Through thick and thin

Through thick and thin | Insurance Business

Through thick and thin

Luis Gazitua, partner at JAG Insurance Group, tells IBA how three young leaders came together to form an insurance agency in a risk-laden landscape

IBA: Tell us more about the journey of starting your own independent agency with your partners, Douglas Jones and Fernando Alvarez.

Luis Gazitua: Like anything, it had its ups and downs and significant challenges. I think one of the benefits was to do it along with two friends who are not only like-minded individuals,but also have the same moral compass. Being able to, at 25 years old, start working together and growing up together was one of the biggest benefits.

IBA: How has the agency evolved?

LG: We started working as sales people at an older, prestigious firm with quite a specific niche. Weinstein, Jones & Associates ran a captive program for the thoroughbred race industry, and that was what they did from the late 1980s and 1990s through to 2000.

When we got on board, we became the head sales people for the firm, and then from there, we grew to the point where we outgrew that business model. The old firm grew on a specific niche, which is written in 50 states,but it was able to be served with a smaller customer service department. We became generalists – in the sense of selling various types of insurance products – and little by little, [we evolved] into JAG Insurance Group.

We started to get our sales people about five years into it and continued to grow. When we decided to come together, we felt like we could do [this business] a little bit differently, as far as changing the way an older industry setup was done and evolve it into how we envisioned it. We had a five-year perpetuation plan that accelerated to two years, and we turned into JAG Insurance Group.

IBA: How does your agency stand out in the middle-market space?

LG: We really invested in our people. Somuch of my first job was always, ‘You should be thankful to have a job.’ I think what we’vedone is shifted the mindset and really taken care of our staff and developed careers. We have a mix of people who we brought on with not only insurance backgrounds, but more customer service-based people who developed their insurance skills. We’re focused a lot on the culture and the environment first, and we value everybody who works on our staff. Inturn, they take care of our clients.

IBA: Where has JAG Insurance Group developed the most expertise?

LG: There have been three different verticals [we’ve focused on]: real estate, transportation and hospitality. Douglas specifically has grown the real estate portfolio through his relationships with some of the younger developers who are now growing. That’s a significant part of our book.

Fernando has a big focus in transportation, and I’m specifically in hospitality. My family is in the restaurant business, and they’ve been in the business for 35 years, so I grew up working in the restaurant. I understand both the front and back of the house at all these restaurants, so I’m able to identify and empathize with what they’re looking for.

We’re entering our primes now in our late 30s. When we got into the business, it was really just building from the ground up and trying to focus on growing relationships.Where we were dealing with our friends or other people’s relationships before, now our relationships are taking the helm, which has helped us grow.

IBA: Your offices are located in two states that have seen several natural catastrophes in recent years. How do you handle those?

LG: It’s one of the more stressful parts of the job, but we prepare for it. We do everything possible as far as being proactive in the sense of getting all our clients the information when a catastrophe strikes about how to go through the claims process and really talk about what happens when there’s a claim. So much in insurance is about the price, but we have a big focus on what happens when there is a catastrophe – who’s paying the claim, who’s your adjuster and all those little things thatwe do upfront so when it does happen, it’s an easier process.

IBA: How can independent agents, particularly those serving smaller communities, underscore their value proposition to clients?

LG: What insurance should be about is delivering peace of mind, and to do that, you need to not just be a salesperson, but provide the value of identifying potential landmines,whether it’s cyber liability or employment practices liability. The unknown losses are the things that can stop a business from growing, and that’s something that needs to be highlighted– really looking at [the business risks] from a macro level and identifying the things that can stop the business from growing.