Ben D. Smith‘s foray into insurance started when he realized banking was not the long-term career for him, shortly out of college. With his finance degree from Texas Tech University and his prior business experience, he decided to pursue a production-minded insurance role.
Twenty-five years later, Smith now serves Higginbotham Insurance & Financial Services as managing director for the firm’s McAllen, Texas office – covering everything from managing the daily local operations to attending to the needs of his own clients.
Insurance Business reached out to Smith to learn more about his career philosophy and his industry insights. In this interview, he shares how the internet is changing the way insurance businesses are dealing with their clients. He also talks about how he wants to change the way some carriers advertise and promote themselves.
IB: Have you seen any significant or notable changes in the industry or in your line of work from when you started?
Smith: Almost everything - computers, online rating systems versus manual rating books and rating by hand; fax machines versus emails and scans; working in an office versus working at home options; hard copy photos being developed and mailed versus Google searches at a moment’s notice.
The only thing that has not changed (within my office/experience) is the client service expectation and the importance of one-on-one communication with our clients. I hope that never changes because it is the best part of my job and some of my clients have become my closest friends.
Technology has been great and enabled us to do our jobs easier (in most cases) but at the end of the day interaction with our clients/prospects still gets my juices going and that’s the best part of my job.
IB: What do you think are the most challenging issues facing the insurance industry and your line of work today?
Smith: I think the continued speed of social media and the use of the internet is a challenge in respects to how to use, how to adapt, and to how we do our business today versus what methods have been used in the past. Our buyers’ and clients’ thinking and how they want to do business is changing and our industry needs to keep up and look for ways to accommodate that change in behavior while still being thorough, ethical and responsible.
I also worry about a lack of younger folks not looking at our business as a viable career (at any level or position within). I think most would be shocked at the potential - both monetarily as well as the opportunities - that will present themselves in the very near future within our industry and now is
the time to position themselves to move up the ranks as an older insurance workforce retires or moves on.
It appears that may not be happening, and our industry needs to do a better job of telling our story and to convey the great opportunities and careers available to them.
IB: If you had the power to change one thing about the insurance industry, what would you change?
Smith: To change the way that some of our carriers within our industry advertise and promote themselves and our industry. I strongly believe that independent agents within our industry provide great value to our clients/policyholders, especially in a time of need or loss, an unfortunate peril or when Mother Nature reminds us who is in charge.
I think some within our industry, that are looking to simply grow at all costs or advertise as being a simple commodity, don’t relay that same message - “$10 cheaper” or only a “click away” is not always the best route to go, or maybe never, in my opinion.
I think some of the marketing campaigns either minimize or ignores the great things our industry professionals do for others when bad or unfortunate events do take place. At that point I don’t think the initial “$10 bucks cheaper” or the “simple click” they enjoyed prior means all that much or is even on their minds at that point (in a positive way) if the product or service they receive after the fact doesn’t match up to the unfortunate event or expectation for why they bought the policy in the first place.
IB: What are the three most important qualities for someone to thrive in the insurance industry?
Smith: Be ethical and honest. Work hard while being persistent yet patient. Always work to fulfill and service our clients’ needs and expectations to what is right for them, no matter what.
IB: What do you love the most about your current organization? What makes it different from other firms in the same space?
Smith: Higginbotham collaborates as one cohesive firm with one unifying mission: To exceed the expectations of our clients, employees, carriers and communities in a partnership to deliver a single source for insurance and financial services. We share a common vision, not only in the McAllen office but within all our offices within the State of TX and OK. And that is: To become the leading insurance and financial services broker in our town, region, or what we call “the best in Texas and beyond.”
IB: Please tell us briefly about your role in your company.
Smith: I currently am the managing director for the McAllen, TX office. I split my time between running the day to day local operations from a management standpoint as well as managing and servicing a fairly large sized book of business/clients of my own.
I am very fortunate to have a team of 20+ local associates whom I rely on heavily and whom are some of the hardest working professionals within my industry that I know not only locally but
statewide as well. I also have a wealth of knowledge at my disposal within our entire firm as we are all partners in the truest sense within all of Higginbotham.
IB: Please tell us about your role at CAMP University.
Smith: I am a board member at CAMP University. We provide opportunities for continued life and social skills training for special education graduates from high school (and beyond) and provide a respite for their families.
IB: If you could witness one event (past, present or future) what would it be?
Smith: To have dinner in Mt. Crested Butte, CO at our home at #51 Paradise Road, with all sitting at the same dinner table that includes my mom and dad (deceased) as well as my two brothers, our wives, our children, and all the grandchildren (that includes some great grandchildren) all talking and laughing about the fishing or skiing that we did that day. Would be a heck of a large table but we would squeeze in!
IB: What are your passions or hobbies outside insurance?
Smith: Love to travel to different places with my wife. I love to send my daughters, who both live and attend schools in other states, short quick hand written notes on a weekly basis delivered by the US mail. I also enjoy gold, hunting, and fishing.