Based on what I see going on today, and looking back at how things were when I started in the insurance business, I hardly recognize our industry any more. What has changed?
Lots of things have changed but I feel the biggest cause for this is the introduction of the computer. When I first entered the business, nobody had them. I would guess that only large companies had them, but things are far different now. Now, everybody has one, maybe more than one.
The rate of change in what computer can do is accelerating which, overall, is good. But there are some negatives as well. What you buy today is outdated tomorrow which, if you insist on the very latest technology, adds to the cost. Also, the internet increases the opportunity for fraud, which is a bigger cost that few people can imagine. This is especially true in the senior market, where Medicare plays a big role and not enough is being done to police it.
Now, looking back to when I first started (the late 1960's): The company I first worked for (a mid-sized insurer in Minneapolis) had its one and only computer on the 7th floor in our building, and was in a room that was temperature-controlled and had a thick padded rubber flooring. You had to have special permission to go into that room. After getting that permission, you then had to go through two sets of doors (to minimize any temperature change), take your shoes off and walk in on those rubber floors wearing some sort of paper socks that were made available. Data was entered into the computer by punch cards that had been "punched" by special people who were not in the computer room but elsewhere in the building. The technology that filled that room can now be held in your hand, with a smartphone or tablet computer.
Thanks to a degree in mathematics, I worked in the actuarial department, one of the most prestigious places to be in any insurance company. Desks in the office were equipped with calculators into which you entered numbers and then "enter" at which time a carriage would go back and forth to get the data you put in into the machine to make the desired calculation. The results were entered on 5 X 7 cards by hand using pen or pencil and stored in file cabinets. Selectric typewriters were around and carbon paper was popular. Each floor in the building had one or two copy machines where there was always a line of people waiting to use them. If a special project was going on, you could make an appointment to use them.
I soon learned that life in the office was too confining. I had to be "free." One of my college pals convinced me to try sales, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. However, my wife and I were still in Minnesota and both of us had a great dislike for the cold. The second-best decision was to move, with our three kids, to California — which we did in 1970.
I was fortunate to get a position in the sales end of the insurance business, where I have been ever since. In a few years, I wound up starting my own agency. We were small and were basically a "mom and pop" business run by my wife and myself. We remained small from that point on.
After we got our business started, soon to come were things like copy machines, fax machines and, for those with computers, programs like word processing (which got rid of carbon paper which made correcting "typos" much easier) and several different data base programs. Which way do you want to go, "IBM or Mac," was a big decision everyone had to make. While all of this was going on, I decided to concentrate on health insurance group sales for small employers. It worked out very well.
But while all this was going on, low and behold, our kids became teenagers! This soon led to our daughter (Monica) introducing us to Dave Villar who, together, began working in our office. This was around 1990.
Apparently liking what he saw, Dave wanted to get into insurance sales. To do that, he needed to learn the ins and outs of the business. Dave and Monica spent 5 years at Dick Engen and Associates before leaving to start their own Agency in 1992.
I am proud to see him leading the charge to keep the insurance business in the family. Monica, Dave and our two grandsons, Bryan and Brandon are now running a very successful multi-line agency, PCB Insurance Services. Bryan heads the Employee Benefits Division and Brandon runs Property and Casualty. My wife Cathy and I are very proud and looking forward to the new family members to continuing the family business tradition.
Note This blog was written by Dick Engen.