ACN Chapter Chats: Jessica Klipphahn of Odell Studner
| Connections Editor | Oct 20 2020
In the newest installment of ACN Chapter Chats, we speak with Jessica Klipphahn of Odell Studner about her inaugural year as president of ACN's Eastern PA chapter, how she combatted the challenges that have arisen due to the pandemic, and her plans for 2021.
Connections: Talk a little bit about your history in the insurance industry and your current role.
Jessica: I’ve spent 10 plus years overall in the insurance industry. I actually started on the insurance side in the life and health space. So, quickly realizing that there wasn't necessarily the upward mobility that I was looking for on that side of things, I moved to the property and casualty side. I do have family that work for insurance carriers, and so I started to explore the broker option.
I started as a certificate monitor in 2011 at an agency. I was responsible for the compliance of certificates that came in for the insurance that we had. I then started doing more assistant account manager work, which meant I was working with clients on the service side of things. I then moved to Odell Studner, which is my current agency, in May of 2013. I've been there for about seven and a half years. I started there as an assistant account manager, and I'm currently an account executive.
I've basically assumed every rank on the agency side, or from a service standpoint. I find with ACN that I'm often in a bit more of a unique role. There's the operations role, which is really responsible for the ins and outs of the agency management system and overseeing how it affects people at the agency; but, I'm more of a frontline user. It offers a unique experience, because the functionality of things is so relevant to myself and my colleagues. Oftentimes, if you're in accounting, you're isolated to that realm. If you're in operations, it's more of the 30,000-foot view of how everybody's using the system. So, it's helpful to have that insight and get that feedback from your coworkers all the time about what’s on their wish list.
Connections: How has being president this year affected the way you go about your daily operations and responsibilities?
Jessica: 2020 has presented its own challenges. When I first came on as secretary about four years ago, we had a president and a VP at that time, but shortly after I joined, the president went on a medical leave and had to step down. Then, our VP at that time, who had not had much experience or involvement, moved into the president role, and I moved up to VP. It's been a bit disjointed, so I have been reaching out to other chapter officers that I've gotten to know through attending ACN events. It’s been great for me to be able to lean on them. Otherwise I’ve been figuring it out as I go.
This is my first year, so going into my second year as President, I brought on a new chapter officer, Judy Williams, and she's been a huge help. She's currently the VP, so she'll rotate up. We also just brought on an individual for the secretary and treasurer role this year. We've just been trying to impact the community as much as possible and get communications out there. I think that's what was missing before; it's hard to get volunteers when nobody knows you exist.
We're a part of a Tri-State chapter meeting every year in Atlantic City, and we held a virtual chapter meeting in August that was largely successful. We had around 40 people attend and received great feedback. Overall, we’re just trying to adapt in any way that we can while trying to grow the base for our membership. I think 2020 is a great time to be president.
Connections: What have you learned while facing the many challenges brought on by the pandemic while in a leadership role?
Jessica: I think the biggest thing for me is to stay connected this year. In the last two years, I have become an account executive within my agency, which is also a leadership position. I have management responsibilities there. I also oversee a book of business, so I'm responsible for the client facing portion, which is a funny term for 2020. That in conjunction with my new role in within ACN, from a leadership standpoint, I think the most important thing that I've learned is to stay connected virtually more than ever.
If we were in a normal world, we'd be so busy being on the go and going out to see clients, whereas now you might talk to them every once in a while when they need something or conduct quarterly check ins. Keeping things relevant for people has been incredibly important. Virtual outreach is a way to easily stay connected. One of the opportunities that has been presented during the pandemic is to create or expand upon your relevance with your customer base.
Connections: How has Odell Studner handled this attempted return to normalcy while ensuring their employees stay safe while doing so?
Jessica: We've been home since the middle of March. In the beginning of the summer when Pennsylvania went "green", there was a plan to allow people to return to the office on a team A, team B structure, so they could follow the capacity guidelines. However, they were still asking people to work remotely as much as they could; but, if they had to go in to print something large, or if they had a meeting and they needed the setup in the office, they could go in on their assigned days. We've recently disbanded that because they really didn't have many people coming in. So, they got rid of the team A, team B structure and now just continue to ask people to work from home when they can.
Connections: Do you think intermittent remote working will become a mainstay in the insurance industry and are there any foreseeable benefits?
Jessica: I don't think there's any chance that we won't go back to the office. I know some carriers have made the move to no longer have office space. But, I don't think there's any shot just because of the client facing aspect and the collaboration that is often necessary. From an agency perspective, we have carriers that come in all the time for meetings. But, I think it just keeps getting pushed out farther and farther. We have about 60 people, so it's a lot harder for us to return in full than it would be for a smaller agency of, you know, 10 to 25 people.
I will say that we're lucky enough to be able to work remotely. I keep saying this is a time when people should be a bit more gracious, because we're employed. While certain things might be annoying, and you're missing that social interaction, if you can make it work, then then you really should just take advantage of it as long as you can. However, there will always be people who struggle in this environment. Not everyone thrives in an isolated environment; even with as many Zoom meetings and virtual meetings as you can have, there are people who need a physical structure. I think employers definitely get a lot more out of the majority of people when they're working from home because there's less of a boundary. I'm more inclined to sit in front of my computer at eight o'clock at night where I would not be in the office at eight o'clock at night, most days, unless I have to be.
Connections: What are some of your goals as you conclude your first year as president and enter your second year?
Jessica: I think for me, one of the biggest takeaways is, regardless of what sense of normal we go back to in 2021, I would like to continue the virtual connection. Having virtual chapter meetings, whether it's from just a pure networking standpoint or it's educational. In a mini chapter meeting session, or just on singular topics, I think it's important to be able to offer that in conjunction with the in-person meetings, because everyone can't make the in-person meetings. Providing the platform for people to attend that maybe can't make the in-person event is important. I think that's one of the biggest things that I'll take into 2021, regardless of where we are. The other thing I'd really like to focus on while I'm still learning myself, and by no means have gotten this down and perfected it, but I want to be able to set Judy up for success when she moves into the president's role. I'll continue to be involved. I think the past president role is critical; we can’t just throw someone to the wolves. I really want to focus on making sure that she has everything that she needs to prepare for 2022, and do as much as I can from a mentoring standpoint.
Connections: What would you say is the most beneficial part of being involved with the Eastern PA chapter and ACN in general?
Jessica: I would absolutely say the exposure. I'm a huge fan of education. I think that from a sales standpoint, education sells. I never have to close a deal if I can educate the buyer on the benefits of the technology, or the product or the service. Having that at my fingertips, for example, has been that much easier for me to bring it back to my agency and say, “Hey, here's Applied Mobile, and here's why we should use it. Here's, Applied CSR24®, and this is why we should explore it.” Making it relevant to my agency has been critical in my involvement with ACN, because I learned through the association, and I can bring it back to my agency, and then I can teach them. It's that much easier to get them on board with things that may cost them money if I can prove its relevance by way of just explaining it to them. I think that's been the most important thing for me outside of just the pure networking.
Tags: Commentary , ACN , Chapter Profile , Eastern PA Chapter