Broker Buddha CEO, Jason Keck, is joined by CEO and Founder of Gaspar Insurance Services, Tim Gaspar. Tim discusses the importance of obsessing over the client experience, the value of data to insurance organizations, and the importance of agency buy-in when adopting technology to improve operations.
Learn more about Tim Gaspar.
Season 2, Episode 15
Jason Keck: That was a fun conversation with Tim Gaspar, the Founder and CEO of Gaspar Insurance Services. Tim got his life and health license at age 18 and his P&C license at age 20. Started his own agency not much longer after that, and has turned it into one of the fastest growing companies in America. It was a fun conversation with Tim, he had some interesting things to say about the importance of data and running an organization and making decisions. Also about how you have to obsess over the customer experience, which I couldn't agree with more. If you're interested in those things, hang around and listen to the show.
JK: Hi, and welcome to another episode of the Enlightened Agent. The podcast that brings you conversations with top insurance professionals and industry leaders. My name is Jason Keck, and I'm joined today by Tim Gaspar, Founder and CEO of Gaspar Insurance Services. Tim, welcome to The Enlightened Agent.
Tim Gaspar: Awesome! I’m super stoked to be here. Happy to be here, Jason, thank you for having me!
JK: Yeah, we're excited to have you as well. Tim look, I know you've been crushing it with the agency. You know getting ranked as one of the fastest growing companies in America, that's amazing congrats for that. You know, I'd love it if you could share a bit of your background with our listeners and maybe a little bit about how you came to be where you are today.
TG: Sure sure, absolutely! So you know like most insurance folks, you know as a little kid I took a look at this incredibly sexy and glittery business that we call insurance and I said "I want to do that”. No, you know as is typically the case, you know, I got into the insurance business, uh, through family. I was fortunate enough to be raised essentially by two dads. My stepdad who has been involved in my entire life is a life and health agent who still practices. When I was growing up, I could see that he made a really good living, and seemed to have a lot of free time on his hands. I remember thinking while I was growing up, like, man, like what does he do because it must be pretty good. Then as I got older you know, once I was 12 or 13 years old, I wanted to find out more about the business and that planted a seed was really important. That seed was just really the opinion that the insurance business is a great business and a great opportunity.
Which as you know, Jason and I'm sure a lot of your listeners know is not a typical thing. It's typically out of sight, out of mind. That's the best case. So I lucked out having him as sort of a mentor.
JK: That's great. I mean insurance is something you're glad you have when you need it, but for the most part you hope you don't need it. It's one of those things. So great, where did you get your start in the industry? Was it a family business that you joined? How did you get in, and how did you end up deciding to start your own agency?
TG: Sure, so yeah a few different things sort of getting started. In high school I was an entrepreneur. I had different businesses that were not insurance related. Some worked out okay, and some just really kicked my butt and taught me some really valuable, but hard lessons. When I was 18 getting out of high school, I got my life and health license and wanted to start making some money as an insurance agent.
It turns out, you know, for me, at least selling life insurance as an 18 year old that had, by the way, blonde tips during the boy band era, nobody wanted to buy life insurance from me. It was super shocking.
JK: I'm trying to imagine, having a conversation with a 45 year old guy, trying to explain to him how much you understand how important life insurance is for them. It didn't connect right?
TG: Honestly, what it really was all kidding aside was I didn't yet really have a passion for the business and for what I was doing.I was still learning. I did that for maybe six months or a year and my heart wasn't totally into it. I immediately sort of after that experience went to work for Marsh McLennan, one of the largest agencies in the world on the life and health side as an enroller. An enroller is somebody who they send to a big company to set folks up with their core benefits and voluntary benefits.
I loved it because they would put me in a room to talk to people and it was selling, but it wasn’t because it wasn't commission-based. Just helping people with their problems and answering questions and they had really good training.
I really enjoyed it. That was in downtown Los Angeles, which is quite a commute from where I live. I was going to college at night at the time, so just from a time standpoint needed something that was more feasible. I got my property and casualty license when I was 20 and went to work for a small agency in the San Fernando valley where I am now and started selling primarily personal lines. As a 20 year-old, people will talk to you about auto and home insurance. I'm not saying that it's super simple all the time but, I had more confidence at that point and I really understood it because I was a consumer, at least for auto insurance. I built my book for four years, and I had a contract that allowed me to buy my book.
I was still an entrepreneur in my heart, so I started my own agency when I was 25. Just one foot in front of the other, I've tried to grow. The goal has always been 15% growth every year, that has been the goal. Some years it was right at that, some years it was a little better. Thankfully two steps forward, one step back and here we are today.
JK: Were there any significant events that changed your career or rocketed you in a particular direction? When you think back on selling your first policy as a 20 year old to where you are now, what were some of the big things that happened in-between?
TG: It was really a lot of small events. The big event would be just going out on my own. Going out on my own was just a matter of making that jump. I met a lot of producers over the years that wanted to do something like that and maybe did the planning, but didn't actually take the leap.
Just taking the leap was the big thing that obviously changed the trajectory of my career. From a learning standpoint, I've never really had the attitude of waiting for big events to change my behavior. I think every opportunity that you have, whether it's an interaction with somebody that goes well or not as well. In our industry, a claim that maybe doesn't go well or an experience that keeps you up at night. Those are all opportunities to learn from. I think having a learning mindset where, when those things happen you just make sure that you grow as a person and as a professional. Those sort of added up in the aggregate.
JK: Learning is what makes what we do fun, right? Discovering new things, new opportunities, pursuing them, maybe they work, maybe they don't. If you're doing the same thing over and over every day, I don't know, it doesn't get me out of bed in the morning, right?
TG: That gets boring, it's like working on an assembly line in a factory or something.
JK: Some days yeah, I just want to get up, but most days I'm trying to push forward. It sounds like you did a lot of that and have been successful as a result of it. So good for you! I’m curious, one of my favorite topics in general for the show is change. I'm curious what you've seen change over the years, and what else do you think needs to change?
TG: Well, since I've been in the business for 20 years you know there's sort of the obvious things that have changed. Some of the easiest examples, being the move from paper applications to everything being online and being digital is certainly something that's a big change.
The consumer experience in regards to how consumers are able to get pricing immediately in regards to most types of insurance. How consumers buy has obviously changed a lot over the years. There’s so many ways of buying that do not involve the independent agent, which some of those have been technologies that we've ultimately benefited from. It's definitely changed the dynamic quite a bit.
JK: The hot topic at a lot of the conferences I've been going to is embedded insurance. I think what's interesting about that is, is that really what it's doing is expanding the market. Is this replacing agents? No, it's not replacing agents. They're just finding new products to sell at point of sale or point of risk if you will, that are actually increasing the size of the insurance market and creating a market that maybe never existed before.
It's early days with that but, just the ability to buy travel insurance when you're checking out for your flight is kind of the first obvious thing. There's so many if you go to the conferences now. I can't tell you how many embedded insurance ideas are out there.
I think it's going to be exciting for the industry. I also think the traditional stuff, the things you guys are doing now, or you have been doing for the last 20 years are not going away. People still need insurance for their home, their car, their business. It sounds like you guys are thinking about how to make that experience better for them.
Any stories you can share? For full transparency, Tim and company are clients of ours. Any stories you could share about how you guys are using new technology with your clients today, using our technology with the clients.
TG: Just a few notes on the embedded insurance piece. I think you're absolutely right, that's a huge opportunity. I wouldn't see that as a threat at all to independent agents. What independent agent is waking up in the morning and hoping to sell a bunch of travel insurance policies? Probably not too many.
JK: I completely agree. I think that's just expanding the market not competing, so I agree with you there.
TG: We do that too if somebody calls our office for pet insurance, travel insurance or individual dental. We want to give that person the resources to be able to get the protection. It also has to make sense for us from a business standpoint, so we use digital options.
TG: On the technology piece, I think the big opportunity for technology and the reason for agents to embrace it are really for two reasons.
One reason is data. You have to have data to be able to run any organization, even if you're just a producer. You have to have data about your book to be able to make decisions about where to spend your time and what type of business to go after and really understand what your book looks like.
The second thing is you have to obsess over making it easy for your customers to do business with you, that's a lot of times where the insurance business falls short. A good example, as it relates to Broker Buddha, a professional liability application for an attorney. We used to send somebody a blank application with a copy of their old application, just to remind them what they filled out.
The instructions were, “hey, print these, fill out the new one and send it back to us”. It was like giving a six year old homework. If you could get a blank stare via email, that's exactly what you would get and what a terrible consumer experience. That's just such a pain in the butt.
JK: And you wonder why they wouldn't come back quickly, right?
TG: Exactly right, so we have to make it easier. There's a lot of examples within our industry, thankfully there's a lot of technology coming into claims now. That's an opportunity where if you have damage to your house, why should you have to wait a day or two or longer if it's a large event, like a hurricane for a claims adjuster to come out? So he or she can get eyeballs on the damage. Now you can take a picture with your phone and the claims adjuster can actually take measurements and create an estimate a lot of the times with your phone. That's fantastic, that's wonderful for us.
JK: Why force somebody to, to drive out when you've got FaceTime and video calling and videos? I mean it makes zero sense, right? The need for somebody to roll out. Maybe if things are particularly squirrely in the situation. It’s got to be so many truck rolls that can be removed by just basic things like video calling. It sounds like you guys are doing some of the obvious stuff. The piece about data is one of the exact reasons and benefits of our platform. You can't do anything with data if it's stuck on a PDF, right? There's no way to extract that, mine it, and analyze it. It's basically a digital piece of paper and it makes it really challenging to do anything analytical with it.
TG: I would mention analyzing data, I think some people hear that and they think like if it's not somebody who's a data person, they're thinking like “I wouldn't even know what to do with that,I didn't go to MIT ''. I did not excel in statistics or certain math classes. I'll tell you something really easy though. If you take a look at your accounts that you have as an insurance agency, or as a producer you just take a look at where the revenue comes from?
20% of your revenue comes from 80% of your clients, which means 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients. You have to give everybody good service, but you have to prioritize the top 20% of your clients. That's where all your revenue is.
You can’t get stuck on the phone with somebody who's one of your bottom half of your customers on a two hour phone call. It's coming at the expense of doing good service for your good clients. That's probably the biggest thing to take a look at.
JK: If you don't have the data in a structured format, it's hard to do the analysis. It's hard to get the data, it's hard to run the reports. Good data can drive really good decision-making. I hundred percent agree with that. You mentioned something about claims, and we’re relatively protected here in New York, from the wildfires that you guys have out in California. One of the things that I was thinking about coming into the call actually was what that environment must be like.
I think with everything happening there, what's it like selling homeowners these days in California?
Oh man, it's tough. I've never seen anything like it. I've been writing homeowners insurance in California for close to 20 years and there's a lot of folks that we've had renewals go up. I'm not exaggerating 7, 8, 9 times as a multiple of what the premium was.
JK: Are you serious?
TG: Oh yeah, crazy. Some folks can't get insurance for any price. The only option would be a state program here in California called The Fair Plan. For a lot of folks, that's it. Lloyd's won't do it, the other non-admitted markets won't do it. They just don't want the risk. So it's very challenging and it's a difficult situation.
JK: You can buy a home and not be able to get insurance for it?
TG: Absolutely. We've had some houses actually fall out of escrow as a result because they couldn't get the insurance.
JK: That's crazy, that's hard to imagine. Going up seven times is also hard to imagine. That's crazy. So, how do you guys handle that? What do you say to your clients when they're dealing with that?
TG: We just try to explain the situation best we can. It's really just about (and this is the key to a lot of hard conversations) it's really just a matter of being really empathetic to the situation that these folks are in.
We tell them what the big picture is, they're typically still pretty upset. Then of course (and I would do the same thing) they call around to see if what we're telling them is true because it sounds so ridiculous. How could you not call around? Then, they end up calling us back after a few days being resigned to this reality that they're in.
We've seen folks that just throw up their hands and say, “I'm just not going to do it”. At some point, the mortgage company is going to force place coverage. Now we have folks that (even for people that do really well) have big houses in which the premiums have turned into significant six-figure numbers for people that used to spend eight or nine thousand.
Those are ones that the multiples even higher. The one thing that I would mention as regards to this whole picture is, all these things have a tendency to go in cycles. I meet a lot of insurance agents that say “I'm not going to do personal lines anymore, I'm not going to go after the high net worth stuff anymore”.
A lot of the homes that are in difficult areas do have a tendency to be larger. I always say lean into it, don't step backwards. Lean into it because when the market comes back, you'll be one of the last folks standing. I have a good buddy that's a mortgage broker, he’s been a mortgage broker for 20 years and he had to get through 2008 up until 2014. Pretty lean, taking the deals that he could. He stayed in it, and he built his credibility and now he's in an awfully good place.
JK: Real estate market right now, yeah that's amazing.
TG: Stay in it, stick to it, and get better at what you're doing. Eventually the marketplace will come back to you.
JK: We were talking earlier about agency networks and other kinds of professional connections. Do you lean on other companies in your space, other other companies in your network, what networks are you involved in?
What groups are you involved in? How did you get professional development around that? A professional collaboration?
TG: There's a lot of different options that exist both within the insurance business and even outside of it. We're in a group that Marsh Berry puts together. That's what they call their SIGs, which is a group of eight to ten other agency owners from all over the country that share ideas and problems and best practices. That's been something really beneficial. So that's really structured where Marsh Barry as an organization runs it.
We also have groups here in Southern California. We have something we call The Elite Group, which actually has several chapters. The elite group is a group that gets together once a month for lunch and shares ideas and challenges. I think sometimes when people first come in the group, they're apprehensive.
They're like, “I don't want to share all my trade secrets with you guys, you're my competitors”. The reality is you get out the more you give to it, the more transparent you are, the more you'll get back.
There are some exceptions to this, but when you lose business, it's not typically going to be to the independent agent down the street. You can lose it to one of these large aggregators or lose it to lemonade. You're going to lose it to another InsureTech or Geico. Those are the threats if you're an independent agent. Us independent agents, we have to stick together for more powerful numbers.
JK: We've had a lot of really good times at conferences connecting in person with a lot of the agencies. Whether it's the large national conferences, agency management system user events, those have been really productive for us.
We've gotten to know some quality people and discovered amazing things that they do. That's candidly the inspiration behind this podcast, right? I came into the industry knowing very little frankly about insurance or insurance agents. I knew a lot about technology and building products, but I've heard some great stories about agents and the amazing things they've done.
One of the things I like to ask all of our guests on the show is about those agents and the ones that they've seen or been or experienced being amazing. The show is called The Enlightened Agent. Enlightenment is defined as “the state of having knowledge or understanding”. I’m if you've come across any of those people in your life and if any of the, in your career and your experience here.
And if you have, you know, if you could share one of those stories with us on the show,
TG: There are many different examples that come to mind in regards to policies that protect someone when it matters most, which of course is the core to what we do. There's so many of them that I'm not sure if those would be necessarily any different than a lot of the stories that our listeners know because we get to live those stories, and that's the great thing about what we do.
What I would mention is we are in such a wonderful business. You know what. I want to give you a story real quickly. We brought on an agent last year. A wonderful guy came over with a book of business that he had built over the course of his career, about 40 years.
He came on board with us and the ink wasn't even dry on the contracting paperwork and he passed away. He developed a sudden illness and passed away really quickly. Unfortunately there wasn't a lot in place in regards to life insurance. It may be due to health reasons or something along those lines, but for whatever reason there wasn't. There was a little bit through our own benefits that we've set up here as the agency. He had an only child, his son that's about to go to college.
Thankfully in this case, this producer had a book of business that had a value to it that allowed us to be able to cut a check to the son that was very meaningful. I don't know if it ever crossed his mind that this situation would ever occur, but it put him in a situation to be able to help his family immensely.
This is one of the few occupations that when you build a career in it, at the end of the day you have something that really has a lot of value to it. Instead of being an attorney or a mortgage broker, or a realtor where you're just selling your time and that's it. It was meaningful, and it definitely made me think about making sure that other agents see how valuable that is.
Almost every agent I speak with, you hear about the early days of building their book. It's a slog, right? You're knocking on doors and it’s hand to hand combat to get these deals done. You're scratching and clawing to survive in the early years.
It's hard, but as you build your book it’s a real asset, right? Those clients stick around the personal relationships you have. You've helped them protect their assets and their lives, and as a result you build your own asset that has value to it.
JK: I would say that guy sounds (whether he knew it or not) he was enlightened enough to build that asset. Thankfully his son was rewarded for it. It sounds like you guys helped out as well, so kudos to you for being good citizens and good employers. I'm sure he's looking down on you guys and saying thanks for helping out.
Tim, this has been an awesome conversation. I really appreciate you coming on the show. I try to do these shows every week or so with other people in the space. I love having you as a client, I love having you as an industry leader who I can hop on the line and chat with about what's happening in this space.
We'd love to have you on the show again, sometime in the future, as things evolve, as we know, the industry is changing a lot right now. I’m curious to have another conversation maybe in a year and see what shakes out. I mainly just want to say thank you for coming on the show and give you a chance to say anything you'd like to the audience before we wrap up.
TG: Thank you, Jason. I thank you for having me and I'd love to be back on. The one thing that I'll wrap this up with is that I want to encourage everybody in our space, whether on your side, Jason, or on my side and other folks, to be really vocal about how great this industry is. We need more young people and we don't want this industry to die.
We need to make sure that we're passing along this opportunity to not only young people, but to people that are not white males. We need more diversity, we need more females. I think that would help us immensely as an industry, and t's the right thing to do as well.
JK: Agree, one-hundred percent. I'm glad you called that out. These conferences you go to that kind of thing becomes very obvious, right? When you're in these crowds it's getting better and there's more attention on it, but it's got a long way to go. One thing I can say also is that I think the injection of insurance technology, which has really skyrocketed in the last couple of years, is starting to attract younger talent into this space. That's probably one of the best things that can happen to the industry right now is bringing in people who otherwise maybe wouldn't have thought about being in the industry. When you merge a really interesting business like insurance in general, with new and innovative technologies, you start to attract some interesting people and young talent. In our case you start to create really fantastic businesses.
Tim, thank you again for coming on the show. I look forward to working with you and seeing you around, maybe in person one of these days. Best of luck with the business.
TG: Thank you, Jason. You As well buddy!