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Toledo area life insurance firms add agents in a move toward expansion

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    The Sylvania satellite agency for Bankers Life and Casualty Co. has grown from a staff of two to 19 in recent years and has plans to add at least a dozen more staffers by year s end, says Jeff Lambdin, sales manager for the Toledo area.

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    We are in the business of trying to grow, says John Lehman, left, with Brian Nowak, at New York Life s offices in Maumee.

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And yet, some Toledo-area insurance agencies are expanding and are adding dozens of agents. Managers say they are gearing up for growth and are taking advantage of the large talent pool created by the downsizing of other industries.

For example, New York Life Insurance Co. is looking to bring in 20 to 25 new agents this year in its Toledo-area office based in Maumee s Arrowhead Park, which had about 45 agents at midyear.

We are in the business of trying to grow, said John Lehman, a partner in the agency.

And the Sylvania satellite agency for Bankers Life and Casualty Co. has grown from a staff of two to 19 in recent years and has plans to add at least a dozen more staffers by year s end, according to Jeff Lambdin, sales manager for the Toledo area.

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We are in the business of trying to grow, says John Lehman, left, with Brian Nowak, at New York Life s offices in Maumee.

The Blade/Lori King
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I don t think the recession has helped or hurt us, said Mr. Lambdin. When times are tough, people still buy things less of what they want and more of what they need.

The severity of the recession caught many in the insurance industry by surprise. Premiums from new individual life-insurance policies fell by 14 percent in the fourth quarter and by 26 percent in the first quarter of 2009, reported LIMRA International, an insurance-industry research and consulting firm in Windsor, Conn. The latter quarterly drop was the biggest since 1943, the firm said.

Life insurance agencies often sell not only life insurance but also long-term care insurance, securities, and annuities.

I don t really see the effects of the recession, Mr. Lambdin said. A lot of our clientele are already retired. In any case, he noted that we re on pace to have our biggest year and not just in this office.

Because of the tough economy, this is one of the strongest recruiting environments for our industry in quite some time, said Gina Kvitkovich, spokesman for GAMA International, an insurance-industry association in Falls Church, Va. The downturn won t last forever, and a lot of companies see this as a good time to build a good foundation for the future.

Both local managers say new agents can range in age from their 20s to 50s or even 60s and can come from all walks of life, some with college degrees, some not. Although the current hiring plans are unusual, both agencies have been hiring steadily, partly to replace agents who leave.

For recruits who succeed, compensation can be attractive, they say. The average first-year agent can earn in the range of $45,000 to $60,000, Mr. Lehman said. That includes commissions, training allowances, and bonuses.

Mr. Lambdin said first-year income can be from $30,000 to $80,000. His agents compensation is from commissions only.

To succeed, agents need to be career-oriented rather than just job-focused, Mr. Lambdin said. They ve got to be driven, and it can t be just about money: There s got to be some other fulfillment. And they have to be able to communicate with people of all ages and [lifestyles].

New York Life s Mr. Lehman believes the ability to be coachable is a key to success. Agents need to be organized and independent and have a tremendous amount of professionalism and desire, he said. I tell them they need guts, desire, and heart.

Homer Brickey is a retired Blade senior business writer.

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