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They say insurance is the one career no one really plans tofollow. Reps don’t show up for career day at grade schools,guidance counselors don’t recognize budding young agents in highschool detention and the once-reliable broker farm system has longsince faded into history.

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And even though pop culture institutions such as Harry Potterand Lady Gaga rate their own college course, there are very fewacademic options for those chasing those life-health dreams. SoGentrie Pool emerges as something of an anachronism – defying asystem seemingly erected to prevent fresh new talent while also notexactly encouraging young women, either.

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The maverick young agent actually broke into the business as abright-eyed 17-year-old, slaving away at an old school property andcasualty agency. Six months later, she was outta there faster thanDonald trump’s presidential aspirations. End of story, right? Notso much. “A few years later, an agent [who had worked] in the samebuilding asked me to come work for him part time,” Pool explained.“I declined and he kept asking.”

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Finally, Pool, who was still in school, caved and put in a fewhours at the office in between classes at the University ofTexas-Arlington. “Ten years later, I looked back and realized I’dhandled about 1,500 small and large group enrollments from prospectto post sale, started the senior product division and the P&Cdepartment,” Pool recalls.

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“And I left there with my life-health, P&C licenses, and CSAand RHU designations, management certifications, a corner officeand title as director of operations and part owner of thebuilding.” What a difference a decade makes.

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(It’s worth noting that she still managed to graduate cum laudewith a communications degree – with a kinesiology minor – and evenput in some hours toward a master’s degree. She confesses she hadevery intention of becoming a professor.)

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Now she’s a district sales manager, in charge of several statesfor a Las Vegas-based national third-party administrator “with aboutique feel.” Her role, she explains, “is to bring visibility to[our] HRA products among our suite of what I call the acronymsofferings: HSA, HRA, POP, COBRA, MERP.” But, of course, that’s notenough for her, either.

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Pool’s also sitting president of the Fort Worth Association ofHealth Underwriters. “The agent/mentor who stalked me into comingto work for him also heavy handedly suggested I attend the [FWAHU]luncheons,” Pool recalls. “I went and before I knew it, I becamepresident.” She’s actually been on the board for seven years nowand is about to wrap up her presidential term, marked by statechapter of the year honors and the distinction of becoming thefirst gold-seal certified chapter in the country.

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So after the initial arm twisting – metaphorical, of course –why get further involved? It all came down itches, scratches andmentors.“Once I attended a few times I realized I could scratch a fewitches,” Pool says. “To teach, to be mentored to and to mentor, tonetwork, to affect change – legislatively – locally to nationally.And I have: I’ve testified at the Texas State Senate as an expertwitness, visited with congressmen and women on the Hill and intheir own backyards.”

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But for Pool there’s more to it than that. “FWAHU and TAHU aremy insurance friends and family. Stagnation is my enemy and all[the continuing education] you have available in the associationhas real world applications. Besides, I’m a big believer in beingunique,” Pool says. “Translation?

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I have no interest in repeating the mistakes someone else hasmade, so I want to learn from my peers and then I’m free to go makemy own fresh new mistakes.” But what else can you expect from arunner – certainly one as intensely competitive as Pool? “I competeagainst myself and others (and they don’t even have to be aware I’mcompeting).

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I like to challenge myself, grow, learn, stretch, endure and Iget to do all of those things by running and through my involvementin [National Association of Health Underwriters]. We’re all in thistogether, and I believe if you’re going to complain aboutsomething, you better be part of the solution.

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So many laws we have today in this state got their genesis inour organization. And we certainly have a voice that is respectedand heard when making changes to other laws that could have turnedout a lot differently than they have.”

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Benefits Selling: So what’s your traditional salesapproach?
GP: I don’t consider it sales. Never have. Ieducate. If someone doesn’t want something I’m not interested intrying to convince them they do. Whether it’s an employee I’mtraining, a prospect with no knowledge about insurance, an agentwith 35 years of experience, or the CFO of a group, my mission isto give you real world, applicable information in manageable dosesand help you make informed decisions.

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BS: And your larger overall sales strategy?
GP:
If you can’t measure it, don’t do it. You have to knowthe ROI. Think long-term. Know when to shut up. And know youraudience. Some only care about the bottom line, some care about thepeople. And no matter whom you’re talking to or what you aretalking about — they want to feel understood before you can makethem understand.

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I act like a consultant. There is enough business to go aroundfor all of us. You don’t have to go after another broker’sbusiness. If it’s too hard, another and better way will showitself. I write and teach CE and use this often because I want tobe seen as a consultant. The sales will come. In order to reach agoal, you must define it and then work backward from there. I wantto leave people better off than they started.

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So, that’s how I approach my brokers, colleagues, employergroups, friends, family. Also, I don’t believe in grandfatheringout of CE. This industry is forever evolving. Just like I don’twant a surgeon who last took a course in technology 30 years ago, Iexpect the same from myself in regard to learning about insuranceproducts, concepts and theory.

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Last year I received my SGS and am working on my REBC right now.And my learning doesn’t just stop with designations. I challengemyself to learn about well being, insurance laws, management andleadership.

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BS: So what are you seeing in the market rightnow?
GP:
Well, for starters, the most successful brokers arethe ones who aren’t scared to learn, whether its new technology,new products or new concepts. Second, HRAs are picking up at aspeed not seen in years. Business owners understand they cancontrol their fixed costs, plan designs and cash flow just likelarge employers can and limit their exposure to whatever their risktolerance is.

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The brokers are becoming more sophisticated in understanding thebenefits to themselves, the carriers, the business owners and theiremployees to this type of long-term strategizing. I also seelong-term care sales increasing. These are the years baby boomersstart aging into retirement. They are our fastest growingpopulation segment. And, finally, it looks like wellness programshave actuarial data to prove their effectiveness in improvinghealth and decreasing claims.

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BS: So how are brokers responding?
GP:
In every challenge is an opportunity. Successfulbrokers look for the opportunity. A winner sees a green near everysand trap and a loser sees two or four sand traps near everygreen.

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BS: And yourself?
GP:
I’m malleable. To be successful you have to be rigidin your morality and character... and flexible in everything else.I continue to learn, write CE, and look for opportunities to helpsomeone.

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BS: So what about someone trying to break into thebusiness?
GP:
Manage your expectations and set goals. Go to work forsomeone with a lot of experience and learn. Join you local HealthUnderwriters or NAIFA chapter and go to the meetings. Membership isworthless if you don’t interact. Look for a mentor.

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I have been on the broker side, carrier side and TPA. Low manand top dog. The more you expose yourself, the better youunderstand the industry and the better you will be. Always thinkabout how you can add value to someone. This is not aget-rich-quick industry. It’s steady, consistent, andreliable...the money will come but that should not be the focus. Itshould just be a byproduct.

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BS: So where do you see new brokers coming from, by theway?
GP:
Most independents I see these days are leaving biggerfirms, or going the more traditional route: going to work for afamily member with an agency...or the new trend setter? Starting uptheir own shop after being laid off.

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BS: OK, I have to ask, where are you with regard tohealth reform? What are your thoughts?
GP:
Don’t shoot me: Reform is a good thing. And [NAHU]played an impactful part in pushing for changes to it that benefitthe broker. Now what we have isn’t health care reform so much as itis health “carrier” reform.

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True health care reform means educating the end users ofinsurance, giving them the tools to make informed decisions abouthealth care finance like transparency, and shifting the paradigmaway from sick care to prevention. Our system is broken and reformis the first step to changing it.

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Reform of this magnitude will have some successes and failures.Rather than complain about what I don’t like about it, I work withour local, state and national [NAHU] chapters to impact change­:writing letters, visiting congress people, letters to the editor,learning, teaching and helping others see the opportunities inthis. Our industry is not dying — its changing. Agents with adiverse product offering will be just fine.

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