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Recruiting Female Agents Has Its Benefits
Top 3 reasons to recruit women:
1. Successful Interactions: Women are able to relate to other female clients and prospects, making it easier to understand their unique needs.
2. Strong contacts: Women typically have a base of contacts, either within their former profession or within their local community. This can help them build solid practice.
3. Popular demand: With so many agencies – small and large – targeting women agents, women investors now have a choice to deal with an insurance company that meets their needs. If you don’t meet the need, you lose business to a competitor.
Danica Patrick did it. Hilary Clinton did it. And now lots of women in the financial sector are doing it – and succeeding in what was once a man’s world. As this male-dominated industry continues to change, so do those who represent it.
Recruit: Magnetic attraction
Despite female representation increasing over its male counterpart, the number of female insurance agents continues to grow year after year. In fact, several large financial firms are creating recruitment campaigns and initiatives based on attracting women.
The approach to recruiting, supporting and retaining female agents is evolving. Several financial institutions recognize women as prime candidates. So much so that companies are competing for female talent. To remain competitive with its forward-thinking counterparts, companies must recruit and promote women. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the smart thing to do given the continued emergence of women as a powerful economic force,” said Heidi Spilotros, director of women’s recruiting for MassMutual. “It is also increasingly important for financial services firms to better understand women as prospects and customers in order to serve this important market segment well.”
MassMutual has been a pioneer in recruiting, retaining and helping women succeed. But to help these individuals do well, you must first understand their needs and motivations. Perhaps no one is more familiar with what female agents want than Spilotros, as she appreciates the innate need to achieve the ever-illusive balance between work and family life. She traveled the country – during her eighth month of pregnancy – to gain a better understanding of what women want.
MassMutual has been able to effectively attract female agents by emphasizing the positive attributes of a career in professional financial services, specifically the challenge, entrepreneurial spirit, financial and personal rewards and flexibility. This top insurance company is so in tune with these needs that MassMutual was named a Working Mother’s 100 Best Company by Working Mother Magazine in 2007.
While the financial services industry has made several strides in recent years in terms of female candidates, progress has not permeated all organizations. According to Geoff Kaltenbach, Associate Managing Partner for Signature Resources in Irvine, CA, the insurance industry has not been successful in these arenas compared to other industries, such as pharmaceutical sales.
Kaltenbach’s approach to recruiting talented women begins at the university level. His company works with three sororities at two local universities to engage potential graduates for its internship program. This highly effective strategy has resulted in a huge source of referrals for the company. In fact, many of its advisors and staff come from the internship program. “Start there (college level) because they know other people who have the same work ethic, and that creates a nice center for talent,” Kaltenbach said.
While Signature Resources recruits women, the firm actively seeks good candidates in general, regardless of their gender. However, there are several advantages to employing women. “Women can be successful in this business,” insists Kaltenbach.
Typically, women in their mid-to-late twenties are more mature and empathetic, have a stronger work ethic and boast a better sense of fashion than their male counterparts, according to Kaltenbach. In addition, many HR directors are women and feel more comfortable dealing with the same gender. Therefore, female representation becomes even more valuable in building the company.
Often it is not a company that actively recruits an agent, but rather a person who recruits his new place of employment. When a devastating car accident left the Wilkerson family in medical and financial distress, Julie Wilkerson left a successful career in sales and marketing to pursue new horizons. Surprised to learn that she had inadequate coverage, Wilkerson felt a personal obligation to educate others in areas where she had not been well informed and decided that the best way to make a difference was in the insurance industry.
Ultimately, it was Colonial Life that was able to woo Wilkerson with its strong reputation for customer service satisfaction and promise to train agents. But Wilkerson didn’t commit to Colonial Life without first doing her homework on the supplemental insurer. “What impressed me was the longevity of the agents who worked for Colonial Life,” Wilkerson said. “I was looking for a company that took care of its people.”
Wilkerson’s research paid off. Colonial Life offered the ethical element Wilkerson was looking for. “The buzz of the ladies’ room is pretty telling,” Wilkerson said. “If you push up your lipstick and hear agents discuss how wonderful their year was — not just financially, but from a people’s point of view — it’s rewarding. I feel honored to be in their company.”
For some agents, support refers to technology-based solutions, and for others it is defined by emotional support.
Signature Resources empowers its 100+ agents, 20 percent of whom are women, with the right tools to succeed. The company relies heavily on echoWealth, a web-based needs analysis program equipped with illustrated financial reports, motivational calculators and intelligent content. “It’s our Wikipedia, and it underpins everything we do,” Kaltenbach said. “Having something at your fingertips immediately for you and your client is the most important thing we do.”
Likewise, Wilkerson has been able to take advantage of the resources Colonial Life offers, such as a comprehensive website that answers questions ranging from the competition to specific policies; newsletters chalked full of sales techniques, product education and field agent-related anecdotes; and workshops and conferences.
While having the appropriate resources to advance your career and educate clients is necessary, other factors come into play when it comes to supporting the female agent, including integrity and the ability to balance a career and family life.
To build your business, you need a level of support. Additionally, you want to be sure that level of support comes from a reputable company. “I wasn’t going to be snorkeling in a contaminated pool,” said Wilkerson, who places great importance on the company’s reputation. “I can speak with passion and sincerity about the company.”
The suite of support services allows Wilkerson to be in business for himself, but not for himself. From a flexibility standpoint, this career allows her to maintain a rewarding livelihood and family life. “I choose where I go, when I go and how I go,” Wilkerson said.
Like Signature Resources and Colonial Life, MassMutual supports all of its agents, regardless of gender. However, the company recognizes that there are certain residences that are attractive to female employees. “Success breeds success, so one of the best ways we can attract female agents is to show them how women who come to MassMutual can establish and grow great careers,” Spilotros said. “Part of our success as an organization can be attributed to the fact that we highlight and celebrate the achievements of our female advisors so that newer recruits can imagine themselves in that position.”
One of the ways the company demonstrates this is through its recruitment website, where a female agent discusses her role in her own words. In addition, the company organizes mentoring programs; hosts an annual women’s agent conference focusing on challenges unique to women; and is actively involved in groups such as Women in Insurance and Financial Services (WIFS), an organization whose mission is to support, encourage and promote the success of women in the insurance and financial services industry.
Ultimately, the payoff of providing strong support shows in stronger retention rates.
Keep: Keep the fire burning
It’s no secret that retention is a problem for many agencies. But by ensuring the right support is in place, retention comes easier. For example, a retention method comes in the form of rewards. Like policies, rewards come in all different varieties. Whether it’s commission-based, bonus plan-driven, verbal recognition, or offering flexible schedules, the rules of the game have changed.
For Wilkerson, rewards can be measured qualitatively. “Hard-working women don’t always get recognition, and we all need a little encouragement,” Wilkerson said. “I receive such great feedback from this company and the clients I serve.”
Others, however, can see success quantitatively. Based on projected numbers, Signature Resources intends to retain its existing female agent base while expanding it to 30 to 40 percent in the coming years, compared to about two percent a few years back.
Like Signature Resources, MassMutual has seen its female agents grow steadily over the past eight years to 16%. In fact, in 2007 women made up 21% of the company’s recruiting classes, a leading indicator of the future growth of female agents at MassMutual. The company anticipates further growth as it embarks on new initiatives to more effectively target women of all ethnicities and successfully transition them into careers. “To compete as a company in the future, we need to be able to serve the fast-growing market of female consumers, and we need talented people – both men and women – to achieve that,” Spilotros said. “The more we can attract, retain and help succeed, the better off our business will be.”
Like any relationship, women require excessive care and attentive support. If not, divorce court may be just around the corner.
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