While now based in Jacksonville, Fla., the super-regional property and casualty mutual insurance company The Main Street America Group (“MSA”) can actually trace its origins to New England. MSA was founded in 1923 as National Grange Mutual Insurance Company (“NGM”), which was created in order to offer affordable insurance coverage to Grange Fraternity members in New Hampshire.
In 2005, Main Street America converted to a mutual insurance holding company structure to spur growth. Today, MSA offers property and casualty insurance in 37 states, including Massachusetts, and surety and fidelity bonds in 47 states and the District of Columbia, writing nearly $1.1 billion in net written premium. The company carries an “A” (Excellent) Financial Strength Rating from A.M. Best.
The following is an email query Agency Checklists conducted with the MSA’s New England Region President Steve Berry as to the company’s history, its future, as well as its plans for Massachusetts. Here is what he had to say…
What is the history of The Main Street America Group, in general, and in particular, its involvement in the Massachusetts insurance market?
The Main Street America Group was founded in 1923 in Keene, N.H., for the purpose of providing personal automobile liability insurance to members of the Grange Fraternity. Our Keene office remains the company’ largest operation and houses our New England Region headquarters, as well as numerous corporate functions.
We received our license to start writing property/casualty in Massachusetts in 1928 and began to appoint independent agents in the commonwealth. For the past 89 years, we have written private passenger auto, homeowners’ and personal umbrella throughout Massachusetts. We also write a full suite of commercial lines coverages in the commonwealth, specializing in contractors and small business.
We write business exclusively through the independent agency distribution channel and partner with nearly 150 agencies in Massachusetts, representing over 350 locations throughout the commonwealth.
Additionally, our national claims processing center is based in Auburn, Mass., where we have more than 100 employees onsite.
Could you tell us about yourself, your history with Main Street America and how your present position fits in with Main Street America’s operations in Massachusetts?
I have been in the property/casualty business for more than 30 years. I joined Main Street America in 2007 as its New England Region president. I previously worked for two national P&C carriers: The Hartford Insurance Group and Allstate Insurance Company. I am also a former candidate for the Connecticut State Senate.
Main Street America’s New England Region comprises six states (CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT). As president of the region, I am responsible for our overall operations in the six states, with Massachusetts being our largest premium state. I naturally spend a great deal of time here in the commonwealth. Our marketing and underwriting teams work hand in hand to provide our Massachusetts customers (independent agents) the best service possible. My job is to ensure we are taking care of our customers in an exceptional way while partnering with them to profitably grow our Massachusetts book of business. Our growth in the commonwealth over the past few years has been strong. In 2016, we generated top-line growth of nearly 7 percent.
Main Street America describes itself as a “super-regional property/casualty insurance company.” Could you tell us what you mean by that particular designation? How does Main Street differ from a large regional carrier and what does that difference, if any, mean to Massachusetts insurance agents?
With nearly $1.1 billion in annual net written premium, Main Street America is larger than the traditional “regional” P&C carrier. Our presence in 37 states (we also write surety and fidelity bonds in 47 states, plus the District of Columbia) across all regions of the United States brings some geographic diversification to the mix, which enables us to spread our risk. At the same time, we are small enough to be able to know our customers and treat them in a manner that is similar to that of regional carriers. As a result of our efforts, we generated growth of 10.2% and the most net written premium in our company’s 93 year history: $1.07 billion – MSA Chairman, President & CEO Tom Van Berkel from the 2016 Annual Report
As a result of our efforts, we generated growth of 10.2% and the most net written premium in our company’s 93 year history: $1.07 billion – MSA Chairman, President & CEO Tom Van Berkel from the 2016 Annual Report
Our customers consistently tell us that our biggest strength is the quality of our people and the personal touch that we provide. Whether it is our customer service reps, underwriters, field marketing team or agents having direct interactions with our CEO, there is a personal “feel” about doing business with Main Street America.
What differences, if any, do you see between the Massachusetts market and markets in the other states that you manage?
In many respects, the Massachusetts P&C market is not terribly different from our other New England markets. Since 2008, the Massachusetts personal lines market has aligned with how business is conducted in our other five New England states. That is a positive for independent agents, carriers and insureds. In commercial lines, there is no difference to speak of. Independent agents are what drive the business for us and agents in the commonwealth have done an excellent job adapting to the competitive market over the past nine years. The Massachusetts market is doing very well for us and is now leading all of our other New England states in terms of organic growth.
What do you think sets Main Street America apart from other local, regional and national insurers?
We consider the quality of our people as a key differentiator in an ever-challenging property/casualty marketplace. We have been able to retain the regional carrier feel while implementing a significant expansion across the United States over the past several years.
Another key differentiator is our New England Region Agency Council and our regional listening tours (town hall-style meetings with our agents featuring members of Main Street America’s corporate and regional management teams).These types of interactive forums enable us to get direct feedback from our agent-customers so that we can make adjustments where needed and continue to be a stable and secure market for them.
Further, the way we communicate with our agents via social media is very unique. This includes quarterly video updates on Main Street America’s YouTube channel from our CEO, as well as semi-annual updates from me that are specifically targeted to our New England agents. We are not aware of any other carrier that engages this type of consistent video communications targeted to its agency distribution network. Also, we actively engage Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to market to our appointed agents.
We have found that using a variety of communications vehicles is especially effective and the feedback we receive from our agents on how we consistently communicate with them has always been very favorable.
Does Main Street America have any particular products that you consider somewhat unique or different than the products offered by the carrier’s in the Massachusetts market?
Main Street America has always excelled in the artisan contractors’ market. Our products and pricing have been a strong suit for us. The coverages we offer in this arena are second to none and the beauty of it is that we are a consistent and stable market for our agents and that is something we hear about often.
We are profitable and growing and have been doing so consistently for many years. We have the scale and breadth of experience in this space, which sets us apart from those that tend to get in and out of this business depending on the market cycle.
In personal lines, we introduced a variety of new coverages in the commonwealth back in 2008, which set us apart from the competition. However, as traditionally is the case, we tend to see personal lines innovation changes adopted quickly by competitors. However, we have continued to enhance our personal lines suite, which has resulted in significant premium growth in Massachusetts over the past two years.
As of today, what are Main Street America’s offerings in Massachusetts by way of products?
Later this year, we will be migrating our Massachusetts homeowners’ policy processing platform to our countrywide personal lines platform – Main Street Station
Later this year, we will be migrating our Massachusetts homeowners’ policy processing platform to our countrywide personal lines platform – Main Street Station
In personal lines, we offer private passenger auto, homeowners’ and umbrella coverages. In commercial lines, we offer commercial auto, business owners’ policy, contractors, workers’ compensation, umbrella and other miscellaneous types of coverage. We also offer cyber risk coverage, which is in high demand from “Main Street” businesses, on our Main Line Business Owners Policy, as well as a number of add-on endorsements that will help most agents meet the needs of their commercial insureds. Massachusetts is also one of our largest states for writing surety and fidelity bonds.
Are there additional products or services in the pipeline that Massachusetts agents might wish to know about?
Later this year, we will be migrating our Massachusetts homeowners’ policy processing platform to our countrywide personal lines platform – Main Street Station. This will enable our agents to process homeowners’ business quickly and easily and it will be in line with how we write homeowners’ in our other New England states. This will prove to be a great benefit for all our Massachusetts agent-customers.
Does Main Street America presently have any particular products or practices that might that might offer its agents a material competitive advantage in the marketplace?
We have an exceptional service center operation based at our Keene, N.H. office. The MSA Service Center provides back-office commercial lines and personal lines support for our agent-customers, and also generates cross-sell and upsell opportunities for them. This enables our agents who engage the Service Center to focus on marketing new business for their agencies. Having a service center based in New England is a significant advantage as our team knows the market very well and how to pronounce all of our wonderfully-named towns here in Massachusetts!
Where do you see the Massachusetts automobile insurance market going over the next five years with regard to the Independent Agency System?
Independent agents will need to continue to focus on differentiation and modernization in order to generate more personal auto business. Having such a strong and successful independent agency system in place not only in Massachusetts, but throughout most of New England, is a positive but other distribution channels will continue to chip away at capturing more of the private passenger auto market. Providing a high level of service remains the key to making the independent system both survive and thrive.
Main Street America is a founding company partner of Trusted Choice. How is that working out nationwide and, in particular in Massachusetts? Do you see any particular synergies between Main Street America’s offerings and Trusted Choice that Massachusetts agents should know about?
The Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA) is one of the best-run independent agent state associations in the country. The MAIA is a strong advocate on behalf of independent agents and that includes a focus on continuing education and service training. That is a big plus for us, particularly since we rely so heavily on the independent agent to generate business.
We have been an industry leader in terms of supporting independent agents and the Trusted Choice® brand. When Trusted Choice was founded by the Independent Agents & Brokers of America (Big “I”) in 2001, we were the first carrier to sign on and write a check to support this program. We are also an industry leader in co-branding our company with Trusted Choice. In fact, we co-brand every possible touch point in the marketplace, ranging from product marketing to community outreach.
As one of six carriers that funded development of the TrustedChoice.com agent referral platform, we have helped independent agents establish an essential online presence in order to compete on a level playing field with direct writers and captive agents to grow market share. TrustedChoice.com has generated significant business for independent agents since it launched in 2011. Last year, nearly 4.3 million consumers visited the site and more than 100,000 referrals were delivered to participating agents across the country. Their year-over-year revenue growth was a whopping 63 percent. The platform is clearly having a positive impact and driving quality new business.
Independent agents and Big “I” leadership continually praise Main Street America for its support of the independent agent system and Trusted Choice.
How does Main Street America give back to communities in Massachusetts?
In keeping with Main Street America’s core values, we take great pride in giving back to the communities where our employees work and live. Over the past year, we have engaged numerous programs to support local organizations in the Auburn area, where our national claims processing center is located. This includes a food drive to support the Worcester County Food Bank, a toy drive to support the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program (all food and toys donated by our employees) and a holiday season honorarium, which provided much-needed funding from our NGM Charitable Foundation to support the St. John’s Food for the Poor Program.
A number of the larger insurance companies that compete with Main Street America have recently set up development labs of one sort or another to try to harness and capture promising insurtech startups. E. G. Liberty Mutual’s Solaria Labs. Is Main Street America developing anything in that area?
At this juncture, we are keeping an eye on this but we are really focused on trying to do what we can to simplify the ease of agents doing business with us across the board. This is what our agents tell us is most important to them right now and we want to continue to move in that direction.
Will you be appointing new agents in Massachusetts over the next 18 months? If so, what does Main Street America look for in an independent agent appointment?
We have very-established relationships with independent agents throughout Massachusetts and do not have any plans for broad statewide expansion. We are very selective in whom we partner with. We don’t have a desire to appoint every agent in the market. We look for solid matches in appetite and philosophy and work hard to keep our franchise value intact.
Why should a Massachusetts agent look at Main Street America as a viable or desirable option for placing business for their insureds?
Being founded in New Hampshire, we have very strong roots in New England and have written business in Massachusetts exclusively through independent agents for nearly 90 years. We didn’t jump in and out of the commonwealth when many other companies abandoned Massachusetts when the market when sour. We have been a stable and consistent market year in and year out for our agents and their insureds and we will continue to be.
Our people are second to none and having been in this business for more than 30 years, I have worked with a lot of people. Our claims operation is based here in Massachusetts and our claim reps know this market better than anyone and partner with our agents to provide exceptional service when their insureds need it most. Our company name – Main Street America – really says it all. We provide personal and business insurance for “Main Street America” and have been doing so very successfully for many, many years.
Additionally, Main Street America’s strong financial position is a critical factor in terms why agents want to place their insureds’ business with us. This starts with carrying an “A” (Excellent) Financial Strength Rating, with a Stable Outlook, from A.M. Best, as well as an “a+” Issuer Credit Rating. Our company’s balance sheet gets stronger every year. In 2016, we increased our surplus by $27 million to $1.1 billion and our total assets grew by nearly 6 percent to $2.6 billion.
As you know WinRater is what most MA agents use. What is Main Street America’s status with WinRater as well as Real Time?
We offer real-time rating for quoting homeowners’ policies via WinRater. In commercial lines, we have real-time rating available directly via our Main Street Station commercial lines platform.
How many agents would you expect to appoint over the course of the next 18 months?
We don’t have specific plans to appoint new agents in Massachusetts in the near term. We are already partnering with agents across the commonwealth that are effectively marketing our products to their customers and we greatly value these relationships.
If there are independent agents who are interested in considering discussing an appointment with Main Street America what would you say to them?
First of all, I would like say “Thank You.” We consider it a great honor when an agency regards doing business with Main Street America and we appreciate knowing that there is plenty of interest in doing so. In terms of our process, we would engage in a comprehensive business discussion with the agency’s leadership and our Massachusetts field marketing representatives would further that discussion to see if there is a real fit.
We do not see the value in becoming a new market for an agency if they already represent 20 other P&C carriers. It really doesn’t benefit them either, as it just adds another “mouth to feed.” We need to know we fill a need within the agency and that there is a real means to achieving mutual profitable growth for both parties.
How would an agent who is interested in writing insurance with Main Street America get in touch with you?
Interested independent agents can either visit our corporate website at www.msagroup.com or our Facebook page (Facebook.com/MainStreetAmerica) for more information. On either platform, they can submit a request for us to contact them for an appointment, as well as find out much more about who we are and how we successfully partner with our agent-customers.