Testimonial Archive

Gary T.

I have now been a part of VIAA for over five years. Joining was one of the best decisions that I have made in my professional career, if not the single best decision. The V IAA network opened the door for me to start my own agency. A few years after, they made it possible for me to take my agency to the next level. Just now after five years, they made it possible for me to take my agency to the next level yet again. I would not have been able to make any of these three steps on my own. Initially, I had very little capital, no book of business, a strict non-compete on my old book, no employees, and no partners; I had nothing. VIAA set me up where I had 5 markets within a couple of months of opening for business. On my own, it would have been difficult to secure just one market. Because of the enhanced commissions and bonuses, I was able to completely replace my income in under 12 months. Starting out, one of my initial challenges was being able to afford an office with no income. VIAA went above and beyond for me and offered for me to office with them until I could afford to go out on my own. On top of receiving the benefit of an affordable office, I also received the advantage of observing a highly successful mid­-sized agency from the inside. Having a strong background in personal lines, I ran as hard as I could with very solid personal lines markets to build a strong base for my agency. Within two years, I had to hire a CSR in order to continue to grow at the pace I wanted to grow. I had no previous hiring or management experience, and VIAA assisted and advised me with the process. After establishing a strong personal lines base, I decided to venture into commercial insurance. Having little commercial lines experience, I would not have been able to get a market by myself. V IAA assisted me by suggesting training courses, and worked with me to obtain two great markets, as well as having special status and greatly increased compensation with wholesalers. VIAA very recently aided me in obtaining a highly difficult market to become appointed with that has a lot of franchise value. When interviewing with the carrier to discover if we would be a good distribution point for their product, I was told at the end of the meeting, "Had it not been for VIAA, our answer would have been an immediate no, but we see value in partnering with you and are excited to move forward." If you are considering starting your own agency or looking for an avenue to take your existing agency to the next level, I highly recommend VIAA. I have been extremely satisfied with my decision to join years ago, and the organization continues to provide key services and add value to me today.

Bob G.

I was formerly with a captive insurance company where I was introduced to the insurance business, but quickly learned that it would soon become a stepping stone to where I wanted to go in the industry. My major frustration was that being captive, I only had one resource. The misconception of the captive company is that you can make any client fit into their narrow model, but the reality is that the majority of them do not. The rates were usually outrageous or the risk was not a good fit for underwriting, or both. This caused some agents to be unethical in the way that they approached writing new business. They would do whatever they could to write a client and they were doing things that were unacceptable to me, such as writing lower coverages, or writing any kind of business just to satisfy quotas. I met Henry when he was just beginning to build the VIAA Alliance. I learned that the alliance was not a vendor transaction, but a partnership where SIAA and VIAA are acting and working on my behalf. I decided to take a leap of faith and join SIAA and VIAA. Through VIAA I was able to get access to many markets rather than just one. It opened new horizons for me to write business that I had never been able to write before in both personal, and especially commercial lines. I have also been able to take part in bonus and profit share over the years. It is the icing on the cake when I receive additional dollars which I'm not expecting!! The meetings that VIAA puts together for its members are really helpful. I have been able to get to know other agency owners who are in my same shoes. It has been a tremendous benefit to bounce ideas off the other members, and to hear their ideas in return. I especially like the Fall Meeting because we are able to meet and ask questions of all the companies that V IAA represents. This helps me to determine if they would be a good fit for our agency. Prior to joining VIAA, and continuing in the insurance business, one really needs to consider if they are in this business for the long term and ready to run their own agency. Ownership is not a 9 to 5 job. You are on call all the time ready to serve your clients' needs. You have to be fully committed and prepared for the ups and downs of the industry. I researched different avenues and I found that VIAA was the best one for me. It gave me immediate access to markets, profit share, and enhanced commissions. I was able to establish and operate my own independent agency and have created my own culture within my agency and I do not have to depend on a larger house for anything. I can go after any piece of business that I choose to go after without compromising my ethics to try and fit a 'round peg into a square hole". What I do doesn't feel like sales. It feels like I am providing a service to people in need and they choose to do business with my agency.

Matt & Suzette G.

We had some reservations when we decided to leave our captive agencies and start an independent agency. Our business plan focused almost exclusively on commercial insurance. We knew that if we were going to be successful competing against the larger agencies in that arena, we needed help. Our agency has been very pleased with all that VIAA has had to offer us. From day one, VIAA has been there providing needed help and keeping the promises that they made us. Although we are in business for ourselves, we are not by ourselves. The vast amount of support and resources that are either provided or are available to our agency through our membership with VIAA is staggering. The support, mentoring, training opportunities, consultation time, and support staff have been second to none. Having a partnership that was dedicated to our growth and success was a surprising change for us. We have significantly more support as an independent agency than we ever had as captive agents! If we were not VIAA members, it is doubtful that we would have been able to remain a truly independent agency. The shifting insurance market has left many other independent and captive agencies in trouble. Due to our affiliation with VIAA, we do not have any of the worries that many insurance agents and agency owners that we know have right now. There is something to be said for the peace of mind we have knowing our business continues to flourish, our relationships with our carriers remain strong, and that we are affiliated with some of the best independent agencies and insurance professionals in the region. The VIAA members are experts who are always willing to share their vast knowledge to help you. We would recommend VIAA to anyone who is serious about taking their insurance business to the next level. VIAA does not accept every agency. But if your agency meets the qualifications and is accepted, joining will be the best business decision you have ever made.

Nathan B.

I started in the Insurance Industry in May 2008 with Shelter Insurance. They put me through training and made me feel like I would own my business. I soon realized this did not hold true. I also recognized that as a captive agent there is only a small minority of people that fit in the box. Knowing independent was my future I began exploring opportunities. I partnered with another individual and immediately set out to find markets only to discover that none of them were appointing new agencies. I also called other Independent Agencies to see if any of them had interest in forming a joint venture; there also was no interest there. We started to think along the lines of finding an MGA. This is when we caught wind of a local franchise and VIAA. The issue with the franchise was that their name was on all of the policies and the contract was about 1.5 inches thick. Then we met with Henry and Pierce and told them what we thought we could do. They saw potential in the high level of business accolade we brought to the table. We also liked that our name would be on all the policies and that we owned the business we wrote. The markets breadth cannot be beat. Being able to have different choices and shop for the customer is very important. One of the biggest benefits about being part of VIAA is the access to markets. If the rules start to change with a current company and all of a sudden I need another company in my back pocket, I call Henry and ask him who he recommends and we get an appointment. Now we are always able to easily adjust to change because there are enough relationships through the alliance to leverage. Most companies I do not have to give a heavy commitment with the exception of one: therefore, I do not have to worry about the balance of premium with companies because that is taken care of on a national level through SIAA. This means I can operate with my clients and prospects best interests in mind. It takes the pressure off when it comes to the companies. I also have been able to form relationships with other Members and I benchmark with them. Only one time in 3 ½ years have I come across a prospect that was insured by a VIAA member and I chose to walk away. The compensation is rich and the contingencies would not be possible on my own. VIAA has been a valued partner and we could not have built what we have alone. I would go as far as to say we would not have done it if we had tried a different market access group. Work the plan but also rely on VIAA to be your consultant and provide resources.

James G.

On my mother's side I have four generations of insurance agent blood in my veins and four generations from another ancestry line — if my wife will permit me to include her family. But in spite of relatives guiding my career path, initially I was led to other interests — until the economic collapse of 2008. It is not easy to start a significant business in these times of complexity. To make a start in the insurance sales business, I had no real formal training, just a long ancestral pedigree. Quickly I found that all doors are closed to someone without money or experience. Doors are not just closed, but nailed shut when the proposed business is a scratch operation and is located in a rural town with a population of less than two hundred souls (including pets). Neophytes do not qualify for Errors & Omissions protection and independent insurance company carriers don't answer your call. Then my Uncle Tom, told me of Henry and the VIAA organization centered in Saint Louis, just two hours away from home. The story of how Henry and his father came to give me a chance is long, but suffice it to say that after much deliberation, they took a chance. For me, it was a dream finally coming true and Henry and Mary Ellen readily guided me through a process far more demanding and complex than expected. Starting a new agency is a vastly difficult undertaking and I learned often by hard lessons. Even so, the framework of a vital new business emerged and VIAA kept me not just afloat, but lead me to build, in three years, an agency at the cutting edge of the industry. Today, we often identify important business trends before they become commonplace in the market and are then able to protect our agency and our customers. Through VIAA and Henry, our agency is a leader in our marketplace and has attracted one of the largest and highest rated Dave Ramsey endorsed territories in the country. Good habits and good advice seem to always emerge from VIAA meetings, fairs and workshops. Other members of VIAA are part of the family and readily share advice and experiences to strengthen the organization. Helping customers to meet their needs and goals with the best rates and coverage on the market through an independent agency is the best insurance career in the world. I encourage others to join our force. Members of the alliance are highly valued and in turn gain great advantages. Commission structures are better, the group strength gains great access to markets, and for unusual or difficult challenges the resourcefulness of VIAA’s back office is a wonderful option. Percentages paid to the umbrella organization are fairly structured and benefits are high. My business started a little over three years ago and today maintains a two -million-dollar book of business. My father-in-law without an umbrella group like VIAA has built an excellent independent agency that now enjoys a 2.9 million book of business, but it took 28 years for him to achieve that level. I exceeded him in less than 5 years because of the support system advantage VIAA provides. Alliances with good partners make a difference! Today, I'm advising my father-in-law to abandon the old ways and come to us. Traditional independent agencies experience limiting commissions due to contractual production requirements where with a group like VIAA, he would maximize commissions and profit share with higher closing ratios because of the group's combined sales strength and the very high quality of its insurance carriers. VIAA is about long-term relationships.

Dave V.

I got into this business because my son, Matt, was selling insurance for Farmers and he quickly realized that being a captive agent was not going to be productive or fulfilling for him with all the restrictions they put on their agents. After 3 years of being with Farmers he started researching ways of becoming an Independent Agent. He looked into clusters and found they had a bad connotation and then discovered VIAA and was really impressed. He said that they use a different model and it has a unique approach in that it is an alliance of independent agencies that all support each other. All background checks we did on VIAA came out really well so we decided to keep moving forward and began meetings with Henry. Then we were able to check with other agencies that were members of VIAA and all those reviews came back with high marks as well. Matt asked me to start AAdvantage Insurance Group with him and we did so 3.5 years ago when we joined VIAA. To this day we have no regrets and 0 complaints and we are in a great relationship with VIAA. When we made the leap, among the biggest advantages to joining VIAA were all the companies that we got access to. We currently represent 16 different home and auto companies and 10 different commercial companies and most of them we were introduced to through VIAA. An extra benefit we yield is the strength we have in numbers. The companies listen and cooperate with us. It is much more likely for them to help us as members of VIAA than an individual independent agent sitting out there by themselves. We always get excellent service and the attention from the companies. The profit sharing and extra bonuses that are extended to us are much better as well. There have been times when we have received a 25% commission for writing new business with a company. The fee that we paid VIAA to join the organization was a well worthwhile investment. Despite having some bad years with storms beyond our control, we are very happy with what has taken place with our bonuses. Analyze where you are sitting now. If you want to grow your business more rapidly and want unbelievable training opportunities that are extremely helpful in managing your agency, then VIAA is the right fit for you.

Leo M.

I have had an Independent Insurance Agency since 1975 and in 2006 I was approached by Pierce, a friend and colleague to join Valley Insurance Agency Alliance (VIAA). Once I understood the value the alliance had to bring to me I decided to join and was the 1st existing Independent Agent to sign on. Prior to signing I was constantly challenged and turning business down because I only had 2 markets to write all my business. I was frustrated because companies were constantly manipulating our contacts to eliminate my profit share and there was nothing I could do. Upon joining I immediately got direct appointments with 3 companies due to my experience. There only was one company that I had to use Access Plus for and about 1 year later I was given direct access. Immediately I was writing more business. We now can write 95% of what we touch given all the markets that we have access to. Despite the economy tanking my business is still growing. I receive $15,000 to $20,000 dollars a year in national and regional bonuses that I would not have received otherwise. My advice to you is that if you want to stay in the insurance business it is imperative to get into a relationship with this group. It is impossible to survive with 1 or 2 markets. When you are a part of VIAA you remain independent and have the backing of SIAA a 5-billion-dollar National Network. I highly recommend joining our group.

Sam E.

I backed into Insurance after being the VP of a manufacturing firm in the 80’s. I started in Group Health Insurance with a company called Mutual of Omaha and then switched to Property and Casualty. I parted ways with Mutual of Omaha because they wanted me to sell their products exclusively. I started to find myself challenged on the P&C side because I had limited contracts with companies. I went to a friend with an agency in a nearby town who set me up as a Satellite Agency to his and I was able use his companies. I was able to build up my book of business and then when it got big enough I bought it back from him. This enabled me to go directly to the companies and ask for direct appointments. However, it was always a constant battle to keep those appointments and to get new ones. Especially when a hard market would come along company relations would get particularly tough. For example, General Casualty one year came to all the Agencies in Southern Illinois and pulled out completely. This was my main company so where was I going to put all my business? I was approached by Brook Financial and on paper it sounded like a good deal and that they would be the answer to all my problems. Come to find out they really were more into buying agencies and financing them and on top of that we could STILL not get company appointments. We changed our name and everything. I discovered there were other disillusioned agents so in 2004 I filed a lawsuit against Brook and formed a Chapter of Disgruntled Agents Group of which I was President. When Brook discovered that I was doing this they wanted me to disappear fast, so they gave me all my money back and cut the strings. This turned out to be a good thing because within one year they went bankrupt. Unfortunately, many of my friends suffered from that and are still trying to dig themselves out. We were able to acquire a company called Mercury out of California that gave us a contract which saved us for a while because we had access to home and auto, but still this was only one market. By this time my daughter had joined me in the business and I wanted her to be set up with good markets and not have to struggle as I always did with company appointments through hard markets. Fortunately, along comes Henry and I was impressed by him and really trusted him. I found out that it was a much better fit for us. What VIAA and SIAA does for us is guarantee us that we will always have the markets. I wish that I had known about SIAA or VIAA back in the 80’s, but we are happy to be on board now. VIAA has given me piece of mind, without the product to sell you are dead. We are finally able to have the best products. Retention of our client base is high and continually growing. My advice to anyone thinking of joining VIAA/SIAA is to get started as quick as you can because you are just wasting time. It is phenomenal what VIAA does for an already existing Independent Agency or a guy just starting out. For what VIAA has cost me it has come back to me and then some. It actually has made me money from the extra commission points and bonuses.

John D.

I have been in the Insurance Industry for 21 years. I started with Prudential for the first 2 years. I then was a Captive Agent for Farm Bureau for 15 years. I next joined Brooke Financial for 3 years before it went bankrupt. I joined VIAA in 2009 and have been operating with my name on the door ever since. I had frustrations prior to joining VIAA with being captive and part of the Brooke Franchise. With Farm Bureau we had to sell life insurance as a captive agent and my bonuses were contingent on selling the quota of life insurance that the company wanted me to meet. With Brooke it was a total debacle – I was constantly battling for my commissions with home office because my statements were incorrect. They controlled everything; all the monies and everything was in their name - my offices and policies. They said you were independent, but you had no control. We also never got profit sharing, they took it all. When Brooke went bankrupt in 2008 and stopped paying commissions I began searching for a new home for market access and could find it nowhere. Then in walked Henry with a yard stick and a scraggly sweater from Ireland and I told Janet, one of my staff, that this is going to be the last person I talk to. I was beyond frustrated and tired of dealing with my situation and the industry. Henry leaves the office and both Janet and I decide that we liked Henry and continued to meet with him. We worked things out with Henry and it turns out that the best thing we could have done was land with VIAA. It was a nightmare (tons of commission dollars held from us, creditors after me, getting kicked out of two office locations, etc.) what we had to go through with Brooke to get there, but I can say that for the first time since then I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily I had good credit to take on a loan to float us through the mess while we got VIAA setup. Now I truly am controlling my own business. I have control of the money, the business is in my name, and everything that leaves my office including policies are in my name. Every month I pay a small percentage out of my commissions to VIAA and that is it, it is plain and simple. Company wise I have everybody I need and there are several that I would not have gotten without the help of VIAA. Last year I walked with $23,000 in bonuses in my pocket so I made money well above the membership fees that I would not have qualified for on my own. This year with the big 2012 hail storm my profit share and bonuses were not as much but I still am breaking even with the fees and spending nothing out of pocket while still having access to what I have access to. Nowhere else can you have this network of companies and not be paying them 15 to 20 percent of your overall commissions. When we don’t have bad storms we are putting money in our pockets so to me this whole system is a no brainer. It is zero cost to do business in the worst case scenario. After exploring everywhere to find a fit to be an independent agency VIAA was the only place I found that made sense. If you can do business, continue to grow, and it doesn’t cost you any money why would you go with anyone else?

Mark T.

I have been in the Insurance Industry 20+ years. I was with Gundaker Insurance Agency for 14 years and then became a part of the Brooke Franchise for 3.5 years. As most know Brooke went bankrupt in 2009 and left all the existing agents without commission payments for several months and locked into a non-compete. The companies were not able to appoint us directly because Brooke’s bankruptcy was still being settled so we had NO where to turn, but it was imperative for us to get contracted. Finally, Brooke gave us a release to go directly to companies for appointments, but the companies STILL would not appoint us, they treated us as though we were “toxic” and untouchable after being involved with Brooke. I was losing trust in the insurance companies and in the industry in general. Then into my office walks Henry with his yellow yardstick telling me to “Think Big and Be Big”. I was very skeptical at first, but once Henry explained the VIAA/SIAA model it started to make perfect sense and all commissions would come directly from the companies to the agency. I also asked people that I trusted in the industry about his father, Pierce, and found that he has an outstanding reputation in the business. I gained confidence in the model and decided to give it a go. Henry told me he would take the reins and to trust him and he did just that, everything Henry said he would do he did and everything VIAA said they would do they did. He got me direct appointments with companies and it went much faster and more easily than if I had tried to do it on my own. To tell you the truth basically VIAA saved my life, they are a breath of fresh air. Since joining I have access to companies that I would never have had otherwise. VIAA helps me manage my business and they want me to grow and be successful. Always allowing me to do things my own way and maintain my independence. I also have realized how important it is to be a part of a group because there is strength in numbers and VIAA gives you just that. They are able to negotiate higher commissions on new and renewal business with many of the companies and allow my agency to qualify for bonuses. If you are looking to stay in this business and grow in this business VIAA is the right place to be. You have the same resources that the big guys have but remain independent and have capabilities to compete with the big guys. The biggest advantage to joining is the availability for company contracts and the many other resources available to you. The bonuses you receive are the icing on the cake.