Disrupting insurance with digital solutions with Majda Baltic | Ep. 19

The insurance industry has a real imbalance: while 80% of licensed agents are women, only one percent of those women are owners of agencies. Majda Baltic is not only an agency owner at 31, she is also the Emerging Leader of 2020 Award with Majdas Touch Insurance, Inc., the first 100% Virtual, 100% Green, and 100% Remote Insurance agency.

As you can imagine, Majda is a disruptor at heart and a very passionate and intelligent leader with lots to say. We talked about many topics including the immigrant experience, Gary V, running a fully virtual agency and the advantages of very specialized micro agencies. 

Join me as I discuss disrupting insurance with digital solutions with Majda Baltic, owner of Majdas Touch Insurance and winner of the Emerging Leader of 2020 Award.

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Tony Caldwell:

Hi, I'm Tony Caldwell and I have, as a guest today, Majda Baltic, who is a winner of the Emerging Leader of 2020 Award, published by Safeco Insurance and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, which means that Majda's agency is on the cutting edge in terms of what's going on in insurance distribution and insurance agency development. Majda, have welcome.

 

Majda Baltic:

Thank you very much. I'm honored to be a part of the show.

 

Tony Caldwell:

I am-

 

Majda Baltic:

Big fan.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Well, I'm so glad to have you. I mean, this award is really, I think, significant. I've tracked and followed the winners for the last few years. And what I've learned is Liberty and Safeco, particularly Safeco, is really themselves on the cutting edge of digital. In fact, they talk about being deeply digital, so very cutting edge. And so, the people that they select, I know, are at the point of the spear. And that's you, so we're-

 

Majda Baltic:

Thank you.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Well, Majda, you have a really interesting life. In fact, your early life is fascinating and your entry into the insurance industry as well. Would you just give us a thumbnail sketch about your background?

 

Majda Baltic:

Absolutely. So, I'm originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Yugoslavia. My family escaped the war. We immigrated to Germany, lived there for a while, grew up there. And then we came to the United States. Coming to the United States, we came straight to Utah. It was a huge culture shock for me, being a teenager coming from the European lifestyle into Utah, Salt Lake City, and especially because Salt Lake City back then was a lot more reserved, even than it is now. It's changed a lot over the years. And at that time, when we first came here, I really was eager just to kind of get out and explore the United States. Even being that young, I couldn't wait. I was counting down the days to be old enough to just be able to move somewhere else and see what that's like.

So, I ended up moving to Las Vegas, and I lived there for a while. I lived in Los Angeles for a while. And when it came time to open up my office, I came back to Utah to base it here since my family's here and this is kind of like my base. So, I came, when I first started in insurance, I found the job on Craigslist to become a secretary in an office and I was lucky enough to have a great boss, who is still my mentor today. He really pushed me to take the licensing, the school to pass the licensing exam and things and get into insurance.

And being that English was, I learned English when I came to the United States and English is my fifth language, it was really difficult for me at that time when I first got started. And I know that the average person passes the test first, second, third try, but it took me seven tries. And it took a lot of persistence and hard work to get there, but I'm so glad that I achieved, that I passed the test and that I got the license. And it's turned out to be something really great.

Being, having lived in Vegas for a while I actually lived at the City Center, on The Strip and that put me into a really interesting crowd of people. A lot of my clients even today are based off of the connections that I built at that time. So, I deal with all kinds of people. Your average person or your high school graduate going into college to then through my Las Vegas relationships. Very high net worth clients who some of them have a net worth of $700 million plus, because they're entrepreneurs and have multiple companies, investments and that kind of thing. And I've got some friends and clients who are celebrities and I've got other industry people and just lots of real estate connections and that kind of stuff. So, my career has led me, I would say, through every type of community that you can imagine. And I'm really thankful for the experience and the friendships I've built along the way.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Well, so one of the things you said I just want to touch on persistence. That is one of the things that entrepreneurs have to have if they want to be successful, because almost never does the business that you set out to create end up being the business that you operate, right? Things have to have to change and tough times are always there, so getting through that is key. And in fact, when you look at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce statistics on the number of businesses that fail in the first five years, it's close to 90%. And I think that part of that is because people just don't tough it out quite long enough. They probably fail right before they became successful or would become successful, so good for you.

 

Majda Baltic:

Thank you.

 

Tony Caldwell:

One of the things I was impressed about in reading the profile of your agencies. You have four or five team members and you're in... you have offices or locations are headquartered or whatever in about 10 or 12 different cities. I don't know how that works, but clearly, you've done something different and unique in the founding of your agency. So, are you completely virtual? Do you have physical locations all over? How does that all work for you?

 

Majda Baltic:

Sure. So, yes, we are completely virtual. We're 100% green and we are 100% remote. What that means is basically that we have a bigger reach. That's all it really represents. Right? So, I think that the traditional view of offices and the structure around business that we have to do business in person with people is really obsolete today. I think that still can work for the existing clientele that those people may have already. And the clientele that kind of expects that, because that's what they're used to but going forward for the future. I think that it's very important and crucial to business owners to be able to adapt to technology and being able to transact business virtually.

So, our remote employees work just like any other employee would in an office. They have a set schedule. They clock in. They come. They do their work. I get notifications throughout the day of what they're doing. What kind of tasks they're working on and things and we really just collaborate really tightly. And I think that that's probably what makes it possible is that we have open communication and that everybody really stays in touch with each other throughout the day to make it possible. If we didn't communicate, I think that that would get us into trouble. So, thank goodness for all the technology that we have out today, the different apps and things that we can use to make that process streamlined.

 

Tony Caldwell:

So, your folks are in how many different cities?

 

Majda Baltic:

Three different cities actually.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Okay. And in more than one state?

 

Majda Baltic:

Yes, in more than one state. And I actually I just, I had a new team member that's joining us from Puerto Rico on Friday. So, that's actually, I should say, four cities.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Okay. Let's unpack that a little bit. So, you mentioned teamwork, technology, and so forth. So, what's the... how have you gone about finding these team members that are located all over the place? What's your technique? You started with Craigslist yourself? Is that what you used or you used something different?

 

Majda Baltic:

I haven't used Craigslist in many, many years. I don't know if it has the best reputation anywhere given with some of the crazy things that go on online. But I just hired the same traditional way as you would hire in the past. I used Indeed, I used LinkedIn, I use different resources that we kind of use for traditional hiring, and I just offered the job as a fully remote and virtual position. So, nothing really changes as far as the hiring process. It's more so does the team member have an open mind to working in this type of setting since it's so new.

 

Tony Caldwell:

So, I've been using Zoom for three or four years at least, but it was really hard to find anybody to Zoom with because everybody, "What's Zoom and how do they do it?" all that kind of stuff. But I'm assuming that you've been using Zoom or Skype or something like that for a number of years now?

 

Majda Baltic:

Yes, I have. I think I kind of mentioned it to you, well to your assistant, when we were going through the profile of going through the background of my agency and things. It's an interesting position to be in, to be a fully remote and tech-based agency. One of the things I think I should mention is that the same thing that's gotten me the success today is something that got me fired from a previous position that I held in a captive agency. So, having even back then, this is in 2016, I was working for a captive agency for many, many years. And I started to see the need for technology to really merge into the insurance, play into the insurance industry and my peers around me didn't agree.

And so, from back then, like you said, it's been four or five years now that I've been using Skype to communicate with clients and Instagram, Facebook, and Zoom and different types of resources that we have that are free. And that it really should be a part of all of our lives. We use them daily anyway in our personal lives. I don't know why people get so hung up on transitioning them into a workplace when that's really just the comfort of what people use to communicate today. It shouldn't really impact anything in my opinion.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Another hallmark of successful entrepreneurs, you've been fired. Entrepreneurs are generally people who can't work for anybody else, so good for you. That's point number. A few years ago, my doctor, who's not located in the same city that I live in, wanted to talk to me, but he refused to do it any other way than on Zoom. And I thought about that, "Why is that such a big deal to him? Why can't we just have a phone call?" It was about a test. But I realized that he wanted to look me in the eye and because he understood nonverbal parts of communication. It's like the studies all show are super important.

So, I'm curious now, operating with people in different cities and then clients all over the place as well. What difference... I mean, talk to me about what you think the difference is in developing relationships with those people face-to-face on Zoom, say compared to trying to get over the telephone. What difference has it made?

 

Majda Baltic:

So, to be honest with you, Tony, our office is very untraditional. I think that even when agents think of this concept of having a technology-based agency, they immediately think that they have to take all these meetings over Zoom or Skype or other methods. And in our office, I would say that 90% of the clients, we never talk to over Zoom or Skype or any of those methods, we just communicate by phone, text, email. So, I don't think that... I just want to emphasize that because I think that sometimes agents that are in the process of trying to transition to being technology based get overwhelmed by this feeling of all these things that they have to learn and do to stay in touch with clients. I think that to continue to build client relationships, you just have to remain authentic to your existing process and office setting.

I think taking simple steps to adapt go much further than suddenly trying to implement all these big techniques and different ways of communicating with clients. And I think that clients are really open-minded to that transition themselves. So, as long as you remain honest and open with them through the process of, "This is something new we're trying in our office and bear with us while we get the hang of it." I think that clients appreciate that. So, I think the most important thing, really, when we talk about what affects that technology or transitioning into tech space, what are the major effects on relationships with clients? I would say that really there aren't any as long as you remain authentic.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Okay. No. I appreciate you saying that. I mean, I do believe that face-to-face aspect communication is really powerful and will help agents escape geography increasingly in the future. But it's a good word that it's not required. Right? So, it's helpful, but it's not necessary to make it work. And I appreciate you saying that.

So, one of the big challenges, I think that that everybody is facing in our business today, because many agencies at most are operating to some degree in a virtual environment today, because COVID-19, even though they don't really want to be doing that. I mean, maybe that's not their permanent business model, but we're all faced with having to build culture, develop teamwork, and esprit de corps all kinds of things where we can't be physically together. You built your agency from the beginning that way. What are some of the things you've learned about how to build culture and teamwork virtually?

 

Majda Baltic:

I think that this question brings it back to my original point of how we kind of hire across state lines is communication is key. I think that that's a factor in any relationship. It could be in your marriage, in your relationship with your boyfriend, girlfriend, and your family relationships in different... every relationship requires open communication. And I think that when opening up the office, in the beginning, I did not anticipate it to be so tough, at that time in 2018, to find people that would be open minded towards working remotely. I think that that was probably the biggest challenge, was trying to "convince people" that it would be okay and that it's going to work out. It might take some trial and error on our end, but we will figure it out.

And I had this idea that, I talked to friends and family members that are out of state on a regular basis. We keep in communication just fine. Why wouldn't I be able to do that with my employees or team members? So, that's the approach that I took. I just treated it just like I would any other relationship. I didn't want to make a huge fuss out of making all these boundaries and strict rules and conditions to work in the remote space. I wanted it to remain just as if it was them getting in their car at 8:30 in the morning and being at work by 9:00.

So, the only difference between them coming to the physical office and working remotely is that they're not in the office. We text. We call each other. We FaceTime each other. We Skype. We Zoom. Whatever it takes to keep that communication going. So, it's really a team effort to keep each other in the loop of things. I think that's probably the biggest responsibility that comes with it.

The biggest challenge, so to speak, is just getting everybody to really keep checking in with each other, not make assumptions that the other team member knows what you've done. Even in collaborative workspaces, like there are a lot of different technologies out today where remote working is simplified and you can work live on projects collaboratively and see each other's actions as they're actually taking place. Even with that, we still call each other after we're done working on things to clarify that, "This is what I did. This is what you did," and that's probably the biggest challenge.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Okay, so are you using tools like Slack, for example, for that inside your agency for that kind of operation?

 

Majda Baltic:

Yeah. We use like Teamwork and we use G-Suite as our platform for our enterprise system. So, they have a lot of collaborative apps built into their system, so that's really what we rely on.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Okay. Tell me about how you manage productivity from... one of the old school way is mainly what I call management by taking attendance. You walk around the office, everybody's here, they must be working, right? I'm a huge believer in using benchmarking to measure productivity. And I find that in a distributed environment, benchmarking can give you either a lot of real peace of mind knowing that you're being highly effective and efficient with people remotely, or it can point out problems that you can get onto and address, but you can't physically watch everybody or you shouldn't probably in a distributed work environment. How do you go about measuring productivity and efficiency, the management, the nuts and bolts management of getting the work done?

 

Majda Baltic:

Insurance isn't something that you can get away with faking. We have too many responsibilities as a part of our daily job environment, work environment that when a team member is slacking, it's very obvious because the work is not being completed. So, one of the things that I always say, that you kind of just said yourself, is that if I had to check, double check everybody's work all the time, those people don't need to be working for me. If I can't trust them to do the job that they signed up to do then they don't need to be here. And that's probably one of the biggest lessons I've had to learn becoming a business owner was recognizing when it's time to let somebody go and letting them go.

And I have somebody that I really, somebody that I follow, his name is Gary Vaynerchuk. I'm sure a lot of younger people know who he is. He's kind of a social media influencer, but he's also... but he's so much more than that. He's written a few New York Times bestselling books on business, team management, communication, and then how to build your brand and things. He has a media company, Vaynerchuk Media or VaynerMedia, I think is what it's called. In any case, one of the lessons he talks about is that he had the hardest time learning, recognizing when to let somebody go and then actually following through with it.

So, I think going back to your question, managing the people who work with us is just a matter of again, communicating, it sounds so simple and it really is that simple. So, when I ask somebody to do something, I have an idea of how long that work is going to take and if they get to a point where it seems like it's taking longer than it should, I check in with them to see if everything is okay. And if they need any help on anything, if we should assign a team member to help them work the lead or whatever it may be, maybe I need to help them and they just communicate with me, honestly. And they say, "Yeah, I got stuck doing this or stuck doing that," or "No, I'm good. I'm almost done finishing this up," and so forth.

And I have, maybe this will be helpful to anybody that's looking to transition into this space. Every day, I ask for a recap email at the end of the day with things that they've encountered, problems they've had, success stories that they've had, things that they think we can improve as a process. And just feedback with their team members of what kind of... what things maybe need to be worked on or coached on a little bit better, so that helps me to stay on top of things.

 

Tony Caldwell:

And so-

 

Majda Baltic:

There are-

 

Tony Caldwell:

I'm sorry. Go ahead.

 

Majda Baltic:

There are other resources, like within our enterprise system, it literally measures every single thing for me and I'm sure that there are other programs that do that. But for instance, it tells me when the person clocked in, how many active hours they've had, how many idle hours they've had. It tells me what websites they visited. It tells me what IP address they're signing on from, so I could tell if it's from their phone or from their computer. Are they on a public WiFi? Are they on their own WiFi? And all those kinds of things.

So, if I wanted to, I could track it down to this second of their activity. And I've made that known to them, so I'm just as transparent as I expect them to be. And I think that that really sets up the healthy working environment that we have is that they're fully aware that I have the ability to measure all of their movements, so they might as well just be honest with me before I find out otherwise.

 

Tony Caldwell:

I think one of the things that I read quite a bit in the last 12 months is that businesses by and large have been surprised as they've had to move to a distributed work environment that their productivity has either been as good as or better than it was in the physical environment. I think that again, that was something that people didn't expect. I know we've seen that in our own business and developed some techniques for culture and team building as well. But it sounds like you've had this from the beginning and have never been surprised, even though you had a previous experience working in, not necessarily owning the agency, but you had a chance to observe what it's really like in a physical environment. And I'm sensing that as you compare the two, you find that distributed works just fine or perhaps even better.

 

Majda Baltic:

Yeah. It definitely works better. I think that having had that background, that European background growing up there, and the way that companies structure their environments there... excuse me. The way that companies structure their work environment for their employees in Europe, you get a lot of paid time off, you get a lot of sick time. They're very reasonable and they care for the health of their employees more so than they might care for the health of the business, because they understand that healthy employees will make the business successful. And I think that that's so opposite from our American culture and work environment. And I think that that's something that I've been aware of since an early age.

So, as I was a team member working as an employee in different offices, I've been working remotely since 2012. So, even when I was a team member, I insisted on working remotely, because I constantly traveled for different reasons, because of the lifestyle that I was in at that time. And so, I didn't see the reason why I wouldn't be able to complete something on a computer with internet from home, when I can do it from the office, as long as, I guess that that would apply to responsible and driven employees rather than ones that we all know the ones that just ride the clock.

So, you can, in this environment, it's easy to spot the employee that's just there to kind of waste time and ride the clock than the employees who are trying to get things done. The ones that want to get things done are the ones that value that remote work position, because they understand that being able to do their work from home creates more freedom for them in their personal lives. And that's really what they're interested in is having a healthier home environment. And I think that that kind of just naturally bleeds over.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Sure. Well, so really what I'm hearing you say is that there isn't any real difference. I mean, you'd have to manage people, whether you're officed immediately in proximity to them or whether they're half a country away.

 

Majda Baltic:

That's right.

 

Tony Caldwell:

And we certainly have seen that in our own experience. The key to I think, to being really successful in the insurance agency business is the people, right? It's not the... I mean, I sometimes hear agents complaining that the reason they can't be successful is they don't represent company ABC and/or because that's their only market is company ABC and they can't write any business because of that company. And you talk to the agent down the street or across town, who's killing it with that company.

It's not the companies, it's the people. It's the people and how they work and giving them the freedom to be successful, putting them in the right position where they can... where their talent sets and skills and abilities match the work they're doing and then giving them the authority to go with the responsibility, and then turning them loose. I mean, those are basic management concepts that don't change, whether you're in the same building or not.

 

Majda Baltic:

I agree. I think that also the ability to trust your employees is huge. I think that that's very clear and obvious to read from an employee's perspective when you work for somebody who doesn't fully trust you and they try to micromanage your every single move, nobody wants to work for a person like that. That's a very hostile work environment. Although there are people who are working for agents like that today, those team members are looking for other opportunities.

They don't just have to have the freedom and the authority to conduct work at the pace that they feel is necessary to complete the task, but they need to have the trust of the agency owner, to be able to complete those tasks the way that they see fit. So, I think it's important as owners to recognize each person's, like you said, skills and letting them use those skills to their advantage.

 

Tony Caldwell:

So, where do we go from here? We're interested in knowing where the business is headed in the next three to five years, both for the independent insurance agency business, insurance distribution in general. You obviously were a pioneer in an area that many have been forced to embrace, at least temporarily. Where do you see this all going in the next few years?

 

Majda Baltic:

There's a huge need for new talent in our industry. I'm sure that you are familiar with the statistics of how many agents are licensed in the U.S.A. Have you looked into those statistics lately?

 

Tony Caldwell:

No, of course. Yeah.

 

Majda Baltic:

Yeah, it's we're in a dire state right now of getting new people to take on the role of agents and even team members. I think that the numbers are something like 1.58 million licensed agents in the United States for a population of 330 million people, that's absurd. That's just crazy.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Well, but even worse than that obviously are the numbers of age eligible for retirement. It's something like 50% to 60% over the next five years. Now, obviously, some agents will take the approach of “they're not going to retire, they're going to expire”, but many will, of course, retire. And so, it's exacerbated by the demographics of the agency workforce.

 

Majda Baltic:

Yes. And I've looked into statistics of the actual age groups of the licensed agents. So, like you said, it's something like, I think it's something like 55% are set to retire in the next coming years here and there over the age of 70 already. Those 55% of the industry that we're talking about. Of the remaining 45%, the agents are over age 55. Majority of the agents, I should say, are over age 55, leaving something like 10% of agents over the age of 45.

And I'm 31, so that puts into perspective. And I believe I'm in the one percentile as far as being a female owner. I think that the statistics also say that something like 80% of licensed agents are women or working agents are women and only one percentile are owners of agents, agencies. And so, that's kind of a crazy statistic to see and to realize what's really going on in the industry. And so, I think back in the days when I joined the industry. It's not like, insurance is any more entertaining today than it was 14 years ago, when I came in. It's the same.

It's just that there isn't any awareness brought into our industry for young people to be enticed to enter and to be, there's so much opportunity, especially myself, being a refugee, being an immigrant coming from first generation immigrants to the United States. My family didn't have the money to send me off to college and to do the traditional lifestyle that most people from the U.S.A. have. And so, I should say, to live the traditional lifestyle. Sorry, I like to correct my English when I get the chance.

And in any case, so to having not dropping out of college to do this and seeing the opportunity to build a true legacy and empire from insurance, it's so possible. It's just, it's within reach for anybody that's just willing to put in the work. And so, coming back to the statistics and how things are going to change going forward, I think that there can be two things either, this industry will become very popular with time once enough information floods the market to allow young people to see the opportunity at hand. Where I feel it will kind of become something like the real estate world where everybody's a realtor, everybody can be an agent, and everybody can make a lot of money, especially with there being such a scarcity of agents compared to our population as it is already.

So, there's a huge opportunity to make a ton of money and to really build a life for yourself. So, I think that if there's enough information put into the marketplace, I think young people will start to consider getting into this industry again, like they did once back in the day when all those agents who are in their 70s now are getting ready to retire one when they were getting into the industry. That was the popular job back then or career back then.

 

Tony Caldwell:

I'm just going to say, there's another possibility here, which is that technology can empower older people to work longer. So, one of the reasons that when you talk to people about, and I don't believe in retirement. I mean, I think retirement just, it means being put out of use. And so, invariably, people don't live very long after they retire because they don't have any real purpose for their life with some relatively few exceptions. But so, as somebody who doesn't think people ought to retire, I'm constantly asking them, I hear someone's going to retire, "Why are you going to do that?"

And it's interesting that the reasons people want to retire, want to quit working is either they don't like what they're doing. They've been doing it for 30 or 40 years and they hate it, which is really hard to understand in an environment, in a country in which you have all these choices, but nevertheless, that's what that represents some people. But many others just don't like being tied down to one location. They want to travel. They want to do other things.

And technology, per our entire conversation here, is making that very, very possible. I know I have a gentleman that works for me, he's in his 70s, works three days a week, he changes the three days up periodically, because he doesn't want to not work. And yet he has complete freedom of where he works, how much he works, all the rest of that, and he gets... and he's a highly educated, highly intelligent, very technical person who would be very hard to replace. And he's probably as productive in these three days as he was in the five days.

So, anyway, I don't know if that's an answer to our labor problem, but I suspect it may be a big part of it, for at least the next couple of decades.

 

Majda Baltic:

I agree. Yeah. I agree, I agree. And I think that it's either going to take that direction where people are going to become more and more aware, which I'm pretty sure that's what's going to happen, it's inevitable that at some point in time, everybody's got to join this technology wave. It's either you're going to join or you're going to jump ship. There's no absolute way that agents are going to be able to exist in an environment without adapting technology into their businesses, without allowing employees to work remotely, without...

And I say that because more and more agents are going to start taking that route willingly, especially with the effects of our environment. Like with the pandemic, having pushed everybody into Zoom. There was a time where people didn't know what Zoom was. That was just like two years ago, a lot of people were like, "What's that?" So, now, suddenly, everybody's using that and people are in fact, are even calling, their Microsoft Teams meeting a Zoom meeting, because it's easier to just word it that way. Right?

So, I think that it's the industry will be pushed into a more tech-based environment. And I think that that will really push out the agents, who are stuck in their ways, who don't want to adapt and that kind of thing. And as that happens, they will become obsolete. They'll close down and more and more people will be tech-based. And then, what's going to happen, in my opinion, is the ones that are ahead of the curve will be able to then house more employees that are coming from those agencies that are closing down because they haven't adapted.

And so, I think that agencies themselves will become bigger in the sense of employment, but a smaller in the sense of office space. I think that it will be a common thing to have employees everywhere, working from their own home offices, and only a few key employees being in their daily operations of the physical office itself. More maybe operating even as something like a back office, just doing paperwork and other things that you need to be in an office environment for.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Well, it seems clear that they're going to be a lot more larger agency, so we have 35,000 to 38,000 agency, depending on how you count them today in the independent agency system. But the per pace of mergers acquisitions and so forth are picking up both because there's more money that's flooded into the industry, but also because we have this phenomena of people wanting to retire and not face the future. So you're having a hollowing out right now of a lot of what I'd call medium to a little bit larger sized community of these agencies of $1 million to $10 million in revenue.

Some people predict that in the next five to 10 years, we'll see a reduction down to about 25,000 agencies. Obviously, that means that there are going to be a lot of local agencies still left because that 10,000 is just a piece of that. One of the other things that's happened in the last 10 years is that we've seen a lot of new startup agencies like yours in an unprecedented way and maybe 6,000 or 8,000 new agencies created in the last five or six years. That trend seems to be continuing very strongly, particularly with agents moving from places like you came from State Farm or Farmers or one of the other captive companies. And it seems to me that there's an argument to be made that given the fact that market access providers are ubiquitous now, that technology for distributed work is and also fractionalized work and outsource work, so you don't necessarily have to have employees to run an agency. You can hire all that done on a contract basis.

That there's an argument to be made that a big part of the agency future will be what I'd call micro agencies. One, maybe two people who have a specialization in a niche or a geography or something, who don't want to work for a large bureaucratic organization, who maybe like yourself are functionally unemployable need to be the boss because that's where you're most effective. Do you see that happening as well? Do you think there's a dichotomy of really big agency, but also lots of sub micro or do you see a disadvantage to the micro agency?

 

Majda Baltic:

No, I think the advantage is in the micro agencies. I think that the micro agencies are the ones that are in tune with the community. I think that the longevity and the long term relationships, really the basis of long term relationships is connection. And I don't, I feel that the big agencies tend to be out of touch with the community. They have such a focus on writing business more so than making a difference that they've really lost their touch on why they entered the industry to begin with.

And that is something that I think is probably my main drive behind my office and the other projects I'm working on, like the insurance school and some other things I have going on is really making a difference in our society. And not just from an agency perspective and a team member perspective, but from a community perspective, because I feel that it's been way too many. I mean, since the day that I entered the industry, which is 14 years ago, the same exact problem still persists today, which is agents who are so hungry to make those sales and make that money, that they are not taking into consideration the impact that they're having on people and how they're making people feel with the experience that they're presenting when conducting business with one another.

I think that that is the key to all of this. And I think that that is the reason why micro agencies will continue to succeed and become more prevalent than bigger agencies. I think bigger agencies are going to do if they want to go the corporate route and have that stuffy type of environment and be sales driven, which kind of sounds counterintuitive. Of course, we're all sales driven. I'm sales driven, too and I have goals and I have quotas I want to be met, and I want to make money in these types of things. But I'm not here to make money, I'm here to make a difference. The money will come.

 

Tony Caldwell:

That's really, that's interesting. I believe that I've always said that if you follow your passion and purpose money shows up when you need it. And again, that's... so, I love to hear people have a similar viewpoint. It clearly is not common. You used the word just a moment ago community. And I am curious, do you think that the definition of community and community insurance agent is changing because of technology?

 

Majda Baltic:

No, absolutely not. I think that we have even more of an impactful role now because we have more avenues to distribute our message through. And when I say message, I mean the way of business, the way that we deal with clients and that kind of thing. I think that it's just a more emphasized role now, because you can reach more people for the same work and effort that you've put in before. I think before we were limited, because we could only really reach out through one channel, which was the direct channel of communicating with people in person or by phone. And now I think having access to social media and different, you have YouTube, you have Facebook, LinkedIn. And just all the different resources only make your message come across to more people.

And so, I think that more people are listening because information is so accessible today. Most consumers and I've never looked into the statistics of this, but I've read articles about this. And most consumers, before pretty much buying anything, I do this myself, they check reviews. I literally do this myself with almost everything that I do from having knee surgery to eating at my favorite restaurant or something like that. And so, I think with the experience that has been the common experience amongst agencies in this toxic environment that we've had for so many years, is being exposed through these channels now. Because when they, when the community comes across somebody who's wanting to do things for the right reasons, that message spreads like wildfire, and that's where you get your referrals and where people want to interact with that one individual agent, rather than other agents who are conducting business the old school way.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Well, and I hear your point. I guess where I was going with my question is, it seems to me that the traditional community agency has been primarily focused on its geographic community. So, you're in Salt Lake City and that's where you're going to put your time, effort attention. But obviously, with a distributed workforce, now you're in multiple physical communities. But even more than that, doing business as I think you are in 15 states, you're really, I wonder if the future of successful insurance agencies isn't in building communities in a different way. And community can become defined in a different way. So, for example, I'm a [crosstalk 00:39:57]-

 

Majda Baltic:

So, yes.

 

Tony Caldwell:

And I'm a part of the virtual pilot community that's all over the world, literally. We hangar for, at least a hangar by a local airport. Now, we hangar or fly with people all over the world. People gathering together using technology, all the methods you mentioned, based on shared values, common interest and so forth and creating different kinds of meetings. And if that's true then the community insurance agent may be serving communities that don't exist anywhere in physical reality.

 

Majda Baltic:

I agree. Yes. I think that communities now, and I should have been more clear. I think the definition to me for a community now in today's age is online, it's on the web. It's dependent on how many people you want to reach and how and how you want to reach them. We're licensed actually in 25 different states. States I don't have any employees and that we're doing very well in.

Why? Not because we're in a physical location, it's because we're conducting business in a way that's aligned with their own preference of how they like to deal with people. So, yeah. Community has moved into a virtual space, more so than it is in a physical space, so I don't think it's important anymore to have a physical office in specific locations to reach people. I think that your online presence is important to reach people.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Okay, good. So I want to come back to the Safeco Award, the Emerging Leader for Agency in the Future. Just real quickly, what were the criteria that they used to select the agents they wanted to highlight? Do you recall that?

 

Majda Baltic:

Yeah. They sent out a questionnaire with different types of questions from, "How did COVID impact your agency operations? Did you have success with the transition? What did you do to implement changes?" And that kind of thing. And then, the basic questions of, "How do you think technology will impact the future? What have you done over the last 12 months to implement different technologies in your office? And what have the effects been of that?" And so, yeah, basically, that was the criteria was just what have you done to stay ahead of the curve?

 

Tony Caldwell:

Okay. And so, with that in mind, just really quickly, why did they pick your agency?

 

Majda Baltic:

I think because we had a great success given that this year was probably one of the most challenging years of the history of conducting insurance. Our office basically opened in January of 2020. I opened before that, but there were some challenges and my official opening didn't really hit until January of 2020. The pandemic started shortly after that. Even with the pandemic, we quadrupled in size, we hired four employees and we just exploded with business. When all the businesses were shutting down, we were prepared in advance to take on what they couldn't take.

So, these are all things that stood out to Safeco in the elections process, especially with us being 100% remote and virtual and green. This is something that I was laughed at just a year ago, because people were telling me, "That's never going to work. You're never going to get clients to participate in that. People want to see you. You have to be face-to-face to be successful," these kinds of things. And I did everything exactly the opposite way. Not even implementing any kind of video conferencing or video proposal type of technologies in our office until this last month.

So, in reality, all of 2020 when we did business, we really just did it online via text, email, social media, and phone calls and we were successful. And I think that that really stood out to them. And then obviously being younger, being 31, being a woman, being an immigrant being all these things, being a millennial. So, I think that these all stood out to them. Also, the sales success that we had. We just, I mean, we grew significantly.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Yeah. Well, I really am hopeful that some of our older agencies out there are listening right now, because one of the things that I've heard in the industry over the last 12 months, either on agent councils or other conversations with insurance agency is, "Gosh, our number one problem is how do we get new business?" I mean, everybody's struggling to keep their business, but getting new business, it's our big problem.

And I kind of chuckled when I hear your story, and I remember thinking back, we had an agency that opened their doors on March 15th and they were just killing it and have all year long, because they just said, "Okay, okay, that's the environment we have. We're just going to make the most out of the environment. We're not going to let it stop us." Whereas a lot of agents just got thrown for a loop. So, it is possible to thrive and no matter what the environment is and I think that's an encouraging word as we kind of wrap up here, which is, we don't, you, me, none of us really know what the next four or five years are going to bring in this, in terms of our agency.

We can see some trends and we can see some things coming. That seemed obvious, but we don't know. I mean, we don't know what's going to happen. Maybe it will be another crisis like this in three years. But what we can decide is what our mindset and attitude are going to be about it then we're going to succeed anyway. And I hear very clearly and strongly from our conversation today that that's what you're bringing is a mindset that's allowing you to be successful. It's not technology or you would have been doing this 20 years ago differently, but you'd be doing it, right? And I think you will in the next five years.

So, I really appreciate having you as my guest today. It's been insightful, encouraging, inspirational. And so, thank you very much for that. Any last comments you'd like to make?

 

Majda Baltic:

I'm just really honored to be a part of your show. Thank you very much for having me on as your guest. I think that we're in an interesting place with insurance. And I think it's really important that we all re-center ourselves with the values of why we have these jobs to begin with. I think that time and time again, client feedback is the same. I mean, you mentioned that there are agencies that aren't thriving during these times. And they really should be because now it's easier than ever to get in touch with people.

We're talking about the old days of cold calling and sending mailers out. I was around for that. Door knocking, I did that in my career. I've done it all. I've done all kinds of different strategies and these are trials and errors that took me through, I would say, maybe a period of a decade at least to develop the methods that I'm using today. And our office has a waiting list. So, here you have agents who are struggling to get one sale and we have a waiting list of 10 days before we'll even touch somebody's quote, and we have people signing up left and right. So, we're referral based only. We don't take walk ins or call ins.

These are all things that are a result of our mindset being solution based and trying to resolve the problem rather than emphasizing the problem at hand. And so, I just encourage other agents and anybody that's listening to really just try and focus on making a difference in the person's life that you are dealing with and really taking the time to explain the coverages and making sure that you're available, you're answering your calls, your emails, your text. Because the number one complaint in the industry seems to be that, "I can never get ahold of my office." And that's just not acceptable in the digital era. So it's, I just want to encourage other agents to really just try to think about that and see what they can do to be more accountable to stay connected with people. Now is the time.

 

Tony Caldwell:

Thanks. Great last word. Majda Baltic. Thank you for being with me. Enjoy.

 

Majda Baltic:

Thank you so much, Tony.

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