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Building Effective Relationships with Tech - Interview with Rick Fox of Vertafore

insurancetechnology insurtech podcast Sep 06, 2022
 

Brent Kelly:

Welcome to The Agent Leader Podcast. My name is Brent Kelly, your host. Thanks so much for joining me on this episode. As always, the purpose, the passion of The Agent Leader Podcast is to help you, the agency leaders out there, to help you gain clarity, build consistency, and to make a commitment to become your best version possible. And I have to, if you're watched on video, show our book, which is entitled, gosh, Best Version Possible. It's been out this year and you can find it at sitkins.com/bvp. Or you can go find those fine folks at Amazon or Audible, you might be able to get it there as well. So check that out.

Brent Kelly:

I've got a very, very special guest today. And in fact, I told him before we went live here, that he is one of the first of hopefully many guests I'll get that's outside of some things that we've done primarily on this podcast. And this podcast, I'm sure I'm not the only one here that this has happened to. But this podcast started because I thought I would turn on the mic and share some ideas one day. Which is what I did. And then I began to bring in some of our members or agency members and partners. I began to bring in some of the people that have been part of our ... whether it's a producer program or our elite sales mastery program, so they could share some things they're learning to the audience.

Brent Kelly:

But I haven't had very many, those that are "outside" of maybe our immediate sphere. And I want to do that and I want to do that for many reasons. I will tell you selfishly, I want to do it because I want to learn from people and grow. And so I'm going to be much more intentional this year. And with all that, I want to make sure that I do it the right and just job of introducing our guest today. I've got Rick Fox, who's the Head of Sales at Vertafore. You may have heard of them, they're a small little company. Vertafore, right Rick? Small-

Rick Fox:

Little tiny.

Brent Kelly:

Just a little thing out there. And I do now-

Rick Fox:

Scrappy. We're scrappy.

Brent Kelly:

Okay, scrappy. They're hoping they can make it through. But I know a lot of our agency partners that we work with certainly are very familiar with Vertafore and some of the different products and services and things that they do, mainly in the tech space, obviously. So excited that Rick and I connected and that we're able to have a great conversation today. Because I know he's going to be sharing things that I'm going to learn a lot today. And I know you, as an agency leader, are going to get a lot from having Rick on. So with all that, Rick, welcome to The Agent Leader Podcast.

Rick Fox:

Thank you, Brent. I appreciate it, man. It's good to be here. Like told you before, I also do a podcast. It feels a little off like this. But really excited to be here. And my favorite thing in the world is sharing information with people in our industry. So it'll be fun, let's have some fun.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, we will. When I was small, my mother said, "Brent, one of the things that you like to do a lot is to talk." So maybe that's just part of how this came. I just get on and I just talk to people. I ask questions and I would say it's our virtual cup of coffee. So, let me get the basic stuff out of the way, because again, I think we were joking about Vertafore, but I would like people to get to know more about you, Rick, and I would as well. Just some of your background, your history, how'd you get to where you are? And what do you do day to day to help agencies?

Rick Fox:

So long story, I'll try to make it short. Back in what feels like a million years ago, I was actually an agency owner myself. So I was an independent agency owner, started an agency, worked at a big agency, started my own agency from scratch, independent. Along the way, grew it organically. And then I acquired seven more agencies and kind of built up this bigger agency and sold that back in, I think 20 ... it was either 08. Yeah, 08. At that point, really wasn't looking to sell, but was at the point where, you know how it is.

Rick Fox:

It's an acquisition business, guy that I had met at, I think, the Oregon Mutual golf tournament called me and was like, "I want to buy your agency." And I was like, "Hey, I want to buy yours, too." Kind of a thing. And he said, "No, we're going big, name your price. And we negotiated and I went really high, didn't plan on selling it. They came back and said, "Let's do it." And the rest is history.

Rick Fox:

The good news about that was is I was able to exit and then get into technology, which is where my head was going anyway in this space. So I went to Vertafore, I was actually recruited to Vertafore. And this is when the headquarters was back in Bothell, Washington, about six miles away from Microsoft, all the tech talent in the world. But not maybe as many insurance minds as they needed to be there. So I sort of jumped onto that side, I stayed there for almost four years before I left to go run another insurance tech company called Agency Revolution.

Rick Fox:

So marketing automation platforms specific to the insurance industry. I was an owner equity partner in that firm. Built that up to prepare it for a transaction, we sold it to a larger financial technology company called FMG Suite. And then I stayed on for a bit to run the insurance side and then had all the opportunity to look at other options. And to your point of what about Vertafore, what's the story there? I've been around this industry for long enough to have a lot of people that were knocking on my door at that point in my career. And Vertafore was the clear, easy choice for me. And I'll tell you why.

Rick Fox:

I think the strategy that Vertafore has put in place to help independent agents today, tomorrow, and for a long time into the future, it runs unopposed. We talk about ... like we can get into details about open architecture and choices and the changes in technology and everything that's either has come or is coming. And the way it is set up to succeed through Vertafore, the way we're planning and strategizing. And obviously I'm a fairly large part of that in my role. It's really exciting.

Rick Fox:

And then the other piece for me was, to your point, is I love to talk, too. And Vertafore is not a scrappy company, we were acquired almost two years ago by Roper Technologies for five and a half billion dollars. So we have a pretty loud voice. And so my talkative nature gets to get to more people. So it was the right decision for me as I am a huge proponent of the independent channel, I am a massive believer that this is the way all consumers should be conducting their insurance world. And I want to help as many as I can. From the agency side, fight the good fight, I guess, is the best way to put that. I mean, there's a lot of noise out there, there's a lot of competition. But that independent space, that professional risk assessment is still needed at the agent level. And I want to help them fight.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, love that. And I will tell you, I sat up my chair a little bit straighter when you use the number 5.5 billion. That's big number.

Rick Fox:

B, with a B.

Brent Kelly:

With a B. Big capital B there. I sit here, Rick, just a few questions to discuss, but I told you it'd be like a cup of coffee. And so as you were saying that, it hit me because I did a little bit of homework. And by the way, again, you guys are known in the marketplace, so it's not like the first time I've heard the name. But it is interesting looking at things.

Brent Kelly:

One of the things that we believe in all the time is how do we pivot away ... with independent insurance agencies, how do they begin to pivot more away from just being a commodity, just being a transaction, just being a quote machine versus truly being a risk advisor and deepening relationships. And obviously you guys are involved in the tech space at a very high level. One of the things that I believe, and I'd love to get your thoughts on this, because I know you do this in different ways and some of the clients we work with is I always say, technology shouldn't replace the relationships, you should enhance it. You should be able to leverage it-

Rick Fox:

100%.

Brent Kelly:

In a higher way to-

Rick Fox:

100%.

Brent Kelly:

Have more of a human touch. So how do you see that playing out? I guess I'll just start with that. Where do you see the opportunities for more relationship building by leveraging the power of technology?

Rick Fox:

So it starts with how much time you have in your day. And where the easy answer and everybody will use this word, but I want your listeners, anybody that wants to listen to my voice ever to live by the credo, I need to be more efficient. And efficiency is gained with technology, that's the best way to do it. The old school way of thinking and I can say this, because I was an old school agent 25 years ago is, "We're busy, let's hire someone." Right?

Brent Kelly:

Yeah.

Rick Fox:

I mean, that was the way that-

Brent Kelly:

You got it.

Rick Fox:

That's the way we did it. Or you'll ask an agency what their differentiator is and they say, "Service. We're a service." And then I challenge them by saying, "Tell me more." And they're like, "Well, if they call, we pick up the phone and we help them." Like, okay, that's not service.

Rick Fox:

So I look at it in two buckets where ... actually, let me make one more point first. This is important because I always try to set the table that whoever's listening to this, wherever you are on your tech journey, that's okay. So I had a conversation, it's probably been five or six months ago now with an agency owner. I always ask the question, "Where are you on your tech journey?" And he's like, "We're pretty far forward. We think of ourself as tech forward." Which of course, my next question is, "Tell me more about that." Which his answer was, "Well, like all of our staff have two monitors on their desks." That was tech forward in his mind.

Rick Fox:

So my first reaction was to almost laugh. But then I use that as a reference point because every agency is different. Now, if you're still using paper files and dial up modem, I mean, you see the picture I'm painting. I'm not going to ask you to jump into artificial intelligence and machine learning tomorrow. What you need to be doing is progressing in your journey. So let me give you the two main areas where tomorrow you can start to affect that. The baseline there is meet your customers where they want to be met. Number one, number two, and number three are all the same.

Rick Fox:

Today's modern consumer is so different than they were a year ago. I mean, two and a half years ago, when the pandemic hit. I'd never used Uber Eats before. Now I'm like a gold star, whatever preferred person, because the world changed and it's going to change again. And so the key that I always say is, if your customer calls you, call them back. If they email, you don't pick up the phone and call them. Email them back. If they text you and you don't have text capabilities, you have a hole in your ability to communicate with them. Do they have the ability to, at some level, communicate with you 24/7? Do you have a portal for them? Is there a self-service option through your website or through an app? That's something that Vertafore has, something that we call ensure link. Which gives them the ability to do it. Do you need an ID card? Do you want to request an endorsement? Whatever that might be, do that at three in the morning on Sunday and it'll get taken care of.

Rick Fox:

So the first thing is ... the baseline is meet your customers where they want to be met. How do we do that? We automate and we make that connection so much easier for self-service. So automating process, number one. And this is where I get pushback from agencies that aren't willing to change. Like, how do you communicate with the people? Well, we call everybody every year. Brent, do you want me to call you? I don't want you to call me. I want you to send me an email and I'll get to it when I have time.

Rick Fox:

So the first thing in the process of automating is, can I put in a cadence? Like what my old company, Agency Revolution does, what some of our management system capabilities are, there's plenty of other products out there that you could buy on a technology side. To set up a cadence or a campaign around a welcome kit, a lost leads, a renewal, anything it is that goes in the background. It says, on day 60 before renewal, "Hey Brent, it's Rick. Just wanted to check in and see if this, this and this is happening." I didn't touch it. I didn't do anything. And you got it and it sounds like it came from me.

Rick Fox:

So what does that do? That creates less time in the day that I'm spending doing busy work. Which means what? I can do what you asked your original question, which is build a deeper relationship with my customers because we're having insurance conversations. We're having an insurance interactions, not paper pushing interactions. So automation is one. And then again, what I said about self-service is the other. So we have customers, large customers that are afraid to go to a self-service portal because they think it's going to downgrade their relationship. And I'm going to tell you it's the exact opposite because we have agencies that have done studies that will tell you that 30% to 40% of their time is moving paper around. ID cards and endorsement, change of address, all of those things.

Rick Fox:

So if I gave a staff member 30% to 40% more time, could they go build more loyal customers? Could your retention go up because the real conversations are now happening? So it's just looking at it through a little bit of a different lens that isn't ... you're not losing, you are 100% gaining. Especially in 22 and beyond, like the world's changed. Nobody wants sit around and wait three days for you to call them back and hope that you answer and play phone tag for another two days. Because they can go to Geico and get anything they want in five minutes. Well, I guess, sorry. 15 minutes.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. It's somewhere in there. I don't know.

Rick Fox:

Somewhere in there.

Brent Kelly:

So many great takeaways there, Rick, as you were sharing that. I was sitting here writing down notes. So I certainly don't want to share them all. But I mean, one of the things that really struck me and it's common sense, but it's missed. It's why it's not so common sometimes. Is the fact that meet people where they are. I mean-

Rick Fox:

Yes, that's it. It should be on your walls. At your agency, meet your customer where they want to be met, should be on every wall.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. And this is so true, whether you're talking about technology and automation. It's true in a sales process. I mean, it's true in so many ways where we get people, this is all the stuff that we have or we do. Well, do you value that? Or do they value that? And it's like, well maybe they value it, you don't know. So I think that is such a critical piece. And absolutely, we hear all the time about just how busy everybody is. Oh, just so busy. And listen, I know there's a lot of truth to all the things that go on day to day, but it does come back to how much of that busyness could be in a process, could be automated, could be filling gaps in holes that they probably know they have, but they're not quite sure how to fill.

Brent Kelly:

And I think most importantly, and you address that a question at the end, which I love. Is it allows humans to be human, to be critical thinkers, to add empathy, to team build, to be proactive in different ways. That quite honestly, technology can't. For as much as it does, it does amazing things. But that's where I love that you ... and how you answered that question.

Rick Fox:

But Brent, people are busy. Like you said, this is a busy business. When I say leverage technology, I don't mean for the sake of technology. Mean for the sake of giving back more time. Let me give you more time in your day to go be what you want to be. And you said it, a true risk assessor. Not an agent because I can train a monkey to print up an ID card and email it to you.

Brent Kelly:

That's right.

Rick Fox:

That doesn't make me a risk assessor, that doesn't make me somebody that you have loyalty to. Us having a conversation about your 16 year old that just got their license or a property that you're thinking you want to put on or what level your umbrella is, or let's talk about your business that you own. Those are risk assessment conversations, not, I have the zip code wrong on the lien holder on your car. You know what I mean?

Brent Kelly:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, I go on forever that, and obviously we spend a lot of time even working with the sales teams and producers. And quite frankly, they stink at that stuff anyway. There's a whole different level we could go into there. But just overall from an agency, it's just this idea of ... it's easy to say you're a risk advisor. I mean, "Hey, I'm a risk advisor."

Rick Fox:

Yeah. Hey, good. Congratulations.

Brent Kelly:

And I love what you said, too. I had to go back, but it's like, "Well, we give good service." It comes back to, "I'm a risk advisor." Okay, what does that mean? What do you do? "Well, I answer the phone. I take care of stuff." Oh you mean that any technology could probably do in a second?

Rick Fox:

So you react to what your customers need?

Brent Kelly:

Yeah.

Rick Fox:

That's not it, that's not it. That's not the win.

Brent Kelly:

Again, it's so much of just being intentional and proactive and what that does to leverage those relationships is incredible. I did have a question to you out there, but I want love to get ... maybe you've addressed this a little bit in your response there. But thinking about in independent insurance agencies and the challenges they face, they're real, they're out there. And I'd love to get your perspective on what you think is if not the number one challenge, at least what jumps to your mind, Rick, is some of the top challenge. And by the way, if you want to go into ... this is a side note and some of my homework and looking at Rick is your Insu-rants-

Rick Fox:

Yes, yes, yes.

Brent Kelly:

So if you want to go into one of those, that's fair, whatever you want to do.

Rick Fox:

Oh man, I'm going to try to keep it to 3,000 words because I will go on all day. No, I would say the one ... so I think I gave you my story, but I didn't tell you exactly what I do today. So I run all of agency sales for Vertafore, which means the mom and pop agency, all the way to the top 10 brokers in the country. They all are in my world. And so on a daily basis, I'm talking to agencies of all sizes. And the consistent thing ... and whether that ... because you think about that large agency, that agency is made up of a bunch of acquisitions of smaller agencies. So at some level, they're all agencies and they all have laggard thinking as it relates to technology.

Rick Fox:

Let me just preface this with, the thinking we need to change more than anything else. The two things that I would say, if you take nothing else away from this, is one put on your wall, meet your customer where they want to be met. That's just flat out that important. And the other thing is in your agency, eliminate the phrase, that's the way we've always done it. I'm serious, that is the thing that gets people stuck so much. I'm not saying that as like you're wrong. Because I always give this analogy, I used to live in Bend, Oregon. And for anybody listening in, Bend, Oregon is this cool little mountain town in Oregon, central Oregon. That is 15 minutes from the ski slopes, 300 days of sunshine. If you live in Bend, your life is good. Crime is low. I mean you leave your keys in the car and front door unlocked, it's a great little place.

Rick Fox:

And if somebody were to say to me when I lived there, "Hey, crime is on the rise in Bend." My answer would be, "I live in a pretty good neighborhood." And I believe that's the way agencies and the average age right now is 60 years old of the average agency owner is 60. And they've been doing this for a long time and they've been living in a pretty good neighborhood for a long time. So you coming in or think of somebody on one of my sales teams that comes in and says, "The sky is falling. You need technology." I live in a pretty good neighborhood. So it is an adjustment.

Rick Fox:

So if you can take out that, just that never say, "That's the way we've always done it." You're winning. That's like a win right there. But what I would say, the main thing that you must embrace today is finding a way to create a user experience. When I say user, I mean customer, employee relationships with carriers. Build a user experience that is modern and is going to scale to whatever happens in the future. So think about today ... we've been in the middle of, and I think we're kind of seeing the end of the great resignation. Agencies all over the country, Vertafore, companies all over the country are losing people. At one point, 50% of the people ... I think, it was June of 21. 50% of employed people were taking a look at trying something new. One out of two.

Rick Fox:

So as agency ... people either retire or they're changing jobs. I've talked to a lot of agencies that are trying to fill holes. And you're trying to fill that with youth or at least younger folks. And if you have technology in your office or file folders, for God's sake, in your office. Do you think that's an environment that they're going to want to come be a part of? Does your customer want to jump onto your website in hopes of getting a copy of their ID card? And it looks like your Uncle Donny built it 25 years ago in his garage. Give them something that is modern. And then when I say scalable, there are whiz bang things out there and I'm not going to put anybody on blast on your podcast of some of the companies that are good today, gone tomorrow.

Rick Fox:

But look at something that's also scalable for your future. What decision could I make today about, whatever, technology, the way I hired, the HR pro, whatever it is that in five years from now, it's going to morph with my changes. So I look at that way. And I think, if you're looking through that lens, you're going to help yourself be successful. If you bring in a 20 something to interview and they see your tech forward is you have two monitors, they've grown up in that environment.

Rick Fox:

Last spring ... not this spring, but last spring was the first year that college graduates were older than Amazon and Google. Which means they've lived their entire lives in that world, you and I, I didn't have Google when I was in high school. Would've made my life a lot easier, I had to go to the Dewey Decimal system and find books. And it doesn't have to be overnight, but if you start putting in these like, "Oh, I'm not going to say that here. I'm going to look at this through a different lens. I'm going to meet my customers where they are." I'm trying to beat this drum over and over, so people can start to realize they don't have to do everything today, they don't have to ... I always say, in technology, you can dip your toes in my pool. Or I can put a life vest on you and I can fly you out into the Gulf a mile and drop you in and see how that goes. Or somewhere in between. That's up to you. But do something.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, it's a great analogy.

Brent Kelly:

First of all, I have to acknowledge Google because now I feel even older than I know that I am. But it's funny, I told you before we started recording, man, my oldest daughter is off to college this year, I've got four others at home. And just so you know, Rick, they span from 18, almost 19 down to four. So I've got one in preschool.

Rick Fox:

Oh my gosh.

Brent Kelly:

So to think about just the different ... I mean, levels they're growing through. And of course they make fun of old dad, who's still like, "What? You could do that?" So I learn things. But it's funny with my kids. They'll ask me questions and then I'll come back with an answer. And they're like, "Man, dad, you really are smart." And I said, "You realize I've leveraged something that I didn't have when I was your age. It's called Google." Because they've lived in it, they don't even really-

Rick Fox:

Yeah, they've lived in it.

Brent Kelly:

Appreciate it.

Rick Fox:

They don't even know.

Brent Kelly:

I'm like, it's incredible. I can get any answer I want, at any time for anything. And it's a great learning tool.

Rick Fox:

And Brent, here's the point of what you just said. And again in five years, we're going to say that same thing about today. So when you're picking tech partners, when you're looking at the way to grow your business, don't do something that's going to either become obsolete or not have the right framework to talk to other technologies as the world changes. That is so important. And that's little more like, "Okay, I'm not going to take you a mile out, but I'm going to take you a hundred yards off and drop you in the water." This is the thinking. But if you start thinking that way and you start looking at leveraging that and your podcast is called The Agent Leader. There's two ways out of this business. It's like the mob, right? Either acquisition or perpetuation, that's it.

Brent Kelly:

There you go.

Rick Fox:

Acquisition, perpetuation, right?

Brent Kelly:

Ding, ding.

Rick Fox:

Either way ... and I can tell you this because I work with ... one of our customers has made over a hundred acquisitions already this year and it's August. So if you want to be acquired and you want to get that almighty best bang for this buck that you've built, that you've spent your entire life doing. I can tell you that unequivocally that those acquirers, they tell me all the time, "If I'm talking to someone who has their tech in order, that's going to make my job easier when I make the acquisition. I will way overpay for that."

Brent Kelly:

Yeah.

Rick Fox:

So the simple shift from, "Well, we have this old management system and we don't have a good way to automate our process." Okay, well, it's still an insurance agency and it's a good acquisition for them. If I come in and say, "Yeah, we use AMS360." Which is one of our management systems. We also have used RiskMatch for data and we've got a personalized rating comparative software. And everything talks to each other and it's all one integration together. That's maybe double the money. Think about it in those terms.

Brent Kelly:

It's such a great point. I always say, I mean, we tell every agency, "You're going to exit the business someday."

Rick Fox:

Someday.

Brent Kelly:

Just, you're going to. And I have this weird problem ... I don't know if it's good or bad, Rick. But I get analogies in my head and stories. And typically it goes back to sports. But as you were saying that, it just reminded me of you see agencies and you talked about the average age and where that's at. It's like, you're running a lap around the track and you're getting that last right away coming to the end. And whether you are going to run another lap with your agency, or you're going to hand it off, because you're getting acquired. Do you want the guy that's falling over and can't quite get there and is rolling to the end? Or someone who's picking up speed?

Rick Fox:

That's totally right.

Brent Kelly:

And I think that's what I envision, as you were saying that. Is like, listen, whatever direction you're going ... and by the way, God bless you, it's your choice. If you want to sell for a boatload of money, then go do it. Like congratulations. But as you said, how much money could be left on the table if you had some momentum going into that?

Rick Fox:

So true. And we did a rant recently, an insure ran on our podcast about that whole acquisition, perpetuation. We took a different lens and we talked about the ability of looking at it more like a law firm, where you can partner up sooner and get people involved. Because what ends up happening is you've got these either your son or your daughter, or it's one of your top producers or one of the agencies that you bought, that's younger, that wants to buy you out. And they can't do what Brown and Brown can do. Like they can't come and write you a giant check with an earn out and have that be something that's like ... because it is your retirement.

Rick Fox:

So starting to look at that even earlier in the process. Obviously #1, technology #2, what does it look like? And looking at the partner model that law firms uses, it's just one way to look at it. But it does open up your thinking to how you should be preparing. And some people, it's like ... you know this from being in the business. Nobody likes to talk about life insurance, because it's really death insurance.

Brent Kelly:

That's right.

Rick Fox:

Nobody wants to talk about retiring because that means I'm old. It's like, yeah, but good business people plan 10 years ahead of that time to make sure that when that happens, you're just sitting on a big pile of money. That's the way I feel about it.

Brent Kelly:

It's a great point. And one other thing that you said I'll address. I don't know if I did an article, if I did a keynote, I can't even remember. But at one point ... and hopefully I have the word number right. But I said that in my nine least favorite words in syntax is, that is the way we've always done it.

Rick Fox:

Yes.

Brent Kelly:

And you said, it's just like, okay, it's always the idea. And you've probably heard this before, it's cliche, but it's true. It's like what got you here ain't going to get you there.

Rick Fox:

It's not. But the other side to that is what I said, which is we live in a pretty good neighborhood. Especially with the pandemic, so many businesses were forced to make changes. We weren't forced. We had to change to maybe a work from home. But most of our customers didn't really make very many moves, especially on the personal line side. They kind of just kept floating along. But the world changed behind that. And agencies that aren't changing, we're seeing it. Again, I don't want to ... like I've had conversations and agents have gone, "Man, you just blew my mind. I don't know where to start."

Rick Fox:

Start somewhere. Start with one of the little things we're talking about. Self-service, automation. Ping me on LinkedIn and we'll have a conversation about what's out there that's great. If you are a Vertafore customer, go to our website and look at our orange partners and we've done all the vetting. We'll tell you what is best in breed in so many different areas of voiceover IP, eDocs, e-signatures, automation. Like all of those things.

Rick Fox:

What you want to really do is get to a point, I always say this when I talk to customers. I always say, look at your partnership with your tech partner in three ways. The people you work with, it's the same thing as their customers. Do you want to work with somebody you trust? I want someone that's loyal to me because I've created something for them that works. That's number one. Number two is the solutions. Do you have the answers? Do you do what I need? Or in this case, do you have a partner that I can integrate with through my system that works. And then finally, what does the future look like? So it's people, solutions, future.

Rick Fox:

Future is five years from now and it's going to change again. Two years from now, three months from now. It's going to change again. Are you ready for the next big thing? And is your technology ready to have a conversation with that new tech that comes through? Or that new idea or whatever it is. Because you know this, Brent, if you've been to one independent insurance agent, you've been to one independent insurance agent. That's it. They're all different. They all want something a little bit different. There are some similarities, but every agency I talk to thinks about it a little bit differently and they need access to different things as it relates to technology.

Rick Fox:

Having a partner that's here today ... and I'll go back to the point I made and bragged a little bit about how much money it costs to buy our company. We were purchased by Roper Technologies. That's a publicly traded company, look them up on the stock exchanges, ROP. And the difference between that and any of our competitors in the marketplace is they're private equity backed. Private equity is great. And we were private equity for a very long time and got to where we got because of it. But the other side of that is, private equity has a cycle. So every three to six years, you're going to have a new ownership group. The strategy might change, the idea of trimming fat might be different, so resources might be limited. That happened to us every single time.

Rick Fox:

Roper, who now owns us, is as a publicly traded company. We're home, we're done. This is where we live. We have this conversation in 15 years, we're still part of Roper. So our strategies are long term. Our investments are long term. And that's why finding the right tech partner is so important. But I want agencies to also look at that from their own seat. What is your long term? And long term could be five years, could be 20 years if you're young and this is what you're going to do. But start building that plan throughout that whole thing. Find a strategy, you might change it. But don't change it because it's a different philosophy because a different ownership. You're the owner, you make the strategy, you move it forward. And so many things we do are in parallel with what our agencies do, that it's kind of cool because we're having the same conversations. Loyalty and efficiency and all of those things.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah.

Rick Fox:

Hope that makes sense. That makes sense?

Brent Kelly:

It makes perfect sense. I mean, part of it hits because even as our group, at Sitkins Group, and we've had conversations as we look at things and evolve and change in three and five and 10 years. You're like, "Wow." It does change the way you think. We've got to position things differently and it's got to be a long term approach.

Brent Kelly:

I will say this too, and maybe you heard this before, something I always say. Because you mentioned that you talked to one independent insurance agency, you talked to one independent insurance agency. I always say, the best part about independent insurance agencies is they're independent. The biggest challenge of independent insurance agencies is they're independent.

Rick Fox:

They're independent.

Brent Kelly:

It's that weird. It's like, "I can do anything I want." You're like, "I can do anything I want." Which makes a lot of challenge and decision making and staffing and the process and the plans. And gosh, if I had a model of followers that I could grow into, as you were saying, makes a huge difference. It kind of leads maybe to my next question a little bit and also address in your last part to a degree.

Brent Kelly:

We call Bend, Oregon, the semi successful trap. So I love that visual you gave because it's true. It's really hard to make changes when you don't feel a lot of pain. Let's face it, that's called human emotion. It's like, I'm pretty good. And then you haven't thought about exactly what the future looks like and then I can wind this thing down. But obviously, there's a lot of challenges that come with that. The part that you hit that really struck me, because this happens even in our work with agencies. Is that if you look at it and go, "Here's all the stuff that's possible." And you're not thinking about the one step or the next progression, you will just back down and say, "Forget it. I ain't got the time, energy, effort to do that."

Brent Kelly:

So I don't know if I'm going to phrase this question correctly. But we can talk about the challenges of agencies, we know those. But I'd like to hear from you, if you've got maybe a success story or something that you've worked with or an agency has talked to you about technology, in a different way. And because of that, began to take maybe incremental steps of some kind. And because they did that, guess what? Life's better. People want to hear outcomes, if possible. So could you share? Do you have a story or an example of something like that?

Rick Fox:

Well, let me give you the baseline first where I think that the breakdown is that we have to fix. You're spot on, we don't need to change because it's kind of working or I'm just going to keep rolling along because I am, and I don't have a plan in place. Where I'm finding now the biggest barrier is someone in the agency is now thinking about tech in close to the right way. And let's just say, start with it's either someone on the staff or the owner. So start with the owner.

Rick Fox:

The owner is starting to realize or has realized and is starting to try to implement technology as a solution to move forward. Most of the time, that conversation that I have with the owner, that's like, "I get this, I get that, I want to try this." Is followed by, but I don't think I can get my staff to get on board.

Rick Fox:

The other side to that, and we just had our big conference in March called Accelerate. I talked to a lot of power users and CSRs, commercialized managers. The staff that was on and they're like, "Man, this would be great." To your point in success stories, people that are saving 20%, 30%, 40% efficiency gains. But I don't think I can get the owner to buy in. So the big disconnect right now is we're starting to move the needle, but we can't get both sides of the house involved. If you were going to say, "Give me a success story." I'll do two. Agency is, I think, 45 employees, uses automation to communicate and market, uses one of our management systems and implements in Sharelink, which is what I told you about, which is a self-service portal.

Rick Fox:

35% efficiency. So think about it in terms of your staff works ... that's almost half a day of an eight hour day. I mean, let's say it's three hours of your day. That is off your plate because people are using self-service. The fight that we get is ... and we're going to lose our connection. I'll tell you what happened to this exact agency. They took their website down one day because they were rebuilding the website from the back and actually took an extra day. So the portal was off, so somebody had to call in to make a change. They called in three people ... three examples, more than that. But three people called in and said, "Hey, I need an ID card. I need whatever I need. Where's the portal? Where's my insured link?" Oh, well we're rebuilding the website. It'll be up tomorrow. Can I help you right now? Their answer, "No, thanks. I'll wait till tomorrow and I'll go use the self-service."

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, yeah.

Rick Fox:

So 35% efficiency, which what? Gives back more time to go build loyal relationships. And the people that are ... because not everybody's going to use it. But those that are only want to work like that. So now you've met them where they want to be met. So that's success story one.

Rick Fox:

Success story two is implementing ... so we made an acquisition last year of a company called Agency Zoom. It's a front end, producer/employee enablement tool. It's basically a mini CRM. I use the mile out in the ocean. This would be jumping into the shallow end of my pool for CRM versus Salesforce, being the ocean. Probably without the life preserver. So another example, Agency 14 to ... I don't know, somewhere in the teens, employees.

Brent Kelly:

Okay.

Rick Fox:

Agency is like we have no idea what ... they have seven producers. We don't know what they're doing, we don't know what's going on. They implement Agency Zoom, which of course, integrates directly into their management system. Because again, you're using that open architecture and wanting it to work seamlessly with all of the things you use to weigh integrations with our management systems. They put their producers into this ... because the old school way was producers come back to the office with a cocktail napkin, throw it on somebody's desk and say, "Quote this."

Brent Kelly:

That's right.

Rick Fox:

It is so easy for them to do that same thing on their phones now through Agency Zoom or whatever. That you're getting producers involved in that process. And that information that they put on their phones is now in your management system. They were able to track, gamify, stack rank their people, help find where the holes were, automate the process of the follow ups for their producers, generate 20% more new business because of the cadences that they put in place. And the producers went bananas for it. Fought it for the first month and now can't live without it.

Rick Fox:

And now these are just two examples of minimal, like really not much disruption in what you're doing and changing the way you are able to what? Meet your customers where they want to be met. And stop saying, "That's the way we've always done it."

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. Those are great ... thanks for sharing those examples. I mean, that's why I ask because okay, I get it. And I think the audience, listeners, "Go, okay, I could see how that fits." And I mean, my math isn't great and I know you were estimating here. But even that first story, I mean, it was three hours a day. I mean that's a part-time employee.

Rick Fox:

Yeah.

Brent Kelly:

So you just look at it in that context, it's like, gosh, does that make sense?

Rick Fox:

Look at it this way, because we talked about people leaving. If you have 10 staff members and 35% more efficiency, you could grow by 30% and not have to hire anyone. So now did you get a return on your investment of next to nothing to add a portal to your ... I mean, it becomes very no brainer once you start to embrace it.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah.

Rick Fox:

Just as an example, let me give you this, Brent, just because-

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, please.

Rick Fox:

Like it's not just Vertafore, like my old company, Agency Revolution. We did a survey of all the customers and the value add of automating communications, whether that was a newsletter, renewals, whatever it was. Our agencies when they got on within a year were seeing 2% to 3% retention growth. Now amortize that out over five years and look at what the difference is. So again, technology, it isn't here to replace staff. But sometimes staff needs to be replaced when they're not there anymore.

Brent Kelly:

Right. To me ... and again, this is such a key point. And again, it's really interesting to get your viewpoint on it because you're on that side of it, obviously. But it's just like, to me, it equips and empowers people to do the things that ... going back to our first question or conversations, I believe they should be doing. Which is enhancing, building the true relationships and being a true risk advisor. Which goes back to being proactive.

Brent Kelly:

Whereas, I would love to do that. And to your point, I'll just give one ... not even in the tech space so much, but it certainly makes sense that it fits there. Is that we'll talk about ... we talk a lot about just the 80/20 principle at Sitkins and you could get into all of that. But if you just say, look at your top clients, for example. And it's like, well, if they were your only clients, what would you do for them? "Oh, we would do this and we would do this." Well, why don't you?

Rick Fox:

Yes, yes.

Brent Kelly:

Because I don't have the capacity to do it.

Rick Fox:

And what makes the-

Brent Kelly:

Why?

Rick Fox:

Other 80% not at least deserve some of it, if it doesn't even take you doing anything.

Brent Kelly:

By the way, I don't want to be one of those, I'm trying to pick on ... no, I'm not. But I have these conversations all the time because people will go, "Well, Brent, you don't understand, that's my relationship. That's how we've always done it." And I would ask, "Well, how often do you proactively actually reach out to some of those lower tier clients?" Never, never.

Rick Fox:

Never.

Brent Kelly:

Right. So at least give them something, as you said, so that it can empower and equip you to do more of the proactive things and the clients that you shouldn't need to be doing anyway.

Rick Fox:

Deloitte did a study, I think it's probably two years ago now. And the question was, how often do you hear from your agent? And the first part was, after I pay them for the first time, three out of five people surveyed said, never.

Brent Kelly:

Wow. Okay, say that stat again.

Rick Fox:

So, three out of five, 60% of the people that were surveyed said, "I gave them a check and I never heard from them again." So think about it in two ways. One is, that's awful for the people you have. But the positive is, that is a huge opportunity for the people you don't.

Rick Fox:

Think about if ... like I'll talk to an agency and I'll say, "All right, if you get 10 leads, how many are you closing?" "We're closing three out of ten." "Okay, what happens with the other seven?" Crickets. Nothing. What if they were in an Agency Zoom and they were in a cadence. So, for the year, because you know when they're going to renew again. For the year, every quarter they get a note from you that says, "Hey, was just thinking about this or wanted you to get this article." And that's four more times than they heard from the guy they gave the check to. So when renewal comes up again and you say, "I would love to have a conversation." They're like, "This guy's been on me. I want to be with him." Like it's subtle. But man, what if three out of 10, the next year is of the seven is one out of seven. And you start extrapolating that out, your agency grows exponentially.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. It's another example of different side of what efficiency can do to relationships. Maybe that'll be the title of this podcast, efficiency building relationships. Because it does in so many different ways. So-

Rick Fox:

That's it.

Brent Kelly:

All right. Well, Rick, I've got one more question for you and this is ... you could take this any direction you want to go. And I like to ask this and again, if you want to keep this in the business space, please do. If you want to go off just in your own as just a guy and a dad and whatever it is, you go there, as well. But I love asking this question. This is all about personal professional growth. So here's my question, you can go back as far as you want to. But my general question is this. If you were having a conversation with the younger version, let's just say 15, 20 years ago, maybe, of Rick. And there he is sitting there and you're today and you could give that younger Rick one piece of advice, what would you tell him?

Rick Fox:

Get a mentor that you trusted and that could help you build every part of your life. So I have a few mentors in my life, one very business and one sort of blend between business and personal. Like when you're younger and you think you own the world and you know everything and you can do it all on your own. Find that trusted advisor, find that concierge, for lack of a better term. That's there for you, that can call you on your BS, that can show you where your blind spots are. It will progress your pace of whatever success is for you, whether that's your family, your investments, your job, whatever it is.

Rick Fox:

It will turbocharge the pace at which you're able to move by having somebody in your corner that you just like ... I cannot tell how many times I've been in a situation. And we all have those days where you're like, "Oh my God, I don't even know what to do here." And I'm like, "I'm going to call him and I'm just going to run it by him." And it doesn't mean they're right and you're wrong. It's a source of information that I wish I would've given myself more leash to explore when I was younger.

Brent Kelly:

Love it. I don't want to have comments on that necessarily because it's yours. But I kind of take it just a quick little thing, because it's just so relevant. Last week I was out on the East Coast with one of our agency partners and actually I was spending some time with some of their younger producers. And that was the question they asked me. And I'm like, of all the things ... is basically what you just said, Rick. And the great thing is that, yes, find people ... if they're in your agency, they've been places you haven't been, hang around them, ask them questions. They're not perfect, but they've done things that you don't have to repeat. And they've done things that you do want to repeat. So accelerate that. Crack open some books, as you said this earlier-

Rick Fox:

A hundred percent.

Brent Kelly:

I mean-

Rick Fox:

Hundred percent.

Brent Kelly:

And you have to listen to this podcast. I mean, these were things that weren't around. You just sit there and talk about back to Zig Ziglar. It's like automobile university. Now it's like on supercharged.

Rick Fox:

My book that ... my go-to is Simon Sinek, Start With Why.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah. It's funny, that's been a big, big part. In fact, I'm doing a thing on his other book right now, with one of our partners on The Infinite Game. But it's just amazing and it's just go, "Oh." And what's funny too is you don't realize the growth if you're on that journey until sometimes it's been a while. And you'll talk to someone, I'm sure you've had this, and they go, "How did you know that? Or where did you hear about that?" I'm like, "I think that was a book 10 years ago. I think that was the mentor eight years ago. I think I talked to Rick Fox five years ago."

Rick Fox:

Yeah. Right, right, right.

Brent Kelly:

And I'll never forget when he said that. And you're like, "Oh." So just keep feeding your mind because-

Rick Fox:

I love it.

Brent Kelly:

It's so powerful.

Rick Fox:

No, I totally agree, Brent.

Brent Kelly:

All right, Rick, before we go, where can people find you? And obviously again, the scrappy little company.

Rick Fox:

Yeah, it's tiny little thing we have going with 2,500 employees over here. Our headquarters are in Denver, but I live in Florida. Best way to get me is LinkedIn, for sure. Just connect with me. It's good access, I'm always sharing content, I'm sharing my own content or other people's.

Rick Fox:

If you really want to have a conversation and some of this peak your interest as it relates to just technology conversations, it's just [email protected] That's just easy enough. And then the Vertafore Insurance Podcast, VIP, anywhere you get your podcast, go check it out. We have guests similar to what Brent's doing here. And then, we go flip flop between that and then I do what we call Insure Rants, where I pick a topic and I just sort of blast off on it for a while. But love what you're doing here, Brent, this is great. And I'm really appreciate having a chance to come on.

Brent Kelly:

Yeah, likewise. Great to have you on here. And again, I mean, I personally took a ton of notes and I know the audience is better off when they listen to you. And by the way, I should note this. I don't have a dog in the fight with your technology. I just want to get people on who are smart and provide value. And obviously, I know what you do, Rick, is important and what your company does is important. So, thank you.

Brent Kelly:

And for all the listeners, thank you for listening. If this podcast is adding value to your life and your agency, as always, please give a review, a share. We're looking to grow the audience, as always. Just like Rick's trying to do with his podcast. So go check that out, as well. And with that, I wish you all the best and your success. Thanks for listening.

 

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