MARYVILLE, Mo. — Simply put, Randy Arnold loves the insurance business.
Since starting out with a one-man shop near the intersection of Fourth and Buchanan streets in 1981, Arnold has, over nearly four decades, built Arnold Insurance Services Inc. into a local insurance powerhouse that, percentagewise, handles customer volume comparable to large brokerage firms in Kansas City and Des Moines.
Now located in a suite of quietly elegant offices on the north side of the square, the brokerage agency — which has only four employees, including Arnold — has earned Blue Cross Blue Shield’s “Blue Chip Broker” designation during each of the last 30 years.
The honor, based on the number of policies sold and serviced relative to size, is awarded to about 1 percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield-associated agencies, almost all of which are large urban firms with dozens, or hundreds, of employees.
About 1,500 brokers are part of the health insurance giant’s sales network.
Though he started out selling life insurance shortly after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in 1980 with degrees in finance/insurance and marketing, Arnold soon saw growing opportunity in the health insurance sector.
With that insight in mind, he gradually steered his fledgling firm toward providing clients, both individuals and businesses, with health, group health and employee benefit and disability packages. He also added annuities, nursing home policies, Medicare supplements and cancer coverage.
As a broker, Arnold works with a number of large insurance companies in order to provide customers with policies that best meet their needs. In addition to Blue Cross Blue Shield, the firm also provides coverages underwritten by marquee firms like Aetna, Cigna and United.
Born and raised in Harlan, a small town in west-central Iowa, Arnold graduated from high school without both money and a plan for his future career. So he went to work for a Nebraska construction company and spent the next four years laying asphalt.
After that experience, Arnold said he learned one very important lesson.
“I knew what I didn’t want to do,” he said.
So, now with some cash in his jeans, Arnold enrolled at Northwest, paying for his education by paving highways, roads and parking lots through the summer and working at a Maryville convenience store during the school year.
Asked why he stayed in town after graduating, instead of seeking success in a larger city, Arnold simply smiled and said, “I met a girl.”
The girl, Graham native Karel Akin, and Arnold were soon married and, like a lot of young couples, started off on a shoestring, with Arnold selling life policies on commission and Karel working as a beautician before becoming a sales representative for local KNIM Radio.
Arnold said he was helped tremendously in those early days by the father of a close college friend who had been selling life insurance for about 25 years.
The older man, who became Arnold’s mentor, would fly in a small plane back and forth between Maryville and his home in St. Louis in order to show the budding insurance agent how to build a successful firm.
In just a few years, the business began to grow, especially after Arnold added health insurance to his line of products. But even then, the gains were modest, to say the least.
Arnold said his share of the profits from his first Blue Cross Blue Shield policy amounted to $3.30 a month. The second policy he sold for BCBS added to that largesse by about $9.
Needless to say, cash flow for Arnold Insurance Services has improved somewhat.
And as the business grew, so did the Arnold family with the arrival of son Garet, a non-denominational pastor, and daughter Jamie, who followed her dad into the insurance industry and works as a broker representative for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Kansas City.
When asked about the keys to success in his chosen industry, Arnold is humble.
“I’ve just been blessed,” he said. “God has just blessed me.”
He quickly adds, however, that God received a solid assist from a “great” staff consisting of office manager Laura Parman and agents Linda Shelby and Johnna Beemer.
Arnold also is associated with a couple of brokers who serve customers in the Stanberry and Rock Port communities.
Like Arnold himself, the veteran insurance pro said his team is dedicated to the idea that people come first.
“You can’t fix everything all the time,” he said, “but you can show that you care about people, and that you’re going to take care of them.”
Arnold added that a common complaint he hears from customers who have dealt with other agencies goes something like, “I can’t get him to return my phone calls.”
That kind of thing won’t fly, he said, in rural north Missouri, where a lot of folks are used to doing business face-to-face and on a first-name basis.
“Most people like to come in and talk to somebody,” said Arnold, who added that offering customers that kind of personal touch is his preferred business model anyway.
“I like working with people,” he said, “and I like helping people solve problems. Insurance is scary for some people, especially during the last four years since the Affordable Care Act.”
One of the most rewarding parts of his work, Arnold said, is helping older customers deal with both private insurance policies and the intricacies of government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
“I really enjoy that,” he said. “We’ve got some clients who are more than 100 years old.”
For more information, see Arnold Insurance Services on Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org.