Last year at an Insurance Library event, I had the pleasure of meeting Nadeen Vella. She shared with me her story of starting her own independent insurance agency, NaVella Insurance, which specializes in high-net-worth coverages. Nadeen’s enthusiasm and dedication to making her new business a success was immediately evident and captured my attention.
Despite facing numerous challenges along the way, Nadeen’s determination and passion for helping clients find the best insurance coverage led her to start NaVella Insurance from scratch. A developing business that is new and growing, NaVella Insurance has quickly established itself as a reliable and reputable agency in the industry.
As a successful female entrepreneur in a mostly male-dominated industry, Nadeen’s journey serves as an inspiration to other women who may be considering starting their own insurance agencies. In this interview, Nadeen generously shares her insights and experiences, offering valuable advice to those who are looking to follow in her footsteps. From overcoming obstacles to understanding her clients’ needs, Nadeen provides a unique perspective on what it takes to build and grow a successful insurance agency.
Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory? What led you to this particular career path?
Thank you so much for reaching out and making this happen. This is truly an honor.
Coming out of college, I had a business degree and an open mind. When I hunted for a first job, my best offer turned out to be for a claims adjuster at Hanover Insurance, so I took it. Little did I know I would soon fall in love with this industry! It was there I learned the basics, but more importantly, I met amazing mentors that continue to help me to this day. Eventually, I transitioned to the independent agency side of the business, where I started to realize that one day, I wanted to do this myself.
After a stint at Providence Mutual, I moved to Chubb, where I managed personal lines agency partnerships and went neck-deep into the high-net-worth market. There I learned what it means to be truly committed to your clients. Something I admired about Chubb and its high-net-worth insurance space that I brought with me to NaVella. Eventually, I moved on to Markel, where I managed the sales and distribution of their small commercial business here in the Northeast until last year.
When did you start the agency, and how long did it take to get off the ground?
In April 2022, I decided it was time to pursue the dream that started 16 years ago, starting an insurance agency from scratch. I knew I had the foundation, determination, and know-how. The hardest part was getting the courage to leave the safety and security of my corporate job. After that, it was about a month before I was ready to start looking for clients, and then another month before I wrote up my first policy.
Did you have a formal business plan? If so, did you work on it with somebody? Did you present to investors or agencies? What about your plan sets you apart?
I do have a formal business plan, which I worked on myself. It was presented to some colleagues and mentors for feedback, but as NaVella is not seeking outside investment, the plan was mostly intended to help organize my thoughts and drive my vision which is educating my audience, not selling to them, and making insurance fun along the way!
What sets NaVella apart is being a woman-owned business with a specialization in high-net-worth coverage. To this end, my carrier selections and partnerships are strategic and deliberate. I work only with best-in-class insurance companies that over-deliver when it comes to underwriting, services, and claim promises. I want full faith in the protections I offer my clients, and I don’t ever, not even once, want them to have reason to question their choices.
We also offer coaching and consulting services for agents and agencies, guiding them to leverage their strengths, overcome their fears, and optimize their true potential.
Where are you now on development? And why did you choose the niche you’re in?
Where I am now is, I’m proud to say, NaVella is fully launched. We can write nationally and are in partnership with some of the best carriers in the high-net-worth space, which include Cincinnati Insurance, Chubb, PURE, Vault, and Plymouth Rock, for middle-market opportunities.
As far as the niche, I’ve found a significant knowledge gap and many misconceptions about high-net-worth personal insurance among the general public and also with agents, and I wanted to address that. Too often, HNW individuals get sold lower-end products, ending up with inferior insurance that exposes them to significant risk. Attacking this issue was alluring to me.
I’ve also found that women have been overlooked when it comes to insurance, especially in the HNW space. I am further motivated by the opportunity to educate women on the various tools available to help protect their families and possessions.
What do you want our readers to know about starting an insurance agency? What advice would you give to other people who are considering starting agencies?
Building a business is like going to the gym. You won’t see progress day to day, and sometimes the idea of going is dreadful, but if you stick with it, within a few months, you will see huge progress.
Look to your future self and work on small things every day to get you to big goals. Expect and be ready to fail. Build and leverage relationships and connections that challenge you to push forward. Find mentors, go to networking events, talk to as many people as you can, and ask questions. Asking creates clarity. Continue to “work out” your business acumen and perfect your processes.
The insurance industry is a great opportunity. For anyone but the most risk-tolerant, the math works out easily. Serve your customers well, deliver top-notch service, and I think the rest of it will fall into place.
My hope is that a more diverse crowd recognizes the opportunity that exists within the insurance industry and acts. The independent insurance agency channel needs more women+ owners and founders. The long-term vision of NaVella challenges all industry norms. Implementing a better way to do business and having a model that redefines the experience. There is so much opportunity to jazz it up. We can do more in thought leadership, education, mentorship, and talent acquisition to set up an industry perpetuation plan that will carry forward and give back.
Back in the day, you had to hit the streets, have an office, and find ways to advertise in the paper. But now everything is online, in the Cloud. How has technology made your life, and other agencies’ lives, easier?
Technology has changed the game when it comes to the way we work. Introducing the idea of a hybrid work environment has certainly changed the way we approach and think about working. A lot of the insurance agencies I’ve worked for defined themselves as generalists, and perhaps technology makes their lives a breeze. For me, while things like prospecting, marketing, predictive modeling, and underwriting are easier these days, it doesn’t help with the real work – building relationships, knowing your niche, listening to your clients, and making decisions. You still need to get yourself out there to promote the business and build trust. My company’s data may be in the Cloud, but my clients aren’t – they are in their homes with their loved ones, and my job is to ensure they have the best protection possible against risk.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped you get to where you are?
The best part of my career has undoubtedly been the people I have met. I have worked and learned from so many whose backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences are different from mine, and they’ve all been able to teach me something new. One of the people who has been a career constant and champion for me over the past 16 years has been Ryan McMahon, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Corporate Development at Cambridge Telematics. No matter where I have been in my journey, Ryan has helped me zoom out and focus on big-picture concepts and ideas. This may sound simple, but the amount of growth I have experienced as a result is invaluable. Having a connection with people who support, challenge, and inspire you can change your perspective in a major way.
Nadeen, this has been great. Any final words?
Thanks, Owen, the pleasure was mine! To be honest, there is nothing special about my journey. I have just been observant, taken notes, and made decisions. I’m fueled by an uncanny desire to make insurance fun and more relatable to the common person. When I am at events, I get a kick out of people’s reactions when I say. “I own an insurance agency. I LOVE insurance” …it’s a coat of armor. Most people feel dreadfully disinterested when it comes to insurance. I believe the agent makes all the difference and that there is real value there! With an agent you can talk to and trust, the conversation becomes more palatable, and there is a feeling of security.
For anyone who is reading this who feels challenged by their insurance needs or wants to learn about what’s out there for them, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I love solving complex problems and collaborating. Email me: Nadeen@navellains.com.
If anyone wants to see what makes NaVella different, they can visit NaVella Insurance: High Value Home Insurance in Massachusetts