“There’s so much negativity in the industry,” said Susan L. Combs, speaking April 13 at the BenefitsPRO Broker Expo. “But maybe it’s time to focus on some of the positives.”
Combs, who was crowned the 2017 BenefitsPRO Broker of the Year earlier in the week, moderated the panel, “What’s the Good News, Ladies?”
Based on the popular column of the same name, the session featured: Kristen Brown, financial advisor, Prudential Financial; Pat Griffey, risk management advisor, Healy Group; Susan Rider, consultant, employee benefits & human capital managementt, Gregory & Appel Insurance; and Cheryl Hughes, financial planner, Lincoln Financial Advisors.
Over the course of an hour, Combs, president of Combs & Company, led the panelists through success stories and the strategies that have helped them crash through the glass ceiling. The following are highlights from this educational and inspirational discussion.
After years of grinding, Griffey said joining NAIFA made a huge difference in her career trajectory. These were in the pre-internet days and Griffey was asked to do an educational roadshow across five cities. “I was asked to handle the health insurance piece and something really clicked,” she said. “I realized that focusing on education and educating clients really worked for me.”
Hughes, who has thirty-plus years in the industry, said she was thrown to the wolves upon entering the industry. After passing her Series 6 and 63, she received a list of hospitals from her company and was told to start cold calling. “That was my training,” she said. “I could either swim or die.”
Hughes started paddling. As she was treading water, she realized something going on within the industry. “Everybody was chasing the high-end clients so I decided to focus on the middle class, especially the nurses I met with at the hospitals.”
Decades later, she had a second career-defining moment when she lost out on a huge client. “I was ready to retire. My husband and I have 11 grandchildren and I was ready to spend more time with them,” she said. “I called my boss and he said he didn’t want me to go. He asked me if I was open to additional training.”
Hughes said the additional training she received was one of the most rewarding experiences of her career and taught her a valuable lesson about this industry. “You better learn to be flexible and learn new things because things always change.”
Susan Rider served in various roles in the industry, but when she transitioned to sales she began to struggle. That turned around when she got involved in a mentorship program. At the time, her firm had no formal mentoring in place so Rider took it upon herself to establish a national mentorship program.
“When you find a mentor,” she said. “It’s really important to find someone who will listen. We all like to talk in this industry, but not as many of us like to listen and hear what others have to say.”
Through the years, mentors have served various roles for Rider. Some have helped her with education, others with case studies. One mentor helped her with a specific problem she was having — how to talk to her boss. These days, Rider helps other brokers solve problems. She also takes her mentoring outside of the industry, teaching at local colleges where she speaks to millennials about the importance of finding someone who can help provide career guidance.
WIFS (Women in Insurance & Financial Services) made a difference for Kristen Brown. The association’s formal mentorship program matches people up by personality type. Brown’s mentor is a mortgage broker, so they don’t speak specifically about the day-to-day intricacies regarding health care, but they have connected on a philosophical level and that’s helped Brown thrive in her career.
She has another mentor she met through MDRT that she meets with weekly at Starbucks. “He’s not much older than I am and that’s been a big help to me to learn from a peer.” But she’s not done in her search for mentors. “Right now I’m looking for a mentor who’s a planner. I want to learn from someone that I can model.”
A woman’s world
Rider said playing to your strengths is big for women if they want to find success in an industry that is dominated by men, who make up 86 percent of the broker population. “Maybe we don’t like to play golf,” she said. “Maybe we don’t like to go to ball games, but maybe we like Broadway shows or concerts. We need to focus on our passions and present these to our clients.”
Griffey agreed. “Let’s face it, men and women really are different on many levels,” she said. “What I have found is that women are great at details. But the key to working with women is this — don’t tell a woman how to do something. Instead, show her what you’re looking for. The woman can then find a way to make it work out.”
Combs closed the program with a call to arms for women in the industry. “I won the Broker of the Year award,” she said. “And I’m not afraid to tell everyone I meet. Woman often feel like they shouldn’t brag about their accomplishments. Don’t roar after the kill. I say, ‘No way. Roar after the kill!’ If you’re not going to do it, who will?”