Gillis, Ellis & Baker

Gillis, Ellis & Baker | Insurance Business America

Gillis, Ellis & Baker
IBA: In general, what have been some of the biggest challenges your agency has faced in recent years?
Parke Ellis:
The obvious one is overcoming Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was a challenge from a claims standpoint; every single one of our clients had a claim. The city was a wreck – we couldn’t get to our office, and we had to work from another city. That will always be a challenge for us; our entire life in New Orleans is now viewed as pre- and post-Katrina.

Today, our biggest challenge is perpetuation. We get a lot of phone calls from a lot of interested buyers that are looking to acquire a solid agency. Our commitment to remaining independent has led us to hire nine young producers over the past five years in an attempt to develop [the next generation of ownership].

IBA: What is Gillis, Ellis & Baker’s process when working with clients?
PE: One of the things we learned from Katrina is that getting it right is more important than getting it cheap. We began to structure our sales process around helping clients understand what their insurance policy really provides them.

As such, we have a pretty detailed audit process that we put our prospects through. They share with us complete information: financial data, copies of policies, loss runs and more so we can make assessment of their current insurance program. At the end of the audit, they get back a report that gives them our view of how we would provide and manage their coverage. There are seven steps in our process: introduction, information, evaluation, planning, signing on, management and assessment. Since we started this process 10 years ago, it has significantly increased our hit ratio on the prospects we file proposals with.

IBA: How does your agency approach training and education?
PE:
When we hire new producers, we generally hire in pairs. While each new producer is also paired with a senior producer to help them learn the ropes, we want new producers to be able to rely on each other as they are going through the learning and training process.

We also have a series of seminars for our clients and prospects called GEB University, which covers different topics monthly. Each topic is presented and led by a team that includes young producers, so it really puts them in a position where they have to stand up in front of a group and talk about technical topics. To do so, they must understand the coverage well enough to explain the topic to a group of people, and that can get a little nervewracking for the young producers. But by doing this, it has dramatically improved their presentation skills, has made them better on their feet and has helped them understand the technicalities of different policies.

IBA: How has being an Assurex Global Partner benefited your business?
PE:
Assurex is a corporation owned by shareholders throughout the US and internationally, from London to Shanghai and beyond. We are by no means one of the largest agencies in Assurex, but being a partner has allowed us to sit down on a regular basis throughout the year with some of the largest and best-run independent agencies in the country and hear how they are doing things and incorporate that information into what we are doing here in New Orleans. Because there are so many partners around the world, we have a network of partners we can reach out to if we ever have an issue or question regarding a different nation’s regulation or coverage we may not be familiar with.

IBA: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your 36 years in the business?
PE:
The thing that has resonated most for me is that I do much better when I don’t sell insurance, and instead really help people buy insurance. I know that sounds like semantics, but for me, selling means I will go into the boxing ring with fi ve or six other agents and slug it out, and whoever comes out with the best price or product is going to get the business. I would much rather go talk to a client and say, “I would like to consult with you on your current insurance program and help you make better decisions as an insurance buyer.” For me, helping people buy insurance is better than just trying to sell a policy.