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SETTING THE PACE

Community, compassion and innovation: These are themes that emerged from the winners of NU’s 2021 Agency of the Year Awards. When taken together, their stories illustrate how independent agencies are forging a model for the successful, modern insurance industry.

This year’s award winners are The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers in Woodland Hills, Calif.; Post Insurance & Financial, Inc., in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; and National Flood Insurance, LLC, in Melbourne, Fla.

Despite the challenges presented over the last year by the COVID-19 pandemic, these agencies seamlessly maintained or transitioned their operations to the digital space, often finding fresh ways to support employees while furthering business goals.

NU Property & Casualty magazine is thrilled to be able to capitalize on its annual Agency of the Year Awards to spotlight insurance professionals that exhibited resilience, creativity and an overall winning attitude despite adversity. Our awards program has historically showcased best-in-class insurance agencies around the United States that have exhibited the characteristics of champions.

In addition to being showcased on the pages that follow, representatives from each of the three winning agencies will participate in a Winner’s Roundtable webcast happening Tues., Aug. 17, 2021. The free event is a chance to hear more about how each of these insurance-industry leaders is setting the pace for their peers by building lasting relationships with clients and staff, maximizing technology, and maintaining a company culture that makes each agency a great place to work and do business. You can register for the Winner’s Roundtable webcast online at PropertyCasualty360.com.

Powered by people

A carefully constructed company culture and relationship-building are the keys to success at The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers.

By Elana Ashanti Jefferson

Managing partners gather for a holiday party.
  • Agency: The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers
  • Website: www.libertycompany.com
  • Owner: Chairman Bill Johnson
  • Number of employees: 400
  • Address: 5955 De Soto Ave., Suite 250, Woodland Hills, Calif. 91367
  • Specialty areas: Personal lines, commercial, professional liability, benefits

The esteemed director Francis Ford Coppola once said that movies and magic are one and the same. But for Bill Johnson, chairman of The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers in Woodland Hills, Calif., the real magic in life and work comes from rock-solid relationships.

“True happiness in life is in giving service and in relationships and connection,” says Johnson, a longtime insurance man who returned to his company three years ago after taking a lengthy hiatus to produce movies in Hollywood — a period in which he hobnobbed with stars and worked on box-office hits. But Johnson still missed the insurance world. “There’s a lot of opportunity in this community and in this company to bring (service and relationships) together.”

The Liberty Company Insurance Brokers is one of three winners of NU’s 2021 Agency of the Year Awards.

Johnson is a proponent of the idea of the “servant leader,” which is in line with the eight core values at The Liberty Company: Integrity, excellence, caring, kindness, fairness, teamwork, good feeling and fun: “Our goal is to help our employees grow and thrive on all levels — mentally, physically and spiritually as well as in terms of education, training and career development,” Johnson wrote in his Agency of the Year nomination form. “Liberty is a culture that just so happens to operate a business!”

One way that Liberty has established an insurance business rooted in employee vigor is by hiring a chief wellness officer who trained in both neurolinguistics and indigenous healing work. “He has deep

knowledge in many areas of holistic physical and emotional wellbeing and is available to work with our employees and partners to help them become happier, healthier and more vibrant,” Johnson says.

The Liberty staff volunteers for the IICF Week of Giving.

Liberty’s wellness officer also is responsible for fostering the company’s “Dream Circle” in which small groups of employees work together to manifest their individual personal and professional goals. “It’s been a really wonderful tool to help bring our company closer together,” says Johnson, who also leads regular staff meditation sessions.

“I’ve had 30-plus years of practicing yoga and meditation, and it’s been very foundational for me and who I am,” says Johnson, who started his career working for Farmers in the late 1980s. “I felt an urge to share that with anybody who might be interested.”

His group meditation sessions became especially popular during COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns when everyone was working remotely.

“The idea is that the first and most important thing each of us can do each day is to put ourselves into a state of feeling good and feeling joyful,” Johnson says. “Then, we can move through our day in that state and share that feeling with other people.”

Back to Business

How does this outlook translate into concrete insurance-business transactions? In that regard, Johnson favors the book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” by business advisor Jim Collins. That’s where he learned: “Companies that made the leap from ‘Good to Great’ did not do so through technological innovation. They did it by assembling the right people with the right mindset in a special culture that enabled great results to occur.”

Digital tools, however, are a key part of the service mix at The Liberty Company. The firm’s client concierge team, which is tasked with providing education and training, leans on such resources as Zywave, ThinkHR, AMS Client Portal, Modgic, Nurse On Call and GotSafety risk management training. “This has not only created a much more enjoyable client onboarding experience, it also relieved the training burden from the producer,” Johnson says.

Managing Partner Tom Moody and his team let off some steam at an axe-throwing party.

The Liberty Company also believes that data curation and analysis is now an essential aspect of the insurance value proposition and supply chain.

“We can provide custom reports for each department detailing any data points that management may need,” Johnson says. “Additionally, we’re making investments in AI and other products that can aggregate and summarize claims data in real time for use in managing our exclusive insurance programs, illustrating claims performance for a client, or identifying claim trends with a particular carrier that may or may not be performing as we expected.”

The proof of this approach to fostering business success through a clearly-defined and executive employee-centered company culture is in the pudding. The Hales Report has recognized The Liberty Company as one of the fastest growing privately held insurance brokerages in the U.S. for three years running. And Liberty recently made the successful leap from being a local California brokerage to one in which more than a third of its business is written in other states.

Not to be forgotten are two known pillars for winning in today’s business world: philanthropy and diversity initiatives. The company raises money for charitable causes through its eponymous foundation. And, Johnson says, roughly two-thirds of the staff and leadership team are women or people of color. He concludes: “This inherently creates the greatest opportunity for open-minded, holistic and creative thinking.”

All in the family

Doing what’s best for employees, clients and the community is what drives the sisters who lead Post Insurance & Financial.

By Heather A. Turner

Post Insurance celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2019 by hosting Nationwide’s race car.
  • Agency: Post Insurance & Financial
  • Website: www.insurewithpost.com
  • Owner: Kathy Post, owner and CEO
  • Number of employees: 11
  • Address: 146 NW Central Park Plaza #102, Port St. Lucie, Fla. 34986
  • Specialty areas: Churches, nonprofits, contractors and medical professionals, Main Street businesses

Whether or not you run a business, you’ve likely heard of the pitfalls of going into business with family. For the women at the helm of Post Insurance & Financial, their experience has only shattered the notion.

Owner and CEO Kathy Post, and Becky Post, vice president of business operations and COO, share one important title: Sisters.

“If somebody asked me if I recommended going into business with a sibling, most of the time, I would say ‘definitely not,’” Kathy says. “But I think it works for Becky and me because, at our cores, we remember that we are sisters and have tremendous respect for each other.”

Both women were exposed to the insurance industry at an early age when their father, Bob Post, founded Post Insurance in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in 1979. Kathy joined the agency right after high school as a licensed agent and became sole owner of the business in 2006 when Bob retired. Becky joined the team in 2003 to oversee all internal business needs.

As a family business, it follows that being family-oriented is one of Post Insurance’s core values and a quality the Post sisters believe has been instrumental to the agency’s success.

Teamwork is key to the success of this agency.

Shared Values

Florida is one of the most challenging insurance markets around. Customers often face rate hikes while being exposed to natural disasters — notably hurricanes — and carriers’ appetites are changing. It takes a solid team to push through the ebbs and flows that characterize The Sunshine State’s insurance sector, which is why Kathy and Becky know how critical it is to have happy employees who offer top-of-the-line customer service.

“We call them the Post Insurance family,” Kathy says. “If they are not happy, they’re not going to provide good customer service. They come in every day supporting one another, lifting each other up and taking care of their customers. I think that’s what makes us who we are.”

Whether it’s a trip to Miami to see Oprah live or surprise Secret Santa gifts shipped to employees’ homes during COVID-19, the sisters regularly find creative ways to build staff engagement and morale so that employees know they are valued. This commitment has resulted in high employee retention and satisfaction. Consider that seven of the agency’s 11 current employees have been with the business for more than a decade.

A focus on creating an ‘agency family’ also influences Post Insurance’s hiring process. For Becky, analyzing how a candidate’s ethics align with the agency’s core values of integrity, caring, expertise, relationship, innovation and family-oriented is key.

“We say that ‘we can teach anybody anything, but we can’t make [an individual into] somebody they are not,’” Becky explains. “We believe in doing business a certain way. We believe in establishing relationships; we want a local presence and commitment to customers and the community. We want to attract talent who also believe in that and want to fulfill that same vision. Our core values are very important, and they are the guide behind almost every decision we make.”

Sisters Kathy and Becky Post enjoy working together at their family agency.

Meeting Customers’ Needs

Post Insurance doesn’t fear technology. Instead, the agency sees digital tools as a great equalizer that enables their business to stay nimble, adapt quickly and remain competitive.

The Post sisters, who are third-generation Floridians, also understand the disruptive power of natural disasters. So, over a decade ago, Post Insurance invested in technology to function entirely as a digital agency in times of crisis. This allowed the agency to quickly move employees to remote work at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic without any negative impact on customers.

But, the sisters agree, technology should not jeopardize the personalized service agents provide or a customer’s preference. A survey of customers’ needs and wants helps Post Insurance design each client’s communication style. “It’s about meeting the customer where they are and not trying to get the customer to come to where we are,” Becky says.

Educating customers about insurance so they can make sound decisions about their coverages is fundamental at Post Insurance, which achieves this through informative newsletters and social media posts. These methods have proven especially helpful during periods of crisis. Amidst COVID-19, for instance, Post Insurance kept customers informed of how to submit claims or pay premiums online via social media posts, and following Hurricane Dorian in 2019, the agency provided guidelines on what homeowners should do if they experience storm damage.

“I think our belief in educating customers separates us from other agencies,” Becky says. “A lot of times, customers will say, ‘Wow, no one has ever explained it to me like that before.’”

“That is one of the greatest compliments you get with a customer,” Kathy adds.

The Post Insurance team outside their offices.

Philanthropic Goals

In the months ahead, the Post sisters have plenty of plans for their agency, from upgrading systems and refining workflows to optimizing marketing campaigns.

But after this pandemic year of remote work and social distancing, the folks at Post Insurance are most looking forward to getting back into their community — one reason Post Insurance provides monthly paid time-off to employees to encourage volunteerism with organizations such as the Mustard Seed Food Bank, United Way, Treasure Coast Food Bank and the Boys & Girls Club.

“We are trying to focus on allowing our staff to get back to serving nonprofits. We want to support the community and whatever its needs are,” Kathy says. “Especially coming out of COVID, we want to get back to doing that because many people are still hurting.”

Innovation First

From its inception, National Flood Insurance, LLC set out to do things differently and with a tech-forward focus.

By Steve Hallo

The award-winning team at National Flood Insurance
  • Agency: National Flood Insurance, LLC
  • Website: www.Nationalfloodinsurance.org
  • Owner: Managing Partner Tuna Siraci
  • Number of employees: 15
  • Address: 150 Interlachen Rd. Melbourne, Fla. 32940
  • Specialty: Flood coverage

Whether it is easily absorbing the pandemic’s impact or educating homeowners on their true flood risks, National Flood Insurance, LLC (NFI) approaches the market as service-first, tech-forward risk experts.

These traits were baked into the agency since its inception in 2010, according to Amanda Bryant, director of operations. She explains that very early on, NFI aimed to foster excellence in service as well as flood-coverage expertise.

“Our core values as an agency are people, trust, integrity and protection,” Bryant says. “We apply those values to anyone we speak to as a prospective policyholder, as well as current policyholders and staff. Recognizing people are at the core of what we do, we function to gain trust, to work with integrity, and to help people protect their homes.”

The catalyst for forming the agency, which writes more than a dozen private flood products as well as National Flood Insurance Program policies, was the increasing number of homeowners experiencing uninsured losses due to the growing flood coverage gap and property owners misperceiving their true flood risk, according to Bryant.

“Those perceptions were almost entirely driven by FEMA and its flood maps,” she says. “Flood insurance mandates call for flood maps to be updated every five years, but many are decades out of date.”

The areas that often experience underappreciated flood losses now are those are deemed to be moderate-to-low flood risks, Bryant explains. Homeowners also aren’t mandated to carry flood coverage in many such regions, and this absence of any flood insurance requirement reinforces misconceptions about actual flood risk.

Amanda Bryant, ANFI, director of operations (left) and Tuna Siraci, president and managing partner (right)

“Here’s a good example: I live in Satellite Beach, Fla., which is a barrier island off the coast,” Bryant says. “It is only about a mile wide. I have the (Atlantic) Intracoastal Waterway on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. According to FEMA, I am just a low-to-moderate risk and flood insurance isn’t mandatory for my property. That is startling information.”

Hurricane Harvey also highlighted how truly underappreciated flood risks are in some regions, as two in 10 homeowners impacted had no coverage, the Consumer Federation of America reported.

Rethinking Flood Maps

To educate homeowners on their true peril profile, NFI launched My Flood Risk and myfloodrisk.org in 2019. The free tool factors in several industry-proven flood risk indicators and blends them with comprehensive, up-to-date data to give a true flood risk assessment for each individual property.

“In addition to becoming a valuable tool for consumers, My Flood Risk has been widely utilized by real estate professionals to inform their clients of flood risk while protecting their liability from the lack of flood disclosure laws in America,” Bryant says. The reports also include a liability waiver for a Realtor’s clients to sign, acknowledging that the potential property owner has been informed of the flood risk for their potential property.

Although it is only a few years old, NFI is looking to strengthen the online tool with data sets such as river level information, rainfall averages and details regarding the community’s flood mitigation efforts.

In addition to helping property owners nationwide secure flood insurance and become more informed about their flooding risk, NFI also strives to respond after a natural catastrophe by raising money and providing other resources to victims of flooding events. Most recently, the agency held a donation drive for victims of Hurricane Dorian that resulted in the distribution of enough diapers, bottled water, canned foods and other staples to fill two trucks.

NFI's Amanda Bryant, center, meets with her team at the company's Melbourne, Fla. HQ.

Rolling Through COVID

While no map could have predicted COVID-19 and its reign of chaos on daily life, NFI leaned on its innovative mindset to blast through pandemic roadblocks. Since its inception, the agency has leveraged an online presence to drive business, according to Bryant, who notes that 95% of the company’s leads come in through its websites.

“Since we do business nationally, we rely on our websites heavily, and it has been that way since the beginning. We have our main site, but we also run state websites that feed into the main page,” she says. “As the housing market continued to boom through all of COVID, those website leads continued to roll in like they always have. For us, we were fortunate to be impacted very little by COVID.”

Although technology has always been at the forefront of NFI’s strategy, Bryant notes the insurance industry, largely spurred by the pandemic, is now quickly adopting digital tools.

“I’ve been in the industry for 15 years, and I would say that it is changing very rapidly right now, hastened some by COVID, where it might have taken us another decade to get into the digital age,” she says. “Now the writing is on the wall. We have traditional insurance companies everywhere that are struggling, particularly in Florida, creating a vacuum for InsurTech companies. Change is scary, but it is inevitable and where this industry is going.”