Forging meaningful relationships is essential in business. We are more likely to buy from and work with people we know. The best sales professionals are those that are highly skilled in networking and the ability to create connections. However, these tendencies are not guaranteed. Businesses and the professionals who represent them still need to prove their value. This scenario perfectly describes how the partnership between Saginaw Bay Underwriters and AEBetancourt began.

Long before Saginaw Bay Underwriters (SBU) became a client of ours, their Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operations Officer, Jim Roberts worked with our owner in a different setting on a few talent acquisition projects. As these stories often go, the two lost track of each other for some time due to business changes beyond either side’s control.

Fast forward several years and the two reconnected. However, AEBetancourt was very new at that point and our business model and process for sourcing, recruiting, and evaluating candidates was a disruptive change to the established recruitment firms and models. Roberts trusted our founder, but our model and process would need to be proven by way of repeatable results.

This case study not only shares the rich background of Saginaw Bay Underwriters, but also the challenges this agency faced in their talent needs, our approach to overcoming these hurdles, and what SBU discovered while working with us about our process and the results. Let’s get started.

Who is Saginaw Bay Underwriters?

While the company name hasn’t always been Saginaw Bay Underwriters (SBU), their presence and support for their clients and the community has been. For a bit of historical perspective, Saginaw Township was organized in 1830. During the next fifteen years, Saginaw County was organized, the first school district was established, and a local courthouse was built. An area that was originally supported by fur trappers and traders soon developed into a booming source of lumber, particularly for the east coast of the United States.

It was 1847 when the first shipment of Saginaw Pine was sent to New York. Sixteen years later, the beginnings of what would become SBU were formed to support and insure the lumber industry. After 150 years plus, SBU has become one of Michigan’s largest insurance agencies serving clients throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Their breadth of services and clientele has grown over the decades too. Far beyond a single industry, SBU provides a full range of risk advisement and insurance services for businesses, employers, individuals, and families. It’s a perspective that sets them apart from other agencies.

SBU takes a holistic approach to help their clients find the right insurance coverage while uncovering ways for their clients to reduce costs. It’s a three-step approach they call The Clear Advantage™. The process is to fully explore a client’s unique needs, design a clear and customized plan, and then partner with their clients to ensure results. It also shifts their focus. They see themselves as more than insurance agents but as risk advisors. SBU seeks to understand potential risks beyond what an insurance policy can cover and then develop plans to manage that risk with proactive steps to prevent them from happening.

SBU’s commitment to the community has also remained a core tenet of their values. Each week they donate $250 to a local charitable cause through their SBU Cares program. Since 2013, they have donated thousands of dollars to causes in addition to their other regular giving.

Their Talent Acquisition Challenges

Despite their successes, Saginaw Bay Underwriters isn’t immune to the challenges of acquiring talent. Like many agencies and organizations, these hurdles to overcome are caused by internal and external factors.

Hiring challenges

SBU has several factors that increase the difficulty of their talent acquisition process.

An ongoing need to hire.

Due to business growth and an increase in the number of current employees retiring from their careers, Saginaw Bay Underwriters has had an ongoing need for new talent. While remaining in a growth mindset is a positive aspect, the ability to remain constantly recruiting and hiring is a challenge to manage on your own. Jim Roberts explained that hiring great talent requires a consistent dedication of time that the leadership team is unable to give without sacrificing other areas and the core purpose of their business.

A unique geographic area to source talent.

The city of Saginaw ranks 27th in population out of Michigan’s five hundred plus municipalities. However, even with the combined population of the surrounding cities of Midland and Bay City, this area has only about one-quarter the residents of the Grand Rapids metropolitan area to its west. And less than ten percent of what the Detroit metro area has to their east.

While this adds to the charm and close-knit community feeling that the residents and visitors to the area love, it can make recruiting talent away from existing positions and organizations that much harder. In such a connected community and industry where networking is foundational, top talent isn’t always willing to talk openly or entertain career moves. For hiring companies like SBU, this challenge often means sourcing candidates from other industries with related clientele and required skills.

Common but misleading perceptions of the industry.

Adding to SBU’s challenges in attracting talent is the perception of the insurance industry. Unfortunately, this industry often has a negative stereotype as being a career for “older” professionals, is comparatively boring, and heavily rules-based. While aspects of these impressions are true, they hardly tell the full story or the realities of the rich and rewarding careers the insurance field holds.

Speaking from first-hand knowledge, Roberts shared that Saginaw Bay Underwriters has experienced the disservice some organizations have done in their approach to training new professionals. While this is very much an industry built on relationships, creating a lasting and meaningful career is not about hounding family and friends about their personal policies. This tactic has cast the very unwelcoming image of insurance sales as nothing more than a multi-level marketing scheme and hardly the value that industry professionals and agencies provide.

The required skills and aptitude are unlike traditional sales roles.

While a career as a Producer or Account Manager or any of the other varied roles with an insurance agency is a very rewarding profession, it does require a unique skill set and mental aptitude, unlike traditional sales roles. New entrants into the insurance industry don’t immediately understand the need for a long-term career approach.

Developing a network of viable clients often requires two to three years of learning. This is where strong business acumen is essential and unfortunately too many discount the technical knowledge required.

It can also be hard for new entrants to adjust to the common 100% commission-based compensation. Even though, SBU and many other agencies offer plans to offset this during the first year (and possibly beyond) it is an adjustment when new hires have grown accustomed to a regular and steady income. The other big adjustment is the amount of cold calling required. While expected, not everyone is comfortable with doing it on a regular and consistent basis. Roberts explained that the insurance industry has a high client retention rate which is great once established, however it requires hard work and diligence to get started.

Traditional solutions fell short

Like most organizations, SBU managed their talent acquisition process themselves and used many of the standard tools available for many years — decades in their case. They took advantage of employee referrals, job boards, social media, their website, and even the historic practice of running newspaper ads years ago. While each provided a degree of support and varying levels of success, they also recognized that sourcing and hiring talent today requires more. Each of these methods requires members of their leadership to be actively involved in the process at each stage. A requirement that would pull them away from their primary responsibilities and ability to support their clients and community.

SBU also understood that simply adding human resource personnel to their team was not a solution, nor did it make sound business sense for their organization. While recruiting is a subset of human resources, it is much more than collecting resumes. Roberts commented that hiring great talent today requires a concentrated and targeted effort. Something they needed additional support to accomplish at scale and with greater consistency.

Our Approach to Solving Their Talent Acquisition Needs

The leadership of our two organizations had a prior working relationship, however, it had been a few years since and many aspects had changed. Our approach also doesn’t take historical information for granted. Wanting to ensure our team had a clear understanding of their agency, their talent needs, and the skillset we would be looking for, we started at the beginning of our comprehensive process.

After SBU completed a detailed questionnaire for the specific role we would be searching for, our teams reviewed the information. The answers shaped a robust profile that framed how we would approach sourcing candidates for SBU. However, before we began our process in earnest, our teams met once more to confirm our information, understanding, and initial benchmark list of potential candidates.

Our team quickly settled into our rhythm and cadence of communication with the SBU team. They had the same members of our team working on all their searches which helped in developing a strong working relationship and greater consistency. SBU also had full transparency into our progress and status with each candidate we sourced.

The high level of communication we started with continued with weekly phone calls, weekly detailed status reports, and candidate scorecards. This enabled the SBU team to provide real-time feedback and a smooth transition when candidates were referred to them.

How Saginaw Bay Underwriters was Involved

Of course, Saginaw Bay Underwriters played a significant role in the success of multiple search projects too. From the beginning, their team understood the purpose and value of creating a large candidate pool. They were clear in who they were looking for, the competencies and capabilities needed, and what strategies to include when searching outside of the insurance industry.

Their involvement continued by being responsive and engaged with ongoing communication. Throughout our search projects, SBU continued to coach our team on their industry, marketplace, and business to help us in finding their perfect-fit hires.

SBU already had a detailed interview process in place before our partnership began. This meant no time was wasted once candidates were referred to their team. The addition of our team and systematic process allowed them to streamline their portion.

Saginaw Bay Underwriters also offers a highly competitive compensation plan and a willingness to invest in their employees. Being able to share this information with a strong employee value proposition made our job of enticing candidates to engage and enter the hiring process very attractive.

In case you are wondering, SBU is a dynamic, growing agency with an opportunity for employees to participate in business ownership and a culture where team members are relentlessly focused on delivering a great client experience. They pride themselves on being actively involved in the community and living by their core values.

The Results of Our Partnership

Our team has had the privilege of working with Saginaw Bay Underwriters since 2018. During that time, we have helped them hire multiple new employees in the roles of Producer and Account Manager for their Employee Benefits, Commercial, and Personal product lines.

Roberts shared that initially, our pricing model was hard to get accustomed to when traction for a new search project was beginning. However, he quickly saw the value of our frequent communication and transparent process. For him, it encouraged him and his team to remain highly engaged and responsive. Not only did this provide a return on his investment, but improved the consistency of his hires and saved time on the hiring process. Something they didn’t experience before with other recruitment agencies. It offered a way for their leadership to remain engaged in the process without pulling them away from their other obligations.

Yet more than this, our partnership has provided real solutions to the challenges SBU was initially facing in their talent acquisition process.

  • Our detailed recruitment process has provided them with consistency in their hiring process instead of a start and stop approach that typically happens when managing talent needs alone.

  • Our upfront efforts to understand their business and hiring needs from all perspectives and drafting a detailed description of their perfect-fit hires has enabled them to hire top talent in a tight geographic area.

  • Working closely with a partner and advocate for their brand has allowed them to clarify misconceptions and introduce new talent into the insurance industry, perpetuating their business growth.

  • Understanding the skills, talents, and mindset required to be successful in the industry and with Saginaw Bay Underwriters, our efforts have saved them valuable time in vetting prospective candidates and streamlining their internal hiring process.

  • Partnering with us and outsourcing their recruitment efforts has also allowed SBU to be strategic in their hiring and resource allocation.

  • Our open communication practices have proved to be a valuable asset for SBU. Roberts said they gained a team of advisors in the area of talent acquisition and development. Educating and apprising their team with relevant feedback and timely information about the labor market and changing trends in the industry and the local market has become a resource they rely on.

As a final thought, Roberts commented on our business model and our focus on transparency. While needed and essential in business, he wondered if the term, transparency, is being glossed over too quickly. He said that when recommending our services or sharing his experiences with other business leaders, these are the aspects he specifically focuses on sharing. Not only does our transparency validate the effectiveness of our business model, but sets us apart as a service that truly pulls their clients into a partnership with them.

Saginaw Bay Underwriters is now one of Michigan’s largest insurance agencies, serving over 12,000 clients throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region. Visit their website to contact them or follow them on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more about their products and their community involvement.