Ross Takes On New Role

December 15, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Instead of marketing for 20 other people in her insurance agency, Kimberly Ross is now marketing for herself.

Ross has been licensed in property and casualty insurance since 1997, but up to two months ago she was involved primarily in marketing insurance services for Universal Insurance Services Inc. (UIS) and setting up appointments for agents with prospective clients.

Today, she’s the first female property and casualty agent in Universal’s 21-year history, and, to her knowledge, one of only a handful of female property and casualty agents currently practicing in West Michigan.

Traditionally, women have not gravitated towards the property and casualty side, but Ross likes the challenge of taking a less-followed path.

She’s pursuing her Certified Insurance Counselor designation, as well.

Her next goal is to be the first female partner at Universal.

Ross took her degree in marketing and began her career in 1996 as a telemarketer for a small insurance agency in town.

The folks at UIS took notice of the work Ross was doing and the business she was bringing in to that agency.

One year later, UIS partners recruited Ross to start a marketing department for them. 

Before that time, UIS relied primarily on networking and referrals to drum up new business, but the partners decided to take a more aggressive marketing approach in order to grow the firm, Ross recalled.

Building the department from scratch was both exciting and challenging, she said, and UIS gave her the freedom to implement the marketing strategies she saw fit.

She considers Universal’s marketing department one of her biggest accomplishments to date. UIS started averaging 20 percent to 30 percent growth a year after Ross took over marketing responsibilities.

The firm doubled annual revenues over the seven years she headed the department. 

Although she really enjoyed marketing, she moved into sales because she felt there were more opportunities long term on that side of the business.

Sales had also become more attractive due to the significant investment in resources the company has made over the past couple years, she noted.

“We have a loss control department, which is something you usually see only in the large national broker firms.

“To implement your own department within the agency is very, very unusual. So that’s a service we offer our clients that no one else is offering. We differentiate ourselves with the services we offer.”

Ross said she’d been fortunate in her marketing position to be able to work with one of Universal’s owners on a very large account over the last 18 months. It will be her first large account since officially taking on the role of insurance agent.

“That’s a big one under my belt that’s really going to help me get going,” she added.

Universal has found a niche market in servicing the smaller accounts that the large national brokers sometimes ignore — the accounts that pay in the neighborhood of $250,000 a year in premiums.

Universal’s expertise includes the construction, manufacturing, real estate management, wholesale/distribution, trucking and food processing industries.

Ross is motivated by a desire to succeed in the industry as a woman, as well as by the desire to change the perception of what the “typical” insurance agent is and can do for clients these days, she said.

“Many buyers still think that agents just quote their insurance and try to get them the best coverage and price for their company. That’s the easy part. That is the perception I want to change.

“Through all of our value-added services, we are able to offer clients a long-term, sustainable, risk reduction program that will save them money by reducing premiums and soft costs associated with their total cost of risk. That’s the hard part that most agencies don’t invest in.”

The company’s value-added services, Ross said, are specific to the needs of each client.

UIS does a full analysis on each client company’s losses, claims records, safety programs, management systems, risk tolerance and so forth, then implements a service plan that it monitors on a regular basis, she explained.

There are a limited number of insurance carriers today and most agencies have access to the same ones, Ross pointed out.

In selecting an insurance agency, she suggests a prospective client consider the relationship the agency has with the insurance companies it represents, the services they offer beyond just placement with an insurance company, and whether or not those services cost extra.

She also advises that prospective clients look at the long-term, sustainable results the agency has achieved for current clients. 

Ross expects to stick with UIS long term.

“It’s an amazing culture here. It’s a forward thinking, supportive environment. They’re willing to invest and to do what it takes. Our turnover rate is next to nothing. We have people soliciting us to come work for them just because of the agency’s reputation.

“The real satisfaction I get is helping clients by offering them services they don’t get anywhere else. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t work for such an innovative and progressive insurance firm.”     

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