Women in Insurance: Meg McKeen, Founder & Chief Confidence Builder, Adjunct Advisors

Women in Insurance - August 25 2021

In this interview series, we profile women who are shaping the future of insurance. This week, we speak with Meg McKeen, CIC, Founder and Chief Confidence Builder, Adjunct Advisors. With 21 years of experience on both the insurance carrier and independent agency sides of the business, and as a Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) and licensed independent insurance agent, Meg leverages her strong technical background, keen interpersonal skills, and leadership acumen to help insurance sales professionals find and leverage their own unique voice in an industry that is craving a new perspective on what it means to sell insurance. Named one of Insurance Business America’s 2021 Elite Women and one of their Hot 100 for 2021, recognizing her contributions to the insurance industry, Meg is a frequent speaker at insurance industry conferences and events and hosts Bound & Determined℠, a podcast for and by women in insurance. A graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and currently a digital nomad, when she isn’t coaching insurance sales professionals, you can find Meg putting the “practice” into yoga practice, searching for the best vegan burger, or enjoying live music.

Meg, before founding Adjunct Advisors, you worked both as an underwriter and agent. Tell us about your path to insurance. What attracted you to the profession?

Truth time: my career in insurance started with a broken heart! It was an employee’s job market when I graduated from college in Central Illinois with a liberal arts degree, and entry-level opportunities were plentiful. Instead of jobs in pharmaceutical sales or event planning, I chose an underwriting training position with a regional insurance company in another state – largely because it simply offered a fresh start. As I continued to grow in my own awareness of myself, the insurance industry provided a place, with opportunities and with challenges, to meet me where I could perform at my best and truly thrive. I never tire of telling this story, as it’s such an important reminder that we are living our personal and professional lives simultaneously – and one will very much influence the other.

It’s safe to say that the insurance buying experience sometimes falls short of customer expectations, especially in commercial lines where manual processes often create friction and delays. How does this impact insurance sales professionals and what strategies can they employ to cope with or close the gaps between expectations and reality?

I so appreciate that you’ve posed this question from the vantage point of the sales professional. As the sales professional is primarily tasked with driving revenue, but often finds herself squarely in the middle of non-revenue generating situations, too, this is a nearly impossible reality for so many. If you’re a sales professional, you know the struggle!

Three ideas as we confront what for many is a daily challenge:

1. Look for Patterns

What questions do you regularly receive that pull you away from your sales activities? Premium audit, for example, can be a confusing process for a customer. Don’t wait until the audit is due to talk about it; Introduce the topic of premium audit early in the sales process and again several months after the new policy is in effect. Repetition brings awareness and with awareness, those anxious feelings lessen. These touchpoints serve two purposes – you’re reducing the confusion – and reinforcing the value you provide for your client, which is important beyond the close of the sale.

2. Use Your Tools

Video can be a great way to share the messages mentioned above. Record a short, personalized tutorial using free software like Loom – and be careful not to overthink it! These are meant to be casual and informational, so having everything “just so” isn’t a requirement. Automate the parts of your business that don’t come easily for you. Are you horrible with follow-ups? Create a task or set a reminder to follow-up as soon as your initial contact is made. Customers value consistency and your follow-up reinforces this.

 3. Trust the Process

The best sales professionals I know take great pride in their customer relationships – and they work hard to maintain those relationships. The problem? They hesitate to delegate those tasks that keep them from producing because they fear they won’t be done to their own standards. Practice patience and be open to suggestions from new team members as you are learning and adapting to one another’s style. And don’t forget to take time to build a relationship with those who support you, too; a few deposits in the emotional bank account will pay dividends in the form of willingness to help. Lastly, when they have questions, be clear and consistent with your customers when those should be routed to you – and when someone else might be more efficiently able to assist. Consider a call to your doctor’s office; when does the doctor herself answer?

Experience shows that the financial protection offered by insurance matters at the time of a loss – but how customers are cared for throughout the lifecycle of their experience with you matters every single day.

Throughout the pandemic, insurance leaders have had to manage distributed teams, and everyone has had to learn to collaborate 100% virtually and stay focused and productive. What lasting impact do you think the pandemic will have on the future of work?

First, let’s pause to acknowledge the coordination effort of so many leaders in our industry at the start of the pandemic; the ability to pivot from in-office to remote work in such a short time is truly remarkable. Also remarkable? In just this past year, we’ve proven the fallacy of the beliefs we’ve had about remote work and, as a proponent of remote work, I am overjoyed. That said, it’s become apparent that we all experience remote work very differently. Writing this, as a single woman without children, my experience is exceptionally different from that of a woman with children and a full-time employed partner. The demands on our time – and our emotional energy – are different. In the safe space I provide, more awareness is being called to the alignment of purpose, passion, and mission in the work we do, and an increasing number of insurance professionals are saying out loud, often for the very first time, that perhaps their own alignment is off. As such, as we continue to consider the future of work, our conversations cannot be focused solely on productivity and outcomes but must also include intentional acknowledgement of an individual’s personal experience – and connection – with their work.

The insurance industry faces a recruitment challenge with millennials and Gen Z choosing professions they deem to be more progressive, challenging and fun. What can insurance companies do to attract new talent to the industry?

Remember when we were convinced that ping pong tables and bottomless snacks were the things that would entice new generations to join the industry? It wasn’t that long ago, and while they represent an important part of the overall employee experience, there’s a greater concern that the next generation has when considering our industry – and that’s culture. Of course, the industry has a reputation of being slow to make and adapt to change, but I’m convinced that the change we make doesn’t have to be radical. An organization that encourages transparent and wholehearted leadership from the top, honors the unique experience of every employee, and explicitly expresses a deep commitment to community will thrive in the years to come. How do we get there? Let’s tell our stories. And by stories, I don’t mean that “I am a commercial lines underwriter and assess risk,” but instead, “My phone rang when I was going through my divorce and it was my underwriting manager, letting me know it was okay to take the time I needed to navigate the process, both physically and emotionally.” Those are the leaders of organizations the next generation will choose to work for – but we have to help them see the path, and stories are a perfect way to do it. I’m also encouraged by individuals developing strong personal brands, who by doing so, are changing the perception others have of our industry. Can you imagine the day leaders in our industry become household names? It’s happening – and will no doubt be uncomfortable for many as they step into that spotlight and become vulnerable in that way – but is necessary as we present our industry in an accessible and approachable way.

According to a 2017 study, just 12 percent of insurance companies’ top corporate officers are women. Why do you think there are so few women in senior leadership roles in the insurance industry?

This question – and my deep exploration into the answer to it – fuels the work I do. While more than qualified and more than capable, we see so few women represented in these top positions, as well as in commission sales roles, for a myriad of reasons. But first, it’s important to acknowledge that the experience of every single person in the industry is unique, and I won’t assume I know yours in sharing my thoughts here.

I’ve observed that we so often perpetuate what we know; our colleagues become our friends and when the proverbial phone rings, it’s to those we know and like that those opportunities often go. But for many women, this can feel like an exclusive club into which the code is a secret – and after a few unsuccessful attempts, she just stops trying to find it. I grew up believing I could “have it all” – but ultimately made a choice not to do what would be required in order to have it all. Through my lens, it appeared that the further one rose in the leadership ranks, the louder the echo chamber would become – and I knew that the hits I’d take to who I was fundamentally in order to survive there, let alone thrive, just wouldn’t be sustainable. Today, as the creator of my own c-suite, and with the agency to share my own story, I see so many heads nodding, affirming that while my experience is my own, it is not unique. While there is no one reason – or solution – for the lack of gender diversity in leadership, I am encouraged today by the hard evidence that diverse leadership drives positive business outcomes – i.e., it’s just “good business” – and I appreciate that so many men rising in leadership have lifelong experiences working alongside inspiring women (mothers, sisters, daughters) that will inform the decisions they make as leaders, too. 

What advice would you give the next generation of women considering a career in insurance?

We are building our careers and our lives simultaneously. There will be times when your personal life is your focus – and times when you’re all in on your career. Trust your instincts when you feel a change coming and trust yourself that you have what it takes to navigate it.

Meg McKeen - Forward - Square

Celebrating her 21st year in the industry, Meg McKeen, CIC, founded Adjunct Advisors LLC in 2018 with the essential belief that the way we sell insurance is ripe for change. Throughout her career, working both as an underwriter and agent within the insurance industry, Meg has held a seat at the table during thousands of insurance negotiations. Meg now holds space, at the crossroads of personal and professional development, for individuals and groups of insurance salespeople as they grow in their sales practice through 1:1 and small group coaching, in-person and virtual facilitated workshops, and the podcast she hosts, Bound & Determined. Meg’s contributions to the insurance industry have been recognized with her inclusion in Insurance Business America’s Hot 100 and Elite Women for 2021. Learn more at www.adjunctadvisors.com.

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