An insurance company believes it has an edge in the constant battle to outdo — and outsell — the competition.
Hani Rihan, founder and president of AIA Direct Inc., believes the insurance sales industry’s workforce is in serious need of disruption.
The Sarasota-based insurance company was founded in 2002 and sells health and life insurance and annuities to individuals and families in more than 40 states. It expanded to Tampa in October, with plans to fill its new, 28,000-square-foot office there with a small army of female sales agents.
Why the push to hire women?
Rihan, 43, says over time he began to notice many of AIA’s top sales agents were women. He then researched the demographics of the insurance sales industry and found the opposite: white men, at an average age of 58, overwhelmingly dominate the insurance sales force.
AIA Direct has about 30 sales agents in Tampa but wants to dramatically increase that number, resulting in a sales force made up of more than 50% women by the end of 2018. “In Tampa, our office can hold close to 180 agents,” Rihan says. “We are looking to fill 150 jobs, and that’s just on the sales side. We’ll have to have a support team to support the 150. So it could be close to 170 [new jobs] total.”
Adds Rihan: “The main reason we’ve done this is because you get better results. In our company, two of our most senior managers in sales and finance are women. They’re tough, they’re loyal, they pay attention to detail … they get [the job] done.”
The hiring push has been driven by significant revenue growth. Rihan, while not disclosing specific sales or premiums data, says revenues at AIA Direct doubled in each of the last two years, and the firm writes some 25,000 policies annually nationwide. That’s helped facilitate expansion to Tampa and soon Orlando.
Rihan says market forces have also driven growth. “You have Obamacare and what’s happening with affordable health care insurance,” he says. “Obamacare prices have been going up and a lot of the carriers in the market have decided to walk out.”
‘In our company, two of our most senior managers in sales and finance are women. They’re tough, they’re loyal, they pay attention to detail … they get [the job] done. Hani Rihan, AIA Direct
Rihan cites Humana, United Healthcare and Aetna as just three of the major carriers that have pulled out of the Affordable Care Act exchange. “That has left a lot of people out there without coverage,” he says, “and also the people who aren’t on subsidies are looking for alternatives.”
That potential customer pool, AIA Direct executives believe, can best be captured by a women-led sales force.
Dina Golub, AIA’s vice president of sales and training and also a licensed insurance sales agent, says Rihan’s push to hire more women sales agents is a welcome and long-overdue change. “The field has generally, for whatever reason, been dominated by men,” she says. “At many times during my career, I was the only woman in the office.”
Golub — who began her career at AIA a decade ago as an appointment scheduler — says most women tend to bring a unique set of soft skills to sales jobs that help them succeed in situations where men might not do as well.
“There’s no hard data to support this, but women tend to be better listeners and nurturers,” Golub says, qualifying that generalization by saying, “That’s based on our culture and what we’ve experienced over time.”
Golub predicts having more female agents will translate into a more robust bottom line for AIA Direct. “I believe it’s going to support our revenue growth and development,” she says. “And I base that on our expertise with how well our women [agents] have done, and their ability to listen and ask questions.”
Rihan says consistency and commitment are two other key qualities found in AIA Direct’s female sales agents — who earn, on average, $75,000 per year. That commitment helps maintain a strong workforce. “To build a successful team,” says Rihan, “retention is important.”