A softening market, increased commoditization and an explosion of online shopping options have made working in personal lines increasingly difficult for independent insurance agents. Yet the space has become a fulfilling one – both personally and professionally – for Networked Insurance Agents’ Deanna Mallette.
Recently promoted to director of personal lines for Grass Valley, California-based Networked, Mallette has spent nearly all of her career helping independents compete in an increasingly crowded environment. Despite the pressure, she says there’s nothing quite like personal lines for making a tangible difference in the lives of clients.
“It’s a line of business people can relate to whether they’re in the industry or not,” Mallette told Insurance Business America.
“It’s something everyone has to have, whether it’s auto, homeowners or renters. It makes you very relatable, and really helps boost that relationship piece in your relationships with clients.”
Like many in the industry, Mallette came to insurance by chance. With a newly minted degree in psychology, she was seeking her first position out of college when she came across an advertisement for a receptionist with Networked Insurance Agents. She applied and was quickly hired.
Though Networked is now one of the largest agency aggregators in the country, it was just getting started when Mallette joined in 1993, and she was able to get in on the ground floor of a group she describes as “very exciting, very up-and-coming.”
Within a few years, Networked had grown enough that leadership opened a personal lines department in addition to its commercial work. Mallette, now fully invested in a career in insurance, was its first employee.
“I was hired as an account manager at what was a very fast-growing time for the organization,” she said. “It was very exciting, I enjoyed the fast pace and I was ready for some new responsibilities.”
Mallette’s talent for leadership and connecting with agents was soon noticed. After a two-year hiatus, she returned in 2006 to help support the service team and was promoted to manager of personal lines in 2014. During that time, she helped improve Networked’s service model by hiring additional staff to take charge of transactional work for the company’s account managers.
“Having worked in the back office assisting in service, I had the full perspective of what offerings would be best for our members,” Mallette said. “Adding the new staff really helped allow our account managers to focus more on their relationships with agents and to spend more time with them. Networked really sets itself apart in that way.”
Not all of Networked’s 1,000+ member affiliates offer personal lines insurance, but Mallette has been hard at work explaining the additional opportunities writing those lines brings to them and their customers. It will be among her top priorities in her new role as director, including assisting Networked in potential expansion to other Western states as well as increasing service offerings to existing members.
Even as the personal lines space grows more challenging and merger-and-acquisition ramps up, Mallette sees both her role and the role of aggregators like Networked firmly planted in the insurance industry of the future.
“I think there will always be a space for personal lines and for membership organizations because we will always have new customers and new agents,” she said. “Aggregation is a great option particularly for smaller agencies, and especially with us because we offer employee training – we’re not just an avenue for markets.”
Outside the office, Mallette enjoys sports (particularly the San Francisco 49ers), spending time with her two boys and attending classic car shows with her husband. The work of promoting personal lines business to insurance agents is never far from her mind, however.
“I think it all goes back to setting yourselves apart as agents by really understanding coverages, focusing on the relationship piece and connecting with customers and understanding their needs,” Mallette said.
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