Tuesday, June 7, marked insurance company State Farm’s 100th year of business. Most people are familiar with State Farm’s saying of “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”
In the company’s now 100-year history, it’s a motto Bedford County agents are still trying to uphold, according to local agent Deb Insell.
“I think they were built on wanting to do things the right way. They were built on Christian principles, and I think they’ve got good, solid people working for them who built the brand locally then spread out all over the country,” Insell said.
After working as a legal secretary for Bedford County Board of Education, Insell came to work for State Farm in 2003, assuming long-time agent Bobby Newell’s firm, which he began in 1961.
Starting with a “scratch agency,” Newell said he walked door-to-door in Bedford asking friends and neighbors about their policies. He built up a clientele to include 1,500 households by the time he sold and contracted with a new agent in the early 2000s.
Insell said she assumed about three-fourths of those households and has been carrying on the “good neighbor” job since then. In that time, many changes have come to State Farm, which is why it is important to remember where it all began 100 years ago in a farming community in Illinois.
In fact, one of the first books Insell received when becoming a State Farm agent was “The Farmer from Merna,” a biography of State Farm founder George Mecherle and a history of the company which started in Bloomington, Ill. (See the T-G’s first article “State Farm Turns 100,” which ran on Tuesday, May 17, for more information on the historical timeline of State Farm and how it started in Bedford County.)
In the middle of Newell’s career, there was something called the “loss ratio,” which is based on how many premiums an agent takes in versus how many claims are paid out. “You wanted to be the good agent and help the policyholder, but if he had too many claims, then the company was going to cancel them,” Newell explained. Though it’s a fine balance to walk, the objective is still the same: help the client on a local level.
“And that’s what Bobby Newell did for 42 years. And that’s what my goal has been for the past 20 years—to be that person that’s representing Mr. Mecherle and what his values were when he started this company,” said Insell.
Like Mecherle selling low-priced auto insurance to farmers, Newell credits the good price of their policies to much of the success. “At that time, in the 60s, we were selling six-month policies for $15,” Newell said. That’s just over $145 in today’s money.
State Farm has also been the number one insurer of auto insurance since 1942, when more and more people began driving in the U.S. “Every time you put your hands on the wheel, that’s where you’re most exposed,” Insell said.
Today, State Farm has more insurance choices than when Newell began. At that time, they had three main policies, including home/fire, auto, and life insurance. Now, the agency offers 120 options.
The insurance company is also a mutual company for policyholders, meaning there are no shares sold on the public marketplace, according to Insell. As of 2021, they have 85 million policies.
“And, nationwide, we have more than 19,000 agents and 58,000 employees. It’s pretty mind-blowing where we’ve come in 100 years,” Insell said. Today, Insell said she even has clients in Kingsport and Memphis.
Online programs help with this. Insell said State Farm keeps up with trends, such as more and more people doing more business on the internet and quoting policies online.
Though it’s not always in-person, like it was 20 or more years ago, they hope to maintain that client-agent relation that will help people know if they have a policy that will cover liability. Insell said you need someone who understands how to help clients understand what they need.
“That’s what I try to educate everyone else on because the biggest part of their budget every month is what they spend on insurance. And they need to know what they’re buying; they need to know that it’s going to take care of them,” she said.
In this way, Insell said she hopes to help people like her sister, who passed away 24 years ago leaving only a small policy for her two children. It’s a motivation for doing what she does today.
“It’s rewarding when the time comes, and they use that policy, that they can walk away feeling taken care of,” Insell said.
Being there through their clients’ good and bad times, that’s what Insell believes is another key to State Farm’s 100-year success. Newell added, “State Farm wanted to give the impression that we were just a good neighbor. And that good neighbor theme is what State farm based their reputation on.”
Insell’s office is located at 923 N. Main St. Shelbyville also has two other agents: Rob Gardner, located at 1798 N. Main, and Ralph Allen, located at 217 Lane Parkway. Insell said they will most likely have another State Farm agent coming to Shelbyville in the upcoming year.