Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

Is your agency ready for disaster?

I'm sure some would argue every agency that's still in business after the last two years is, in fact, ready for disaster. But I mean a different kind of disaster -- the kind that would leave you unable to work. Maybe it's illness, maybe it's injury, maybe it's something else, but you should have a plan.

Disaster planning came up during a recent episode of the Trade Secrets podcast featuring Robert Joselyn, CEO of Joselyn Consulting Group. The episode was mainly about succession planning and how to sell an agency, but Joselyn said having a disaster plan in place is also very important.

"Look, none of us like buying life insurance because we don't want to think about cashing in, or our family members cashing in," Joselyn said. "It's not a subject we find delightful to talk about."

Disaster planning is similar, but it's something every agent should have in place, he said.

Joselyn still well remembers the day the importance of planning for disaster hit home for him. He was consulting for United Airlines and was at the carrier's Chicago headquarters on Feb. 24, 1989.

Shortly after leaving Honolulu, United Flight 811's cargo door failed and ripped a hole in the side of the aircraft. Nine passengers were sucked out of the plane and died. 

It was a true disaster and a tragedy, but United was ready to respond.

"I was absolutely amazed at the plan that United had in place," Joselyn said.

The carrier kept an aircraft fueled and ready at all times to fly to the site of a disaster. A team knew in advance what everybody's job was. They got the call and headed to the plane.

Agencies and independent contractors, Joselyn contends, need to have the same kind of plan in place. Ask, if something happens to you, "What happens after that?"

For instance, Joselyn was working with a large agency years ago. There was no likely owner to succeed present leadership. Instead, he put together a team consisting of the agency's accountant, attorney, financial advisor and Joselyn himself. They all had their jobs if something happened to the owner. Joselyn was to find a buyer, while others would keep the agency running in the meantime.

Some host agencies offer a clause in IC contracts with an option to buy the IC out in the event of a disaster (or, simply, if they want to retire). It includes a formula to determine the purchase price.

Alternatively, Joselyn said, ICs can form an agreement with a peer who can service their client base if something happens to them.

As to best practices for such an agreement, Joselyn said, "Have it in writing, have it in writing and have it in writing are the first three things I would suggest."

He also offered another type of disaster to think about: Dementia. 

Joselyn has seen agency owners lose money, and their family business; they don't know they have dementia, and they start making poor decisions.

He personally has designated three people who can declare him incompetent if he's no longer making rational decisions.

It's something no one likes to think about, but it's important, nonetheless.

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