Smith Brothers Insurance Acquires G.M. Abodeely Insurance Agency – May 2018

May 1, 2018. G.M. Abodeely Insurance Agency has merged its business with Smith Brothers Insurance of Glastonbury, CT. This combination allows the Abodeely Agency to maintain its presence as an independent local agent and leverage the resources of Smith Brothers, one of the nation’s Top 100 Independent brokers. 

Bill Abodeely and Elaine Saliba, principals of Abodeely Agency, and Shelley Zicolella, Director of Operations, together with the account management team, will operate out of its current Massachusetts locations in Milford, Westborough, Webster, West Springfield and Fitchburg under the name G.M. Abodeely Insurance Agency, an affiliate of Smith Brothers Insurance. Paul Cellucci, as Massachusetts Regional Director, will work with the Abodeely team to grow through organic sales and future M&A activity in Massachusetts.

“G.M. Abodeely brings us presence in the Central Massachusetts marketplace and allows Bill, Elaine and their team to take advantage of our Enterprise Risk Management approach and value-added resources to expand our combined presence in the Massachusetts marketplace. Smith Brothers and G.M. Abodeely are community-based businesses founded by our respective family’s and, as stewards, coming together will benefit our clients, our team members and our communities,” states Joe B. Smith, President & CEO of Smith Brothers Insurance.

Bill Abodeely states, “Smith Brothers and the Smith family hold the same core values and culture our family has prided ourselves on throughout the years. This partnership perpetuates a longstanding agency while providing the same exceptional service to our clients. This is an exciting time for all of us given the commitment to our current client base and continued presence and growth in the region.”

ABOUT SMITH BROTHERS INSURANCE, LLC

Smith Brothers Insurance is an independently operated, Top 100 Broker in the U.S.  We help organizations and individuals manage risk, protect assets and grow.

Founded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1971 by brothers, Bob and Brian Smith, Smith Brothers Insurance has expanded to more than 180 professionals that help protect clients from risk and uncertainty.

Smith Brothers is licensed in every state in the U.S. and protects risk all over the world.  Headquartered in Glastonbury, Connecticut, our offices are throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

ABOUT G.M. ABODEELY INSURANCE AGENCY, INC.

Abodeely was founded in 1940 by Sally and George Abodeely, Sr. who grew the agency to become one of the largest privately-owned agencies in central New England. The family business was passed down to siblings George Abodeely, Jr., Elaine Saliba and Bill Abodeely who have worked tirelessly over the years providing superior customer service and quality insurance solutions for their customers.

Letter from the President – July 2018

Please take note of this months article on Cyber and Crime. A court case came out with significant impact on how coverage may or may not apply. As a responsible fiduciary of your organization, these exposures are too significant and emerging to not consider managing the risk of loss with loss prevention and risk transfer tools available.

Social Engineering is the new buzz word describing how employees and/or businesses are being deceived out of money or information. This new trend in criminal activity is to ask us for information rather than hack into our networks and take it from us.

Typically, Crime polices respond when money is stolen, and Cyber policies respond when data is compromised. Cyber and Crime polices do not automatically consider social engineering aspects when written and why wording within a policy is critical in how a policy will respond. Coverage gaps may be avoided if threats to your business are identified and managed – review your policies thoroughly and often (at least annually) to address these ever-changing exposures.

In a recent court case, Medidata Solutions Inc. vs. Federal Insurance Company, a gray area appeared when the criminal claimed to be the CEO, convinced employees to wire funds to external accounts. Typically, this would be a crime exposure due to the employees transferring money. However, the criminals also hacked into the email server and were able to manipulate electronic data and create fraudulent emails convincing employees to transfer funds – more in line with a Cyber policy (data breach). In the Medidata Solutions Inc. vs. Federal Insurance Company case, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has ruled in favor of the crime policy coverage. This case is under appeal and will go through the legal process before an end ruling or any ruling will be declared. See the attached
Insurance Journal link: https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2018/07/09/494384.htm

In another case, Curry et al. vs Schletter, Inc, W-2 information was requested for an apparent verification measure. A criminal purported to be a supervisor requesting an employee to send copies of employees W-2 s from 2015 into a PDF file type. Believing the email to be authentic, the employee forwarded 200 employees information to a supposed supervisor. Six days after discovering the incident, Schletter notified its employees and provided two years credit monitoring and identity theft protection services for each impacted employee. The employees were dissatisfied and filed a class action lawsuit. The data was not breached in this case but disclosed. The court allowed the employees to seek punitive damages. Schletter has subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Many Cyber polices exclude employees or may be silent on the employee disclosure coverage. The definition of what constitutes a breach is critical. In this case the company s “computer system” was not breached as the criminal hacked into a third-party computer in order to pull off the social engineering scam.  https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district- courts/north-carolina/ncwdce/1:2017cv00001/85986/35/

Some important take-aways:

  • Criminals are constantly changing their tactics to steal from organizations (information, funds, etc.).
  • Depending on the crime, coverage could bounce back and forth from Cyber and Crime policies and why it is important organizations carry both Cyber and Crime policies
  • Continually evaluate Cyber and Crime policies to be sure wording and coverage provide protection for the organization s unique exposures.
  • Consultative risk management techniques should be used in conjunction with the purchase of any insurance policy. Coverage will bounce back in forth from Cyber and Crime policies and will fall somewhere in the middle.

To learn more about how to protect your information and money, review your Cyber and Crime coverage or to understand more about social engineering, contact Scott Garcia at 860-430-3330 and/or SGarcia@SmithBrothersUSA.com. Scott works with a diverse client base in this space to manage Cyber and Crime risk exposures.

Be Sure.

Joe

Letter from the President – June 2018

It’s that time of year again – graduations everywhere. I had two this year – my daughter Grace from High School and my daughter Alex from The College of the Holy Cross. This year Holy Cross had Michele Norris – an Emmy and Peabody Award winning journalist and creator of The Race Card Project – as the commencement speaker. Her husband, Broderick, is a 1978 graduate of Holy Cross and she mentioned that she took threads of the 1978 commencement speaker, Vern Jordon, who was a close advisor to President Clinton and a civil rights activist. I thought she did a great job and sent some great messages to the Holy Cross class of 2018.

A link to her speech is below, yet I want to share few takeaways that I thought were worthy. The theme of her message was to talk about “Dont’s”, “Dare’s” and “Do’s.”

Her big “Don’t” – Don’t Measure Success by Numbers

  • So much we do – like in school or SAT’s is measured by numbers. This maybe needed for business metrics, but for life and happiness, it’s less about the numbers and more about the “pursuit of excellence.”
  • Base your success on your “excellence” in something. I love this and her quote – it’s about “work ethic” and also about “worth ethic.”

Her Dare – Dare to Actively Listen to Someone You Disagree With

  • Think about this. Listening and respecting others – not necessarily agreeing- is so important in our human interaction.
  • It takes discipline, confidence and decency and listening and engaging others you disagree with can be enlightening and is the seed of effective influencing.

Her Do’s- There Are Always A Lot of Do’s

  • Listen to the voice in your head. The truth voice is your inner moral compass – listen to it regardless of outside voices – listen to your inner compass.
  • Speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.
  • Be bold, be curious and be kind.
  • Being afraid of change is a waste of time – embrace change.

My favorite line from her whole speech is – replace I “have to” to “I get to.” This will help you understand your blessings. Wow – I have used this so many times in the last few weeks. Try it – it’s a very powerful tool – a way to quickly change the lens of how you are looking at things and thinking of things.

I do not know Michele and I was impressed and appreciative of her messages. I hope my daughter takes a sliver of her advice as she will need it for sure.

I love commencement speeches – or at least the good ones. I will occasionally google them and listen to some great ones. Besides the link to Michelle Norris’s speech, I also included two of my favorites. Admiral McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech at University of Texas – nothing beats his 10 lessons learned as a Navy Seal and Robert Dinero’s 2017 NYU speech where he had a classic one liner from an actor – “Next”. Next was the word he used throughout his career as he failed or didn’t get chosen for a part. “Next” is what I tell kids. Failure is not the opposite of success – it’s a time to learn and get better – “Next” helps you move on.

Be Sure.

Joe


To review the various commencement addresses that I referenced here, please click on the following links.

Holy Cross 2018 Commencement Address

University of Texas, Admiral McRaven’s 2014 Commencement Address

NYU, Robert Dinero’s 2017 Commencement Address

Letter from the President – May 2018

How did you sleep last night? How about your team? Does your organization have the energy, mood and mindset to tackle their day and multiple roles – parents – friendships – siblings – community – job performance? We want to give our team members tools to help build capacity to not just manage but thrive and find joy in what they do every day.

The info-graphic link below from The Performance Room is easy to understand – the cost of poor sleep impacts our well being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. This said, it’s not too much of a stretch to see how lack of sleep impacts productivity in the workplace and our overall economy. According to the research group RAND, “the United States is the global leader with poor sleep costing its economy $411 billion every year.

Our 02 monthly well being series led by Dr. Guy Carbone is focused on sleep. Guy used our session in April to teach us about the importance of sleep and how our brain and body needs quality sleep to perform. Our body cycles and between the hours of 4 am and noon, the body is detoxing – focused on eliminating toxins in our body. Noon to 8 pm is the primary time for the body to break down foods, digest, and absorb nutrients. Between 8 pm and 4 am, our body is primed to heal and regenerate. He then asked us to identify “dashboard signs” that show up in our life when we are tired (very similar to the attached info-graphic). May’s session focused on setting yourself up for better sleep and putting a game plan in place. While there are many ways to improve sleep, Guy focused on three to start with in order to build a habit and get better sleep.

1. Create A Routine
    a. Aim for the same time each night to begin your wind down (shower or cup of tea, brush your teeth, wash your face) – allow one activity to trigger your nighttime routine as started

2. Detach From Devices
     a. Simple to say…may be hard to do. Just Do It – Detach From Devices (phone, tablet, tv, etc.).

3. Deep Breathing
    a. Consciously breathe for 10 breaths. After three weeks, if conscious breathing isn’t “your thing” – meaning it isn’t helping you relax or “quiet your mind” – then write down what’s on your mind – your to do list, your worries – whatever it is – write it down as a way to get it out of your head.

In order to get better sleep we need to spend some waking time being aware of what poor sleep is doing to us, learn some tactics to aide in better sleep and build the plan. Guy asked us to practice these suggestions between now and our June session where we will talk about what happened (metrics).

Give it a try, let me know how it goes for you. Here’s to a good night’s sleep!

Be Sure.

Joe

https://www.theperformanceroom.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/The-cost-of- poor-sleep–822×1200.png

Own Your Wellbeing

Smith Brothers Insurance held its 7th Annual Walking Day on April 11, 2018. Some pictures from the day are in this month’s photo collage – we had a great turnout – even folks who were traveling or on vacation walked with us this year! This annual event is part of our 2018 Wellbeing Program – a series of events and resources for our people to have a relationship with themselves – investing time on themselves – for each of us to “Own Our Wellbeing.”

Our 2018 Wellbeing program is built around daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly “touches” we offer our team. Some examples:

Daily Videos posted on our intranet site, Be Connected – short videos encouraging people to “Eat Right. Move Right. Think Right.”
  • Mobility Monday
  • Thank You Tuesday
  • Walking Wednesday (well we offer 20-minute walks to our team members daily)
  • The Yoga Thursday
  • Five-Minute Friday
  • Daily, our team also has the opportunity to take a paid 20-minute walk and spend some time in meditation/mindfulness

Monthly – Dr. Guy Carbone, from Carbone Chiropractic Center in Wethersfield, CT leads a Wellbeing Series focused on “Eat Right. Move Right. Think Right.”
  • Q1 – Nutrition
  • Q2 – Sleep
  • Q3 – Movement
  • Q4 – Emotional, Mental, Spiritual

Quarterly
  • Financial Series
  • Aetna Get Active Challenge – partnership with our insurance carrier (Aetna also offers discounts, programs and resources to our folks via their Aetna portal).

Our learning and development curriculum also falls into our Wellbeing Program – “soft skills”, technical skills, life skills – all critical to our growth – individual, team and company – again, here for people to open their minds and hearts to possibilities of what learning and connecting with others brings to their life.

We believe, everyone has greatness – it is particular to them – this program is about education, tools and “touches”. When someone is ready to do the work, become aware to find their greatness – mind, body and spirit – the resources, tools and education can be put into practice. I have asked each person at Smith Brothers to “Own Your Wellbeing”. What this means for one person may be different for another. Own it for you. Look at Eat Right, Move Right and Think Right – educate yourself, find your spots and get better in each area. Whatever this means to you, find your greatness!

If you would like to learn more about our Wellbeing program – tools, resources, events and how to implement – please contact Carol Pandiscia at 860-430-3219

Record Breaking AAHOACON 2018

     Members of Smith Brothers Insurance Hospitality Team (Anand Patel, Frank Zurlo, and myself) attended the Asian American Hotel Owners Association annual national convention and trade show of 2018. This year the events took place at Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center in National Harbor, MD/ Washington DC starting on March 27 through the 30th. The convention had a record breaking attendance of over 6,500 people. AAHOA is the largest hotel owner’s association in the world with more than 17,700 members.

     The convention was my first and my mind was blown at the vast number of attendees. This was a great opportunity to meet current and potential new clients and contacts who visited our booth. During the trade show there were sessions on business, policy, educational and inspirational guest speakers including Jimmy Johnson, Former Coach of Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins, and Linda McMahon, Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). I was fortunate enough to attend the Women Hoteliers Session, where Vinay Kumar, Leadership Coach, Author of “Leading for Breakthroughs,” gave an interactive session on leadership: “The Secret to Winning.” Vinay Kumar, spoke about the formula for success and gave valuable insights on getting ahead and separating yourself from the competition.

     I am grateful for the opportunity to meet not only hoteliers, but financial institutions and ancillary hotel vendors. I am looking forward to next year’s conference in San Diego, CA as well as more of the regional events in the near future.  

Stephanie Patel
Client Executive

Questioning

I read an article on “questioning” and how effective it is to be great at questions versus answers. The article focuses on a process for creating an environment for getting people to ask great questions uninhibited from the pressure of “judgement or having the right answer”- the author names it “question burst”. My big take away is the process of asking people to think of questions, versus answers – in and of itself fosters creativity and new perspectives on problem solving. 

Creativity is one of our Core Values at Smith Brothers. We look for creative solutions for our clients in the risk in their businesses or households, as well as creative ways or processes to be more efficient and effective. It is intriguing to think that by asking people for questions versus answers we may get better answers. 

One of my biggest fears is group think” or “social loafing” – essentially people going along with what others answers are – both are lazy and do not create real value – nor keep you from missing big blind spots. Any process that empowers people to open up, think, ask, create and add value sounds great to me. I plan on doing it more.

Our Sales process – diagnostic and consultative focused – is all about our consultants asking great questions and understanding our client’s needs. We feel our professionals who question well – get to client needs more clearly – and can help guide solutions more effectively that add true value to our clients.

I love the quote in this article from Robert Lagner of MIT, “When you’re a student, you’re judged by how well you answer questions. Somebody else asks the questions, and if you give good answers, you’ll get a good grade. But in life, you’re judged by how good your questions are…..people will become great professors , great entrepreneurs – great something – if they ask good questions.”

See the attached link to the article and I hope you find some of your “greatness” in getting better at asking questions. 

https://hbr.org/2018/03/better-brainstorming

Be Sure

Joe Smith 
President and CEO

2018 Kids For Kids CT

As many of you know, in 2013 I co-founded a non-profit called Kids For Kids CT with two other coaching Dad’s in Glastonbury, CT. Kids For Kids CT was created for the sole purpose of teaching children in the Glastonbury, CT school system to raise money to donate to charities that help other children. Comprised of volunteers, Kids For Kids CT is affiliated with Glastonbury Basketball Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Through a 3-on-3 basketball tournament held annually in Glastonbury, CT, we have raised over $130,000 for kids in need. 100% of the dollars raised at the annual event go directly to help kids. Through the five years of donations raised, allocations have gone to charities that help kids locally 50%, within the state of Connecticut 20%, other states 15% and internationally 15%. We have deployed funds in education 60%, local families in need due to death or sickness of child or parent 20%, Athletics/Arts/after school programs 10% and Nutrition/Food 10%.

This year, the kids who “win” their bracket will be allocated $500.00 to choose where they feel funds should be allocated that fit our purpose – helping advance our purpose of teaching kids how to help kids in need.

Our 2018 event is Saturday, March 10, 2018 from 9:00am-4:30pm in three different gyms Glastonbury, CT gym.

I want to invite you to volunteer for one of the roles needed to make this event happen. We have two different 4-hour slots available (morning/afternoon) in roles of: referee, scorers, runners, clock keepers, team check-in, etc. If you want to volunteer, please contact Leslie Mahland at lesliewm@cox.net by March 5, 2018 so we can organize accordingly and get back to you about your slot request.

Thank you for considering spending some time with Kids For Kids CT on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Links to the Kids For Kids CT and GBA websites are below.

www.kidsforkidsct.com

www.gbahoops.org

Be Sure!

Joe

Letter from the President – August 2018

In this month’s newsletter – I am proud to recognize Leyna Erickson – one of our team members at Smith Brothers. Leyna joined our agency 10 years ago and worked hard and grew quickly starting in administrative support, then a Surety client service rep, moved to our large commercial lines area as an account manager and is now one of our large commercial lines risk management consultants growing her practice.

Leyna spends time in our community connecting with construction and manufacturing associations – her business specialty areas – in addition she is active in the Connecticut Community Renewal Team (CRT) – one of her personal passions. CRT’s mission is about “Preparing Our Community to Meet Life’s Challenges.” This mission drives CRT to help. As the community action agency for Hartford and Middlesex counties, CRT helps individuals and families access resources that will help them meet immediate and longer-term needs, improve job skills, maintain or increase their independence, stabilize living situations, and achieve educational goals.

CRT recently asked Leyna to speak at their recent “Tee Off With Women” golf tournament in August. The event was a fundraiser for, and, in celebration of, the opening of CRT’s “Women’s Empowerment Center.” This initiative offers assistance to women in urban communities by providing mentoring for personal, career and economic  success. Smith Brothers was a sponsor at the event, and Leyna was asked to tell her own personal story of empowerment. As the daughter of a single mom who relied on her community and the other women in her life to balance motherhood, education and work, Leyna found the cause near to her heart and was honored to share her story.

I am so proud to have Leyna on the Smith Brothers Team. She has taken our big purpose of Help Others at Smith Brothers and owned her own contribution to it in our community.

Please read the remarks Leyna made at the “Tee Off With Women” golf tournament that tell a bit about why she feels so strongly about women’s empowerment.

“My mother raised my brother and me as a single working mom from the time I was seven years old. Through a painful divorce, through years of sibling rivalry, through those challenging angsty teenage years where I had purple hair, excessive amounts of black eyeliner and wore combat boots. somehow, she managed to bring us through all of that to turn us into contributing members of society with families and careers of our own.

How did she accomplish this miracle?

Working long, odd hours as a nurse at Hartford Hospital, she spent her days helping other families cope with their own experiences of illness and loss – not an easy job, by any means. Her nights and weekends (when not spent working) were often dedicated to working through her Bachelor’s Degree program because “just” having gone to nursing school to be an RN wasn’t enough anymore. Still, she always had time to work through countless hours of homework with my brother and endless pushing of the envelope on EVERY rule from one rebellious young lady.

How did she do this all alone?

Well, the simple answer is. she didn’t. The other strong, independent women in our lives flocked to her side and supported her. We were very lucky. I am very lucky to have spent most of my life surrounded by and inspired by some tough, driven ladies. Both of my grandmothers, my step mom, our neighbors, my aunts and cousins showed me about the kind of person I want to be. Thanks to this support, my mother was able to “do it all” and that’s what Women’s Empowerment means to me: women helping women. But not everyone is so lucky to have a strong network at their fingertips…

The insurance agency that I work for has what we call a “Big Purpose”: Helping Others. We are encouraged by our leader, Joe Smith, to find ways individually to work towards that Big Purpose of Helping Others by finding a cause that speaks to each of us. I can think of no better “Big Purpose” for me, personally, than providing women with the opportunities to learn, to grow and find success in an environment where they’re supported. It’s near and dear to my heart, both as a product of an empowered woman and as a wife, mother and businesswoman who deeply values my own support system and realizes that my success would  be impossible  without the people who have my back.

I’m proud to support the CRT’s Women’s Empowerment Center, proud to be a part of a network that is helping women like my mother and excited to see their families thrive as we all work together to help them achieve their goals.”

Be Sure.
Joe

5 Strategies for Success in Small Business Market

The small business market is big. The U.S. small commercial market represents about one-third of the total commercial lines market and generates between $99 billion and $103 billion in direct written premium, according to a 2016 McKinsey & Co. report. It could be a much bigger market as more businesses are being started.

Since 1994, the United States has had an average of 400,000 business startups a year. Business startup activity was up again in 2016, continuing a three-year ascension and reaching pre-recession levels, according to the 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity, from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

“A three-year upward trend in new business formation is a promising sign for the economy,” said Victor Hwang, vice president of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation. “Recent research demonstrates that more startups lead to higher productivity, wage growth and quality of life. Growing startups not only support individual entrepreneurs but lift surrounding communities.”

In 2015, new startup firms that created 2.5 million jobs.

The number of startup firms — firms one year old or newer — rose to 415,226 in the year ended March 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Also, there is an insurance gap. Many small businesses have been caught without flood or business interruption insurance and many more report that they are not buying cyber insurance. But the gap is even bigger than that. The McKinsey report found that almost 40 percent of U.S. sole proprietorships don’t carry any commercial coverage. Digital small business insurer Next Insurance surveyed 30,000 small businesses and learned that 44 percent who have been in business for at least a year have never had insurance.

The market is also very competitive. Again, according to McKinsey, the U.S. small commercial segment is divided among many carriers, with the largest accounting for only 6 percent of total premiums. Market share is particularly fragmented at the smaller end of the market (businesses with one to 29 employees).

However, the largest carriers are moving quickly to secure their positions, McKinsey said. In the past six years, the market share of large carriers with more than $2.5 billion in direct written premiums for U.S. small commercial has increased by 12 percentage points from 2009, suggesting that scale is an important driver of growth, McKinsey said. Large carriers now represent 51 percent of premiums in the one to 29 full-time employee group of small businesses.

For every incumbent insurer committing to agents and the small business market like Travelers, Chubb, CNA and The Hartford, there is one investing in or partnering with online platforms that bypass agents and brokers. In addition, there is a growing number of tech-oriented online brokers focused on small commercial lines including Embroker, Next, Bunker and CoverWallet to name a few.

Carrier positions vary within the small business segment because small business accounts range widely in size and scope, says Craig Welsh, distribution leader at Westfield Insurance Co., an Ohio-based independent agency property/casualty carrier, ranked No. 13 on Insurance Journal’s Super Regional P/C Insurers™ list developed by Demotech.

“When you look at market size, small business is really the largest segment of commercial entities, mostly state-by-state, and overall, so there’s huge potential,” Welsh said. “It’s also an industry that’s fairly fragmented. When you look at market share by carrier, there’s no single carrier, or I should say group of carriers that tend to dominate the market. That’s because a lot of it is still handled through local agents.”

Welsh sees plenty of opportunity for agents and their carrier partners in small business given the evolving definition of a small business account, a better economy, and the fragmentation of the insurance market serving small business.

Steve Tombarelli, vice president of SIAA’s Business Insurance Advantage, sees opportunity for agents in the many new small businesses being opened. SIAA’s insurance carriers are loving small business opportunity, too. “It’s an area they want to grow and expand,” says Tombarelli. “They all want to grow small commercial business.”

The Hartford, which just bought the small business accounts of Foremost, has been committed to the market for a long time. “It is a critical business for us,” says Matt Kirk, head of sales and distribution for small commercial at The Hartford. “It’s very important that we support our agency partners in this space.”

Kirk says from an agency perspective small business is an area with real opportunity. “When you look at the economic data, and who drives a local economy, small businesses tend to be the ones hiring and buying equipment,” he said. Plus, small businesses sometimes turn into large businesses. “It’s a great space but it’s very important from an agent’s perspective to ensure that their carriers bring product and capabilities that are going to be responsive to their agency and the small business owners.”

Five Strategies for Small Business Success

Insurance Journal discussions with agents and carriers unearthed five strategies for succeeding in the small commercial lines segment today: rearrange and redefine; utilize service centers; specialize; upgrade technology and stay committed.

1. Rearrange and Redefine

McKinsey’s definition of small business includes businesses with up to 100 employees and $100,000 in annual premiums. But not everyone follows that formula.

“Both agencies and carriers tend to define small business a little bit differently and there’s some interesting aspects to that,” according to Westfield’s Welsh. “For a long time, small business implied smaller premiums, and oftentimes I think in our industry small premiums mean small service.”

However, small business can be larger premium accounts, too, he said.

Minneapolis, Minn.-based Hays Companies has managed to grow its small business book by reorganizing its overall book to create a dedicated small business unit.

Erin Keys, Hays Companies’ Premier Programs practice leader, says the process began last year, and so far, it has improved the agency’s profitability as well as its relationships with key carrier partners.

“It’s very transactional business,” said Keys, noting that the agency understood it needed a better way to handle the many accounts it had on the books for small business. Prior to the transition, Hays had about 14 marketers on the property/casualty team, and everyone was handling a book that included both small to large national accounts even though small business is handled a little differently.

“We wanted to get the proper procedures in place to handle small business and just keep everything together, get organized,” she said.

Daily, transactional processing is now handled under the Premier Programs department. Keys says it helps to quickly turn around certificates of insurance and other endorsements, as well as answer any underwriting questions. They could immediately get ahold of someone to help in that front.

Producers and account servicers still interact with the clients to some extent, but the regular transactions are now concentrated within the new unit.

To make the change, Hays looked at its overall book of business and pulled out those accounts with $10,000 in revenue or less. “Then we looked at how many different carriers we were using and who was receiving the bulk of the business,” Keys said. “We vetted each carrier, starting at the zero to $2,500 (range) in revenue.”

Keys said that process made it clear that the agency could get by with fewer carriers to successfully run its small business and programs.

“We went from utilizing about 35 carriers and excess and surplus lines brokers to consolidating to just three. We are now up to about five,” she said. Keys says there are still a few “outlier” partners in small business, but now the agency tends to push the bulk of the business to its five partner carriers.

“It’s been great,” she said. “They’re all national providers, with strong Hays relationships on the small business side as well as the middle market, large/national account side.”

The move has helped profitability all-around, including growth in contingency income as well as improved loss ratios.

Carriers welcomed the change, Keys said. “We said to them, ‘Here’s what our book looks like. We need to partner with you guys, and we need you to think a little bit outside the box, and not just write your typical, four-walls, in-office exposure. We might need you to help us on an account with a little meat on it.’”

Keys has seen additional benefits of the move. The agency’s carriers have been writing some accounts they may not have written without the consolidation. Hays is now well-positioned as more “big name carriers” are making the move to build their small business books. New carriers to small business, such as Chubb and Liberty Mutual, as well as traditional legacy small business carriers, like The Hartford and Travelers, are investing in online rating systems and expanding appetite, she said.

Keys advises other agencies to find the right partner that has a large breath of appetite and is willing to think outside the box. “Then consolidate your book,” she said. “It’s been successful for us, on the front-end and on the back-end.”

Redefining the small business segment has worked for others as well. Herman S. Peery, senior vice president, at Insurance Office of America Inc. (IOA) based in Longwood, Fla., has selected a different way to refer to its “small” business.

“Small business is a very broad term,” Peery said. “In fact, we’ve eliminated the term ‘small’ in our definition of the clientele that would be identified for this group. We refer to them as ‘select’ because it is a select group of clients that would fit into this category.”

Rather than size of revenue, number of employees or even size of premium, IOA uses other criteria to define its “select” business. “We look at it as a service need,” he says. Once the account has secured coverage, and marketing is complete, “select” clients operate autonomously until the next renewal cycle comes up. “We would consider that a candidate for our select division.”

Deseriee Wanson, IOA’s director of commercial sales and development, says “select” accounts range anywhere from $500 in premium all the way up to several hundred thousand dollars in premium.

“We have a team here locally of 23 employees that are set up to support and provide a frictionless delivery of the policies to our clients, while maintaining our core coverages, and the high service levels that IOA as an organization displays to our clients,” she said.

2. Utilize Service Centers

Agencies have also found success in the small premium segment by utilizing insurance carrier service centers.

Lou Mitchell, chief operating officer, at Sihle Insurance Group, an independent agency based in Altamonte Springs, Fla., says that over the past five years, Sihle has grown its small business book about 10 percent to 15 percent per year. According to Mitchell, the growth has been purely organic due more small companies starting up in Florida.

As a general rule, Sihle defines small business accounts as any account less than $15,000 in premium. If an account is on the smaller end of that, say less than $2,500 in premium, Sihle requires that the business go to a carrier service center.

Typically, small commercial would generate 15 percent commission, but using a carrier service center costs the agency one to two percentage points of commission. In Mitchell’s view, the cut in commission is well worth the cost to the agency. “That eliminates us handling the $500, $600, or $1,000 policies that would put us in the ‘red’ as soon as we do a certificate of insurance,” he figures.

The service center handles all servicing needs and renewal activity. Plus, the carrier then assumes any errors and omissions exposure for that account, he said.

“If that carrier decides they no longer want to write that type of business then they would give us proper notice at the agency level that it’s going to be non-renewed for whatever reason and then we get involved again and find another carrier to place it with,” he said. Sihle remains the agent of record.

Mitchell admits some carriers are much better at service centers than others. “But I think the overall key is that when a client is first written it has to go to the service center then. It’s very difficult to write a client and give it the personal service that we deliver to our clients from an agency standpoint and then the next year say, ‘Oh, well, you’re going to a service center,’” he said.

“The ones who do it best offer extended hours, can handle changes efficiently, and have the know-how to determine how changes will affect policies of the client,” added SIAA’s Tombarelli.

Mitchell maintains that service centers are one reason Sihle has increased its small business book. “Because of the volumes that we write we have with some carriers assign people and direct lines that all of our clients call to,” he said. “We even have one service center that answers the phone as Sihle Insurance and they have Sihle Insurance stationary and business cards. People have no idea that they’re actually being serviced by a carrier service center.”

Mitchell particularly likes Westfield’s approach. “I’ve dealt with tons of them but they’re by far the most unique in the way they’re set up and how they execute day to day business,” he said.

Sihle doesn’t discriminate on the type of small business account, which has helped the agency grow its small business, too, Mitchell says.

“We don’t market the size as much as we market the general community itself,” he said. “We don’t turn people away and we very seldom ever refer to somebody else. That’s why we use the service centers on the mini-accounts as we call them, so we don’t have to turn somebody away.”

3. Specialize

SIAA’s Tombarelli says one of the most important things about succeeding in small business is to have a diverse book. “We encourage agents to have a diverse book,” he said. “Each year, different segments of the economy go well or slow down. For instance, when the economy is strong, construction thrives and when the economy is weak, construction is one of the first industries to have cuts.”

Connecticut, home state to Smith Brothers Insurance in Glastonbury, lags behind the nation in job creation and drumming up new small business accounts has taken a bit more planning, according to Jared Carillo, director of foundation accounts at Smith Brothers, a core agency partner for BroadStreet Partners Inc.

“Connecticut is a challenging place to be attractive to bring new people in the door,” Carillo said. “In our world, where we’re growing is really by seeking out those clients that require the services of an advisor. To a degree, we are profiling those business that rely more heavily on the advice that we give them — businesses with a little bit more complexity than just vanilla.”

Smith Brothers defines small business clients as those generating commission income of $5,000 or less. Carillo estimates that roughly 90 percent of new small commercial business is organic, new business. “Most is being generated strictly through word of mouth via referrals,” he said.

Carillo says that while a lot of new business stems from typical “general insurance” in the small commercial space, the agency has found some areas where specialization has helped drive growth.

“We have three different spaces in our agency that we specialize in for small commercial — lawyers, trucking and transportation exposed risks, and jewelers,” he said.

For Smith Brothers, the ideal small business client is one that will really listen and understand the risks that they face, as well as the valued advice of an independent agent. “That’s the level of client that we desire and seek,” he said.

According to the Connecticut agent, success in this market comes with being deliberate in profiling the type of client that the agency wants to interact with, as well as having a variety of specialties.

“It’s not just the size of the revenue,” he said. Carillo says that it’s “pretty easy to start throwing more money at advertising, go door to door, distributing pamphlets” to get any client. “But we are finding the best success by getting solicitations and networking within our current satisfied group of clients.”

4. Upgrade Technology

Both carriers and agencies believe it is important to stay on the cutting edge of technology to make it in the small business market.

“As we move into the future in small business, a real key component to being successful is to stay on the forefront of the technology that’s available to us to deliver both product and service to our small business customer,” says Chris Rooker, managing director of commercial property/casualty at Higginbotham, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas.

Rooker believes the industry lags at times in its delivery mechanisms for small commercial policies, which is a threat to agents. “We’re going to have to be able to utilize the technology that’s becoming available both in our agencies and as we interact with our customers, and partner insurance carriers.” In his view, the industry isn’t quite there.

Today, most people like to do business on their iPhone, he says. But most small businesses right now, from an insurance perspective can’t do their business off their iPhone. Rooker says that needs to change. “I think if an agent is going be successful five years from now, or maybe less, they’re going to have to develop the technologies that allow these small business owners to access their insurance policies — their auto ID cards, their certificates of insurance, and other service related matters in an easy fashion,” he said.

Some small business carriers and agency management systems provide some sort of mobile technology to meet customer needs, but most do not, according to Rooker. “There’s a true gap in the ability to service customers via an iPhone or mobile device,” he said.

5. Stay Committed

Whatever agencies do when it comes to being successful in small business they must be committed to the market, says Andy Wood, Insureon’s executive vice president of retail operations.

Headquartered in Chicago, Insureon provides online capabilities that connect small business owners with insurance providers. Insureon has made small business its only business by delivering fast, online insurance to micro-small businesses, or those typically with less than 10 employees.

Most agencies cannot invest in the type of technology it takes to write more than 200,000 micro-small business customers, like Insureon, but Wood says independent agents can still find success.

“You’ve got to be committed to it,” he said. “It’s not something you can just jump into and jump out of.”

Insureon is a high-volume agency that emphasizes efficiency. “For us, that translates into imagining a funnel when somebody comes to our website and being able to drive them through the application process very quickly without a lot of people falling off, having processes in place to pick up those people who have dropped off to save them. Then once you get them in through the application process, get them quotes quickly and then bind quickly,” he said. “You’re not wasting lot of energy. You’re not wasting a lot of space. Obviously, there is money to be made, if you can do it efficiently and effectively.”

Woods says some agencies struggle in small commercial because they don’t have the economic mindset to invest in small business.

“By necessity, they will jump to where the opportunities are, so they work on some health. They might work on some personal lines. They might run across a small commercial account here and there,” he said. “But if you really want to be successful at it, you’ve got to have resources that are dedicated to it, and you’ve got to have a very well-defined, clearly articulated marketing plan on how you’re going to go after that small commercial space.”

Economics drive success in small business, he added. “You’ve got to be super-efficient and super-effective.”

Article written by Andrea Wells.  Andrea is a contributor of insurancejournal.com.  You can find the original article here: https://www.insurancejournal.com/magazines/mag-cover/2018/03/05/481906.htm