In today’s hard insurance market marked by rising premiums, reduced capacity, and challenging underwriting conditions, premium financing can serve as a form of relief for agents looking to help their clients.
Frisco, Texas-based Stonemark has been providing premium financing services in commercial and personal insurance for retail brokers and agents for more than 30 years. Today, it is one of the largest independently owned premium finance companies in the United States. Once a family-owned business, Stonemark has seen continuous growth throughout its history.
“We have always been in growth mode. We have grown every single year that we've been in business,” Elizabeth Davies (pictured), chief executive officer of Stonemark, told Insurance Business.
As first-generation CEO of Stonemark, Davies has led the firm’s steady year-on-year growth. In 2018, the firm was acquired by H.W. Kaufman Group, via a merger with the group’s subsidiary Royal Premium. Davies now leads the combined organizations, continuing to operate and integrate the business with specialists deployed throughout the group of companies.
“Recently, being part of the Kaufman group has truly accelerated our growth. Being independently owned by H.W. Kaufman has given us so much flexibility,” Davies said. She said the company is focused on doing what bank-owned finance companies cannot, such as offer competitive financing solutions for cannabis, personal lines, commercial lines, and hard to place financial risk.
As part of its growth, Stonemark brought several strong additions to its salesforce: Brooke Bouy from Louisiana, Jerry Smith from Florida, Del Walter from Texas, and Tram Mascia from California. The executives, who joined from competitor First Insurance Funding, bring a wealth of experience to Stonemark’s team, and help the firm expand its market across the US.
“The hard market conditions are driving an increase in the types of policies that are being financed,” said Davies. “We thought it was very important to hire great top talent. We're so excited to bring on these highly regarded premium finance professionals.”
Stonemark is also building a network of partnerships via Strategic Insurance Agency Alliance (SIAA) and Smart Choice, with the aim of strengthening and broadening relationships with independent agents, and in many cases, offering them preferred rates. The partnerships complement the expansion of Stonemark’s salesforce from California through the Gulf Coast.
“We have several national partnerships that we have recently been signed on as their preferred finance company. Those are areas that are exciting for us to grow in. Partnering with experienced groups makes us stronger and more knowledgeable,” said Davies.
According to Davies, traditional bank financing companies have many national partnerships but cannot handle the personal lines or the cannabis policies, which allowed Stonemark to get through the door.
“With these national partners, their agents may be going someplace else to find financing, so we said, ‘Let's work on a collaboration where we can handle 100% of their business and they won't have to search for another finance company, so everyone will be happy with the relationship because of our flexibility, our rates, and our hands-on knowledge of the industry,’” she added.
Providing solutions for cannabis insurance has also given Stonemark an important edge as a premium financing company. “We have never had a product come onto the market with so many levels of insurance involved: the crops, the building, and the D&O (directors’ and officers’ insurance) policies. There’s also trucking companies transporting cannabis, and fertilizing companies - so many other firms that have spun off from this industry,” commented Davies. “There so many opportunities to finance cannabis policies, and it's such a new sector. It's very exciting.”
For Davies there's always a need for premium financing in the insurance industry, even in today’s economic environment. She talked to Insurance Business about Stonemark’s holistic approach to growth: “When we help everyone grow and become stronger, we become bigger and stronger ourselves. What can we do to help the agent sell their policy? What can we do to help the insured afford their policy? We have always, during any type of economy, found ways to grow and to help the customer.
“Since our inception, we’ve had every type of economy that you can imagine. When the markets get hard and the premiums increase, we are often able to offer better terms, longer payment options, or lower down payments to help the insured afford their premiums.”
Looking forward, Davies said that she chooses to see challenges as opportunities. “I've always lived through rose-colored glasses. I tend to focus not on the challenges, but where we can excel and grow,” she said. “Our expectations are that we hire great people, give great services, and look for great opportunities. And if those opportunities are harder to find, we're just going to look harder.”