Carina Hatfield was having dinner with her father one night when, halfway through the meal, she told him something that made him drop his knife and fork.
“I told him that I thought I wanted to go into the insurance business and I wanted to work with him,” she said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but he had been hoping my sister or I would want to go into the business with him. But he never told us that. And when I told him that I wanted to give it a try, he was so surprised, he dropped his silverware.”
That was 13 years ago. Today, Hatfield and her sister Trisha May are the third generation of the Weigner family to serve the insurance and financial needs of those in the Pottstown, Pa., area.
Although their father was happy that his daughters were entering the business with him, some family members were skeptical about how the dynamic would work out.
“Our husbands gave it six months,” May said.
The sisters’ family is the story of insurance sales in the 20th century — and they are poised to take on the challenges of the 21st century.
Weigner Insurance & Financial Services–Nationwide Insurance is in a converted midcentury house on a heavily traveled corner of a community where the shopping centers and apartment complexes of suburbia brush up against the cornfields and horse pastures of the countryside. It’s a place where the Weigner name has become synonymous with insurance ever since R. Leon Weigner started his practice in 1948 out of his home on the family farm outside the neighboring town of Oaks.
R. Leon (Hatfield and May called him “Pop Pop”) started in the business when Nationwide was known as Farm Bureau Insurance. He ran his practice from a room in his home that later became the family room. R. Leon’s son, Robert L. Weigner, became principal agent in 1982, having worked previously for the IRS and then for another insurance agent in Pottstown. R. Leon died in 2007.
Hatfield and May have fun memories of staying at their grandfather’s farm for a week or two each summer when they were growing up. But at the time, they weren’t too aware of exactly what kept Pop Pop in the house while they played in the swimming pool.
“What I remember is he had a bubble gum machine in his office and we would play in the pool and then go into his office to get bubble gum, and we would get yelled at for barging in,” May laughed. Hatfield recalled that R. Leon’s office had a hollow wooden door and the girls would have to knock on the door to be allowed inside.
Eventually, Weigner Insurance & Financial Services moved into a converted house on the same street as its current Pottstown location. The business moved to its present home in 2006.
Taking Baby Steps
The sisters may not have been too concerned about the insurance business when their grandfather was in the thick of it, but when they were a little older, they took some baby steps into business under their father’s watch — even if they didn’t realize it at the time.
“We would come into the office and put mailing labels on envelopes,” May said. “I ironed Dad’s shirts for $1 a shirt.”
Still, they didn’t think the insurance business was an attractive career path. “When I was in middle school, we had Career Day, and you could go to work with your parent for a day,” May recalled. “I didn’t want to go to work with Dad because I thought what he did was boring.”
May might not have been too excited by the insurance business when she was a girl, but her 7-year-old son feels differently about it.
“When I tell my son I’m an insurance agent, he hears the word ‘agent’ and he thinks I’m a secret agent,” she laughed.
Robert was active in the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors for most of his career, having served as president of its Pennsylvania association and later as a national trustee. During his years in NAIFA, he attended many state and national conventions, usually bringing his family with him.
“People at the conventions would ask us if we were going into the business like our dad, and we always said no,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield eventually went to college to study music therapy and then became a massage therapist, running a practice for five years. May studied philosophy in college (“I had no idea what I wanted to do!”) and later worked for a copier company.
‘You Just Explained What Your Dad Does’
A lifetime of playing piano and violin, combined with five years of full-time massage therapy, led to Hatfield having some issues with her fingers and hands. It was time to rethink careers. Her husband helped lead her down the path to her father’s insurance practice.
“My husband asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I said I wanted to have a flexible schedule, be able to travel and to earn what I earn. He said, ‘You just explained what your dad does.’”
After that realization, it was time for Hatfield to talk to her father. She invited him to dinner and had the conversation that led to the silverware-dropping.
They agreed Hatfield would try working part time in her father’s office “and we’ll see how it goes.” She taught music at a preschool in the mornings and then would go into the office in the afternoons.
But a tragedy soon changed that arrangement. Robert’s assistant, Margaret Nagy, died unexpectedly, and he needed his daughter’s full-time help.
“I started answering phones and filing until I got my license,” Hatfield said. “I started out by doing customer service and not selling for a while until I learned the business.”
May was pregnant with her first child at the time, but her sister wanted her to leave her job and work in the family business.
May was not enthusiastic. “At first I said no because I wanted to keep our relationship,” she said. “But she said, ‘Can’t you just come in and organize stuff?’ And I started coming in for eight hours a week.”
Six months later, May obtained her property/casualty license and then received her life license.
Hatfield and her husband also were starting a family around that time. The sisters’ oldest children are six months apart in age.
“You should have seen our office when our oldest kids were babies,” Hatfield said. “We would bring them to work with us. We had a pack-and-play in the doorway and baby stuff all over. And our dad was there playing with them and helping with them while we all worked.”
A Death Changes Everything
But the family togetherness was short-lived. Robert died in 2013 after an eight-month battle with cancer. During his illness, he and his daughters started contingency planning through Nationwide.
“Nationwide offered a plan where he could name a successor to be considered after his death,” Hatfield said. “We had to develop a plan and a budget.”
During that time, May took on more duties at the office, becoming responsible for payroll and accounting. Hatfield was doing what was necessary to be approved as a contingency agent by Nationwide. She also earned her securities license. Despite his illness, Robert qualified for Million Dollar Round Table his final year.
Eventually, the plan was approved and Hatfield was approved as agency owner. May’s title is associate agent/office manager.
The two women say their sister/workplace relationship has its good and bad points.
“We clearly push each other’s buttons,” Hatfield said.
“But we know each other’s strengths,” May said. “And there’s no tiptoeing around things — we can say something to each other and then move on.”
Hatfield and May are active in a number of community and industry organizations, including NAIFA, the association their father served for many years. Hatfield is following her father by progressing through the leadership ranks of NAIFA-Pennsylvania, where she is vice president. The two women also are avid runners, having participated in marathons.
When Hatfield was starting out in the business, she participated in NAIFA’s Leadership in Life Institute, where she became friends with fellow NAIFA member Christine Pikutis-Musuneggi.
“Carina is very determined,” Pikutis-Musuneggi said. “She is intense about what she does, and she can go full-bore ahead. She has her focus on a bunch of different things.”
Pikutis-Musuneggi also came to know May as she entered the business and became involved with NAIFA. She noted the main difference between the two sisters is that Hatfield is “the quick start,” while May is “the follow-through.”
“Carina is ‘Let’s get it done,’ and Trish is ‘OK, let’s figure out how to get there,’” she said.
A Fork In The Road
The sisters’ community and family have seen many changes since R. Leon sold insurance out of his family room. But, Hatfield said, their market has stayed mostly the same over the years.
“We serve the average American worker — two-paycheck families,” she said. “The majority of our clients are in their 60s, mainly because they originally were clients of my father and grandfather.”
Much of their client base is made up of small, family-owned businesses in their community, businesses such as building contractors and electricians.
The two women have faced some significant changes in the relatively short time they have been in the insurance business, and they are preparing to deal with one more. Nationwide announced in April that it will shift to an independent agency model by July 1, 2020. About 2,000 existing agents who have been operating under the Nationwide brand will have the opportunity to transition to an independent agency model before that date.
“We’ll become an independent agency at some point, but we’ll still be here,” Hatfield said. “We’re a hybrid – we’ve had the ability to write business with other brokers for years, so it’s not going to be much of a change. But we’ll be Weigner Insurance & Financial Services — not Nationwide. And we’re known more for the Weigner name anyway, so that part will be the same.”
In addition to changing their branding and advertising in preparation for the switch, the sisters also are planning to expand their practice to branch into group health insurance and Medicare products.
“It will all be a lot of work,” Hatfield said, “but it’s an opportunity.”
Tell Us! Do you know someone who would make a compelling profile story? Shoot us a quick email telling us who it is and why you think so. Send it to [email protected], and put PROFILE in the subject line.