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June Is National Annuity Awareness Month

If it’s Tuesday after business hours, you’ll probably find Jennifer Hodges, LACP, CIC, at the local American Legion post in her regular place at the $10 poker game she’s been a part of for the past five years. But if you ask her about her poker face, she might hesitate.

“I’m a pretty open and honest person,” she said with a laugh, “so I’m not a huge bluffer. It’s rare when I do it, but because it’s rare I usually get away with it.”

How is playing cards with military veterans like her day job as an insurance and financial advisor? Being a winning poker player and a thriving financial professional both involve building relationships and understanding people and how they think. Hodges, as it turns out, excels at both.

A Fast-Paced Beginning

Fresh off earning her finance degree at Central Washington University, Hodges agreed to interview with an insurance firm. Not because she wanted the job, but because her college career counselor convinced her it would be good practice. “The idea of selling anything terrified me,” she said.

She nailed the interview. And a second one. Her soon-to-be employer convinced her that a career in insurance and financial services would give her greater opportunities and more flexibility than other positions she was considering. It would help her build on her college accomplishments. She decided to give it a shot.

Her first manager helped her overcome her fear of selling and taught her about relationship building. “It turns out I was really good at it,” Hodges said. “I have an aptitude for education. I care about my clients and I care about teaching them.”

Maybe she was too good at it. Hodges initially gave her cell phone number to all of her clients and said they could call her with questions at any hour – and they did. Her book of business grew steadily. After three years, she was feeling burned out and overwhelmed by constant client meetings and calls. She moved to Missouri to be closer to her mother and sister and took a year off from the insurance industry.

She spent that year working in a real estate title processing office and then decided to open her own insurance agency from scratch.

Doing It Her Way

Hodges determined that if she was going back into insurance, she wouldn’t fall into the same trap as before. She was going to do it her way. First off, that meant setting regular hours and keeping her cell phone number to herself. She would work with her clients so they would know to contact her during business hours and how they could otherwise get assistance during off hours. She would have time for herself – to relax on weekends, take vacations, and, of course, play poker.

“If I couldn’t be successful doing that,” she said, “then I wasn’t meant to do this. It wasn’t for me.”

As it turns out, she is very successful. Her agency grew. She took advantage of an opportunity to sell her practice to OneSource Insurance Group based in Ozark, Missouri, and accepted a position there as Director of Operations.

A Passion for P&C

Hodges places a lot of clients in life insurance policies and fixed annuities, but along her career journey she developed a true passion for property and casualty insurance. It is safe to say many of her clients don’t share that passion, at least not initially.

“I sell to middle-class, middle-income people,” Hodges said. “The consensus is: ‘I hate insurance, it’s all a scam, and I have to pay for it.’”

“I don’t want them to feel that way. I try to shed some light on how important this piece of their financial portfolio is,” she continued. “It’s nothing sexy – it’s auto and home insurance and business insurance – but it’s really, really important. And I think that translates when I’m speaking to my clients. They understand that I care, that I’m passionate, that I’m honest and I tell them the truth about insurance even when it’s something they don’t like.”

Those conversations and her passion are why she has developed long-term relationships with many of her clients and maintains a very high retention rate. It’s also why she continues to build her business on client referrals.

Making Your Own Career

In her position as Director of Operations, Hodges is responsible for recruiting and training new agents. Naturally, she draws on her own experiences. She looks for professionals who are:

  • Teachable. They need the capacity to learn about the industry and develop product knowledge.
  • Personable. Successful agents need to have the social skills that allow them to build relationships.
  • Resilient. Being told “no” is part of the business. “They need to be able to be pushed down and get up again and again and again,” Hodges said.
  • Energetic and motivated. Especially early on, it’s vital that they continuously prospect and keep their pipelines full.

She also looks for candidates who have financial stability or a plan to survive potentially lean times while they build their books of business. These are often career changers who have built up a nest egg or newly graduated students who “are used to being broke.”

But for those who make it, the rewards are ample. Not only can you make a very good living, but you can decide what you sell and how you sell it. “This industry is so broad you can focus on so many different things,” she said. “I can be a NAIFA member and have close relationships with other NAIFA members and we do completely different things. There’s so much diversity in the industry that if you’re interested in the industry you can find something that appeals to you and something you can be passionate about.”

The NAIFA Advantage

NAIFA is another of Hodges’s passions. She has been a loyal member since 2002 and is a regular participant in NAIFA advocacy events, including the Congressional Conference and state legislative days. She is a graduate of NAIFA’s Leadership in Life Institute (LILI) and has been a LILI co-moderator. NAIFA is the source of many of her connections and friendships in the industry.

“When I moved to Missouri and didn’t know a soul, I went straight to a NAIFA meeting, because it allowed me to surround myself with colleagues and peers and when you start a scratch agency it is incredibly isolating and terrifying,” she said. “To build my base and have my best chance of success I needed to go to NAIFA. And the best way to build that base and have your chance of success is to get involved. Getting involved meant volunteering. And it was easy to get involved because I believed in it.”

She has been part of the NAIFA-Missouri leadership team for more than five years. She has served on the Board, chaired all the state committees, and held the office of State President for two years. She believes it’s important for all agents and advisors to be NAIFA members and to participate.

“Brand new agents or people just getting into this business, if they want a better chance of success and longevity in this industry then NAIFA is a large part of that every single time,” she said. “You can do it without NAIFA, but it’s not easy. With NAIFA, there are more paths to success and you will become a more rounded advisor. You’re just better overall with NAIFA.”

As a NAIFA member, it’s almost like you hold all the cards.

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