Education a Priority for Outgoing IIAT Executive Director
Texas’ and the nation’s largest state level independent insurance agents’ association is about to lose its long-time executive director, but David VanDelinder plans to continue working with agents and agencies in an educational role.
VanDelinder has been executive director of the Independent Insurance Agents of Texas since 2002 and was director of education for the organization for 20 years before he took the leadership position at the IIAT.
He was a high school teacher and coach in North Carolina when he decided to concentrate on adult education and entered the world of insurance. He worked for seven years as education director at the Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina before taking over that role in Texas.
VanDelinder says he “was captured immediately by adult education work. I found it very interesting and a lot of fun.”
In the following interview with Insurance Journal, VanDelinder discusses his work with IIAT, the importance of education in the insurance business, and more.
Insurance Journal: What have you enjoyed most about your career with IIAT and in the insurance industry?
David VanDelinder: It’s such a learning-intensive business. It’s very complex, probably more complex than any sales business that I can imagine. You have adults who, in order to advance their career, need to learn and continue learning. It’s been a challenge and a lot of fun to work with people on that basis. I’m probably most proud of and enjoyed most my work in the education area. I hope to go back to some teaching before I’m done entirely.
IJ: With a focus on adult education?
VanDelinder: Yes, training agency staff on insurance, policy information, and customer service. Those issues.
IJ: How is the industry, and especially the independent agency system, different now from when you first became involved?
VanDelinder: When I first got in this business, the first thing I was told by someone in the association business with the independent agents is that the small agent was dead. There was not room for that person in the economic environment any longer. That was 1975. Here we are almost 40 years later and the small agent is thriving.
There are different models for accessing markets out there than there used to be, such as aggregators, clusters and working through general agencies, but the small agent is far from dead. It’s interesting that that’s been predicted for so long and has never come to pass.
IJ: The IIAT initiated some years ago its small agent conference, which seems to have gone over quite well.
VanDelinder: Yes, it has. This is a very fertile business. It’s not too difficult to enter this business today. It’s a pretty low-cash investment threshold to get involved. For that reason, we continue to get new people coming into the business, and needing to grow their knowledge of the business and their production.
I don’t know many small businesses left where that opportunity exists. I don’t think the small agent is going away. I think we’ve seen a change in some of the economic models as to how they work and how they access insurance carriers. But they still have a strong hold on a lot of business, at least in this country.
That’s very fulfilling to me. In an environment where big business calls the shots so often in our economy to be associated with a lot of small business people around the state has been very rewarding.
IJ: Do you see any trends? Obviously, you mentioned the aggregators, the clusters and things — any other trends in the future for the agency system?
VanDelinder: I think consolidation is going to continue in this business because of the importance of accessing markets. Certainly, the technology trend is impacting our business.
I would say the two big challenges facing independent agents going forward, one is to maintain the basis for their business in the first place, which has been close personal relationships, person-to-person business at the local level. As these agencies consolidate, they need to be sure they’re maintaining their sense of local business that made the independent agents so successful.
Second is technology developments. Agents have to have a presence online and be effective at dealing with customers online. Making sure customers can access all the services and information they need through the agency website.
Our national association, a few years ago, got involved with providing an online presence for independent agents called trustedchoice.com. That’s an important piece of the puzzle, but I think agents individually have to develop their own websites to serve customers going forward, even in small towns.
IJ: The IIAT recently acquired an MGA, LevelFirst, and established its own MGA, IIAT Services MGA. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?
VanDelinder: Right now, it’s a non-admitted resource for our members.
We’ve been offering personal lines markets to our small agent members for over two decades. We’ve done that with carriers willing to work with us to aggregate the premium from these agencies that they’re not willing to provide direct contracts with. Once that agency develops enough business, they spin off with a direct contract with that carrier and no penalty from us for leaving the program.
That’s been the model we’ve built in personal lines. The request we get most often from members today is for a small commercial market that they can access on a similar basis. We were unable to do that with the current model we have. Most insurance companies wanted to see some evidence, the back office operation in order to provide a market for small commercial business for these agents who don’t have enough volume to get their own contracts.
That was the primary motivation behind acquiring a true MGA. We could have built that internally but it made more sense at this time, and with this offer, to purchase LevelFirst for that purpose. We do not see this as providing significant competition for our other good general agency friends out there.
Agents work with general agents largely because of the ease of doing business and the expertise of their personnel. Ownership of a general agency is not going to make a big difference to retail agents wanting to place business. We want to use this facility to assist the small agent in growing his business in this state.
IJ: What do you think is the reaction of other wholesalers?
VanDelinder: I think there’s concern there. There’s a legitimate concern. We have a non-profit trade group basically getting into the wholesale insurance business. Our intent is, by no means, to compete directly with the very good general agencies in this state. Instead, build a unique model that serves the small members of our organization.
IJ: You mentioned that you intend to keep being involved in insurance education. Is that through IIAT?
VanDelinder: Yes, partly, and some other resources that I’m exploring. I would like to get back to teaching. I enjoyed that. Little bit rusty on my insurance knowledge, but I’ve got good experts here to help me get caught up.
Listen to the podcast interview with David VanDelinder at https://www.insurancejournal.tv/.