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From Captive to Independent: A Path to Success

By September 14, 2021September 15th, 2021Agency Management Moments

What are some reasons to make the switch from a captive agency to an independent agency? Iroquois member agent J. Bejin & Associates was asking the same question over 4 years ago. James Bejin dives into his answers with 20/20 hindsight in this week’s podcast. From wanting to help his community to being his own boss, James jumped feet first into the independent insurance agency space. He found many mentors along the way and attributes much of his staying power and success to being partnered with Maureen Vincent, our Michigan regional manager. This episode is a classic story showcasing that working hard pays off.

Captive agent turned independent agent

Edwin K. Morris (3s):
Welcome to the trusted advisor podcast brought to you by Iroquois Group. Iroquois is your trusted advisor in all things insurance. I am Edwin K Morris. James has been in the insurance industry for eight years and he began his insurance career at Allstate and quickly advanced from a producer to a sales manager. Prior to insurance. James was a director of sales for a large merchandising company. He also worked for Verizon Wireless. James and his agency, J Bejin & Associates Insurance Group has moved from being a captive agency to an independent agency and is a proud member of the Iroquois Group.

Edwin K. Morris (46s):
What exactly was the reason you got into insurance to begin with? How’d you get in?

James Bejin (51s):
You know, to be honest with you, I, I love people. I love helping people and you know, what a great way to do a little bit of both make some money and, and have a good work-life balance. I did some retail in the past and it was tough grind and schedule, but I learned at a very young age to build relationships and I figured how could I help people and, you know, use the relationships I had. And I thought, well insurance, and it’s interesting because it goes beyond just selling a policy. It’s being there for them when they actually need to use it. So it’s, it’s been a great journey for me. I thought, you know, this would be a good fit and it was.

Edwin K. Morris (1m 30s):
What was your on ramp to even get started.

James Bejin (1m 36s):
Good question. So I was a director of sales for a merchandising company and then the big crash hit. So unfortunately I was laid off. I was sitting at home and I said, well, geez, I need to recreate myself once again. I’ve worn many sales hats, you know, and I, I said, I want to do something a little different and utilize my relationship building in the town I live in and was born and raised. So I just thought about insurance and I said, it’d be a good thing. And where do I start? What do I do? And I just kind of started planning from there. And, and off I went, I responded to an ad local Allstate agent looking for a producer, and he was a new agent here in Waterford.

James Bejin (2m 16s):
We ended up gosh, having a great friendship together. He taught me a lot about the business and I did well for them for years. They promoted me to a sales manager where I was kind of in charge of hiring staff and training and responsible for hitting our goals. So I grew within that agency quite quickly. And it was just a really good learning experience to get in

Edwin K. Morris (2m 35s):
Where did you see the bridge from a cap of space or captive agency to an independent

James Bejin (2m 43s):
That hit me pretty quickly. About two years in, not only do I have a lot of friends from this town being born and raised, as I mentioned, there’s a lot of businesses in this town. And unfortunately with many of the captive agencies, I couldn’t do anything for my friends who own landscape companies or salons or all different types of business owners because Allstate, unfortunately didn’t really write a ton of commercial. So that was my first wrench so to speak. You and I could be best friends, Edwin, let’s be honest, but if I wrote you and then six months later, you went up, you know, a thousand dollars every six months, it’s hasta la Vista. You know what I mean? So for lack of a better term, I felt handcuffed, I guess, is the word.

Edwin K. Morris (3m 27s):

James Bejin (3m 27s):
And especially in the Michigan market, it’s such a volatile market with our PIP laws and our no fault. It just really kind of hogtied me a little bit.

Edwin K. Morris (3m 37s):
And that small business commercial space just kind of opened up.

James Bejin (3m 40s):
It really did, it was frustrating to tell people, unfortunately, I don’t offer that. So what I ended up doing is at least from a referral standpoint, partnering with someone that could write those types of policies and he ended up benefiting from it, not me, but I just looked at it like Allstate was a very, very good way into the business. The training was very good and I thought, you know what? I got to take my lumps. I gotta learn this business. And then for lack of a better term, graduate and move on to the next level

Edwin K. Morris (4m 12s):
That market niche of being a independent versus captive, I’m sure it just fits a personality trait to a degree.

James Bejin (4m 19s):
I would agree with you knowing what I know now, it’s funny because as I explain our business to people that really don’t know much about it I wouldn’t say it’s easier. Well, you know what I would say, it’s easier to go captive because of the branding, right? The branding power, we all know Allstate, we all know State Farm Jake from State Farm. No one knows who James Bejin is, right? It’s a, it’s more of an uphill battle as we know, but in the end it’s been very rewarding. And I knew that if I applied my skill set and really had a good business plan and, and a good partner, wink wink Iroquois that we would be successful.

Edwin K. Morris (4m 54s):
It’s a nice little subtle segue there, James and what brought you to Iroquois? What was the attraction

James Bejin (5m 2s):
Originally? My Allstate agent actually approached me and he says, well, what do you think about going independent? And it really sparked my interest because I didn’t have a ton of money. So to speak, to open up one on my own. And I got really excited about it. And he says, well, you know, let me think about it. I’ll talk to my partners. You know, me and you could partner up and open this, you know, independent. So I got really excited about it, crossing my fingers that it would happen and he came back to me and he says, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do it. And that was really like such a blow. I, I knew I had to make up my mind and make a decision at that point. But it seems to that question on the long end of it, he was working with a friend of his named Joel Gallo. And Joel Gallo is an Iroquois agent and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

James Bejin (5m 43s):
I ended up reaching out to Joel and I said, Joel, do you want to maybe partner up? I’d love to run an office. And he says, sounds pretty good. Let’s meet for lunch. So we met for lunch and everything sounded good once again. And then he got back to me. He says, James, my brother really wants to open an office. I have to give him first crack at it. I’m sorry. So I got two nos. And I said, you know what? It’s just telling me after the second. Now it’s just time to do it on my own. And I look back now and think about how I don’t have any partners. I’m so glad it happened. Exactly really. Isn’t hindsight is 2020. So I ended up writing a business plan. I spent hours and one of the big things was our local government here, Oakley county.

James Bejin (6m 26s):
They have a business workshop class that I was told about. So I inquired on it. Really what it is is it’s a retired mentor from the same industry that you’re from. They pair you up with them and they just grill you. And they sit in front of a board. What’s your projections. Tell me about your marketing. How are you going to get there? What are you going to do different from? And I spent a good half a day there and I told them where I wanted to be projection wise, year one. And he says, well, that’s too aggressive. Let’s talk about hitting this number. I said, okay. But I said, if I don’t set goals, how am I you know? Am I going to achieve them? Right. Anyway, I did that. I wrote a business plan and then I called Maureen or I reached out to Iroquois and I think it was Joel that gave me Maureen’s number.

James Bejin (7m 9s):
And it was right before Thanksgiving. We met at a Starbucks and I was nervous as you can imagine, but I had a big business plan. We talked, everything went really well. And I showed her my projections. I showed her everything I poured into this and she looked at me and she says, I don’t normally appoint anyone on the first interview, but guess what? So I guess it was my lucky day. I guess I impressed her. We signed an agreement.

Edwin K. Morris (7m 36s):
What impresses me is that it sounds like you just did all your due diligence.

James Bejin (7m 40s):
Yes, I did. I poured my heart and soul into it. I didn’t want to fail, but I just wanted to be prepared. So what’s interesting about it is I saw that same mentor about a year later and I was having lunch and he was sitting over in the corner and I walked up to him. I said, Hey, do you remember me? You know the insurance guy, you know, about a year ago. He goes, yeah, yeah. And I looked at him. I said, well, I wanted to thank you for everything you did for me, by the way, I hit my projections and I bought his lunch. It was a good feeling for sure.

Edwin K. Morris (8m 11s):
And are you thinking you might be part of that panel now saying as you’ve jumped in the water and now you’re a swimmer

James Bejin (8m 19s):
Who knows down the road, you know, my son, you know, he’s in the Marines and he’ll say Dad I, I want to run the business someday and yeah, sure. I mean, I try to give everyone the best advice I can. I certainly am learning things every day in the independent channel. So I don’t know everything, but I know what worked for me. And if I can help someone else,

Edwin K. Morris (8m 39s):
How long have you been with Iroquois?

James Bejin (8m 42s):
I’d say officially, April of 17, somewhere in there. Yeah.

Edwin K. Morris (8m 47s):
And are you basically building this as a family business?

James Bejin (8m 50s):
As I mentioned, my son does, he wants to run it. I don’t want to take away from his dreams. You know, he’s in the Marines and he’s seeing the world. And son you might find something that might be really boring to you. You know, it’s hard to say, I’d like to keep it in the family. We’re, well-known here in our little town of Waterford. It’s funny. My father was raised here and the signs up on one of our main streets and I get phone calls sometimes. And I’m thinking they want a quote. And it’s like, is your dad named Gary? I’m like, yeah, can I get his phone number? You know, we’re big with the community. Try to get involved with the community. And I’d like to keep it a family business, but if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t Work out.

Edwin K. Morris (9m 32s):
Is a five-year plan to grow beyond Waterford.

James Bejin (9m 33s):
Well, that’s funny, you mentioned that and I will tie directly Iroquois into that. Maureen Vincent. She has been a godsend for me. I mean, she has always stuck by me, supported me anything I needed. And you know, that’s one of the clear differences of going with an aggregator and not going with one, but I’m actually working on a market in Florida, Tampa, but again, Maureen was instrumental in getting me the contacts and putting me in front of the right people. And we’re definitely planning on getting outside of Waterford. I’d like to open another office in Grand Blanc, which is just north of here, maybe about 30 miles dream big. Right? You got to, you know, we started, I laugh to this day when we first started in this building, my aunt and I, we had two cordless phones, an old computer, and she actually worked for free for the first three months because I just couldn’t pay her humble beginnings.

James Bejin (10m 28s):
I like slow and steady growth too. You know, you don’t want to expand too quick. I’m fine with having five agents, not 45 agents and the headache that goes with that. So I like slow and steady growth and we’ve got seven employees now and you know, this town really rallied behind us. I would tell you that 80% of our business is probably referral. So we’re doing something right?

Edwin K. Morris (10m 50s):
Well that is absolutely exciting because this is a developmental cycle that will not end. You will continue because you’ve got that perseverance. You’ve got the drive to just keep putting in the work. And that to me is a sure sign of at least trying and making progress. It sounds like you’ve got all the right parts to make it work

James Bejin (11m 11s):
Well. I appreciate that. Thank you. And you know, like I said before, without Iroquois probably wouldn’t be where I’m at. I think everyone over there, especially Maureen and I look forward to growing

Edwin K. Morris (11m 23s):
With them.

James Bejin (11m 23s):
I like to think so, but I’m sure there’s many, many better than I honestly it’s to me doing something different than your average agent, whether it be community events, I’m doing a 501C3, I’m going to do a scholarship for a local student every year. The Iroquois has a wonderful charity match. So does Safeco and some of these other carriers. So we’re going to be doing that and just doing something different than your average agent, you know, it’s been working for me. We’re going to continue that and obviously grow with the Iroquois and look, continue to Reach these projections and hit these marks.

Edwin K. Morris (11m 59s):
We’ll be thrilled to hear what’s going on in Florida. Next time we get together.

James Bejin (12m 5s):
Absolutely. Thanks for making the time for me guys.

Edwin K. Morris (12m 6s):
Yeah, let’s do a follow up soon. Thank you, James. Have a great day.

James Bejin (12m 6s):
Thank you guys. I really appreciate it.

Edwin K. Morris (12m 11s):
Thanks for listening to this edition of the Trusted Advisor podcast brought to you by Iroquois Group. Iroquois is your trusted advisor in all things insurance, and remember get out of the office and sell. I am Edwin K Morris, and I invite you to join me for the next edition of the Trusted Advisor podcast.