In this interview, a bilingual insurance agent of six years tells us what it’s like selling insurance products to business owners in her largely Hispanic community, and why she found it’s not a good idea to work with family.
What is your job title?
Commercial Insurance Agent
Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
On a typical day, I reply to emails and phone calls, work on commercial files that are set to renew, and handle account servicing (issuing certificates, following up on quotes, reminding clients of payments).
What is your ethnicity? How has it hurt or helped you?
I am Latino from Central America. It has helped me since I live in a community where the percentage of Hispanics is very high. Customers usually relate to me more and feel more comfortable because I am Latin.
What languages do you speak? How has speaking another language helped you?
I speak both Spanish and English. Spanish has helped me in communicating with our Hispanic clients since most of them only speak Spanish or understand very little English. Knowing another language helped me get this job when there were a lot of people applying, so language skills are incredibly important.
What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
Competition is very fierce in this field. There are a lot of insurance agencies trying to get the business, but I learned that customer service goes a long way, and it helps to retain the business.
The first agency I worked for was more focused on selling than providing good customer service and follow-through, which we call “account servicing,” so we used to lose a lot of clients each month because they got upset—we couldn’t give them the time and help they wanted since my boss required us to invest our time cold calling and selling.
When I was working for the family, I asked for a raise I felt I deserved; basically, I was running the agency by myself and was making very little money considering the duties I had, and I knew that a person with my experience, duties, and qualifications could make a lot more. My uncle couldn’t do it so I started looking for another job. Working with family is just not a good idea in my experience. I am glad for the experience and opportunity he gave me, but handling business dealings with family members can be difficult.
What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
They don’t teach customer service and how to treat clients individually in each case. You can’t treat all your clients the same because they are not the same, and their cases are all unique. It is something that I learned in practice.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
My uncle needed help in his agency and at the time I was out of a job. I wouldn’t change anything about how I came to this career because it got me to where I was as well as in commercial insurance, which is the industry and field that I love.
On a good day, when things are going well, what’s happening and what do you like about it?
On a good day, we have a lot of policies to bind and sell, and I get to visit the clients and talk to them about their business and how to protect their assets. I like teaching them about insurance and clarifying any misinformation, too.
When everything goes wrong, what’s happening and what do you dislike?
One of the worst scenarios is when there is a claim but a miscommunication between the company and client arises. Companies tend to be black and white, and they don’t like to take the time to talk to the client and listen to what is going on. That’s when the client calls me and is upset, and I have to try to be the mediator so that the client gets the coverage they have paid for and can leave the situation with a satisfactory outcome.
What is your favorite part of your job? What areas do you struggle in or wish you could avoid?
Account servicing is my favorite part. This involves talking to clients, listening to their needs or problems, and arriving at a solution that works for both the client and my agency.
Although I don’t struggle with them, I don’t like dealing with claims and avoid them when I am able to.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
I do not find my job to be stressful at all. I would say 98 percent of the time I am able to maintain a good work-life balance.
What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
On average, insurance agents make approximately $20 -35 an hour. I believe I am not paid enough since I do a lot of extra work, but I like my work environment and the fact that there is no pressure and I get to work in a peaceful place. No quotas, no stress. So it’s a balance between work happiness and OK pay. I prefer this arrangement to making great money in a very stressful environment.
What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
The most rewarding part is when customers refer me to another customer and say that I take excellent care of them. I feel that I’ve done my job because my customer is happy and taken care of as well as comfortable and confident enough in my ability to refer me to someone else.
I am most proud of being the «go-to girl» for almost everything anyone may need at my agency. People like coming to me for advice or when they are stuck with a problem. I like the feeling of helping others and knowing I can. If I can’t help them, I feel bad and like I am not a good co-worker.
What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
The most challenging case was when someone thought I didn’t know what I was talking about or didn’t understand anything about their business because I was young and they thought I didn’t have any experience. I always keep that experience in my mind because it pushes me to make sure I excel at what I do and reminds me to always demonstrate a high level of professionalism and expertise.
I don’t have any moments I want to forget because I’ve learned from all of them.
What advice might you have for students entering the workforce?
If you don’t strive to learn every day you are just one of the pack, doing what you have to get buy. Today, employers are looking for more than a pretty face and someone who only does the bare minimum. They want someone who will help their business grow, not just maintain it.
What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You need to be proactive, have great communication skills, be friendly, know your product, and have complete knowledge of what you are doing. If you don’t, the client will sense it and feel you can’t take care of them and their needs.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Don’t think it is easy money. It’s a lot of work and preparation.
How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I try not to take too much vacation, maybe a week a year. I like working. I feel like I need to be here to keep things running. When I do take time off, I feel everything has fallen apart in my absence and then I need to work even harder to fix it.
I feel the time I take off is enough, but my husband doesn’t agree. He says I work too much and worry about it too much and should enjoy more time away.
Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
That we are in this industry to make a buck out of everyone. Yes, insurance is about selling something; however, when I tell a client about a type of coverage, it is because I am thinking about how to protect my client from losing everything or getting sued out of something that could’ve been protected or preventable. I’ve heard so many stories about my clients being sued before I met them, and how they lost their whole life in a situation where they could have been protected with the proper insurance. I suggest products out of concern for the well being of my clients and their businesses, not just to increase my earnings.
If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to have my own agency or possibly partner up with someone. It would enjoy making decisions on how to run the business and would have the opportunity for greater earnings.
Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences?
I am not sure if it’s unique to me, but acquiring as much knowledge as possible on numerous topics will help you a lot. My skills, experience, knowledge of how companies are run, and general business processes has been helpful as well.