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How to succeed after selling your insurance agency

Selling your insurance agency is a big decision. In this episode of IBTV, Bethan Moorcraft chats to four agency principals who sold their businesses to PCF Insurance, a top 20 US brokerage firm powered by an expansive network of Agency Partners. The panellists – Donnette Mayer, president, Universal Business Insurance; Seth Zaremba, CEO, Zinc; Art Martinez, president, Insurance Associates of the Triad; and Blake Izatt, principal, RBI Benefits – explain what they were looking for in a partner, why maintaining the legacy brand is so important, and how agencies can leverage networks, like PCF Insurance, to their benefit.

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Bethan: [00:00:37] Hi everyone, and welcome to IBTV. I'm Bethan Moorcraft, senior editor at Insurance Business. And in this episode we're tackling a very important topic, given the hyperactive M&A environment in recent years, which is how to succeed after selling your insurance agency. Today, I'm joined by four agency principals who are chatting about their own experiences of selling their agencies and shed some insights on the do's and don'ts for post acquisition success. Today's panelists all share one thing in common. They sold to PCF Insurance, a top 20 US insurance brokerage powered by an expansive network of agency partners. I'm delighted to welcome Donnette Mayer, president of Universal Business Insurance. We have Seth Zaremba, the CEO of Zinc. We have Art Martinez, president of Insurance Associates of Triad. And Blake Izatt, principal of RBI benefits. It's great to have you on the show. Now, insurance agents and brokers are in high demand in the M&A marketplace. As an agency principal, what were you looking for in a partner when selling your agency? Seth, I'm going to come to you first. 

Seth: [00:02:01] Yeah. You know, I felt like we had only served one side of our client base, mostly the property and casualty side. And I felt like there was this whole other side of our client base that we wanted to unlock and give much more of an omnichannel experience, offer things that we had never done before, maybe provide services that we'd never had access before. And so we were looking for someone who would bring that kind of resources to us and allow us to be better for our clients. And I guess in a short way of saying it, you know, I felt like we were playing on a public golf course for most of our career, and I really wanted to get into a country club. I wanted to be on a course with fellow agents that were motivated, that were driven, and that had resources that we could both learn from and bring to our client base. And so finding the right fit for that was a really big part of my decision. 

Bethan: [00:02:47] Thanks, Seth. I like that analogy. Art, what were you looking for? 

Art: [00:02:51] Yeah, so Bethan I was looking for a true strategic partner. So I'm 42 years old. I was 42, and we partnered with PCF, and I felt like our agency, we were hitting our stride. But I saw you're close to hitting our ceiling. And so what I was looking at or for was somebody who could help us break through the ceiling and provide capacity for our team and allow us to do the things that we're good at or the things that we're great at and the things that we love to do. So an example is we're already fully integrated with PCF Shared Services Department, and they've taken on our accounting. And so now I have the accounting clerk who had been with our agency for 32 years and has been in insurance for that long. Now she is selling and servicing insurances versus paying payroll, paying bills, accepting account payables, and she's allowed now to do things that she loves and is that she's great at. 

Bethan: [00:03:49] That's, that's really great to hear. Blake, anything to add from your perspective? 

Blake: [00:03:55] Oh, Bethan we were looking for growth. We were looking for the opportunity to go after larger clients, which requires us to be even better service and also to have the ability to say to to a client, yes, we have the resources. Recently, we we closed a 900 employee group. Our largest previously was 300. So we we feel really good about the opportunity to collaborate the resources. And that was our primary purpose was to maintain who we are, but have the ability to collaborate with solid team members. And we've got that. 

Bethan: [00:04:38] Yeah, that's great to hear. And Donnette, what went into that decision for UBI?  

Donnette: [00:04:45] It was really about gaining resources, maintaining our autonomy and preserving our legacy. You know, we were acquired during COVID. And if you couple that with an aging industry and a tight labor market, we had to be really thoughtful about the level of disruption for our staff. And PCF clearly made that happen. 

Donnette: [00:05:02] So you mentioned maintaining your legacy there Donnette. I want to kind of stick with that idea. Why do you think it's important to maintain the legacy brand? 

Donnette: [00:05:13] You know, I think it's our industry often breeds family oriented and operated agencies, and our story is really no different. My father started this agency 32 years ago with one carrier appointment and two partners. About five years ago, he had a massive stroke. So overnight he had retired. So it was really important for us to carry on and maintain his legacy outward. Outwardly, our clients had no idea that we had changed, but inwardly our process and procedures remain consistent. So PCF again helped us maintain the consistency inside our operation and as well as to our clients. 

Bethan: [00:05:55] Thanks to Donnette and Art, why was that important for insurance associates of the child? 

Art: [00:06:01] Yeah, our story's a little similar, but then. So our agency dates back where we've been in our community and serving our community for 73 years. And the actual roots date back to the mid thirties and it took a lot of time and a lot of hard work to build that goodwill and the value that that our community gets from doing business with our organization. And what I love is that our founder and CEO, he has experienced that. He understands what it takes to start an agency from nothing and build that goodwill and build that trust and loyalty. And that is why we have the autonomy that we have as PCF partners. 

Bethan: [00:06:43] And Seth, what are your thoughts on maintaining the legacy? 

Seth: [00:06:48] Yeah, it takes time to get to the point where you're having these conversations. And I liken it to like a race car. It takes a lot of years to set up a race car and it's not all just horsepower. You've got to get the motor right, You've got to get the chassis right, you got to get the drivers right. And so an engine swap just taking out the heart of the agency, taking the name out, taking all the things that go with it, the people, the culture, all the things that you've said to your customers, that means so much to you and them and just pulling it out and putting something in and expecting it to win, it just doesn't make any sense. And frankly, you don't you don't see it go too well. And so the PCF model that says, Hey, listen, we value all of that stuff that you built. We value the years of setup that you've put in to that operation, and we want to supercharge it, not not swap it out. That that meant a lot to me. And I think it probably means a lot to independent agents.

Bethan: [00:07:38] Yeah, I bet it does. Blake, I know this meant a lot to you at RBI Benefits. So can you tell me a bit about your journey in this way? 

Blake: [00:07:48] Yes. Well, the legacy brand goes back for us 20 years and we built a culture that we we liked. Our clients liked it. Our clients are like family. We specialize in small, medium sized clients, all of which are friends and good people to work with. And so it was important to us to maintain that because we liked it. But there was also a sync up with PCF culture that we really felt right away and continue to be validated on as we move forward with PCF that has helped us to be better.

Bethan: [00:08:29] That's interesting. Thanks, Blake. It ties into my next question, which is really about kind of the PCF insurance business model. Seth, can you describe a bit about what it means to be part of PCF? 

Seth: [00:08:45] It was probably the most appealing thing to me. There's a lot of models out there where the sum is worth more than the parts. Frankly, the big national brand, perhaps that is looking for efficiencies in economies and maybe the individual in this can go away in that. And that really wasn't the case with PCF. It was much more of a brick and mortar. I saw myself as a very important part of a wall, and I see PCF as the mortar that kind of holds it all together, that brings the resources together, the expertise, and frankly, a peer group that it's really hard to find in the industry. And so what I love about the PCF business model is really the parts are what make the whole really special, and then them acting in between that and as a liaison, as a go between, as a resource provider really makes the wall stronger. And I love that about PCF. 

Bethan: [00:09:36] That's great. Donnette, what would you add to that? 

Donnette: [00:09:39] I think it's really a collaboration of like minded entrepreneurs creating relevance for their future. UBI is 90% P and C, so our cross-sell opportunities with the benefits only and the personal line only agencies have served us well and we have picked up an incredible amount of business. Each agency is really good at what they do, but by operating autonomously, that entrepreneurial spirit really comes out. 

Bethan: [00:10:05] Now, you've all shared some good examples already, but I'm keen to dive in. How can agencies leverage the PCF insurance network to their benefit? Art, I'll come to you first. 

Art: [00:10:18] Yeah. Thank you, Bethan. It'll help you catapult your agency so the resources that are provided will give you the freedom that you're looking for in your business. So as entrepreneurs, we're looking for that freedom. But unfortunately, we spend a lot of our time doing the things that maybe we don't love to do that much or resources or pulled away from us. So it allows us to tap into those resources that I mentioned earlier in a previous question, and we've already started to experience some of the benefit from being a partner with PCF.

Bethan: [00:10:48] That's great. And Seth, what would you add to that? 

Seth: [00:10:51] Well, I think every agency has something unique that they're looking for when they when they join an organization like PCF. For us, we were to start from scratch agency about 14 years ago. And so we I like to say we never had insurance privilege. It was never inherited or passed on. To make it all along. And so we ended up in a very tough niche where it seems like carrier appointments are passed down from angels to the next generation, and it's impossible for a startup to get it. So for us, one of the reasons we joined PCF was the access to markets in a tough niche. Could they help bring a resource to us that we may not get into? My grandchildren. We're selling insurance. The way this industry works and so knowing why you joined and then really working hard to make that happen has been huge for us. And so having access to markets, expertise in that niche has been a great resource for us and it's already got us career appointments that we would not have otherwise gotten. 

Bethan: [00:11:46] It's a great example. Thanks, Seth. Blake, what would you add there?

Blake: [00:11:51] Well, prior to PCF, I felt like we were running our own agency island, and we were real strong competitors, and we had to really have a level of distrust for those that were out there besides our, our friends that were friends in the business and so forth. It's become much more of a cooperative endeavor with PCF because of all the partners. And it feels good to have partners, it feels good to have resources and people you can trust not to take your business or not to pawn it on your on what you worked hard for. So that that created has created a lot of synergies for us. 

Bethan: [00:12:31] Donnette, what would you add to that one? 

Donnette: [00:12:33] Well, one of our first tasks were for resources. We really needed some loss control expertise and some claims advocacy. PCF was able to provide that and we were able to use those resources to retain our clients, to grow our book and to compete in the market. 

Art: [00:12:54] Bethan, if I could add, we actually had our loss control team in town last week. They came and spent the entire week with us. They flew in from Salt Lake, spent a week with six of our top clients that have have unique risks, exposures and the value that we were able to add to that relationship and to those clients is something that I could have never been able to offer when I was out on my own. The resource of having three individuals with over 100 years worth of experience, risk management experience, to be able to take them out on a call with six of my top clients would have been something that I had only dreamed of in the past. 

Bethan: [00:13:35] Now, joining a large agency network like PCF could sometimes create conflict between corporate culture and agency culture. And we've already discussed some of the legacy part of that. But arguably both types of culture are important at different times. What advice do you have for agency principals about how to navigate that? Blake, I'll come to you first. 

Blake: [00:14:02] It becomes kind of an issue at first because there's kind of a level of, oh, what just happened in the agency and what we chose to do. My partner and I is take it really slow, at least in terms of talking to our clients about this new relationship, made sure that we we kind of did that face to face versus just sending a blank email out to everyone and saying, hey, this is what happened. And we did the same thing with our employees. Bring out the good resources and the positive things about it, which were really what they were, and then just kind of move forward methodically. 

Bethan: [00:14:43] Thank you. And, Donnette, what would you add to that? 

Donnette: [00:14:45] I'd have to say PCF tagline is propelled by people, and I think that says it all. You operate within your own agency structure, but you benefit from kind of a firm corporate foundation. The partners really collectively have a voice and are able to guide and suggest to corporate leadership and the board of directors their ideas and suggestions. I think this is a great practice and it certainly sanctioned from top down. We're all partners and we certainly could not coexist without one another. So having a collective goal, we find workable solutions. 

Bethan: [00:15:20] Excellent. Thank you. And, Seth, how have you navigated that at Zinc? 

Seth: [00:15:26] Oh, it hasn't been much of an issue. We're transparent. We actually chose PCF based on culture. So it was really important to me to find people that aligned with who we were as a small organization comparatively. And I knew that if you get culture right, then it's going to dictate the right behaviors, whether it's corporate, large, corporate or small agency. And if the behaviors align, then the outcomes are all but guaranteed. And so when an agent looks at making a move like this, if you start at a cultural alignment, whatever your choice are, it's going to you're almost guaranteed then that all the behaviors are going to line up and be right on both sides of the organization. And therefore, all of the outcomes are going to be what everyone hopes for. And so when you start in the right place, you end in the right place for sure. 

Bethan: [00:16:11] Yeah. Art, I think you had a similar experience. 

Art: [00:16:15] I did. So it was really clear when I interviewed with Peter and I interviewed Jeremiah and some of the other leadership that our cultures were just a perfect match. And I think that was important. So what we've been able to do is we've been able to overcommunicate with our staff and clearly communicate what the expectations are, what the vision is, and so they can understand what the power of the firm is and how it's going to benefit them, how it's going to benefit our clients. And so we've been similar to Blake. We've been slow to roll it out to our clients just because we want to make sure that the vision is being carried out, that the culture is right and it has been. We're now nine months into it and it's been smooth sailing. 

Bethan: [00:16:56] Now it's clear that you have all enjoyed success since joining PCF Insurance, and that's great to hear. For those watching, what advice do you have for principals looking to perhaps sell their agency in the coming years? Seth, I'll come to you first. 

Seth: [00:17:13] Yeah, a lot has changed. I think there's more misinformation out there than there is accurate information. And so I think if an agency principal is operating on maybe what they've heard or maybe they're operating on a data set or knowledge set that's 3 to 5 years old, they're missing the whole complete picture. So much has changed in this model that there's usually somewhere the way they can find a good fit for them and what they're trying to solve uniquely inside of their agency. And so I would encourage people, no matter what you think you know or what you think you've heard, look around because things have changed and really have become more advantageous to agency principles.

Bethan: [00:17:50] Mm hmm. That's interesting. Art, what would you add to that? 

Art: [00:17:55] I would recommend, go through the process, have the conversations, reach out to a broker or a company similar to PCF or PCF and have the conversation see what is out there. So to an excess point, you don't know what you don't know and and then ask yourself a couple of really hard questions and answer them yourself. So like Seth said, don't go to a peer. Ask them. And what? Ask yourself, what is my succession plan? Do I have a true perpetuation plan in place? And if so, can those people actually afford to pay me what it is that I'm going to need ten, 20, 30 years from now? And then? Also, what is the horizon look like? How much am I going to have to continue to reinvest out of my own pocket to get me to where I want our business or our business to get to where we want it to be? And then am I creating the most opportunity for my team members? I take a lot of pride in that in our agency, and I want to make sure that I'm giving as much opportunity as possible to our team members. And when I don't look at other options, I feel like I'm holding them back and I would never want to do that. So ask yourself, are you holding your team members back by not at least having the conversation? 

Bethan: [00:19:07] Yeah, that's important. Dig deep and ask the right questions. Blake any advice to share?

Blake: [00:19:15] I think everyone who has started and built an insurance agency is really good and wants to be better at serving our clients. So I would I would look at that really hard and say. At this kind of model, say, will this help serve our clients in a better way now and into the future? And will it help us grow? Because growth also helps to serve our clients better. So that's the advice I would give. 

Bethan: [00:19:44] Excellent. Thank you. And Donnette any final words to add. 

Donnette: [00:19:48] Yeah, I think you have to look at the process. Being courted is intoxicating, but the reality is it's disruption and on any level that can open the door for your competitors and your staff alike. And I think if you still have the desire to prosper, to maintain your legacy, to take care of your employees and your clients in the least disruptive manner, I think PCF deserves a serious look. If you're guiding and you care about your steering, your financial future, I also think PCF may want to become part of your plan around UBI. We say UBI built a rocket, but PCF provided the fuel. 

Bethan: [00:20:28] I really like that analogy. Thank you all so much. Lots of great advice and tips there for agency principals potentially looking to sell. Seth, Blake, Donnette, thank you again for sharing your insights with us on IB TV. This really has been a fascinating panel discussion on a very important topic and it's been great to have you on the show.

Art: [00:20:51] Thank you, Bethan. 

Donnette: [00:20:52] Thank you. 

Seth: [00:20:53] Thank you.

Bethan: [00:20:54] Thanks also to our viewers for tuning in. I'm Bethan Moorcraft, senior editor at Insurance Business, and this was IB TV. See you next time, everyone.