Third generation of State Farm agents hangs out shingle

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Joe Swift (left) became the family's third generation to represent State Farm after opening his own agency in January. His father, Pat, has had offices in Gresham since 1993 and worked with his dad, Don, who ran a downtown agency for 25 years.

Several years ago, State Farm Insurance Agent Pat Swift received an after-hours phone call from a customer. A wicked gust from the East Wind had dropped a tree on the man’s home in Troutdale, taking out power and stranding the family.

Swift did what he’s always done to help a customer — he made a house call.

“I bought some pizza and drove out there,” he said. “When they opened the door, one of his daughters sang, ‘Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.’ I look at it that when you’re at your worst, and you’ve got a claim, I want to be there. That’s when I get to work for you, and that’s what I love.”

In an industry not always known for stellar customer service, Swift is an anomaly. He still believes in face time with his clients. By establishing relationships with customers, Swift said, he is better able to help during an emergency, via starting a claim or sometimes, with a hot pizza.

But more importantly, personally serving customers is a tradition upheld by three generations of the Swift Family. Pat learned it from his father, Don, and has instilled the practice in his son, Joe. Combined, grandfather, father and son have represented State Farm’s good neighbor policy in Gresham for more than 45 years.

When Don Swift signed on with State Farm in 1968, he started his business with customers he’d gleaned by going door-to-door peddling life, home and auto policies. Don eventually hung out his shingle with his own agency in 1983 in downtown Gresham and went on to become an agency manager overseeing other State Farm offices around the state.

Pat followed in his father’s footsteps in 1993, opening his own office three months before Don retired. In turn, Pat mentored Joe, who took a desk in his dad’s office shortly after graduating from the University of Oregon in 2006.

“It was the best four and a half years of my dad’s career,” Joe said, laughing. “I think he felt with me in the office, he didn’t have to worry about things.”

Gone are the days when rookie agents knocked on doors for customers. State Farm now provides new agents with start-up resources to build their business and certification training to offer the company’s diversified services. These days, though, folks shopping for insurance generally start with the Internet and rarely cross the threshold of an agent’s office.

“Now, with the computer, you can get a quote and a binder in an evening without ever talking to someone,” Joe said. “My generation is more driven by price and they’re not interested in a personal relationship in the beginning. But it’s still our job to service the policy. State Farm has built the infrastructure to offer online services because that’s what everybody wants, but there’s still value in having a personal relationship with your agent.”

Pat admits he’s still somewhat old-school, in that he personally doesn’t dabble in State Farm’s expansion into mortgages, car loans and other financial services for customers. And he’s not a big fan of online claim filing.

“The pitfall to filing a claim online is that if it’s something minor or would cost less than your deductible to do yourself, it’s on your record whether you use your insurance or not,” he explained. “When something happens, that’s when you really need your agent.”

It’s rare among insurance companies to boast three generations in the business, Pat said, adding that Joe is the only one of his three sons to have an interest in the industry. He takes no credit for son’s chosen career, but does take pride in the continuation of the family’s legacy in Gresham.

“My dad never pushed it on me and I never pushed it on Joe,” he said. “But Joe fell for it anyway! But I’m proud there are three generations in the industry — I think it’s pretty cool.”

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