Do You Need an Agency Manager?

December 15, 2014 by and

Congratulations! You are an excellent salesperson and your business is growing. You first hired a customer service representative (CSR) to support you as you added new business. You might have brought on a part-time bookkeeper. Sales continued to grow. Next, you hired a personal lines agent to close those sales calls that keep coming in. You close your eyes, take a deep breath and all of a sudden you have five, seven, or even 10 or more employees. You have a thriving business. What now?

You still like sales. You enjoy the interaction with your clients. It is still enjoyable when a marketing rep tries to schmooze you. Although frustrating, you get a sense of accomplishment when the underwriter sees things your way.

But wait. Are you already stretched too thin handling your own clients and cannot find the time to effectively manage your agency? What about picking a 401(k) plan administrator? Remember to notify the state about the new employee. Why can’t those salespeople manage themselves? Do your eyes glaze over when you are looking at your business’s financials? Do you feel like you are just putting out fires and not actually “managing” your business?

There might come a time in the lifecycle of your agency when either the size and complexity of your agency are beyond your capability, or you just are not that good at managing a business. It is OK. You are not expected to do it all. There comes a time when you will need professional help to manage your business.

Your first inclination might be to promote that seasoned CSR to manage the staff. Sometimes that works. But usually, the agency’s best CSR is now not working with clients, but instead handling management duties and administrative work (and usually becomes frustrated). Often, the management of the business will still not be handled unless you do it. Or you might dump all the management onto the bookkeeper to handle. Unfortunately, they usually don’t have the same passion for the business that you have.

There comes a time when you need to hire someone to focus on the management of the entire business — an agency manager.

An agency manager is someone that will oversee all of the strategic functions of the agency, such as the management of the firm’s finances, oversee the in-house office operations, supervision of employees, manage and track the sales team, assist in implementing agency marketing plans, oversee IT and all business operations in accordance with standard business practices.

The agency manager works with and supports the agency principals to define priorities, develops teamwork among members, and helps lead the agency in fulfilling its mission of serving the insurance and risk management needs of your clients. The agency manager will systemize the management of your business, so that you will be able to manage more with less effort and in less time. The agency manager handles the management roles that the owners do not have the time or desire to handle.

Who is an Ideal Agency Manager?

First, they should have experience working in an insurance agency. It does not matter the role, but they need to have seen what goes on in an insurance agency. Next, they need to have great (not OK) time-management. Time is more valuable than money and they leverage their time exceptionally well throughout each day. This means they have attention for detail, while keeping their eye on the big picture.

They focus on the staff and customers. They know it is not about them. They understand people and what motivates them. A great manager will take the time to learn about the people on their team and their values. The bottom-line is that they have great interpersonal skills and great communication skills.

It is important that they are effective delegators. They cannot try to do it all themselves, or, dump it all onto the staff. Instead they delegate with a proactive thought process that is empowering for staff members, while reserving the true management tasks for themselves.

They are consistent in how they handle issues. They do what is right each and every time. Employees become rightfully indignant when a manager applies varying sets of rules. This behavior caused low morale and employees will push to be the exception to the rule. A great agency manager will be clear and consistent in their management approach.

Finally, agency managers must have a solid understanding of the financial aspects of the business. They must appreciate and establish appropriate financial objectives that are consistent with the agency’s overall profitability goals. They also must be able to set and monitor budgets, monitor and document progress, and implement changes as needed.

It is not easy to find such a person. It’s important not to look at where a candidate has been, or what roles they had. Instead, focus on their personality and their skills. Look at their character traits. It is better to have someone with the ideal temperament and let them learn on the job than to have someone with the “right” experience, but poor execution of the job.

Other Options

In some cases, it might make sense for the owners to still retain some of the management and bring in a part-time agency manager.

The agency might not be big enough to justify hiring a full-time person to run the business. Oak & Associates has developed a program called Virtual Agency Manager, which is a service to provide guidance and prioritization to managing your business. This service focuses on the agency management tasks that would otherwise slip through the cracks in your agency.

Summary

As a business owner, you should focus on what you do best. Most owners are the firm’s best producers and growth is also very important. The key is in order to run your business, like a business, you need to have qualified people handling all the various tasks. The astute business owner will recognize the point where they need assistance in managing the business. So, in order to be successful, you might find you will need to do less management and hire someone else to fill in the gaps.

Financial Management

  • Oversee the agency bookkeeping.
  • Establish and maintain fiscal responsibility for annual budget.
  • Establish and maintain systems and procedures to provide accounting controls over assets, liabilities, revenue and expenses.
  • Approve expense accounts and spending.
  • Enforce agency credit terms.
  • Approve expenditures.
  • Provide leadership in developing organizational and financial plans with the agency principals.

Operational Management

  • Develop standards, procedures, guidelines for effective processing of all lines of business.
  • Establish policies and procedures to provide administrative support services in an economical, uniform and timely manner.
  • Develop and maintain a high-caliber management staff to ensure continuity of effective agency operations in a natural progression for all key positions.
  • Develop a staff and producer training plan, including authorizing staff to attend seminars and classes for knowledge and skill development.
  • Hire, promote and fire agency employees.
  • Approve agency payroll increases with standards and guidelines.
  • Coordinate and control all bulletins to producers and staff.
  • Approve job charter and organizational changes.
  • Oversee personnel operations with the support of agency’s human resources consultant to maintain state and federal compliance.

Improved Automation Usage

  • Supervise onsite computer network consultant.
  • Streamline use of computers so that the service and sales staff use similar functions.
  • Improve reports and their usage.

Sales Management

  • Assist with market relationships and placement of business.
  • Oversee producer activity and sales results.
  • Create sales activity and performance reports.
  • Develop an operating plan with market analysis forecast/budget and objectives for improvement and continuing analysis of the agency.