As cliché as it may sound, life is certainly a journey of ups and downs – an idea Christina Keele has proven as she discovered her calling in insurance.
Like most of the people who end up in the industry, Keele fell into the world of insurance by accident. However, her over 15 years of experience in the industry would not have been possible if she was not forced to leave her previous job due to unforeseen circumstances.
Prior to entering insurance, Keele worked in the retail industry. When the business she was working for decided to close, she didn’t consider working for an insurance firm.
Yet as fate would have it, one of her friends referred her to Russo Insurance Agency, a family-owned and operated insurance business. It did not take that long until she decided to walk into the firm's office, hand in her resume, and speak with the owner. On that very same day, she got the job as a personal lines agent and claims coordinator.
Fast forward to today, Keele is a producer and operations manager of the Russo Insurance Agency. Aside from supporting her clients, she also facilitates board trainings, board meetings and lunch & learn seminars. Through the years, she has been exposed to different areas of the industry and gained multiple designations: a property & casualty brokers license and a community insurance risk management specialist license, and now she is currently gunning to obtain a risk management designation to further her expertise.
Insurance Business recently reached out to Keele to know more about her work. In this exclusive interview, she shares how the influx of new agents is a concern for the industry.
Tell us briefly about your company and its role in the insurance industry. What makes it different from other companies in the same space?
Russo Insurance Agency is a family owned and operated business. We are a full service agency that specializes in common interest developments aka homeowners’ associations. We insure over 600 communities between California, Nevada, Utah, North Carolina and Colorado. We’re heavily involved with Community Association Institute (caionline.org) in our local chapter. Our owner Rick Russo has served several terms on the board and has been president twice. I am currently serving on the board and am president elect for 2019.
What is your philosophy in life? How do you apply that in your career as an insurance professional?
While insurance can be a very lucrative career, it is also extremely stressful at times. I’m a perfectionist and a people pleaser. If my client isn’t happy, I’m not happy, so I strive to ensure that their demands are met to the best of my ability. This is a relationship industry. People can buy an insurance policy online now! It is the agent who makes a difference, and helping people is what makes me truly love what I do.
What do you think are the most challenging issues facing the insurance industry today?
This is a hard question. One of the things that concerns me the most is the influx of new agents that are entering the market, with little experience and a quota to make. They don’t have the knowledge or experience to assist their clients and it can really give customers a bad feeling about the insurance industry. It is so important to find an agent who is well versed in the insurance language and specializes in the type of coverage you are trying to purchase.
What are your hopes for the insurance industry moving forward?
That we make the insurance licensing more stringent and education based. We need people who truly know how to protect their customers to help avoid gaps in coverage and, most importantly, truly protect their assets. If you’re going for the cheapest policy in the market, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have the coverage you need.
If you had the power to change one thing about the insurance industry, what would you change?
I would change the advertising for customers from price to protection. Too many commercials and carriers push for price. The problem is, when the customer chases the bottom line, they’re left out in the cold. Agents should be performing liability exposure evaluations with their customers to ensure they have the correct limits. I also don’t think that insureds should be able to purchase their own coverage online based on price and no recommendations! That is a truly scary prospect. If we need a license to explain coverage, an insured should not be expected to determine what level of coverage they need as individuals. How are they to know what they need in order to protect themselves? Insurance is like another language and you must be well-versed in order to apply the coverage properly.
Please tell us about your involvement with Mustard Seed Spin.
Mustard Seed Spin was a 501C3 non-profit that ended in 2016. They were a true non-profit who ran on unpaid volunteers only. The creator, Victoria Akins, who is an amazing woman, started the spin to raise money for the homeless children in Sacramento who attend the Mustard Seed School. The spin event was also those children’s one opportunity to ride a bike! Some of the children had never owned a bike. So, for one day, they were like any other child. The children from the school also got a free bike that was restored by Cycles for Hope. It was a truly magical three years volunteering for the spin and two on the board.
What are your passions or hobbies outside insurance?
I’m a very active person. If I’m not at home with my dogs and cat, you can find me at the gym, on my bicycle, out at the shooting range, driving range, on my motorcycle or training for a fitness competition. I like to be adventurous and always have a goal to work towards. I travel as much as I can to see other places and experience other cultures (and FOOD!).