Jun 22, 2021
CONTRACTS - DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE SIGNING?
Do you know how it could impact your career?
EP - 59 For this author, contracts are a sensitive topic. Almost a hot button.
My major in college was law enforcement….I was facinated by reading case law, often which is developed because of contracts.
As a Certified Insurance Counselor, that’s 90% of the training….what does the insurance contract say and how does it relate to what we as the agent do, what the insurance company does and what the insured does. Most people don’t ready the insurance policy very often and in and in a digital world, that contract is often sent in the middle several other emails and just gets filed….not like the piece of paper that we once received and put in a filing cabinet.
I’m a stickler for reading contracts and I think a lot of it is my background. As an insurance agent, you have a few important contracts that you are signing, and it’s important that you understand what you are signing where you put your signature could impact your career.
For this discussion, I’m primarily going to focus on employment contracts, because that is what will impact you, the insurance agent, the most. I’m at a place in my life that I won’t sign another employment contract. In my world, also known as a non compete.
Before I talk more about contracts, I want to introduce you to our podcast sponsor, Insurancemailboxpower.com. I’m so excited to have them as a sponsor and if you haven’t checked them out, please take a few minutes to go to insurancemailboxpower.com.
They’ve agreed to be the sponsor for a few episodes, so I want to provide you with ideas on how you can use this platform to grow your business. Since we are talking about contracts and potential new employees, let’s say you are the owner hiring someone new. You want to make the experience of working for your agency one that is welcoming, where the new employee is excited to come to work and be part of your organization.
What if you send them a welcome packet before their first day, include a coffee mug with their name on it, include a greeting card that talks about how excited you are to have them on your team and you send them some brownies to get them through the afternoon slump!
You could just do that or you could create a drip campaign for all new employees where you sent them some love every few weeks or months depending on your budget and what you feel is appropriate. Maybe you send them a gift card, a personalized pen (with their name on it) a personalized water bottle, game set or even some sweet treats. Insurancemailboxpower.com has a lot of gift items to choose from and they are adding more every week.
What is really nice about this is that you can brand what you send with your company information but you can also personalize it with the employees name on it, you can automate the campaign so that once you set it up, you can forget about it. But you can send the goodies throughout the year and make your employees feel like you appreciate them.
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When I first started in the industry, I worked for my dad and as a high school student, I don’t think he was worried about anything. Also, he was just learning the business himself, so an employment contract was the farthest thing from him mind.
I stopped working for my dad after about 10 years and the next agency I worked for hired me on as a CSR/Account Manager. I was responsible for servicing the accounts, I didn’t have much of a relationship with the clients, other than processing paperwork. I believe I had to sign an employment contract / non compete, but can’t remember.
It was the next 3 agencies I worked for that had me sign contracts and it’s something I’ll probably never do again.
The first contract I had to sign was when I was hired as a producer. Every producer had to sign one and honestly, I was so happy to have the position, so it wasn’t an issue. Until some things happened inside that agency that I couldn’t stomach any longer and I needed to leave. The issue was I had built a relationship with a lot of people that I was their insurance advisor, they counted on me for my advice and it had taken me awhile to earn their business.
The document I signed said I couldn’t contact those clients for a certain number of years. This was pre internet, so they couldn’t find me as easily as they could today, but I know a few of them tried and did eventually find me. I still couldn’t write their business until the time had passed but they were not happy about that!, at all! And I felt I had lost some friends.
When I left the first agency, I had an attorney review the contract so I had a full understanding of what I could and couldn’t do. Why did I invest the money into having an attorney review? Because I’m not an attorney, I know how to read the contracts but I don’t know the laws.
I live very close to the MD/VA line. The employment laws between those two states are very different. ….Paying an attorney for one or two hours of service is much better than paying them to defend you in court if you are sued for violating the contract!
Contracts are real life. Employers have you sign them because they are serious about keeping their business. They will sue you if you violate them and then you will have to pay to defend yourself.
Depending on how big the company you worked for is, could depend on how vigorously they pursue you….but they have deep pockets. You might not!
The second place I worked for I thought was going to be a forever home, so again, signing the contract wasn’t as big of a deal, but I did have it reviewed by an attorney before I signed it and the attorney offered a few suggestions to help me modify their contract to make it a little easier on me. They gave up one or two items, but they weren’t anything of significance.
When I left the second agency, I again faced the same issue that I faced the first time...I had clients that trusted me, that wanted to work with me and that couldn’t because of my contract. The good news / bad news is that I had not written that much business with the second agency before I realized what a crazy business it was.
I’m serious when I say crazy…..their staff punched a time clock and literally lined up 10 minutes before it was time to leave waiting to clock out at 5:00. No one gave any extra at that agency. It was like a ghost town at 5:05. Completely the opposite of anything I had ever seen in the companies I had worked for in the past.
On Fridays we started the 5:05 club with the producers because we were the only ones left in the office. The 5:05 club was our in house happy hour. We had some great beer tastings then!
The one really good thing about that agency was its location. It was an hour away from my home, but it overlooked National Airport...many of you listening might know it as Ronald Regan Airport, right outside of Washington DC. I saw Bush Sr. leave office and learned that when a president leaves office, they take a helicopter ride around the Capital ...at least up until #45 they did this, I could see that from my office. I also saw the funeral procession for Jacquie Kennedy Onassis as it arrived at Regan Airport. It was a stunning view looking at the Potomac River! It was easy to leave that agency but it was hard to leave that view!
When I left that crazy office, I started my first agency. While being my own boss had been in the cards since I worked for my father, it was a lot harder to get started then what someone starting today has to go through.
I had been offered a position with Nationwide Insurance as an agent, but their contract stated that I had to sell a certain number of life products in order to maintain my contract. My issue then as it would be today is that what if their product wasn’t the right fit for my client. I’ve clearly been on the independent side for too long, having access to all of the options that need to be explored for clients!
What I remember saying since I started my own agency is that I would never sign an employment/non complete agreement again. I never want to leave the people who have built their trust with me because of a piece of paper. I don’t think I am unique with this feeling but at the same time, clients come and go. So it shouldn’t be the only driver in what we do but it definitely can have an impact.
There are a lot of industries that require their employees to sign an agreement, it isn’t just insurance agencies. I’m perfectly ok with it so long as it’s fair. There are some contracts that are very unfair and potentially worth fighting, if you have the resources. If you have listened to some of the earlier episodes, I talked about the business groups that I run in addition to running my insurance agency. For those of you who are familiar with BNI, my business groups are similar, but more about business development and creating opportunities inside and outside of your business. One of my members is a mortgage broker. After about a year of being a member, he decided he was going to start interviewing other lenders to work for because he wasn’t having a good experience with the company he’d been with for 15 years. He was very mythological with his interviews and narrowed it down to two companies. The one that he decided to join really impressed him. The CEO flew in to meet him and his wife for dinner, discussed how he could reach him personally if he had issues, confirmed everything that was discussed with respects to office, salary, benefits, etc. .Mike, the mortgage broker, signe the contract and was so excited to work for the new company. He had a new role, felt really comfortable, was transitioning his business then we went into lockdown. Then the new business he brought to the new company wans’t getting processed. He was told 60-90 days before he could get anything done. At his old company he was getting things done in 30-60 days. Some other lenders were getting things done in less than 30 days and he was having trouble competing.
After 6 months of this, Mike was very frustrated. He decided to leave and was hit with a cease and desist letter from the company owner. The document he signed, which he did not have an attorney review for him, basically said that he could not get out of working for the company for a certain amount of time without having to pay back a certain amount of money and that he could not work for any other mortgage company for several years. I don’t have the specifics but the big picture is that he is being held hostage with that company because of the contract he signed. He’s now working with an attorney to get out of the contract which has cost him more than a few thousand dollars and he’s not finished yet!
He’s a smart, educated man and he didn’t have an attorney review the contract because he didn’t think about it. I feel bad for him because I know he’s feeling horrible about the situation and his life would be completely different if he had spent a few hundred dollars to get the contract reviewed. I’m sure the attorney would have told him what he was getting himself into and Mike probably would not have signed the contract as written. No body would!
Now, you might be thinking, this is mortgage, not insurance and nobody in insurance would do that. Trust me, they will. You just have to decide how much you are willing to spend to defend yourself.
Earlier in the episode I mentioned an agency I went to work for as a CSR when I left my dads agency. This agency had 5 locations and the two managers at one of their locations decided to break off on their own after a few years. I know the agency had them tied up in legal work for close to 10 years. It was a mess! I believe one of the principals eventually left the insurance business completely and is now a legislator in some state out west. He just started his life over!. He also had like 15 kids, so he couldn’t really afford a lot of legal bills for too long!
Insurance agencies want to protect their business. It’s their survival mechanism. As someone who consults with business owners, I understand and agree with this. But there needs to be a middle ground where people can leave and pay for their business at a known price ahead of time.
Not long ago I learned that lawyers don’t operate this way, which surprises me, but they are so ethically bound that it does make sense. In the legal world, if an attorney leaves a practice, the firm must send a letter to all the clients, announcing that the lawyer is leaving and giving the clients their choice where they want to go. As a business consultant, I struggle with this because of the impact it can have on revenue, but as someone who sold insurance and had to walk away from friendships and people who trusted me, I love the way lawyers have to do this.
I sold my agency in the late 90’s and focused on my business development groups, insurance and marketing consulting along with doing some public speaking for different organizations. In that time period, I had to take a job because of getting divorced and low an behold, another employment / non compete was put in front of me. This one I did sign and without any regret because I was not writing any insurance, My job was to build relationships with realtors and encourage them to use the insurance agency within the real estate company. Since I wasn’t selling insurance, I knew there was nothing to worry about with that contract. When management changed and they wanted me to start selling, I knew my time there was short. Also, I really didn’t get along with the new management. Not to bash anyone, but I’m about working for an organization where they treat their employees like people who have a brain, not treat them like they are idiots. There I go digressing again!
I’m sharing with you some real life examples of contracts but what I want you to take from this is that you will be asked to sign contracts. You must read them, understand them and probably have an attorney review them for you so that you understand what happens if you want out of the contract. It only costs a few hundred dollars to pay an attorney to review it. If you don’t have the money for that, ask your future employer if they would pay the attorney bill as part of your compensation if you join the company. If you don’t join the company, there’s probably a good reason that came out of the contractual review and you would then have to pay the attorney bill yourself but you’ll be a happier camper because of it!
The contracts you sign are written for a reason. Don’t think they’ll never enforce it, because if you violate the contract you signed, most likely, you will be sued! If for no other reason, the company will want to make an example of you to deter other employees from doing the same thing!
There is one more thing that I want to say about getting your contracts reviewed and that is to make sure you are using the right type of attorney. What a lot of people don’t know is that just like most insurance agents specialize in one area, so do attorneys.
So have your employment contracts reviewed by an employment attorney
Have your business contracts reviewed by a business attorney
If you need to sue someone use a personal injury or litigator type of attorney
Hire an attorney that specializes in the area that you need and isn’t a general attorney that does what you need once in a while. Read the website. If they say they do a lot, keep looking until you find the specialist!
That wraps up this episode of the Business of Insurance Podcast. Don’t forget to check out the sponsors website insurancemailboxpower.com. Tell them Debbie DeChambeau sent you.
Thank you for listening. Until next time, keep creating opportunities!
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This episode of the Business of Insurance Podcast is sponsored by Insurancemailboxpower.com.
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ABOUT THE HOST
This episode of the Business of Insurance podcast is produced and hosted by Debbie DeChambeau, CIC, AAI, CPIA - an entrepreneur, business advisor, insurance professional and content creator. Her goal is to inspire you to think differently and explore ideas that disrupt the status quo.
Debbie has an extensive business and marketing background with a focus of helping insurance professionals be more successful.