Access Insurance President and CEO Phil Wardell on Client Advocacy and Transparency in Homeowner Coverage

Key Points:

  • Access Insurance is one of the largest homeowner insurance agencies in Florida, holding over 20,000 policies with in-force premiums exceeding $70,000,000. Access writes 400 to 500 new business policies monthly.
  • Phil and Lisa Wardell founded Access Insurance Underwriter, LLC, in January 2000, 24 years ago. Phil and Lisa wanted an agency that served the client’s interests and genuinely shopped their policies at each and every renewal.
  • Phil says that clients are tired of interacting with a chatbot or listening to a million prompts on a phone system. People want to speak with a live human being and solve their issues.

Actuarial models have transformed the insurance industry by using data to price products and evaluate risk. Developed by actuaries, these models use statistical techniques and historical data to analyze factors like claims, customer habits, and credit scores, influencing the likelihood of insurance claims. They enable comparing rates from different insurance carriers, automatically shopping each client’s policy with all available carriers to secure the best rate and value.

Actuarial models also help identify opportunities to lower premiums for low-risk policyholders, offering clients a transparent understanding of how their premium rates are determined. This transparency builds trust and confidence between the agency and its clients.

Insurance agencies operate on a commission basis, earning a percentage of the client’s premium. The larger the premium, the higher the commissions to the agency. Unfortunately, agency owners often incentivize agents and customer service representatives based not on how much money they save clients on policy premiums, but rather on minimizing work at renewal time, maintaining or even increasing premiums for clients.

Phil Wardell, President and CEO of Access Insurance Underwriter, LLC, recognized the need for a better approach after managing large agencies for about 15 years. He prioritized putting the client’s interests first and ensuring that each year client policies were automatically and legitimately shopped with all available carriers guaranteeing the best rate and value to their clients.

In a recent interview with USA Leaders, Phil revealed that many agencies, especially large ones, claim to shop policies but often don’t. They avoid incurring labor costs for re-quoting and re-writing small policies like auto or home insurance. “We absolutely do this and share the competitive quotes with our clients, along with recommendations. This builds confidence and trust,” he said.

(The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.)

The USA Leaders: You were a sports champion with multiple sports accomplishments. We are curious about what sparked the shift from a successful athletic career to the unexpected journey into the insurance cabin.

Phil Wardell: I have been an athlete for as long as I can remember, scoring titles like the National AAU high jump champion and winning at the county and state levels in the high jump. I also played tackle football from the age of 5 until high school, which played a crucial role in shaping my character. The discipline and competitive sports spirit taught me a strong work ethic and mental toughness.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Ph.D. in holistic nutrition, I initially didn’t have any formal business training. But life had other plans. Right after college, I started selling insurance to make ends meet, and surprisingly, I enjoyed it and did well. Even though I did not have a background in business, I found that I had a natural knack for marketing and generating leads. This unexpected turn in my career helped me pay the bills and revealed a hidden talent for selling insurance and managing a business.

The USA Leaders: Your story highlights the crucial role your wife, Lisa, played in encouraging you to venture into entrepreneurship. Can you tell us why she believed it was important for you to follow your passion, even suggesting selling assets and downsizing?

Phil Wardell: My wife Lisa was the driving force behind my decision to go out on my own. Access began in January of 2000. Before that, I had worked for two large agencies. I had served as president of an agency primarily selling individual health and employee benefit insurance, growing that business from $500,000 in revenue to almost $7 million. I attempted to buy that agency but thankfully it did not work out, and I chose to start my own.

The agency owner made every effort to get me back to work for him, but Lisa explicitly told me that she would prefer selling everything and living in a small apartment than going back to work for someone else. She saw and believed in my potential, and with her encouragement, I started our own agency.

I started from scratch with a small loan, renting a desk in a law office for $200 per month, and began selling employee benefits to build revenue.

Today we have 90 employees, 30 in the US and 60 in the Philippines. We stand as one of the largest homeowner insurance agencies in Florida, with over 20,000 policies in force and over $70,000,000 of in-force premiums. We write between 400 and 500 new policies per month.

The USA Leaders: In a market where many agencies claim to shop policies annually, how do you ensure that your commitment to re-quoting and re-writing policies isn’t just a promise but a practiced reality?

Phil Wardell: We are uniquely client-focused, actively reviewing each client’s policy every year. While many agencies, particularly the larger ones, claim to have reviewed your policy, the truth is they often skip this step to avoid the labor costs associated with re-quoting and re-writing smaller policies like auto or home insurance. We carry out this process and present the quotes to our clients along with our recommendations. This builds confidence and trust, as our clients understand that we are genuinely on their side, not just an agency that writes a policy for a year and then neglects the client thereafter.

The USA Leaders: Your company caters to mid to higher-end clients who are homeowners. Can you share more about how you tailor your services to meet their expectations?

Phil Wardell: Mid to higher-end homeowners expect a higher level of personalized service. We consistently strive every month to deliver what our clients expect from a local agency. I believe clients are tired of listening to a million prompts on a phone system; they want to speak with a live human being and resolve their issues. That’s why we have a concierge service team that answers the phone and works to resolve their issues on the spot if possible. We also provide a simple app that puts all of a client’s policies and pertinent information at their fingertips including links to their insurance companies so they can log in right from our app. They can call us, email us, or text us from the app at any time.

The USA Leaders: Your mention of considering the big picture suggests a strategic approach to decision-making. How do you ensure that your team understands and aligns with the broader vision of the company?

Phil Wardell: I am a high-energy individual and expect a lot from my employees. They receive competitive compensation and are very loyal. We have an excellent team at Access. My primary role is to set a course and encourage and motivate all employees so that they enthusiastically support the company’s vision.

The biggest challenge, in my opinion, and this applies to all leaders, is that many times I have to make decisions that everyone may not agree with. I see the big picture, and value and encourage feedback, but effective leadership doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom.

The USA Leaders: Are there any upcoming services, solutions, or products in the pipeline that you can offer a sneak peek into? How do these align with the evolving needs of your clientele?

Phil: Our company is continuing its remarkable growth pattern; we plan on continuing our marketing and hope to expand our auto market very significantly. We have a program called AutoShop in which we quote the top ten auto insurance companies, including Travelers, Allstate, Liberty Mutual/Safeco, Progressive, and more at each renewal. Each quote comes with a recommendation. It is essentially the same as outsourcing your auto insurance shopping at each renewal. Our clients absolutely love it.

The USA Leaders: Balancing work and life is a common challenge. How do you manage this balance, and what strategies work best for you?

Phil:  Our faith has been the backbone of our success. I have a wonderful wife, an amazing daughter and son-in-law, and three grandchildren who bring me joy. My wife and I love boating, the beach, and anything related to water, including travel. We live on a canal connected to the Intracoastal Waterway on Singer Island which gives us an opportunity to host charity events and support companies while enjoying the beauty of our city. The insurance business gives me the freedom to enjoy life and manage the business. I also enjoy golf.

The USA Leaders: You have decades of experience in the insurance industry. Hence, what advice would you give to individuals aspiring to establish themselves as leaders in the insurance sector, considering the unique challenges and rewards of the business?

Phil: The best advice for someone entering the industry is to recognize its exciting and lucrative nature. Hard work is essential for success, requiring perseverance, tenacity, and determination. My son-in-law Jared Mancil is a perfect example of this work ethic. He began his career at Access ten years ago and has worked his way up to vice president and is a top producer of homeowner insurance sales.  He is available to clients 24/7.  My best advice is to love people and treat and advise them as you would advise a family member. In the complex world of insurance, clients seek trust and expertise. People desire an agent and agency that prioritizes their interests and consistently shops for the best policy.

Quotes

“My best advice is to love people and treat and advise them as you would advise a family member.”

Also Read: The Most Prominent Leaders in Insurance Industry, 2024

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