Young Agent Spotlight: Michelle Afflalo of Ives Insurance

400 Under 40 Michelle AfflaloHow did you get into the insurance industry, and what is your area of expertise?

My grandfather started our insurance agency 60 years ago. I started with summer jobs at the agency and helped filing papers growing up. Then I went to college and took a different job until I was pulled back into the insurance industry. I’ve been working at the agency for 13 years now and have become a real estate investment specialist on many facets.

I focus on property, mostly multi-family/apartment buildings, commercial buildings, and single-family home portfolios, but I also work on build-to-rent property portfolios and course of construction policies.

One of the things I have done is create an overall program strategy that provides unique insurance policies from companies’ corporate policies to the landlords to their tenants. I build unique programs that help companies reduce cost and provide the coverage they need. I have been successful by providing programs for small and large property management companies, institutional clients, and developers. I’ve also helped build the renters and landlord programs that help set my clients apart from their competition.

How do you manage relationships with clients?

Over the years, I’ve learned that the happy path starts with helping clients understand their overall risk (without boring them or wasting their time). One aspect is making sure that I provide the best rates for the coverage I am giving them. I also create programs that enhance landlords’ satisfaction, which leads to the overall satisfaction of the property management company. Transparency is key.

Educating the customers is another aspect. It’s crazy how many property management companies and landlords/investors have extremely large amounts of assets but have no idea what is covered on a policy. A policy should be the most important aspect of their investments. In the property management space, because insurance has become such a commodity with ads, people assume that all policies are the same and think all they need to do is find the cheapest option.

I’ve seen property management companies take on a lot of risk with policies that have many exclusions. I have a quick presentation and review process that I walk through with clients to make sure they understand that not every policy is created equal.

I also like to be involved in the claims process. Adjusters can be harsh at times because they deal with claims day to day. But it’s petrifying when a landlord is served a summons and goes through a lawsuit with a tenant they thought they had a good relationship with.

I have clients come to me first so that I can talk them down and provide the empathy they need. I also stay in close contact with the carriers. Having these connections helps maintain good relationships with my clients. Unfortunately, this is not a norm in our industry, which does set me apart.

How can carriers create valuable relationships with agencies?

For me, having assigned underwriters helps a lot. Sometimes it’s a double-edged sword, but I feel like new underwriters are sometimes trained to think every agent is trying to do something wrong until they develop the relationships. Once the underwriters know that we are ethical brokers who care about our relationships with them and the clients, we start to build a trust-based relationship. Especially in the commercial space, the strongest relationships my agency has are with carriers that have assigned underwriters.

The initial face-to-face visit is huge in starting the relationship. Once the communication channel opens after the first visit, accessibility is key to building the relationship. Being able to communicate with underwriters via chat is great. It also helps to call the underwriter directly and talk through a risk.

How does technology influence your business?

We are a “younger” business, so technology is everything. We’re all about automation. We have an amazing proprietary management system as well as a program-based property management insurance calculator. These automation-enabling technologies and our efficient process have really helped some of our largest clients who manage thousands of units. Although the insurance industry is a tad slower on the tech movement, having a younger group of professionals has helped us.

E-signature was one of the first things we implemented. Since then, we have built several AI systems by partnering with other software programs or building them in-house.  

What advice do you have for a new agent entering the industry?

What my mom, our CEO, has taught me since day one is to always do the right thing. There are times when ethics could be compromised in insurance. But if you do what you know is right, even if it means losing a sales account, it serves you well in the long term.

Taking the time to understand the coverage makes you valuable. Don’t cut corners. It is a grind, and you have to stick with it to see the fruit of your work. It takes a good three to five years to truly build relationships and referral partners. Find an industry you are passionate about and put your head down. Niche business is the way to go.

Always build and maintain good relationships with the underwriters. It goes a long way, and you never know when you will need them. Never burn bridges with anyone. We are all humans, and building those relationships can pay off in the long run.

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