Local insurance brokers talk about their business as well as Obama’s business … and how it relates to them
Insurance. It reminds me that I’m not as carefree as I once was. As Bob Dylan sang in “Like A Rolling Stone,” “If you ain’t got nothin’ you got nothin’ to lose.”
And that generally described my financial position until The Sheet made me a multi-millionaire.
Having published all sorts of letters and op/eds (including more this week) from folks who have their opinion on the issue (and speculate as to what kind of effect health care reform will have on everyone’s wallets), we decided to interview local insurance brokers about their businesses, and about the potential impact of Obamacare.
The man who came back
Brian Jaegers may be the newest kid on the block amongst local insurance brokers — or at least the youngest — but he does have one thing the others don’t: an advanced degree in financial planning.
Jaegers is a graduate of both Bishop High School and Chico State University, from which he graduated in 2003 with a dual major in finance and accounting. He later obtained his ChFC (Chartered Financial Consultant).
Upon graduation, Jaegers began an internship with Northwestern Mutual (investments and life insurance), eventually parlaying the internship into a job.
His wife Lisa is from the Bay Area and works for Cindy Butner.
Jaegers moved back to Mammoth Lakes in 2006 and started his Inyo Mono Insurance business in Oct. 2008.
He recently cemented a deal to sell Traveler’s Insurance products and services. It’s not an exclusive He maintains his independence as a broker. But Traveler’s, says Jaegers, does have strengths in home/auto insurance as well as small business markets (particularly commercial buildings) Traveler’s was recently added as a Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) component, which Jaegers says is a sign of the company’s strength.
In regard to the insurance business, Jaegers had some interesting insights into the human mindset.
“There’s nothing harder, in a lot of ways, than selling life insurance,” said Jaegers. “It’s hard to conceive of one’s own mortality. No one wants to pay for it. No one wants to talk about it …
… As opposed to homeowner’s insurance. And yet, you’ve got far greater odds of dying than your home burning down, but still …”
When it comes to healthcare reform, Jaegers said it wouldn’t have a large effect on his business because not much of his revenue comes from health insurance. That said, he would support healthcare reform. “I think it’s important … I just haven’t seen anything yet that makes me excited about it. You see a lot of buzzwords without the meat of the solutions.”
One thing Jaegers recommends for those with high medical deductibles is a health savings account (HSA). HSA’s allow you to reduce your taxable income while setting money aside for items such as eyes and teeth, which may not be covered by your regular insurance.
The woman who arrived
Linda Wright took over State Farm’s Mammoth Lakes branch in March, 2008 after 20 years with the company in Bakersfield.
Wright said State Farm is a one-stop shop. Not only does it sell every type of insurance, but it’s also a virtual bank, offering credit cards, money markets and mutual funds.
“The more people package [meaning the more you carry with State Farm, from homes to cars to medical), the greater the savings.” said Wright.
“What we do best is take care of every insurance and financial need. And we like to grow with our clients. Start with a 16-year old getting his/her first car and go from there.
It makes you feel really old when they come in and they’re 36.”
In addition to offering competitive rates, Wright feels her other advantage is convenience … and service, with an experienced team of four working out of a local office. Advantage = convenience. And with an office right here, service.
On the differences between doing business in Mammoth as opposed to Bakersfield: “Here, you’re insuring condominium HOAs (homeowner associations) opposed to apartmentbuildings. We’re also more into securities/financial services than Byron Walters was.”
On healthcare reform, Wright is a little leery of big government’s big plans. “I don’t think we have a clear enough picture yet … but I prefer to have options for myself.”
The man who never left
Eric Olson of Farmer’s Insurance has been in business locally for 20 years, and he’s not going anywhere. After all, Farmer’s home state is California.
Like State Farm, Olson’s is a one-stop shop. “Our strength is that we offer great policies which work together offering cross-discounts. And our fire rates are as good as anyone’s.”
The other strength is Olson, his experience and his longevity. “Most underwriters don’t know the particulars of a region and don’t want to insure for fire. But we’ve got a great fire department and Chief Harper’s got an aggressive fuels reduction program.
“I’m pretty good at convincing people to approve fire insurance and my fire book has been profitable 19 out of 20 years.”
Olson is sensitive to the healthcare reform issue, especially from seeing what happened this year when Anthem pushed through a fairly large rate increase.
“A lot of people rethought their need and dropped their coverage, “ he said. “I’ve never seen that before. My book’s down 10%. Normally, a rate increase pushes my book higher, but I think it’s reaching that tipping point where some people think the coverage doesn’t justify the premium.”
“We’ve got the best healthcare system in the world and the best technology, but we’ve got to pay for it, and right now, the customer keeps paying more and getting less.”
The man who came back. Part II
“I was done. When I left, I thought my days in Mammoth were numbered … Being away allowed me to realize what I needed, what I wanted to do.” -Brett Walters
Brett Walters, who spent eight years working for his father Byron at State Farm’s local Mammoth branch office, has returned to town and has opened his own independent insurance agency.
Walters describes his specialty as commercial lines; business insurance, condominium associations, contractors … anything related to business.
“Dad was a P & C [property and casualty] guy and I am, too,” said Walters. “I started from scratch a little over three months ago with zero clients. Dad also started with zero clients. The business just takes time.”
Walters acknowledges he does have a headstart in that people know him from his days at State Farm.
Sheet: Is the pie big enough in this town to support four insurance brokers?
Walters: Yes. A lot of stuff I’m doing now is being handled by brokers who don’t even live here.
“As an independent broker,” continued Walters, “I can research the market to best meet the needs of my client. I work with underwriters to tailor policies to individual need. But I’m coming back with a different focus. My client base at State Farm isn’t necessarily the market I’m penetrating now.”
Sheet: What’s your take on the health care debate?
Walters: I agree there’s room for improvement, but it requires more debate and assessment … Doctors do need more protection. Malpractice premiums are sky-high.
Philosophically, Walters says he is all about customer service. “Service is the difference between being an order-taker versus examining the situation and appropriately addressing the needs of the client. “And it’s important to review one’s coverage every time it comes up for renewal. One’s risks, exposures and needs change constantly.”