Thinking like a startup

Thinking like a startup | Insurance Business

Thinking like a startup

Alper Services CEO David Macknin tells IBA how 53 years of innovation have set his agency up for success

IBA: What’s the story behind Alper Services?

David Macknin: Alper Services was launched in 1966 by Howard Alper on the premise that Chicago needed a better platform of insurance brokerage. He developed a system of auditing workers’ compensation and liability policies, recognizing that well over 50% of policies at the time had errors, and he would work with companies that were not his insurance clients to uncover and recover overcharges that had been made.

He brought something different to the marketplace – the ability to unravel and correct workers’ compensation and general liability errors that carriers had made. That expert service opened the door to insurance clients and to finding solutions to problems that others had not been able to find. The launch in 1966 was marked by differentiation, and it really predicated the following 53 years of innovation.

From the 1970s through the end of the millennium, Alper Services grew in the traditional sense as a middle-market broker specialist. The firm was stable but slightly less innovative through the 2000s – what they call the ‘off’ years. At that time, growth was not the priority; stability was the priority. Our team of trusted experts was focused on handling clients in a best-in-class manner, always providing the depth and breadth of resources that no other boutique broker possesses.

IBA: Why are you called Alper Services, not Alper Insurance?

DM: Alper Services has always employed forensic auditors, workers’ compensation case managers, claims advocates – not just claims handlers and administrators – as well as general counsel to serve our clients. Our name, Alper Services, represents the fact that we always aim to serve middle-market clients with the greatest possible depth and breadth of services. Other boutique brokers may be just as good at brokering business. Where we always strive to be superior is in the valueadded services we provide.

IBA: Tell us about Alper Services’ five cornerstones.

DM: The firm is built upon five cornerstones, which go in a linear intentional order: people, communication, technology, premier client experiences and growth. All of those cornerstones are integral, but everything starts with our people. We are a very transparent organization – everything from our interior glass walls and natural lighting at every desk to how we share our financial data with our entire staff every quarter and how we fully disclose all transactions, commissions, fees and marketing results with our clients.

We have a unique ownership structure in that we’re owned in a perpetual trust, meaning we cannot be sold. We’re very well capitalized, and we’re able to focus on our five cornerstones without trying to drive the highest margin. Our unique ownership structure enables us to spend more on expert services than our competitors in the middlemarket space, who perhaps have shareholders or a private equity parent, because our number-one priority is not profit.

IBA: How are you attracting the next generation of insurance professionals?

DM:  I ask our people to look at Alper Services as a 53-year-old startup. When it comes to Gen Y and Gen Z professionals, we’re really embracing how they like to work, and our five cornerstones play into that. The world is changing rapidly, and our customers’ demands are changing, so we need to move as a very agile organization. While I don’t like to say I’m a copycat, the premise is that whatever services our national competitors – firms like Aon, Marsh and Willis Towers Watson – are providing to the Fortune 2,500 companies in North America, we want to deliver to the middle market. That requires agility, which is something that our 53-year-old firm has in abundance.

“The world is changing rapidly, and our customers’ demands are changing, so we need to move as a very agile organization”

IBA: How do you find a balance between service and technology?

DM: We run by the mantra of embracing and utilizing the latest technology wherever it enhances, and never diminishes, the client’s or our people’s journey. We are not looking to replace conversations of risk management considerations and enterprise risk management dialogue with chatbots. However, where we can expedite customer delivery of insurance documentation, and the human engagement is more laborious than productive, that’s where we’re embracing technology. It’s a delicate balance to find.