Unica Insurance has cause for celebration once again. The niche commercial and VIP personal insurance provider – a subsidiary of La Capitale General Insurance – has been named as one of Insurance Business Canada’s Five-Star Carriers 2020. In fact, the Ontario-based firm was nominated by its broker partners in all categories, ranging from underwriting expertise to rate competitiveness and broker support, making it one of this year’s select All-Star carriers.
“The first word that comes to mind is honoured, because, of course, we’ve been working very hard to build a good business, and we’re thankful to our broker partners who rated us highly,” said Dave Smiley (pictured), chief operating officer at Unica Insurance. “The second word that comes to mind, frankly, is surprised.As a smaller insurer, we’re mission oriented, we’re operating in Ontario only at this point in time, and we’re very focused on very specific segments, so it’s a surprise to be named in all eight categories. It’s nice to see some of our hard work and focus paying off and we’re very pleased with that.”
Smiley attributes much of Unica’s success to “consistency”. The firm has run a tight ship over the past 10-years, strategically reinventing itself as a niche carrier with a semi-exclusive distribution network focused on a select number of commercial lines segments, as well as high-net-worth VIP personal lines. This strategy has proven fruitful, with Unica achieving good growth in its target segments, principally: metal manufacturing, contractors, commercial and industrial realty, and VIP personal lines.
In order to achieve this growth and develop niche expertise, Unica recently launched the Unica School of Insurance. This internal training resource equips Unica staff with up-to-date expertise in areas like underwriting and claims. This is “absolutely critical,” according to Smiley, because it allows Unica staff to “provide the best possible service to our broker partners and customers.”
“We’ve always invested in internal training and expertise, but now we’ve implemented a formal program,” Smiley added.“It will be a series of modules both online and eventually in a face-to-face classroom setting, and we have great expectations in terms of encouraging our staff to take the courses and get accreditation. Even though it’s an internal accreditation, if we’re going to be a specialist, we need to have expertise as a big defining factor for us. We got the idea because we have external training for our brokers through Unica You, which is really something for us to invest in our brokers, especially up and coming commercial producers and commercial brokers, to equip them to have success. But internally, we realized that the more formality we can bring to it and the more prescribed approach to training and putting an actual formal school in place to get people excited about investing in their career; it’s paying dividends, and it’s the early days but certainly there’s a lot of excitement and energy related to it.
“We launched the whole thing about a month ago and we’ve already done three modules to staff: one on commercial general liability, one on our Live Easy product, which is our high-net-worth VIP personal lines product, and one on time management, which is so appropriate in this day and age with work from home. We’ve been averaging almost 100 people per session, and the feedback has been remarkable. I think staff in every organization are desperate for training and an opportunity to invest in their career, and this is giving them a chance to do that. So ultimately, I suspect it will help us retain good people and perhaps attract good people as well.”
Moving forward, it’s “business as usual” for Unica. The firm has weathered the COVID-19 storm well, achieving stronger results in Ontario auto, property and commercial insurance than expected. Again, Smiley puts that down to consistency and Unica’s hard-line strategy. But that doesn’t mean the firm isn’t open to new opportunities.
Smiley commented: “We’ve been rather consistent in our communication around our strategy and our discipline aligned with our appetite in niche areas.But having said that, as we grow, we’ll always be looking for new opportunities. It’s highly unlikely that we’ll become a generalist like many of our competitors. We will remain very focused, but we’re always looking for new niches, especially ones that may be immune or more immune to things like a pandemic shut down.We found that we did very well because the segments we’re in weren’t as harmed as many other segments. So, we fared well when it came to the retention of our business, the profitability of our business and the continued growth of our business. Moving forward, we’ll continue to look for segments where maybe we can differentiate ourselves on expertise and focus, but also things that are a bit more immune to economic shutdowns the way the last four months have been.”