My daughter, Kailey, was just six years old and learning to ride a bike without training wheels when her father passed away.
He had a high-risk job as a federal law-enforcement agent involving a lot of overseas travel. While life-threatening danger was always part of his job, he died unexpectedly of heart disease. He was only 46.
His death was a complete surprise. He worked out regularly, ate healthy, and had annual physicals. He had never been diagnosed with any heart conditions and never showed any signs of heart issues.
Unfortunately, he didn’t believe in life insurance.
Every time I brought up the subject, he didn't want to talk about it. Although we divorced the year before his death, part of the agreement was that he purchase life insurance for Kailey’s financial support in case of his death. Knowing his beliefs, I didn’t force the issue.
When he passed away, Kailey received some funds from his life insurance and 401(k) through work. These have been invested and will help pay tuition when she goes to college. Fortunately, we don’t have to use this money for day-to-day expenses.
As an insurance agent, this has shown me personally how important it is to consider rising college costs when families calculate their future financial needs with respect to providing financial security to their family.
I’m even more passionate when I think about the future and not just the present. According to the College Board and a May 13, 2013 New York Times article, tuition and fees at state colleges increased 72 percent – 29 percent for nonprofit colleges – from 2001 to 2011. If something should ever happen to a parent who plans on sending their children to college, a well thought out life insurance plan can help their family realize that dream.
No life insurance policy can replace the loss of a loved one. It can however, replace their earning power to ease future financial challenges.
For the sake of your family’s future plans and dreams, talk about life insurance today. Eight years ago, I learned the hard way that tomorrow may be too late.
Being a third-generation agent for American Family, I grew up living and breathing insurance. My father, Kenny Lionberger, was an American Family agent for 47 years. My grandfather, Waldo Lionberger, was an American Family agent before him.
Compared to them, I’m a rookie having been an agent for only two-and-a-half years. Even though I’m relatively new at this, I know a good thing when I see it. And one of the best things I see is American Family’s Loss Control/Safety Consulting program.
When I work with current and prospective customers, there are three things I stress:
- American Family's superior products
- Our excellent customer service, and
- Our safety consulting programs for small business owners.
Many of my customers own and operate wineries. As their businesses grow, they may be expanding their buildings or adding new equipment. When that happens, they often turn to me and American Family’s safety consultants for suggestions on making their buildings and employees safer. They aren’t required to follow the suggestions from our safety consultants, but they do because they know it will make their operations safer and less prone to losses and down time.
No one ever wants a loss or an injury, and this service can help prevent them. Advice from American Family’s safety consultants has gone a long way toward preventing losses and building strong relationships between me and my customers. They know I’m not just trying to sell them something. I'm working with them to be a partner in their businesses and find ways for them to be successful.
Editor's note: Contact your local American Family Insurance agent and ask about our Safety Consulting program.
Change is good, especially when you choose to make it so.
Previously in my career, I had worked in the IT field, serving in network administration, IT security, help desk support and other roles. But it was only after finding myself without a job due to another corporate takeover that I decided to take my career in a different direction.
I resolved to spend the rest of my working years doing what I was meant to do, and to be more in control of my future, too. But it would mean change, which can be risky.
While working for past employers I always had taken advantage of continuing my education during night classes. During one of those classes I took one of those standardized tests that helps you determine what your personality traits are.
I dug out that test and found my results, and then purchased a book that can help you discover just the right kind of career based on your personality type. Using the book as my guide, the first career recommendation was to become a doctor. Now, that was not a realistic choice for me since I had no medical education, and I was already 38 years old.
The second choice was to become a nurse. That career path seemed a bit more reachable, but would require more education. However, I read on and found a third choice: selling life and health insurance.
At first I thought to myself, “What does that have to do with being a doctor or a nurse?”
But after 10 years in this business, I now understand – and many agents would agree with me – being an insurance agent has a few things in common with being a doctor or a nurse. It’s about helping people, relationships, trust and more.
It’s my desire to help others, help them solve problems, and make connections that led me to this field.
As an American Family agent, it makes me feel good to know I can explain different kinds of insurance coverage to clients in their own language. When customers come into my office, they all know that I care about them. And, it’s nice working for a company that places a high priority on caring, one-to-one customer relationships.
I am in a career that is rewarding for me and I enjoy it each and every day! It fits my personality and I LOVE it!
I started by getting on the right bus. Now I am in the right seat on that bus, and I’m headed in the right direction.
Editor's note: Sherry recently inspired others with her story at American Family’s DreamBank in Madison, Wis.
Contrary to what many of my fellow agents think, I have not been with American Family for its entire 85 years!
I have, however, been here for more than half that time and American Family Insurance has been part of my family even longer than that.
My father, Earl, started as a Farmers Mutual agent in 1956. At that time, agents were required to have an office in their home, so I got to see how things worked up close. Needless to say, things were done differently back then. For one, sales were made and premiums collected in the customer’s home – a far cry from the billing system we have today.
In 1963, the company changed its name to American Family, and soon after that, I started as a part-time agent. I also was working as a salesman at Leed’s Shoe Store in Topeka, Kan., and I have to admit, I was a poor part-time agent.
In 1967, my National Guard unit was activated, and I was up for active duty in Vietnam. Thankfully, I never had to go, but I spent two years at Fort Carson, Colo. The last six months I spent with Project Transition and worked at a different insurance company in Colorado Springs. That agent showed me a different way of running an agency, and in June of 1969, when I was discharged from the Army, I opened my own American Family office.
I was following in my father’s footsteps; however, I wanted to do better. He had a great work ethic, but I knew there had to be easier ways to build a large business and still have fun and a strong work-life balance.
There have been countless changes through the years, and of course, that can be difficult. Around 1983, the company introduced the Wang computer system. It was supposed to solve all the problems of writing insurance and make our offices paperless. That’s when my father decided it was time to retire, as he had no desire to learn a computer system!
But technology continues to make us stronger. Here’s a personal example:
The hailstorm of 1989 hit my office hard. We had more than 1,200 losses. At that time, CAT loss forms were five copies, with carbon paper between each sheet. When filling out the form you had to press very hard to make the information go through – and it took a long time! With our current system, the customer or agent calls the claim office, and it’s all computerized. The process is so much easier for everyone.
The future of our success, as I see it, will be how we stay ahead of what customers and prospects expect. It’s about continuing to look forward – while also learning from and celebrating our great past.
Happy birthday, American Family!
Editor’s note: Read more about American Family’s 85th anniversary from this Dream Protectors blog post by Chairman and CEO Jack Salzwedel.
Regrets, I've had a few.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t keep in touch with a college friend of mine after he joined the Navy. He was whip-smart, engaging, and one of the funniest people I've ever known. I always thought about writing to him while he was in the service. Sadly, I will never, ever have a chance to do so.
That's because he was killed in the terror attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
So I was personally moved when an American Family customer service center manager, Tom Hanson, recently spearheaded a holiday greeting card-signing drive for military personnel. Along with fellow employees and volunteers from the American Red Cross, Tom supervised card-signing stations at American Family offices in Madison, Wis.
I eagerly joined the employees and agents who dropped by to write their heartfelt wishes and words of support on the greeting cards. As a result, hundreds of American military men and women will get a special surprise in the mail during the approaching holiday season.
Tom's initiative was just one of several grassroots efforts at American Family aimed at celebrating the company's 85th anniversary through community service activities. As Tom puts it, "It makes me feel good that we did this, but I still feel it's a small gesture compared to the large commitment that these folks in the military have made and what they're going through."
It's no accident Tom and his colleagues took the time to show they care about people in the military. After all, he and his Customer Service Center colleagues demonstrate care and compassion every day when they receive claims-related customer calls. They help American Family put customers' lives back together when bad things happen. They are good examples to all of us that caring for others is in our DNA. All we have to do is act on it.
This holiday season, consider taking the time to send cards to men and women in the U.S. military – the American Red Cross "Holiday Mail for Heroes" program makes it easy to do.
I know I'm planning to sign more cards. It would've made my college friend happy.