In this day and age of the increasing consolidation of the Massachusetts independent insurance agency system, Agency Checklists was pleased to receive a recent announcement from a “Massagent” celebrating a centennial anniversary. That agency, T.A. Holland & Co., is celebrating its 100- year anniversary this year an independent insurance agency. Headquartered in Boston and with a second location in Plymouth, it was founded in 1920 in Beverly by Ted Holland, Sr.
Mr. Holland began his career in insurance by selling policies door-to-door, eventually growing the business into a full-fledged agency. Over the past ten decades, the company has evolved into a “unique combination of independent financial and insurance firms.” This combination allows the company to offers a variety of financial services including retirement, investment, as well as growth and preservation of wealth while also staying true to its roots as an MAIA member and independent agency offering both personal and commercial property & casualty insurance products.
While no longer run by the T.A. Holland family, the company is still independently owned and operated by co-owners Kristina McGoff and John Hellmuth. In an email interview with Ms. McGoff, she shared more about the history of T.A. Holland & Co, how the agency has successfully continued as a small, independent agency. She also share with us her own unlikely path into insurance ended up allowing her to have her dream career.
Your agency is celebrating 100 years – can you tell us how the agency first came about and who actually started it?
Ted Holland, Sr. began this business in Beverly, Massachusetts at age 19 by selling insurance door-to-door. He grew the business one client at-a-time until his son, Ted Holland, Jr., joined the firm. Ted Holland, Jr. continued in a leadership position for many years.
How big is your agency?
T.A. Holland is still a small business. Although we only have three employees and two independent consultants, we are able to serve about 3,000 clients.
What is the breakdown between Personal & Commercial Lines?
We’re about 65% personal / 35% commercial.
Does your agency specialize in a particular niche?
We like to say we specialize in customer service. This may sound silly but it is a very important role in this business and has helped us to maintain a robust and loyal client base. Some of our clients are the third generation in their family to have insurance policies underwritten by us. This is a testament to our service.
Does your agency sell in a specific geographic marketplace or all over?
We are licensed in MA, ME, CT, NH, and RI.
How many carrier appointments do you have?
Who are your biggest carriers?
Our biggest carriers are Arbella, Norfolk & Dedham and Travelers.
You, yourself, joined the agency 25 years ago. How did you start your own career in insurance?
I was working in the sales department of Swissotel Boston and was very unhappy with my position and inability for betterment or advancement. One of my colleagues was carpooling with my now-partner, John Hellmuth. He told her that T.A. Holland was looking for a customer service representative. I interviewed shortly thereafter and got the job. I don’t think anyone says, “I want to be an insurance agent when I grow up,” but I have to say, with my customer service background, I truly love working in this industry. Customer service is a crucial aspect.
What inspired you to become an agency owner?
I have always wanted to call the shots and make the big decisions for the agency. When I started at T.A. Holland 25 years ago, our database was a ream of paper with names and file numbers on it. We also had non-self-adhesive stamps and a manual weight machine for postage. Although I was given free rein to update our technology, etc., it’s nice to know that I can make decisions necessary to better the agency and how we work.
After 26 years in the insurance business, what insights or advice could you share with those contemplating starting a career in insurance? How about those thinking of owning their own agency?
Again, I would say that customer service is very important to have a good agency. At the end of the day, it can’t be all about money, it also needs to be about the client and how we can best serve them. Our clients hear from us on a regular basis. Upon policy renewal, they receive a mailing that we’ve put together as well as an email to check-in. We also reach out when their plates, inspection stickers, and licenses are due to expire. I want our clients to hear from us before we hear from them. Other agencies should do the same.
What would say has been your biggest challenge in running your agency?
Honestly, my job description hasn’t changed much except now I’m also doing the books. I found that I actually like doing them but I don’t like agency-billed policies. I wish all commercial policies were directly billed to the client.
What has been your greatest achievement?
I would have to say that my greatest achievement at T.A. Holland is the advancement of our technology. Besides the ream of paper for a database and the non-self-adhesive stamps when I started, there was also only one computer. Now we have an agency management system, computers, and scanners on all desks and dual monitors for all. We also have e-doc capability for signatures needed from clients as well as a modern website. We are a truly modern office.
With respect to the technology that you have implemented into your agency, what have you found to be the most helpful in running an independent agency? For example, are you a paperless office?
Yes [we are a paperless office]. Although this might sound simple, the scanners, as well as the dual monitors, have really increased our ease-of-doing-business. We can compare policies from year to year or review applications versus policies more easily. In addition, our agency management system has streamlined our work. I don’t think we could work efficiently without any of these.
How has the insurance agency business model changed since you started? How have you and your agency adapted?
Great question. When I first started in this industry all of the insurance premiums were regulated and there wasn’t a lot of work to be done from year-to-year on a policy. Since deregulation came into Massachusetts, all bets are off. We now have one person designated to review each-and-every policy at renewal. We do cost estimates on homes every three years to be sure clients aren’t over or underinsured. This is where the customer service really pays off because we’re looking out for our clients.
Turning to talent, many in the insurance industry are discussing the talent crisis which is going on? Has this affected your agency?
Talent is very hard to find, but I am very happy to say that I have a dream team working with me. We are all on the same page and have open communication of how the day-to-day job is. My team knows that they can come to me with ideas and questions and vice-versa. I check in on them regularly to be sure they are happy at T.A. Holland.
Have you prepared your agency for the future with respect to perpetuation?
Although it is in the back of my mind, I don’t anticipate going anywhere anytime soon. Plus, I have a wonderful team that I work with.
Looking forward, are you optimistic with respect to the future of independent agents?
Yes, I am. As an independent agent, I am blessed to work closely with my clients. I get to know them, their families, their wants and their needs for insurance. My clients know that I am here for them and when they call they know that we actually know who they are. They aren’t a number or just a client. They become family when you’ve been here as long as I have been. I don’t think you can get that kind of care and service from very large companies that are direct writers.
What are your thoughts about the insurance industry in general?
I love this industry and have for the 25 years I’ve been here. I simply fell into it and am so thankful that I did because I can’t picture myself doing anything else (well, when I “grow up” I’d like to be a photographer 😊). The day-to-day life as an agent can be the same but you also have those days where something new happens or a client has a great day and they share [that] with you. I’d like to think that insurance will always be a needed commodity and my hope is that in another 100 years, T.A. Holland will still be caring for its clients.