and techniques to overcome obstacles and to maximize business opportunities. Through NAPAA I have had the advantage of putting a number of great ideas together to help grow my business.
That is why I encourage you to join NAPAA. We are about working together and finding solutions. Our recent conference was incredible, and the agents who attended discovered valuable information and solutions about issues we face on a daily basis. Where else but NAPAA can one go to find solutions to problems for which management does not have the answers? What is better than one Allstate agent? The answer is a group of proactive Allstate agents who are working together to solve problems. As an agent, you have a unique ability to understand the day-in and day-out of what it takes to make this business work.
No one understands you like your fellow Allstate agents do. This is why I encourage you to get involved with NAPAA. The board members, the executive director and I are here to hear your concerns and answer your questions. NAPAA was created for you, the agency force. While local, state, regional and even home office management teams have good intentions and want to help, they can never completely understand the challenges and complexities of being an agent unless they have walked in our shoes.
I am excited to be NAPAA’s president, I love being an Allstate agent, I love my clients, and I love what I do. Please call or email. I am ready to talk to you if you have any doubts or questions about joining NAPAA. It is a great organization, and I am so proud of the members who came to Las Vegas to show support and share their ideas. I was amazed at the information that we all shared. Success is in your hands, take it, grab it and join NAPAA. If you have any ideas, share them with me whether you are a member or not. We do want to hear from you. NAPAA is about US and that includes YOU!
Fall 2017 - Debe Campos-Fleenor
I am proud and excited that your new NAPAA board of directors and executive director have hit the ground running, completing our very first conference in five years. We had a great deal of help from our outgoing executive director, Nancy Fish. Kudos to her and everyone else who put so much into the conference. It was an important conference offering solid ideas and processes to help us perform at our best.
Prior to the conference, I met with groups of agents to encourage attendance and membership in NAPAA. One of the most common threads that I heard was a concern that NAPAA is sometimes too negative. These agents have known me for 15 years and can attest that if NAPAA was a negative organization, I would not be serving as president. I can state the rest of the board of directors’ members feel the same. NAPAA’s purpose is to be an advocate for the agency force. It should not be perceived as negative when we speak out on issues that affect our agencies and livelihood. It’s our responsibility to raise concerns and question the Company’s actions when needed. It’s how we convey these areas of concerns that make the difference. We will continue to speak out on issues that need to be addressed.
There are areas in need of improvement. The IPS mover is a painful experience. Frequent technology outages adversely affect our ability to close business. Like the big fish that got away, I’ve had more than one client impatiently leave because system outages wouldn’t allow me to bind a policy. Seeking to improve the Allstate working experience is one of the most important objectives of the NAPAA organization. NAPAA represents the best and most effective option to protect our interests as agency owners and to drive for positive changes within Allstate. That said, please complete the new agent survey that is included in this issue of the ExclusiveFocus. The Company needs to hear agents’ concerns from more than just the NAB and AEC.
This year’s NAPAA conference provided a number of valuable sessions to help address some of the issues we experience all too often. We learned from board members Lezlie Liljenberg and Dale Revels about how they have managed to work through some of the constraints by utilizing Ivantage. They truly have it down.
Board members Virginia Ottenberg and Rob McBride gave agents alternative ways to deal with technology problems. Rob has years of IT experience and offered valuable work-around solutions to keep your business moving. Virginia is a long-time agent, and she is a great resource on how some policy provisions have changed through the years. Our professional speakers ers talked about how to run your business as a business. Many great tips and ideas were shared.
Unless something changes, it appears the 12-month IPS mover requirement will remain. At the conference, agents and EFSs shared how thinking outside of the box could be helpful in attaining those goals. Allstate agents with marketing backgrounds shared creative ways to drum up new business. The attorney representing American Family agents related recent legal proceedings that arose as that company overstepped its boundaries, interfering with the independent contractor agent model. I don’t want to be an employee of Allstate, but I need to know when the Allstate rules and requirements get in my lane. That’s not negative, it’s just defensive driving. And I’ve got the Drivewise to prove it!
Where else but NAPAA can you just shoot the breeze with our own attorney, Dirk Beamer, and get insight into the legal issues important to your business? Be sure to check out Dirk’s article in this issue “Can they do that?” The insurance business is dynamic and new legal issues seem to crop up monthly.
NAPAA can help keep you updated.
My goal is to ensure that NAPAA remains a positive force in helping you make your daily business thrive. Identifying problems is not negative; it’s the first step in making positive change. If you haven’t before, I challenge you to give NAPAA a second look. As the president, I can assure you that NAPAA and the supporting board are dedicated to your success and protecting our rights as agents.
We’ve got your back.
Summer 2017 - Debe Campos-Fleenor
It is my pleasure to introduce myself to you as the new president of NAPAA. This current election process has brought me to this new milestone and I am indeed honored to have the support and confidence from the membership of this organization to become the first female president in NAPAA history.
Before discussing where NAPAA is going in the future, I would first like to thank Nancy and Jim Fish, who built the NAPAA organization to what it is today. After more than 21 years of working with NAPAA’s Board of Directors, Jim Fish officially “retired” on May 31, and Nancy will soon follow. They have both worked tirelessly to advance the cause of the Allstate agent. Through their efforts, significant changes in the organization have been made that focus on the success of our agents in their daily efforts to run successful, productive and profitable businesses. NAPAA will never be able to repay Jim and Nancy for all they have contributed to NAPAA, but we send them with many thanks and continued happiness in retirement.
As noted, the shoes that I have chosen to step into are very large but I take this challenge for the sake of making the life of Allstate agents better and hopefully more productive. There are many requirements, compliance and quota issues that may be difficult to change but NAPAA can offer helpful suggestions on how to work within the existing Allstate system so your bottom line results in a rewarding and successful agency.
If you have never considered joining NAPAA, I would like to personally invite you to join us now. NAPAA offers a common foundation and a place for agents to find creative ideas and resources they need, outside the limitations of the official “company line.” Exclusivefocus, the official magazine publication of NAPAA, features articles on everything from social media marketing, to hiring and managing staff, to technology. The entire archive of Exclusivefocus is available along with a host of additional marketing and operational resources in the members-only portal of our website. Moreover, joining NAPAA opens the door to a variety of membership services you can access to help you along the way.
I am very excited to invite you to our upcoming 2017 National EA Conference. We’re making a BIG comeback after missing a few years. The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas will host agents from Allstate (NAPAA), Horace Mann (UHMA) and Farmers (UFAA) during the week of September 11, giving agents from these three associations the chance to network and discuss common issues. Check out page 12 for more details about this can’t miss event.
I started my Allstate agency from scratch in Tucson, Arizona after working a few years for another Allstate agent. My NAPAA affiliation began in 2005, right after I opened my doors as an agent. I have served as a director-at-large, secretary, treasurer, and vice president. And now, as president I look forward to working alongside Allstate, but from the perspective of placing the value of the Allstate agent first and foremost.
Most of you are aware of the recent unanimous decision, by an advisory jury, in favor of American Family agents. The class-action lawsuit alleges that American Family avoids complying with ERISA, the federal law that protects retirement benefits, by improperly classifying its agents as independent contractors when they are actually employees. The AmFam case is not over, but many agents are asking how that case might impact our contract, which is why we’ve invited Erin Dickinson, the attorney representing the American Family agents, to speak at our Las Vegas event.
The industry is changing rapidly. It is always good to have knowledge and support as new opportunities and challenges arise. NAPAA will continue to be one of your best resources, helping you stay informed about issues that may affect you and your agency.
Please feel free to contact me directly, or look me up when you visit Tucson. As an active agent, you’ll find me on the Allstate agent locator.
Happy Selling and meeting those IPS requirements!
Spring 2017 - Jim Fish
Because we are salespeople, most of us are familiar with the expression, “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” In times like these, when auto rates are sky-high and production is down, managers often point to agents as the reason for slumping sales, typically citing poor attitudes or insufficient marketing efforts as the cause.
Of course agent attitudes are affected. Attitudes rise when rates are competitive and fall when they’re not – it’s human nature.
The reality is that Allstate has rarely, if ever, been the lowest cost provider of auto insurance, so selling on price alone is not a long-term recipe for success. Improving closing ratios demands at least some degree of persuasion, which often entails incorporating more sizzle into our sales efforts.
Believe in yourself, your brand and your product offerings, but don’t be a zealot
When agents believe in the brand they represent, prospects take notice. They hear and feel the honest to-goodness conviction and enthusiasm in an agent’s voice and see it in their eyes, which bolsters their confidence in the brand. In normal times this is often enough to close sales over lower-priced competitors.
But these are not normal times, are they? Allstate’s lack of auto profitability has caused rates to soar, making it difficult for agents to sell the company’s most important product.
For a lot of agents, today’s rate disparities are the largest they’ve ever seen. The fact is, Allstate is sometimes three times more expensive than Esurance – its sister company – which has not turned a profit since it was acquired five years ago. How can this be?
Yet despite Allstate’s uncompetitiveness, management is dismissive when pricing concerns are raised by agents. Instead of empathizing with them, they ask agents to ignore price disparities and step up their marketing to increase quote volume. Then with straight faces they remind us that “Allstate is worth the extra cost.”
The reality is that there is only so much bragging you can do before turning people off. You can boast about Allstate’s great claim service, unique policy features, and the fantastic customer service your agency provides, but in the end, price matters.
“Desperate times call for desperate measures”
Sad to say, this age-old proverb can turn good guys into bad guys. Work-related pressures can drive some agents to do things they would never otherwise consider to save their jobs or avoid bankruptcy.
In California, for example, a few managers have suggested that their agents add more sizzle to their auto presentations by engaging in a scheme to write more life insurance – lots more. The “secret” is for agents to write small term life policies with each add car. They call this practice “super bundling.” And according to our sources, at least one of these agents is writing these small term policies “hand over fist.”
So what’s not to like about selling more life policies? Well, for starters, it’s a con job. In short, participating agents are telling customers that the add car/term life combo is cheaper than the add car alone. Is it any wonder that their life sales are skyrocketing?
It would be a great deal for consumers if it was true (and legal), but it’s not. Instead, it is a fraudulent sales practice.
Senior management would never approve of such behavior, but it seems there are some rogue managers eager to increase production at any cost – even if it leads to insurance department licensing troubles and/or terminations for those involved.
No worries, though. This deceitful sales tactic has been reported to the company via the Allstate Alert Line. Our expectation is that the company will soon address the issue.
It’s time to ride off into the sunset
After 21 years of working with NAPAA’s Board of Directors, it’s time for me to say good-bye. My term expires at the end of May, making this my final president’s message in Exclusivefocus.
I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some incredibly talented people over the years. It has been an honor to have known them and a privilege to serve with them.
I am happy to report that when my term ends, our directors will all be active Allstate agents. They are smart, dedicated and eager. I am confident that the future of your association is bright and in capable hands.
To our members: Thank you for your loyalty and support. Without you, NAPAA would not exist. For those of you who are not yet members, I hope you will join today.
Winter 2016-17 - Jim Fish
If you’re a newer Allstate agent, you may be wondering why you got into the insurance business. You may have even thought about quitting more than once. If this sounds familiar, I can assure you that those thoughts are normal for most agents.
The reality is that there are just as many reasons to go as there are to stay, especially in the early years when agents struggle financially. Some of the reasons for leaving are a lack of training and assistance, mediocre sales results, unrelenting production pressures, unrealistic quotas, unkept promises made by management, inflexible underwriting, uncompetitive rates, lack of family time, and a near-constant shortage of operating capital, just to name a few.
Truth be told, I considered leaving for many of the same reasons, but I knew if I worked hard, my efforts would eventually pay off – and they did. When I converted from employee agent to EA in 1994, I made some changes that many thought were risky and/or controversial. My marketing approach, for instance, promoted the Jim Fish Agency brand over the Allstate brand. Another was that I sought employees with no insurance experience because I didn’t want to inherit bad habits or negative baggage from other agencies.
Because I knew how hard and disheartening cold calling could be, I wanted to drive more phone quotes into the agency. In those days, Yellow Page advertising was king. And while I participated in Allstate display ads with other agents in my market, I also designed and purchased a full page nonAllstate Yellow Page ad for the Jim Fish Agency, and the response was incredible!
I also created non-Allstate direct mail pieces that included postage-paid quote request postcards. When the returned postcards arrived, I divided them amongst my producers. They loved them because the leads were better and fresher than other lead sources – and they were exclusive to our agency.
Before we go any further, I want to repeat the oft-cited adage, “It takes money to make money.” It is the absolute truth – provided, of course, you invest the time and energy needed make your investment succeed. Those return postcards, for example, would have been of little value if my producers hadn’t taken the time to contact them.
I firmly believe that an agent’s level of commitment to agency growth can be measured by the amount of time and money they squander vs. the amount of time and money they are willing to invest in their business. The question is: How badly do you want success? Rapid agency growth is highly unlikely without a credible action plan and a willingness to make sacrifices. If you’re serious about becoming rich and successful, it could mean temporarily giving up something you cherish, such as golf or the new car you were planning to buy.
As many of you know from personal experience, FSLs have a lot of suggestions about how you should spend your marketing dollars. When those ideas don’t work, they often find other ways to spend your money. Before you know it, you’ve either spent all your money, or you’ve finally learned not to listen to them anymore and have decided to build your own marketing strategy.
Here are a few suggestions that may help you succeed: First, stop listening to those who have either never sold insurance or who have limited insurance sales experience. Next, learn to believe in yourself. Sure, you’ll make some mistakes, but they’ll be yours and you’ll learn from them. Third, consider engaging in hobbies or causes that are beneficial for your agency. My hobby was developing advertising strategies for my agency. It allowed me to escape the everyday routine of running my agency, yet became an integral part of my success. My final suggestion is to be frugal when setting your own salary; take a minimum amount and wisely invest the rest into strategies that work for you and will grow your agency.
Like past generations of Allstate agents, current agents must find something that sets them apart from other agents in their market. For me, it was Yellow Pages and direct mail. Today, Yellow Pages are a thing of the past and our mailboxes – both physical and electronic – are overflowing with junk.
So what works in today’s world? My top choices include “cause” marketing and search engine optimization (SEO). Cause marketing can easily become a passionate hobby that grows your business while helping others. The Kindness Revolution ™ offers a great program for Allstate agents. It promotes kindness, a cause nearly anyone can get behind. To reach them call 404-384-6060 or send an email to email@example.com.
Improving search engine results is another key to driving more traffic into your agency and Captive Agent Profits can help. They can be reached at 888-347-8683 – be sure to ask about their special program for NAPAA members.
Fall 2016 - Jim Fish
My first stint as NAPAA President was from 2000 to 2003. During that period, NAPAA had a fantastic board of directors. We were eager and proactive, much like our current board. We were also a bit idealistic, thinking we would be able to effectuate a great many changes at Allstate. Apparently, the agency force thought so, too, as membership reached record levels.
In 2002, there was an independent labor movement underway that sought to unionize Allstate agents. While NAPAA was not part of the union effort, the company thought we were, because one member of our board was deeply involved with it.
NAPAA was about as active as it could be. Among other things, it challenged Allstate in court over several provisions of the EA contract, sought to ban the use of credit scoring, and attended annual Allstate Shareholder Meetings, where our board of directors took turns asking tough questions of then-CEO Ed Liddy. In 2002, my question turned into more than a dozen, which annoyed Mr. Liddy – despite the fact that they were legitimate agent and investor concerns. NAPAA was on a roll and membership continued to climb.
Allstate soon recognized that it was losing its grip over the agents, forcing it to reevaluate the way it dealt with them. The company decided that its first step would be to silence the leaders of the agent movement by terminating them.
The firings had a profound effect. Agents were stunned and angry, and the company found itself at a crossroads. Should it continue its policy of ironfisted control or lighten up and throw the agents a bone to quell the looming agent insurgency? To its credit, Allstate chose the latter by announcing the birth of the NAB, a company-sponsored advisory board. In retrospect, the creation of the NAB was an extraordinary move for a company whose longstanding ideology was that agents should be seen and not heard, and kept in their place.
Management boasted that the NAB would supplant NAPAA as the voice of the agent. Behind closed doors, however, skeptical managers feared that the agents’ newfound voice would lead to a loss of control, so they focused on how to structure the NAB to their advantage. Agents would not be allowed to nominate and elect their NAB reps; instead, Allstate handpicked them from a group of company stalwarts who would toe the company line. This plan gave Allstate a safety net and allowed it to boast that agents now had an “official” voice.
It is now over 13 years since the NAB was created. The agents who comprise the NAB and AEC have proven they aren’t pushovers. Many of them fight hard to make sure agents are treated fairly, which is not exactly what the company envisioned.
The other unexpected outcome is that NAPAA still exists, which is a good thing for the NAB and AEC because we help them stay relevant. Besides our publications, which often contain incisive content and calls to action, we are regularly contacted by the media for comments and opinions on Allstate issues – activities that are typically off limits to the NAB and AEC.
All of these add another layer of pressure on Allstate to do the right thing for its agents and customers. Clearly, if NAPAA did not exist, Allstate would be less accommodating, less receptive, and less eager to adopt the ideas and proposals of the NAB and AEC.
One of the things I’ve learned is that it is better to have an honest dialog than a shouting match. Since becoming NAPAA president again, I have rebuilt our board of directors, amended our bylaws, established meaningful committees, softened our rhetoric and adopted a more constructive approach to fixing problems. But there is always room for improvement. One of our main priorities is to give members more value. In today’s rough and tumble insurance market, agents are looking for ways to grow, which isn’t easy when corporate expects negative growth.
We know, for example, that search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to increasing quote traffic in your agencies. With that in mind, NAPAA has partnered with Captive Agent Profits, a company whose goal is to drive more business into agencies by improving search engine results. We think this opportunity is a win-win for agents who want to grow their agencies.
There is a lot to like about Captive Agent Profits: Their job is to help you get great results; they guarantee exclusivity when you sign up with them; there are no long-term contacts to fulfill; and they’re trustworthy to boot! Please go to pages 10-11 of this magazine to learn more about them and then consider giving them a try. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Summer 2016 - Jim Fish
Thirty years ago, I attended a regional payoff in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was on that trip that I met with two agents from my district to discuss moving into an agency together. They were both assigned to a booth in a local Sears store, and I was located in a company-owned Neighborhood Sales Office (NSO). In those days, Allstate agents were employees.
I wanted to relocate because I would have more freedom and less company oversight. John and Rose were itching to move from the booth into a more professional office setting. The catch was that we would all have to sign the Neighborhood Office Agent Agreement. Some of you will recall that NOA agents received an Office Expense Allowance (OEA), which was supposed to pay for most agency expenses.
Long story short, John and Rose jumped at the chance. Our combined OEAs would easily cover basic office expenses. By the time we left Mexico, the wheels were in motion and our new location soon became a reality.
The arrangement worked well, particularly for me, because I was the landlord and my tenants always paid the rent on time!
This partnership is how I really came to know John. I had never worked with him, but he was well-regarded by everyone in our market. I never heard anyone – agent, customer or manager – disparage him, which was the kind of reputation I was looking for in an office partner.
John wasn’t a big hitter, but his results were consistently above average. He could have easily been one of the top agents in the state, but that wasn’t a priority for him. Every now and then, however, he’d get excited about an award trip to a place he really wanted to go, and he made sure he earned it.
“Balanced” would be how I would describe him. John truly enjoys and embraces the finest things in life. I’m not talking about mansions or exotic cars, either; I’m talking about quality time with family and friends, and enjoying life to the fullest. His interests include fishing, hunting, biking, traveling, scuba diving, snorkeling, gardening, boating and getting the best deals possible. In other words, Allstate was not his sole priority in life, it was just one of many.
I’m the type who doesn’t respond well to authority. Ask me nicely, and I’m happy to oblige, but order me around, and it’s another story. John was a “roll with the punches” kind of guy. Rather than protest every single unreasonable management directive that came along, he picked his battles – and they were few and far between.
Some agents believe that management creates agent programs, rules and busywork solely to justify their existence. This belief helps stoke the fire of agent discontent. But if John ever got angry, you’d never know it. He understood – perhaps better than anyone – that most company programs end up in that giant compost heap of failed initiatives, so why worry about them?
John taught me some valuable lessons over the years. While I was knocking myself out to be number one, he was leading a rich, full life that included work, family, favorite hobbies and little stress.
Our business partnership lasted until I decided to convert to the EA contract in 1995. It only ended then because Allstate would not allow EAs and NOA agents to share office space. This saddened me, but it was the next logical step. I was unhappy with my employee status – mandatory meetings and mediocre agent programs, like QES, ADP, and BPS were a waste of my time and hindered my production. I was excited about the EA program, and I believed management when they said it would eliminate all the employee BS and grant me the freedoms I had long coveted.
The programs listed above riled me, but they didn’t seem to bother John. He took them all in stride – and they eventually disappeared, just as he had predicted. If I had learned more from him earlier in my career, I might have saved myself a great deal of anger and stress.
Admittedly, I haven’t yet completely mastered this philosophy, but I’m getting better at it. My advice: Shed the negative stressors in your life. Most of the programs you dislike will die on their own. Cry foul only when truly necessary, then rise to the occasion. Let minor irritants roll off you like water off a duck’s back – you’ll be happier, healthier and far less stressed.
Spring 2016 - Jim Fish
Many publications, including most local newspapers, welcome the perspectives of their readers and publish them on the opinion page or in the letters to the editor section. They do this to demonstrate impartiality and so that readers won’t get a lopsided view of the world. And while I disagree with some of the comments and opinions in my local paper, I’m not going to cancel my subscription because I was somehow offended by a letter to the editor. I also realize that letters and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, so why shoot the messenger?
Nearly everyone is guilty of negativity – no matter how positive they think they are. As we know, negativity can be an expression of pessimism or criticism. So when we disapprove of something, we often make critical comments. If we believe a company program is bound to fail, we’re being pessimistic. If we think the program is a stupid idea, we’re being critical. If we say it’s a stupid idea and that it’s sure to fail, we’re being both critical and pessimistic.
We are all guilty, including yours truly. If Aaron Rodgers were to throw a game-losing interception, I might curse a lot and stomp my feet. Contrast that with the sheer ecstasy I felt last December after he completed a 65-yard Hail Mary pass in the final seconds to beat Detroit. I’m still smiling.
Nowadays when Allstate does something that negatively affects its agents or customers, the bloggers valiantly raise their voices in protest, while many in the “silent majority” merely stand by nodding in support. A lot of energy is spent on such online agent forums, but I wonder what can be accomplished without money, staffing and an organizational structure. This is where NAPAA can help.
NAPAA does not simply hoot and holler about something without reason. Take Complimentary Group Rating (CGR) for example. NAPAA carefully examined Allstate’s voluminous CGR rate filing for the state of Wisconsin and concluded that Allstate’s version of price optimization lacks transparency and is not good for Allstate agents or customers. As a result, NAPAA began prodding state insurance regulators to outlaw the practice. Today, price optimization is being closely scrutinized by regulators, leading some to confirm the practice is in violation of existing regulations.
Yet despite the fact that NAPAA typically “looks before it leaps,” we are often regarded as negative by some agents. These folks are typically not NAPAA members. If they were, they would have the opportunity to sit on our board of directors and have a say about the direction of NAPAA. But they don’t appear to be seriously interested in solving the problems they say exist. Ironically, they criticize us for being negative, yet it is they who cannot seem to temper their remarks.
I joined NAPAA in 1993 because I passionately believed in its mission and in those who founded the organization. It was like a calling or a sense of duty for me. But more importantly, it gave me the opportunity to fight for the things I truly believe in, such as getting fair treatment for every Allstate agent – not just a select few.
Throughout my Allstate career, I reached out to others and shared my success secrets. I did this on a local, regional and national level. Following are a couple examples of what I mean. The first occurred years ago when management invited me to the Region to share my slightly complicated, but successful life presentation with the agency force. Some of those old-timers still thank me for helping them earn top awards. Then in 2001, I wrote “How to Advertise Like a Pro,” an article that was published in Exclusivefocus. Until then, agents thought they were only allowed to use company approved ads when advertising. My article turned that notion upside down by informing them that they didn’t need company approval for ads that did not contain Allstate logos, etc. or make references to Allstate products. At the time, it was a real eye-opener for the agents who were looking for ways to expand their reach by promoting their own unique brands. Today, it is common knowledge.
Helping others is a trait that is shared by everyone on our board and I am confident that each of them could tell similar stories based on their experiences.
Yes, sometimes we publish stuff that might not sit well with every reader. This is not intentional. Our goal is to provide you with the realities – good and bad – that face Allstate agents on a daily basis.
As for me, I’m not going to turn off the evening news. There is far too much at stake.
Until next time,
Winter 2015-16 - Jim Fish
Winter 2015 - 16
Having been around Allstate agents for dozens of years, I think I know them pretty well. For one thing, they don’t all think alike unless they are confronted with an issue that threatens their livelihoods. Even then, there are some who will disagree with the majority. But it is those in the vast majority that I write about today.
As an Allstate agency owner, you are part of group that is 10,000 members strong. This shared commonality makes you part of your own unique group. So when someone talks about Allstate agents, they are talking about you and your agent colleagues, regardless of your individual differences. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of being lumped together with your peer group.
To the outside observer, we look alike, think alike and behave alike. Only when they get to know us do their perceptions change, and even then, some of our customers won’t notice the differences that separate us. It seems they could care less who services their policy, even if it means seeking help from an Allstate call center. Somehow, they have concluded that all Allstate representatives are equal, perhaps because Allstate hires and trains them.
Generalizations can be way off the mark, which is certainly true in this instance. As an insider, it is easy to notice differences between Allstate agents. It is even possible to discern which agents stand out amongst their peers in terms of marketing savvy, product knowledge and innovation. It is also clear that they have differing ideas about the tactics the company employs to achieve its goals and about the products it offers, both of which have been called into question at times by the media, consumer groups, regulators and the agency force.
It is obvious to me that most agent criticism of the company is not done with malice, but rather out of a sincere and nearly universal love for the Allstate brand. Few agents, if any, want to tarnish the brand; what they want is for Allstate to be a good corporate citizen and a model for the industry – in every respect.
Watching all of the political maneuvering in the national news recently, I thought how strikingly similar the Allstate agency force is to American society. As we see in the ongoing political discourse in this country, there is a great divide between political candidates. Despite their differences, however, they all profess a profound love and respect for America and our way of life.
Love of country is truly our collective unifier. It’s hard to imagine life without it. That’s not to say we don’t have problems. These days, what Americans seem to detest most is Congress. Granted, it is an imperfect institution funded by our tax dollars, but it is also the vehicle that creates the laws of our land.
For the agents of Allstate, the vehicle that can best effect change is NAPAA. If we ever want to fix the issues that must be repaired, agents must be unified and strong. When NAPAA speaks, the press listens and so does Allstate, even though management won’t admit it. And while I mean no disrespect, the NAB and AEC are limited in what they can do and say. Sure, Allstate wants the representatives of these groups to believe they are participating in important decisions, but can those appointees really speak freely on your behalf or openly disagree with company policy? Are they able stand up and challenge company leaders at shareholder meetings or speak to the press with unfettered voices? No, they can’t... but NAPAA can.
Whether you love NAPAA or loath it, it is your agent association. And like Congress, NAPAA leadership is elected democratically by its members. But unlike Congress, NAPAA is not funded with taxpayer dollars; it is funded by membership dollars. To be most effective, we need our membership to grow. If you’re a NAPAA supporter and not yet a member, please get off the sidelines and into the game. We need your support. All it costs is $31 a month. I urge you to contribute your fair share by joining us today. Remember, your membership is confidential, and so are your contributions. Thank you for your support and best wishes in 2016.
Until next time,
Summer 2015 - Jim Fish
Welcome to NAPAA’s newly remodeled website.
While our new site is simpler and easier to navigate, we did not scrimp on quality or content. You will still find all of your favorite features and resources, but you will also notice some major improvements.
We are especially excited about the additional resources now available in the “Members Only” pages. Log-in and you’ll find new sections on Staff Compensation, Training and Employment Best Practices, Technology, Sales and Marketing, and Social Media. In addition, we’ve added even more pages to the already information-packed section on Buying and Selling Agencies. Besides these enhancements, we are committed to keeping our new website fresh by regularly adding new content so you will keep coming back for more.
2015 has been a busy year for NAPAA. Our new NAPAA National Advisory Council (NAC) held its inaugural meeting in January. The council is comprised of six active agents who hail from different regions of the country. They are sensible, thoughtful agents, who are sincere about making Allstate a better place for agents and customers. Like most Allstate agents, they are busy running their agencies, yet they still possess a strong desire to help their fellow agents. They also understand that NAC meetings are not for airing individual grievances, but rather to focus on “bigger picture” problems. They come to meetings well-prepared, and have developed a wish list of priorities that are in various stages of completion. The hope, of course, is to resolve these matters in a positive way for Allstate agents.
NAPAA has been busy making membership even more valuable, too. Soon we will be adding monthly webinars focusing on agency growth, and offering more discounts from nationally recognized vendors, including continuing education and pre-licensing classes for agents and staff. Watch DirectExpress newsletter for announcements, and be sure to log-in to the members-only section of this website to take advantage of these savings with special links and discount codes.
NAPAA is also expanding its social media reach, so be sure to visit us on Facebook and LinkedIn. You can also join the conversation on our popular Facebook discussion group for agency owners, where you can engage in some lively debates with your colleagues.
Until next time,
Spring 2015 - Jim Fish
The Sky is Not Falling... In spite of some difficult budgetary issues over the past few years, things are looking up for your agent association, especially in the overall disposition of our board of directors. A refreshing wave of enthusiasm and motivation has washed over the board, giving them a renewed sense of purpose. They are genuinely excited about the encouraging transformation NAPAA is undergoing.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, because we do. What has changed is the way we go about solving them. For the foreseeable future our primary concern will be budgetary. We’ve already made many hard choices, but there will be more to come. This means we must find ways to cut expenses even further, while simultaneously growing revenues. This does not mean raising membership dues; it means adding more members and developing other sources of income.
In case you haven’t noticed, NAPAA is in the throes of great change. It is important to me that both our members-at-large and board of directors are given every opportunity to improve NAPAA. No sensible new ideas are off the table. As a result, we are coming up with new ways for members to communicate their ideas and concerns to us. These are not always earth shattering revelations; instead, they are often minor tweaks that can make a difference.
One such idea is our new “Suggestion Box” feature in our member-only newsletter. Now, when a member has an idea or suggestion, they simply submit it via the suggestion box and it is forwarded to me. If it has merit, I take it to the entire board for consideration. Another idea we are implementing in the latest issue of Exclusivefocus is a new advice column we’re calling “Ask Lezlee.” Lezlee Liljenberg is a multiple Inner Circle Award winner and member of our board. If you have a business-related question that you are not sure how to handle, just email your question to HQ@napaaUSA.org.
At this point, I’ll point out that NAPAA officers and directors are not compensated, except for travel-related expenses they incur when attending face-to-face board meetings once or twice per year. To be clear, talking about our financial challenges is not about me running around shouting, “The sky is falling,” because it’s not. Instead, it is an effort to give our readers a better glimpse into the affairs of NAPAA.
I am not at all pessimistic about the fate of NAPAA. I am, in fact, quite optimistic about our future. Yes, we must make some very difficult decisions in the coming months, but I believe our board of directors will step up to meet these challenges. And once we’ve finished the hard work, NAPAA will be stronger and more vibrant than ever. If you are a nonmember reading this message, I hope you will decide to be a part of the only organization looking out for the best interest of the Allstate agent. Become a NAPAA member today… we need your support.