IBA: How important is specialization to Conner Strong & Buckelew?
Mike Tiagwad: Our focus is principally on larger, upper-middle-market entities with more complex risks. We intentionally find ourselves in target markets where there’s less competition and a greater need for special expertise. In our case, we focus on employing key people who not only know the ins and outs of insurance, employee benefits and risk management, but who are also experts in particular client industries.
Part of that is hiring people from those industries – whether they are risk managers at a construction company, a life science professional or former public official, they have knowledge and expertise that puts us in a position to develop programs that are tailored to meet the intricacies of our clients’ businesses.
IBA: How has Conner Strong & Buckelew overcome challenges?
MT: There’s a handful of things that help us overcome and deal with all kinds of challenges. One of them is our culture. We have a workforce that’s very passionate and relentlessly dedicated to serving clients for the long term. Our client and employee retention rates are among the best in the industry.
Also, we are committed to training our folks not just in technical areas, but also in areas such as leadership training, business etiquette, negotiation skills and more – all things that will position our folks differently.
Finally, the diversification of our organization has helped us through challenging times. Over an extended period of time, certain industries may have a lot of success, while others may be going through a more challenging time. We have a group of industry segments that don’t experience the same challenges at once, which helps us better weather the ebbs and flows of the marketplace.
IBA: What has been a key lesson you’ve learned from leading the agency?
MT: As a leader, being engaged in the business and understanding what the rest of the organization is dealing with have been key. Also, treating everyone like a partner, and creating an environment where open communication exists so that we know when
we have issues, are just as important.
Both personally and as an organization, being receptive to change in the industry is one of the things that has made a difference for us. Whether it’s technology or different product solutions, being objective and proactive about assessing whether new advances deliver the same return for the client and us is important when looking at new ways of doing business.
IBA: What’s ahead in 2018 for Conner Strong & Buckelew and the insurance industry as a whole?
MT: One of the strategies we are looking at closely is to continue to focus on more uppermiddle- market and large accounts while maintaining our client retention rate and continuing our organic growth expansion.
On the brokerage side of the industry, we will continue to see rapid consolidation. When I was at the CIAB Conference this year, it was pretty amazing how the makeup of organizations has changed along with the focus of the private equity sector, which seems very bullish in our industry. Companies like ours that feel good about their structure and remaining independent will still need to look closely at how they’ll perform in this competitive landscape.
We will also need to look at what things we can take advantage of, as well as what additional issues or headwinds we can confront. While I don’t believe anything radical will happen, the insurtech revolution will continue as more investment is made in the sector. A lot of other industries, such as the retail industry and maybe a few areas that you don’t really think about, are being a_ ected by technology, and many people in this industry did not anticipate the kind of disruption it caused. We are focused on being technology-savvy and using what’s available to our advantage.