In the midst of the most active M&A marketplace that our industry has ever experienced, there is often still a cloud of secrecy that exists inside an agency about the agency’s future. That silence can lead to unintended and unfortunate outcomes especially in the case of talented and high performing staff members. Agency owners sometimes keep their plans and the plans that they have for their agency’s future to themselves. On one hand, this is understandable as some agency owners are uncertain about their plans. For those agency owners that do have an idea of what their future plans are, they may choose to keep that plan to themselves to either keep their options open or to avoid impacting their business in the form of lost accounts or carrier relationships. Many times, that silence can be detrimental to the agency.
Buzz in the Industry
Any person in our industry who is paying attention knows that the opportunity to sell at a high multiple has never been greater especially for well run, growing agencies that are over a million dollars in revenue a year. In some instances, the opportunity exists for smaller agencies. You can open any insurance magazine, look on social media or listen to industry podcasts and learn about agencies that have sold almost on a daily basis. In addition, there is a lot of buzz and conversations that occur about this activity and the impact it has on the staff and culture of agencies that have sold. This creates a level of uncertainty and concern for the staff that works in an agency that has an aging owner and the future plans are unknown, which describes the majority of agencies.
How Do I Fit?
When you combine silence with uncertainty, human behavior kicks in and causes many to form a story or prediction in their heads with the information that they have available to them. Some may start to ask more questions and if those questions go unanswered, they will look for signs, pay closer attention and fill in the gaps with the clues they see. An agency owner may interpret the questions as being nosey and avoid the question which may create even greater uncertainty. If viewed from the employee’s perspective, the agency owner will realize that the questions are being driven by the need to know what their future is and how the future of the agency may impact the employee directly. Understanding the generational differences goes a long way in understanding and interpreting these questions and anticipating the needs of your staff. For many, being a part of something is important and providing them with information that eases their minds and provides them with the reassurance that their environment is safe, predictable and provides them with ample opportunities is key. Silence accomplishes none of those things.
If you have a high-performer, they may want to carve out a pathway to ownership inside the agency, or at a minimum, have a level of comfort in knowing that the environment that they are thriving in will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Silence does not bring them that comfort and the end result could include that star employee looking for opportunities elsewhere, especially if they believe that the agency may be at risk of being sold. In order to avoid this situation, agency owners can take the following steps:
Build a Plan – Take the time to outline what would happen to the agency, staff and customers if something were to happen to you. Knowing that there is a plan in place will bring great comfort.
Communicate – Once you have a plan outlined, do not keep it a secret. Share the plan with key employees. You can protect the agency with confidentiality agreements and take other precautions, but keeping the plan to yourself does not give anyone any sense of comfort, but you.
Create a Pathway to Ownership – For those owners that want to provide an incentive for their key employees to stay with the agency and participate in success and future ownership of the agency, invest in defining that pathway to ownership.
For the agency owners that are uncertain of their future plans, at a minimum focus on putting a disaster plan in place to protect the agency and all of the people that depend upon that agency if something were to happen to you.
Find out the value of your agency as a multiple of EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization), not a multiple of revenue. You'll see why this wholistic approach is important and how you can leverage this knowledge to plan for your agency, grow and compete in the changing insurance marketplace.